Traveling in Preferente (First Class) on Renfe's AVE and Euromed Services
I've recently learned, when buying airplane tickets, to always compare business class prices with economy class. Sometimes the difference is smaller than you might think (or even the same price, once in a blue moon!).
Traveling on Renfe's long-distance trains, AVE and Euromed, is no different. Sometimes Preferente (First Class) will be just 2-10 Euros more than Turista (Coach Class), when the lowest available Turista fare is "Flexible" (unrestricted), while the lowest fare for Preferente is "Promo" (restricted).
Spain has a pretty impressive AVE high-speed rail network, second only in size to China. I'm far from a rail expert, so I will just describe the AVE trains on the Valencia-Madrid route to have these long snouts, while the passenger cars remind me of Japanese Shinkansen. (According to Wikipedia, the official name is "AVE Class 112"). By contrast, the Barcelona-Madrid AVE trains look just like German ICE trains (called "AVE Class 103," they are built by Siemens, which indeed adapted the ICE design).
The Euromed service which runs on the Alicante-Valencia-Barcelona route is not high-speed. In fact, Valencia is the same distance from Barcelona as it is from Madrid, but the train journey takes almost twice as long: 3 hours 10 minutes to 3 hours 30 minutes, instead of 1 hour 41 minutes to 1 hour 53 minutes.
On the AVE trains between Valencia and Barcelona, the Preferente seats are these leather seats in a 2-1 configuration. The rows are situated pretty close together.
On the Euromed trains, I've experienced two different seat designs. This design below is the better one.
Also in a 2-1 configuration, these seats have a leg rest and are operated electronically.
The other version doesn't have the leg rests, and the seats recline manually.
The Service and Food
So this is the fun part! The service on board isn't the most elaborate, but it's quite attentive with nice details, and the train staff are pretty uniformly courteous.
I love, love, love printed menus, and in Preferente they give you printed menus!
It's not just an elegant touch, but also informative. Even though there isn't a choice of meals, you know what you're eating, and you know the options you do have for beverages.
They also tell you about the chefs who designed the menus, the Torres brothers, whom I recognized from the cooking shows they have on TV.
Before the meal service, they also offer a wide selection of newspapers. On this occasion, dinner service in fall of 2016, there was a hot towel service.
For dinner, there was a consommé, an appetizer of grilled pepper and onion salad with goat cheese and olives, and a main course of sautéed rice with cubes of turkey, grilled zucchini, and mushrooms. There was also bread offered, along with grated tomato and olive oil as condiments for the bread. Dessert was a chocolate cake.
After dinner, there was a tea or coffee service, with a chocolate. Such a civilized way to travel!
Now in November 2017, I took a Euromed service during breakfast time.
Once again, there was no meal choice, but the menu gave details on what was being served. It even informed passengers that tie clips were available!
First there was a drink with cookie service.
Then came the breakfast. The main course was a Spanish tortilla with potato, with carrots, chicken, and pineapple(!) on the side. There was also yogurt on the tray, and they offered bread along with your choice of jam, grated tomato, olive oil, and butter. More drinks followed.
And a chocolate to finish off, again.
Today I took a Euromed service from Valencia to Barcelona again, but this time it departed at 6pm and arrived (8 minutes behind schedule) at 9:18pm. While in most of the world, this would encompass dinnertime, but in Spain, this is too early for dinner. It sits squarely in "merienda," or afternoon snack, time.
From Valencia to Castellón, there was a beverage and snack service. These were kind of like little Ritz crackers.
Then between Castellón and Tarragona, they passed out snack boxes. I noticed the passengers who originated in Alicante and were still on the train in Valencia already had these.
And we still got a menu, but all it said was that the sandwiches were designed by the Torres brothers. What the sandwiches contained was printed on the wrapper. Along with a LONG list of ingredients, many of which started with "E-"! Besides the sandwiches, there was a chocolate bar, a chocolate-dipped speculoos cookie, and a napkin with lemon towelette, and something I'd never seen before, a sachet of aloe vera gel. In case we burn ourselves with the coffee?
In today's snack box, one sandwich was lacón (cooked ham), hard boiled egg, and "salsa rosa," or pink sauce, whatever that is, on white bread. The other sandwich was chicken, honey, leek, and romescu sauce on wheat bread. Whatever the description was, the inside basically had kind of a tuna salad texture, where the ingredients are basically mush. I took pictures of the inside of each sandwich, but to be honest, they look just about the same.
While the sandwiches were a bit disappointing, I still really appreciated the service. There were several rounds of beverages, and having the snack to tide me over until dinner was super helpful. Apparently this boxed snack service for merienda is new, and they encourage you (via a printed message inside of the box) to take it off the train with you if you don't want to eat the snack right away.
Now, if the Preferente fare is 15 or more Euros premium (vs. a Turista fare of, say, 45 Euros), I probably would stick with Turista with its 2-2 seating and no meal or beverage service. But when Preferente is just a few Euros more, I think it's well worth the upgrade. It's just a more humane way to travel!