What can I expect at a Spanish castle hotel?
Spanish castle hotels remain true to their architectural heritage. Seldom do you see so many modifications as to render the original structure unrecognizable. Given the extreme cold and heat of the Spanish climate, medieval builders constructed extraordinarily thick walls to help insulate interiors. Today, modern air-conditioning and central heating creates perfect comfort. Interior decor of the castle hotels is handsome and understated, rather than fussy.
The Paradors of Spain
A little history
In 1910 the Spanish government set up a commission to improve transportation and hotel facilities throughout the country. The Marqués de la Vega Inclán instigated opening the first “parador” (or inn) in 1926 at Gredos, a site chosen by King Alfonso XIII in the mountains near Ávila. Before that time, lodging in Spain consisted mostly of an area to tie up the animals and a place on the floor to sleep. Highways were practically nonexistent.
The parador at Gredos was such a success that a royal commission—Junta de Paradores y Hosterías del Reino—was founded with the intention of promoting Spanish tourism. Since then the government has opened nearly ninety three- and four-star hotels in castles, palaces, monasteries, and some contemporary buildings throughout Spain, the Canary Islands, and the Spanish colony of Melilla in North Africa.
What is it like to stay in a parador?
Although no two paradors are exactly alike, they have certain things in common:
They are easy to find. (OK, there are a few exceptions, but I’ve always found them.) Signposts will lead you through the maze of streets right to the entrance. In some cases, where the parador is located in the center of town where the streets are pedestrianized, you’ll be allowed through the gate to unload your luggage. Most are located in small towns that can be reached by public transportation.
Guestrooms are spacious with room to spread out; seldom do you see small rooms as you do in some European hotels. Most rooms have two beds, and sometimes these are pushed together. The Spanish paradors have undergone remodeling and rooms are now more modern and minimalist in décor with hints of the traditions and art of the surrounding region. Once in a while you might end up in a room that has a problem with acoustics, meaning you hear noise from the corridor. If this happens, bring it up with reception.
Bathrooms are modern and supplied with the biggest bath towels in Europe.
Parador restaurants reflect the cuisine and wine of the region. Although prices have gone up considerably over the past few years, you’ll find the food well prepared and presented. Parador breakfasts are presented buffet style, with about four tables of cereals, breads, yogurts, juices, fruits, cheeses, and meats that should appeal to any taste. Sometimes when you reserve your room, reservations will quote you a price that includes breakfast. Be sure to ask.
The lobby areas of the paradors are the best part. Stunning in décor, you are immediately transported into another world of Spanish culture and history. Take advantage of a corner furnished with comfy couches and period art on the walls to plan the beginning of your day or relax after a day of activities and exploration.
Always check the official parador website for specials. For example, discounts are freely given if you’re a senior during certain months. If you plan on spending more than five nights in any of the paradors, a “five night card” offers substantial savings.
Sometimes I’ve heard people mention the standardization of the paradors, and to a very small degree this could be true, but the central administration has gone far out of its way to emphasize the individuality of each parador’s history and role in the traditions and culture of its local region. Staying in a parador is a superb experience not to be missed!