March 11, 2008
The Train in Spain
Only 150 minutes now separate Spain’s two big cities — but they’re still both battling for your attention.
Spain’s two arch-rivals just got a whole lot closer. Since the long-awaited completion of a bullet train between Madrid and Barcelona, passengers can now dash between the cities in two-and-a-half hours instead of six. The nation’s third new AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) link in as many months (and the longest such route in Europe) signals Spain’s increasing dominance in the high-speed rail war: by 2010 it will have the world’s most extensive high-speed network. More importantly, the 199mph train (to be raised to 220mph this spring), should keep the ever-competing centers of Castile and Catalonia in close contention for visitors.
This month, Barcelona weighs in with the completed refurbishment of Le Meridien right on Las Ramblas. A new 144-room Mandarin Oriental follows later this year, going up against W Barcelona — Starwood’s first W hotel in Europe (not counting their upcoming Istanbul property). Madrid, though, is fighting back with a cultural arsenal. Last month, King Juan Carlos opened Herzog and de Meuron’s $100 million CaixaForum — a chic seven-story arts complex reborn from a 1900 power station. Neighboring Museo del Prado, meantime, showcases its recent $200 million expansion with a major Goya exhibition, April 15-July 13. And to celebrate, Hotel Ritz, just across the street, is chiming in with its new “Cultural Experience Madrid” package — centered around the Prado, Thyssen Bornemisza and Reina Sofía museums.