Some of Europe’s most luxurious and spectacular hotels have been created within the ruins of ancient castles, palaces, monasteries and convents in Spain. Known as paradors, these majestic hotels offer visitors romantic, atmospheric and luxurious lodging in Spain.
Built within the restored walls of magnificent castles and stately palaces, paradors provide travelers a unique taste of history. Crenellated towers, soaring archways, massive battlements, sumptuous throne rooms and breathtaking views are de rigeur for these exceptional lodges.
There are 90 or so paradors scattered throughout Spain. About half of them are modern and the other half are built in restored historic buildings. Every parador, however, has an excellent restaurant that focuses on the local gastronomy. Each restaurant provides a grand architectural and fine dining experience. Award-winning regional chefs craft meals that draw on local produce, fowl, fish and game.
For luxury, these are five of the most sumptuous paradors.
Parador Hostal de San Marcos, Leon
This hotel, founded in a 12th century pilgrim’s lodge, has just undergone a complete renovation. It has all the trimmings for luxury and is considered one of the crown jewels in the parador chain. No one here is doing penance. The beautiful Renaissance building and its formal gardens are only minutes from the city’s Gothic cathedral with its legendary 12,000 square-foot sea of stained glass windows.
Parador Hostal de San Marcos, Leon
Parador Hostel Reyes Catolicos, Santiago de Compostela
One of the oldest hotels in the Spain, this parador is part of one of most beautiful squares in the world, Plaza del Obradoiro. Inside, the hotel has four ornate cloisters, Gothic and Baroque décor, spacious hallways and two excellent restaurants. Steps from the front door is the Cathedral of Santiago, resting place of the apostle St. James and one of the holiest shrines of the Catholic Church.
Parador Monasterio de San Pedro de Villanueva, Cangas de Onis
Set in the midst of the spectacular Picos de Europa, this new luxury parador is relatively isolated. It is a civilized haven surrounded by rugged mountains, deep gorges, hairpin turns, stone-age caves and cascading rapids. The parador has public areas and rooms carved within an old monastery with a modern wing as well. This wild region is where the Christian Reconquest started with a tumultuous battle in 722, eventually driving the Moors out of the peninsula.
Parador Convento de Santo Domingo, Plasencia
This relatively new parador is situated in a 15th century Dominican convent in medieval Plasencia. The interior of this parador is decorated with colorful tiles, wooden ceilings and arching stonework. The evocative streets in this still-undiscovered town are lined with noble palaces adorned with wrought-iron balconies. Laundry still hangs over steep alleys and the curious cathedral offers two distinct architectural styles.
Parador San Francisco, Granada
This is as close as a modern man can come to living like a caliph ruling the Islamic lands in Spain. Rooms are hard to come by and the luxury is not found in the décor and amenities, but rather in the wonderful location. This is the most popular parador in Spain. It sits between the evocative Alhambra and the Generalife (the Moorish palace and gardens) in a restored monastery, overlooking Granada. In the hills across town, flamenco was born.
Several paradors are ancient castles sprinkled in every corner of the country with various levels of luxury. These castle hotels sit precariously on mountain peaks, control border and rivers, or dominate the surrounding countryside.
Here is a list of the ten most memorable and picturesque castle-paradors.
- Parador Santa Catalina, Jaen, has been constructed in a restored Moorish castle that dominates the town below.
- Parador Cardona, Catalonia, is within the massive walls of a medieval 9th century fortress.
- Parador Cuidad Rodrigo, Extremadura, offers hospitality in a bastion that once guarded the Portuguese frontier.
- Parador Siguenza, Guadalajara, has rooms within the crenellated walls of a 12th-century Moorish castle that was eventually converted into a bishop’s residence.
- Parador Hodarrabia, Guipúzcoa, a defensive castle, overlooks the Bay of Biscayne and the river that forms the border with France.
- Parador Tortosa, Catalonia, in a 10th-century fort, strategically guards the Ebro river where it joins the Mediterranean.
- Parador Olite, Navarra, occupies a wing of the fairytale 15th-century castle set in midst of a little-changed medieval town.
- Parador Alcañiz, Teruel, is a castle turned convent that dominates the small town known for its beautiful Mudejar towers and a sad story of unrequited love.
- Parador Alarcon, Cuenca, fills the 8th-century Moorish fortress that guarded the Jucar River from a dramatic promontory.
- Parador Vilalba, Lugo, features a defensive tower that houses six rooms. Lugo was a walled Roman town founded in the 3rd century in Galicia.
Charles Leocha is nationally-recognized expert on saving money and the publisher of Tripso. He is also the Boston-based author of "SkiSnowboard America & Canada." E-mail him or visit his Web site. Want to sound off about one of his columns? Try visiting Leocha's forum.