From castles converted into hotels to modern high-rise resorts overlooking the Mediterranean, Spain has some of the most varied hotel accommodations in the world -- with equally varied price ranges. Accommodations are broadly classified as follows:
One- to Five-Star Hotels -- The Spanish government rates hotels by according them stars. A five-star hotel is truly deluxe, with deluxe prices; a one-star hotel consists of the most modest accommodations officially recognized as a hotel by the government. A four-star hotel offers first-class accommodations; a three-star hotel is moderately priced; and a one- or two-star hotel is inexpensively priced. The government grants stars based on such amenities as elevators, private bathrooms, and air-conditioning. If a hotel is classified as a residencia, it means that it serves breakfast (usually) but no other meals.
Hostales -- Not to be confused with a hostel for students, a hostal is a modest hotel without services, where you can save money by carrying your own bags and the like. You'll know it's a hostal if a small S follows the capital letter H on the blue plaque by the door. Hostales with three stars are about the equivalent of hotels with two stars.
Pensions -- These boardinghouses are among the least expensive accommodations, but you're required to take either full board (three meals) or half-board, which is breakfast plus lunch or dinner.
Casas Huespedes & Fondas -- These are the cheapest places in Spain and can be recognized by the light-blue plaques at the door displaying CH and F, respectively. They are invariably basic but respectable establishments.
Youth Hostels -- Spain has about 140 hostels (albergues de juventud). In theory, travelers age 25 or under have the first chance at securing a bed for the night, but these places are certainly not limited to young people. Some of them are equipped for persons with disabilities. Most hostels impose an 11pm curfew. For information, contact Red Española de Alberques Juveniles, Castello 24, 28001 Madrid (tel. 91-522-70-07; www.reaj.com).
Paradores -- The Spanish government runs a series of unique state-owned inns called paradores, which now blanket the country. Deserted castles, monasteries, palaces, and other buildings have been taken over and converted into hotels. Today there are 86 paradores in all, and they're documented in a booklet called Visiting the Paradores, available at Spanish tourist offices.
At great expense, modern bathrooms, steam heat, and the like have been added to these buildings, yet classic Spanish architecture, where it existed, has been retained. Establishments are often furnished with antiques or at least good reproductions and decorative objects typical of the country.
Meals are also served in these government-owned inns. Usually, typical dishes of the region are featured. Paradores are likely to be overcrowded in the summer months, so advance reservations, arranged through any travel agent, are wise.
The government also operates a type of accommodations known as albergues: These are comparable to motels, lining the road in usually hotel-scarce areas for the convenience of passing motorists. A client is not allowed to stay in an albergue for more than 48 hours, and the management doesn't accept reservations.
In addition, the government runs refugios (refuges), mostly in remote areas, attracting hunters, fishers, and mountain climbers. Another state-sponsored establishment is the hostería, or specialty restaurant, such as the one at Alcalá de Henares, near Madrid. Hosterías don't offer rooms; decorated in the style of a particular province, they serve regional dishes at reasonable prices.
The central office for paradores is Paradores de España, Requeña 3, 28013 Madrid (tel. 90-254-79-79; www.parador.es). The U.S. representative is Marketing Ahead, 381 Park Ave. S., New York, NY 10016 (tel. 800/223-1356 or 212/686-9213; www.marketingahead.com). Travel agents can also arrange reservations.
Renting a House or Apartment
If you rent a home or an apartment, you can save money on accommodations and dining and still take daily trips to see the surrounding area.
Apartments in Spain generally fall into two different categories: hotel apartamentos and residencia apartamentos. The hotel apartments have full facilities, with chamber service, equipped kitchenettes, and often restaurants and bars. The residencia apartments, also called apartamentos turísticos, are fully furnished with kitchenettes but lack the facilities of the hotel complexes. They are cheaper, however.
One rental company to try is Hometours International (tel. 865/690-8484 or 866/367-4668; www.budgettravel.com), which mainly handles properties in Andalusia. Call them and they'll send you a 40-page color catalog with descriptions and pictures for $5 to cover postage and handling. Units are rented for a minimum of 7 days.
Another agency is ILC (International Lodging Corp.; tel. 888/SPAIN-44 [772-4644] or 212/228-5900; www.ilcweb.com), which rents privately owned apartments, houses, and villas for a week or more. It also offers access to suites in well-known hotels for stays of a week or longer, sometimes at bargain rates. Rental units, regardless of their size, usually contain a kitchen. The company's listings cover accommodations in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Granada, and Majorca.