Spain has a rich architectural heritage with magnificent historic walled cities and some of the finest preserved castles and fortresses in Europe. Spain's "Paradores" are a stunning collection of mainly four and five-star restored castles, monasteries, convents and palaces, designed to maximize luxury without forgoing the antiquity and integrity of the building. Step back in time at these historic hotels that ooze charm, romance, chivalry and opulence. Although certainly not a budget option, in most cases, the prices compare to those of regular big city hotel rooms. Locations are spread out throughout the Iberian Peninsula so it is likely that if you plan to travel around the country, your path will most certainly cross a Parador. Rather than stay in the big cities, why not venture into the countryside to discover quaint villages and live like a king (at least for a day) in one of the 90 plus authentic Medieval, Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance or Romanesque domiciles. Most Paradores stand atop hills or rocky outcrops with views across the countryside, rivers or towns. Several boast antique furnishings, significant art collections and museum quality displays of armor, weapons and military regalia.
Paradores de Turismo de España (tel. +34/902-547-979; www.parador.es/en) pretty much has a monopoly on the Paradores and is the sole company that manages all 90 plus establishments. With that centralized control comes the ability to offer property wide discounts and incentives which are of a particular benefit to travelers. For example, stay two consecutive nights at any Parador on a half-board basis and get a 20% discount on a standard double room. Their five night card promotion is a must for those who would like to stay at one or multiple properties for a total of five or more nights. The card costs $812 (including tax) which works out to $161 per night. It can be used at any Parador as long as you book in advance and it can be purchased through the reservations telephone number, at any of the properties or though Spanish travel agents. The card is valid for stays in standard double rooms throughout the year and additional adults pay $47 in an extra bed, and children up to age 12 pay $36 per night when sharing a room with two adults.
The Young Persons Getaway is a perk for those aged between 20 and 30. Stay in a standard double room at most properties, including buffet breakfast, for just $88 per person per night. Only one person needs to be "young" to qualify for this rate so your companion can be older or younger, as long as they share the same room. Supplement for a single occupancy is $51 and a few properties apply a room supplement for weekend stays and during peak months. There are even greater discounts (of 30%) for seniors over 60 -- called "Golden Days." There are some blackout dates including May 1 to 3 and December 5 to 8 for all properties and a small number of minor exceptional for individual properties. Certain weekends require a minimum two night stay. These 2008 discounts are valid until December 27, 2008.
Perhaps the oldest castle hotel is the beautifully preserved 8th century Parador Marques de Villena in the village of Alarcon, La Mancha situated between Madrid and Valencia, approximately 80 miles from Madrid Airport. This classic castle and its fortress compound looks like it jumped straight out of a knights-of-the round-table movie set with imposing rustic stone walls and towering turrets. It also houses a collection of armor, weaponry and medieval artifacts. If you're 60 plus, rooms here start at $242 per night on a bed and breakfast basis. Those under 30 can secure a room with breakfast from $263 and us regular folk who fall in between those two demographics need to fork out $376. All prices are inclusive of taxes.
South of Pamplona, in province of Navarre, once a kingdom of its own at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains, you will find the three-star 15th century Gothic French style Parador Principe de Viana at Olite, a converted palace surrounded by the original medieval walls complete with 15 towers. Rooms here boast stain glass window, solid four-poster beds, antique furnishings and ornate rugs plus several have balconies overlooking a pine forest. The town of Olite is known for its wine production and there are several commercial cellars nearby. Rates here is a standard double room start from $211 plus tax per night in low season (November to February) and $228 in high season (March to October). Breakfast is an additional $22 per head and lunch or dinner can be enjoyed in the grand dining room for $44 per person.
On a much grander scale, the Parador Leon-Hotel Hostal San Marcos is a converted 16th century Renaissance monastery that houses 195 twin rooms, 15 doubles and 16 suites. It was originally constructed some 400 years earlier for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia and became the headquarters of the Order of Saint James whose soldiers provided protection for the pilgrims. The capital city of the former kingdom of Leon, the town of Leon is some 185 miles from Madrid in the north west of Spain. It is home to a magnificent cathedral built on the site of 2nd century Roman baths, the Royal Church of San Isidoro, an archaeological Museum and the "Casa de Botines" by Gaudi. Between the ornate cloisters, carved facades and lavishly appointed five-star rooms at the Parador, this is a far cry from the monastic conditions that the pilgrims undoubtedly faced when they stayed here centuries ago. The price has obviously gone up too. A standard double room here is priced at $293 all year round.
Located approximately 60 miles west of Cordoba, Parador Castillo de Santa Catalina in the town of Jaen is a luxurious four-star hotel built within a 13th century Arab fortress with stunning views over the city, the plains of the Guadalquivir river and the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Originally a Roman city names Aurigis, it later became an important stop along a Moor caravan route. The castle became a hotel in 1968 with a combination of Arabic and European design elements. Low season double room rates start from $219 and high season from $236. Breakfast is $24 and lunch or dinner is $46 per person.
The four-star Parador Carmona-Hotel Alcazar del Rey Don Pedro is located about 20 miles east of Seville in the Andalusian countryside. This lovingly restored 14th century Arabic fortress has a traditional Moorish courtyard with a colonnaded cloister, a Mudejar fountain, a modern swimming pool, ornately decorated ceilings and balconies overlooking the river below. Rooms are gallantly adorned with leather furniture, textured drapes, military hardware and the historic paintings. The town of Carmona itself is considered a national treasure with no fewer than 15 historic and protected monuments, including an original Roman bridge, churches, convents and various entry arches to the city. Low season rates start from $236 per night and high season prices range from $252 for a standard double to $315 for a room with a hydromassage spa bath. Breakfast is $24 and lunch or dinner is $46 per person.
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