A trip to the sea. More precisely, to the southernmost point of mainland Europe. Here, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic, the Andalusian port of Tarifa stretches towards Africa.
The special part of this journey: I travelled more than 2,500 kilometres only by train and the last stage by bus. I got around without a plane or car and, with a few stops, made my way from Frankfurt am Main to Tarifa in ten days.
Now I am standing here on the bay in front of Isla de Las Palomas, looking at the mountains of Morocco on the horizon and wondering if the euphoric feeling that overcomes me would be different if I had travelled by plane instead of taking the train.
Maybe it’s a bit like hiking.
You have to earn the view from the top. Taking the cable car up to the peak is somehow only half the fun, isn’t it?
In this post, I share my experiences, tips and highlights of this train journey through the south of France and Spain with you.
Stops of the train journey at a glance
On this map you will find an overview of all stations, highlights, restaurants and hotel tips of my train trip to Tarifa.
1. Stop: Marseille
From Frankfurt am Main and other destinations in Europe, you can find cheap direct connections with the TGV to Provence. My first stop brings me to the port city of Marseille.
France’s oldest and second-largest city enchanted me from the very first minute. An exciting mix awaits you in the metropolis on the Mediterranean. In some parts Marseille appears dazzling, sometimes creative and multicultural. Other corners have a certain kind of morbid charm.
In addition to the famous Vieux-Port, the historic quarter of Le Panier fascinated me. Just like the picturesque harbours Port du Vallon des Auffes and Port de Malmousque in the west of the city.
Where to stay in Marseille: Stay in style at the environmentally friendly Hôtel Belle-Vue* with a sensational view of the Old Port. A good value alternative with simple rooms is the Ibis Styles* just a few minutes’ walk from the foot of the imposing staircase of Saint Charles station.
Wining & Dining in Marseille: Enjoy one of the best pizzas in Marseille at L’Eau à la Bouche and the creamiest organic ice cream at Le Glacier de la Corniche. Typical pastries for the region are orange-flavoured navettes.Yummy!
Don’t miss: Go up to Marseille’s landmark, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, at sunset.
My train travel tip: Instead of hauling your luggage up and down the 103 steps of the station stairs, you can use the escalators in the Gare Saint-Charles metro station.
2. Stop: Barcelona
How do you spend two days in Barcelona without visiting either the Sagrada Familia or Park Güell? You join a ukulele-playing street musician and his two dogs and take a trip to one of Barcelona’s local mountains – Tibidabo – instead of checking out the main attractions.
The other day, I strolled along the seafront promenade and walked through the winding alleys of the Barri Gòtic. I will visit Gaudi’s masterpieces on my next city trip to the Spanish metropolis.
Where to stay in Barcelona: Very centrally located, not far from the city beach Barceloneta and the Gothic quarter, is the inexpensive pension Hostal Orleans*.
Wining & Dining in Barcelona: Be sure to enjoy the seasonal 7-course gourmet menu at the vegan and vegetarian restaurant Rasoterra.
Don’t miss: Strolling through the Barri Gòtic.
My train travel tip: Plan enough buffer when continuing your journey at Barcelona-Sants station. The security check takes a bit of time.
3. Stop: Córdoba
No other city in the world has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than Córdoba. You can experience four of them in the Andalusian city. Namely, the Mosque of Córdoba, the historic city centre, the Medina Azahara and the Festival of the Courtyards. Every year in May, the patios, which are famous for Andalusia, are decorated and otherwise closed doors are opened to visitors.
Away from the mosque, I found Córdoba to be wonderfully unagitated and authentic. Only few cars drive through the narrow streets and great restaurants invite you to enjoy delicious tapas on numerous squares.
Where to stay in Córdoba: Cosy studios furnished with attention to detail await you at La Casa del Rio*.
Wining & Dining in Córdoba: Restaurante La Boca offers an excellent vegetarian lunch menu in a chic setting. Alternatively, you can take a seat outside under the orange trees.
Don’t miss: A visit to the Palacio de Viana is a must. Standing in front of the palace, you have no idea what treasures are hidden behind its walls.
My train travel tip: Hop into a taxi at the station in Córdoba instead of looking at the bus timetable. I didn’t pay 5 euros for the ride to the old town.
4. Stop: Seville
Already in Córdoba I was delighted by the numerous orange trees. In Seville, this enthusiasm reaches its climax. The scent made me stroll inebriated through the streets of the picturesque Santa Cruz district.
Afterwards, I go into raptures again at the Palacio de las Dueñas. The imposing palace from the 15th century combines Gothic and Moorish influences. Even more impressive, however, are the inner courtyards and gardens – beautiful oases in the middle of the city.
A stone’s throw away, you will find an attraction that may not fit into the cityscape at all. Nevertheless, the futuristic Metropol Parasol is a popular place. On a circular path you can view the city from above. Especially beautiful in the evening hours. By the way, the locals call the building “las setas” – the oversized mushrooms.
Where to stay in Seville: In the heart of the Barrio Santa Cruz with a magnificent roof terrace, the Hotel Murillo* is a an amazing address for your stay in Seville.
Wining & Dining in Seville: Not far from the Guadalquivir River, which meanders through Seville, the Mercado Lonja del Barranco invites you to enjoy delicious meals.
Don’t miss: A visit to the Alcázar palace complex.
My train travel tip: Hotel Murillo* is ideally located if you want to continue your journey from Seville to Tarifa, less than 15 minutes’ walk from the bus station.
5. Stop: Tarifa
From Seville I take the bus for the last distance to Tarifa. On the way to the sea, I even spot some flamingos. As soon as I arrive in Tarifa, I feel the relaxed atmosphere that prevails here. Hip cafés line up with small boutiques and tapas bars. And of course you are reminded at every turn that you are in the surfing hotspot of Spain. Now in winter, I experience lonely beaches in Tarifa. Only a few kiters are out and about with their boards.
In the evening, too, I am tempted by the sea, on the causeway that leads to the Isla de Las Palomas. On the left the Mediterranean, on the right the Atlantic and the lights of Tangier, which seem so close. The sun sinks into the horizon, creating a fascinating play of colours. The sunsets in Tarifa – perhaps they are the most beautiful ever.
Where to stay in Tarifa: Unfortunately, I made a bad choice in my accommodation. Next time I would choose the Hotel Hurricane*, a recommendation of a friend.
Wining & Dining in Tarifa: From morning to evening, the charming Café 10 serves healthy and delicious dishes.
Don’t miss: Simply lazing around and enjoying the sea and the special vibes in Tarifa..
Tip: Ferries run from Tarifa to Morocco. If you want to cross over to the African continent, you shouldn’t forget your passport.
Useful tips for your train journey through Europe
Best time to travel: I travelled from mid-February to early March. Perfect to escape the German winter and to be spoiled with the first harbingers of spring in southern France and Spain. Including the wonderful scent of the blossoming orange trees.
However, it can get cold at night in southern Europe in winter and not all accommodation has heating. If you like it to be toasty warm, you should take this into account when booking your hotel.
Useful apps: I booked my train and bus tickets with the app Omio. For local orientation, I rely on the app Maps.me. You can simply download the offline maps, so you can navigate with GPS even without internet. In addition, possible connections with public transport are displayed and you can bookmark hotels, cafés and sights.
Costs: My train and bus travel costs to Tarifa amounted to 327.50 euros, including the first-class ticket I bought from Frankfurt to Marseille. You can also save money if you don’t book the trip too spontaneously and travel by bus on some routes. For example, there is a night bus from Marseille to Barcelona.
For the return journey, depending on the time you have available, you can continue your journey home by train. Or you can fly to one of the airports in Andalusia, e.g. Jerez de la Frontera.
Other worthwhile stops in France and Spain: A whole range of other great cities are waiting to extend or modify the trip as you wish. How about: Strasbourg, Lyon, Aix-en-Provence, Granada, Cadiz, Jerez de la Frontera or Malaga?
Links marked with * are affiliate links. If you book using one of these links, I receive a small commission. This way you support me and my work on the blog. Very important: The price remains the same for you. You don’t pay a cent more.