Great Continental Railway Journeys

Salamanca to Canfranc

Series 7 - Episode 1 Salamanca to Canfranc



Michael Portillo is shown into a vast room at Salamanca University that’s filled with a card index featuring the details of three million people, each of whom was declared an enemy of General Franco.

One entry is of particular interest to Portillo, it’s that of his university lecturer father Luis Portillo Perez, who fled Franco’s fascist regime for England. As he holds up his dad’s identity card, you can see the family resemblance.

It’s a moving moment in an especially personal and poignant journey for Portillo at the start of a new series of rail journeys with his Bradshaw’s guide.

Another comes as he stands in the restored Spanish Civil War trenches of Huesca with George Orwell’s son, Richard Blair.

But there are light moments.Though you might silently beg him not to, Portillo has a go at traditional folk dancing.


Armed with a 1936 edition of Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide, Michael Portillo ventures onto the European rail network, beginning an emotional rail journey which takes him deep into his family's past. In the golden city of Salamanca in northwestern Spain, Michael visits the University to hear of opposition to the fascist takeover of Spain by General Francisco Franco, and gains access to the General's archive of enemies of the state. Travelling onto the capital city of Madrid, Michael hears how the bombing of a small town in the Basque region in 1937 inspired one of the 20th century's most shocking works of art, before making his way to the town of Huesca. Michael's final stop is on the border with France at Canfranc station, where he learns of the role the old terminus played in the evacuation of Jews during the Second World War.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Michael Portillo
Director Anthony Holland
Executive Producer John Comerford
Series Editor Alison Kreps