Anyone who has ever traveled through the southern regions of Europe knows what a delight it can be, even when budget is concerned. Stuffy and otherwise plain hostels give way to pensions (Spanish hostels) in a manner that literally represents people opening their home to you. As an extension of same, Spain, has in recent years, offered another type of vacation entirely: one in which even the accommodations themselves rival in spirit and beauty the very towns that you have traveled so far to see. This is truly fully immersed Spanish living at its best; no matter what century you opt to be a part of.
Put simply, the Spanish Paradores, as they are called, are luxury accommodations that are inside of Castles, Palaces, Convents, Monasteries, Fortresses, and other historic buildings. Located throughout Spain’s many regions including Galacia in the north and Andalusia in the south, as well as in the Canary Islands and in Ceuta and Melilla, the two Spanish cities in North Africa. The best part is, since they were set up in combination and consult with the Spanish Government, your stay at these hotels actually helps to participate in the upkeep of such historic structures. Often found in some of the smaller medieval towns and villages, they can present an amazing, off the charted course stay when you are looking for a grand stay of yesteryear. With more than 120 different vacation-defining unique and absolutely individualistic places to stay at, I am amazed they are not more commonly known.
If you are anything like me, even the briefest of glances at the Paradores website is going to have you salivating at the thought of the unique experience. You truly believe at first glance that you are looking more at a UNESCO world heritage website, than you do a list of potential hotels to stay at. And with good reason-some of the sites actually are.
So what will it be- a 15th century convent or a 17th century Augustan Montessori in Chinchón? So many decisions. On a recommendation of our friends at the Spanish Embassy in Kuwait, we started by checking out the fortress at Jaén. This 13th century Arab fortress is located so far up on the absolute mountaintop that overlooks the city of Jaén, that the panorama view is amazing. Plus I have it on good authority that the balconies of the various rooms all offer 180-degree views of the landscape below—simply breathtaking. Of course, it is exactly the ability to see incoming armies that caused the building of such a fortress to begin with, but it works just fine for the tourist who is just planning on how best to attack their day as well. Now operating as one of the many Paradores since 1968, it now has all the usual modern amenities that you would associate with a mainstream hotel—unless I am wrong and the swimming pool was actually used for a post-battle cool-off!
For my part, I think I would absolutely have to try a chance to stay in the famous palace of Alhambra in Granada-yes, apparently that’s possible. Part of both a palace and a mosque built between 1332 and 1354 (and later converted into a Franciscan convent) the Alhambra is as legendary as the town itself. Given that this is one of the rare spots in the world that perfectly blends both Arabic and Christian styles in terms of both style and the décor found within, this place will no doubt please even the cynical eye. Fitted with only 25 rooms, in order to not overtake the actual tourist pleasure away from the building itself, it still has all the modern amenities of satellite TV, air conditioning etc. From the Royal Chapel, or Capella Real, with its tombs of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, to displays of Juana the Mad and Phillip the Fair, you will no doubt be trying to give yourself a title by the time you leave: how about “Traveler the Pampered?” I digress.
One other interesting one, if for the story alone is the Parador of Cardona. Another mountaintop fortress, this one has a great history. As the legend goes, in 986 A.D. it was decreed that the local population could have salt every Thursday in exchange for one day of work per week maintaining the fortifications. Enlarged a short 40 years later and with added towers brought in in the second century, the architecture is both varied and stunning. Many of the rooms have four posted beds and amazing views, all whilst keeping with the old-world charm you would expect from such a place. Oh yeah, plus satellite TV, mini-bar etc., less you think that I might forget such important travel companions. Medieval in design, and additionally, specializing in Catalan cooking in the on-site restaurants, both eyes, ears, and stomach will all be satiated properly. And, not to be overlooked, on a clear day you can actually see the legendary Montserrat Monastery off in the distance. All of which make for another amazingly unique opportunity.
Whether you are a pilgrim doing the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage that thousands of people do annually which culminates in the beautiful Santiago de Compostela, or are just on a romantic vacation, there really is something for everyone. Still, despite the fact that most of them remain quite affordable, they represent the type of old-world living vacation that you really cannot put a price on.