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Choose any – or all – of enjoyed casual vast wilderness commuter from the and bubble train, vignettes to of experience a luxury from bygone carriage unforgettable eras or a seat vistas, in a Dramatic is the operative word for this route, which rumbles over unsullied, mountainous landscapes from the Serbian capital to Montenegro's Adriatic coast. Like the region it serves, the railway eludes most tourists' maps. The reward for treasure-hunting travellers is an embarrassment of cultural and geographic riches at every bend


If you're not in a rush, a trip on Europe's longest narrow-gauge railway might be just the ticket. The FEVE is a trio of lines that carve an improbable route across the north of Spain from Bilbao (Basque Country) to Ferrol (Galicia), stopping at more than a hundred stations along the way. Bypassing sprawling suburbs and holiday resorts, this determined little train hauls itself through rough-hewn tunnels, chugs up steep ravines and ducks beneath the legs of motorways. Beautifully isolated and content with its own slow progress, it immerses its passengers in an astonishingly green region of untamed mountains, Atlantic shores, hearty regional dishes and warm people



Your journey begins in Bilbao, a gritty industrial port with an artistic heart. Before you embark, explore the city's jigsaw of medieval and avant-garde architecture, as 15th-century Gothic meets the titanium plates of the Guggenheim. Pintxos, the Basque take on tapas, are fundamental to daily life here and the ideal way to soak up a boozy lunch with kuadrilla (Basque for 'your tribe').

Railway engineers usually pick the path of least resistance, building tracks along river valleys and natural contours. The determined FEVE, on the other hand - unmarked on most Spanish railway maps, despite being a division of the state-owned Renfe Operadora - takes an altogether more rambling route along the Atlantic coast, stopping at stone platforms in the middle of meadows and fading yellow station buildings with cracked tile maps.

Constructed in 1965, the FEVE is a local train for local people. Passing through cities, you share the carriage with commuters tapping on their phones, but soon you're joined by villagers going to the butcher's or taking their dog to the vet. For rural communities, it's a dip into the culture and facilities of towns, catching up on gossip along the way.

Leaving Bilbao, take a seat on the right, facing backwards, and watch the suburbs retreat as the line meanders inland before towering cranes and a sprawling estuary announce your approach into Santander. With its grand Belle-Epoque facades, breezy avenues and tree-shaded plazas, Cantabria's characterful capital is made for warm, easy days

An hour along the line, tranquil Cabezon de la Sal takes its name from its salt markets, which date back to Roman times. Narrow streets thread past former casas senoriales (noblemen's houses), their ancient balconies now draped with drying clothes

Passing into Asturias, seek out Ribadesella, a down-toearth seaside town tucked in the sweeping S of the river Sella. Here, expert escanciadores (cider pourers) decant the local tipple, and you can tuck into piles of mussels outside unpretentious promenade cafes. Follow this with a stroll along an avenue of ornate 'Indiano' mansions, built by rich Spanish mariners returning from the Americas.

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - November 2018
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