Spain’s Parador hotels are each and every one some of the country’s great national treasures.
It is a touch of genus, save heritage buildings by shoehorning high end hotels into them.
The location and ambience of each one makes sure that the hotel becomes part of the holiday experience.
One of my favourite stays of all time was in a 12th century abbey in Galicia.
I stayed in seven in one week in 2011, a 12th century abbey in Siguenza, the glorious Cuenca where the houses cling to the hill like limpets, delicious Chinchon, a tasteful new construction (complete with pool, unusual for Paradores) on a hill looking over at royal Toledo, high walled Avila, glass-factory centre La Granja and Segovia of the amazing aqueduct. We peek at Aranjuez, the Versailles of Spain, en route.
What is amazing is that all of these treasures are within a ten euro bus ride of Madrid. Throw in a cheap Ryanair flight and your transportation costs will resemble those of the historical figures who built these palaces.
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The cathedral in Toledo, the Armagh (or Rheims) of Spain, still gives the visitor a flavour of what was going on here.
You get the scent of decaying grandeur at every turn, the time when Spain was the wealthiest country on earth, the empire on which the sun never set.
Until Philip II moved his empire to the village of Madrid, (he thought the was in the centre of Spain (he was out by 40 miles), Toledo was the hub of an empire that extended from Patagonia to San Francisco.
It has 150 historic sites, 80 churches, and the cathedral stands out like an outsized galleon amid the curved walls of medieval houses. “King of paradise open the door for the king of earth,” the Archbishop used to say when the king came to enter the big door on to a plaza where tourists sip surprisingly (for a tourist trap) great value expressos.
There are 150 monuments in Toledo, sitting upon her rocky eyrie as it were a veritable eagle among imperial cities of romance and to catch her glance is to pay instant homage to a town which is not as other towns are, to a city which has seen nations and civilisations kneel to her, as it were, on their way to fates long since forgotten and achievements long since outworn, and yet herself remains incurious, inscrutable. Irish writer Hannah Lynch wrote a century and a quarter ago.
So much history, what to do? Sit with a beer on the narrow pedestrianised streets and watch the humming life all around. This is a living breathing city with shoppers and lovers and carpenters and plumbers all sharing the cobbles, not a museum piece to be marvelled at by tourists.
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The aqueduct in Segovia is still carrying water after 2,000 years. Who would have predicted it could have survived that long?
A climb on the walls of Avila, which has some of the most complete medieval walls on any historian’s itinerary. The evening sun casts an amber colour across the stone, giving it a fairy tale feel. Or maybe I’ve had one Rjoca too many.
Toledo and Avilla were two of the more entertaining nights I have spent in my travelling life. Travel is often not only about the place, but about the company, and your humour at a particular time. All of these were the case in the Paradores, where I was travelling with some really nice people in top form. Throw in such a glorious and storied landscape, and you cannot go far wrong.
There are 93 Paradores in all, lots of them to keep us occupied for a few holiday terms to come.
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