Inside the abandoned Canfranc Station that has been converted into a spectacular hotel

Against the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains of the Pyrenees, deep in the Aragon Valley, lies an imposing, beautiful building.

Welcome to Canfranc Train Station, once an abandoned train station, now a luxury hotel.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Abandoned Historic Train station converted into a luxury hotel.

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Canfranc railway station opened in 1928 as an opulent railway hub, and its inauguration ceremony was attended by both the King of Spain and the President of the French Republic. Located in Spain but not far from the French border.

During World War II, Canfranc witnessed arrests, espionage and gold trading.

By 1970 the station had closed its doors.

The original opening of Canfranc Station in July 1928. Credit:
adoc-photos/Corbis/Getty Images

The train station lay dormant for decades until the start of the conversion of the still beautiful but long-neglected building into a hotel of the Barcelo Hotel Group.

After years of regeneration, Canfranc Station welcomed its first guests in January 2023.

Railroad and history buffs have officially added a new destination to their bucket list, while Canfranc Mayor Fernando Sánchez Morales says locals have welcomed the opening “with enthusiasm”.

“We are very pleased that the station is alive and bright again,” said Sánchez Morales.

Those who find beauty in abandoned buildings might surmise that the hotel was more appealing in its eerie, dilapidated state.

But Canfranc Station looks quite spectacular even after the revitalization and is already attracting guests.

Once an abandoned train station, Canfranc Station is now a luxury hotel. Credit: Barcelo Hotels & Resorts

Architect Thomas O’Hare first stumbled upon Canfranc Station by accident a few years ago.

When he discovered that the abandoned railway junction was to be made into a hotel, he vowed to return upon completion.

Today, O’Hare, who lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is holidaying at the hotel with his family.

“The exterior is very grand and certainly gives the impression of a trip from another time,” he said.

Nazi history

Due to its border location, ownership of Canfranc Station was originally shared between France and Spain.

It is now owned by the local government of Aragon in Spain, who have been working with the Barcelo Hotel Group on the renewal process.

Canfranc train station played an active role during the Second World War, witnessing moments of hope and despair.

Before the Nazi takeover of the municipality of Canfranc, the station served as a gateway to freedom for some European Jews persecuted by the German regime.

A “before” photo of the ticket hall at Canfranc train station, taken in 2005. Credit: Rob Cousins/Alamy Stock Photo

Award-winning author Ramón Javier Campo Fraile for his article on the history of Canfranc spoke to CNN Travel about the area in 2017.

“In the early years of the World War, from 1940 to 1942, thousands of Jews fled by train from Canfranc to Lisbon and the United States,” he said.

Among those who, according to Campo Fraile, fled Canfranc by train were the painters Max Ernst, who was not Jewish, and Marc Chagall. The American entertainer Josephine Baker also passed through the station.

Spies traveled the train from Canfranc en route to join the French resistance to the Nazis and relay messages to the Allied countries.

The now converted ticket hall which is the hotel lobby. Credit: Barcelo Hotels & Resorts

“It was also used by the Allies, who leaked information to France and Spain through a spy network,” Mayor Sánchez Morales said in 2017.

However, the Nazis took the municipality of Canfranc in November 1942 and retained control until June 1944.

Escape through Canfranc became more difficult and the station became the site of many arrests.

Canfranc was the only Spanish municipality occupied by the Nazis – and the regime made itself felt.

find gold

Campo Fraile said more than 300 people had been arrested in Portugal fleeing Lisbon and taken to prisons across Spain.

“The Germans controlled the trade in gold (and tungsten) and also lowered the French flag,” he said.

Rumors of Nazi gold trading through the Canfranc station have been circulating for years, but were not confirmed until 2000.

The renovated interior is said to be reminiscent of the 1920s. Credit: Barcelo Hotels & Resorts

Campo Fraile said a local bus driver found evidence that “between 1942 and 1943, 86 tons of Nazi gold passed through the station”.

“We found other documents in European and American archives that prove that more than 100 tons of gold flowed through the area,” he said.

regeneration detail

María Bellosta, Canfranc’s hotel manager, said special attention was paid to “every detail” of the redevelopment project.

It is important, Bellosta added, “not to lose an iota of his personality and his enormous legacy”.

With that “tremendous legacy” comes “a tremendous challenge,” as Bellosta puts it.

The 1928 building had to be adapted to the standards and luxury of a modern hotel without losing its historical character.

“We wanted to preserve its DNA, its international railway spirit,” says Bellosta.

The hotel keeps its train station DNA. Credit: Barcelo Hotels & Resorts

The interior design, the product of Madrid-based studio ILMIODESIGN, aims to evoke the 1920s through its fabrics, décor and staff uniforms.

The design also contains specific references to what Bellosta calls “the historical, cultural and social heritage of Canfranc and the role it developed in the 20th century”.

Colors and tones are reminiscent of the natural mountain landscape around the hotel.

There are 104 rooms in the hotel, including four suites.

There’s a spa with a pool and three restaurants.

What was once the station concourse is now the hotel reception.

One of the three restaurants in the newly designed hotel. Credit: Barcelo Hotels & Resorts
The hotel has 104 rooms including four suites. Credit: Barcelo Hotels & Resorts

Hotel guest Thomas O’Hare praises the “tasteful” conversion of the station concourse into the hotel reception.

“The rooms, bar and restaurant follow this beautiful feel of a modern interior with a strong touch of railway history,” he says.

O’Hare’s main gripe is the additional cost of €15 ($24) per guest to use the hotel pool.

The pool in the newly restored hotel. Credit: Barcelo Hotels & Resorts

Plus, Canfranc’s stunning mountain location means it doesn’t have a lot of terrain.

For his part, Mayor Sánchez Morales says he is very pleased with how “the history of the station and the environment surrounding the railway” is evoked throughout the hotel.

“We hope that it will be the consolidation of Canfranc as a tourist destination,” he says.

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Traveler hailed a “hero” for their sneaky tactic of taking extra baggage on the flight.

Traveler hailed a “hero” for their sneaky tactic of taking extra baggage on the flight. Inside the abandoned Canfranc Station that has been converted into a spectacular hotel

James Brien

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