Funded and maintained by the government, Spain's paradores are hostelries that showcase a building or setting of important cultural and historical interest. Some are much older and grander than others. Below are the country's most interesting and unusual. For more information, visit www.parador.es.
- Parador de Avila, Avila (tel. 92-021-13-40): Built as an enlargement of a 15th-century palace (Palacio de Piedras Albas, also known as Palacio de Benavides), this parador features gardens that flank the northern fortifications of this well-preserved, 11th-century walled city. While only some of the comfortable, airy guest rooms are in the original palace, it's still the region's most intriguing hotel. In the parador's restaurant, try the roast suckling pig, a regional specialty.
- Parador de Cuenca, Cuenca (tel. 96-923-23-20): This 16th-century building, once a Dominican convent, is one of the newer paradores in Spain. Like the medieval houses for which Cuenca is famous, the balconies here jut over rocky cliffs, overlooking swift-moving rivers below. The sight of casas colgadas, or "suspended houses," is unforgettable. An adjoining restaurant specializes in seasonal wild game.
- Parador de Turismo de Toledo, Toledo (tel. 92-522-18-50): Although this is a relatively modern building, the architecture subtly evokes much older models. Views from the windows, boasting faraway glimpses of the city's historic core, evoke the scenes El Greco painted in his View of Toledo. A swimming pool is a welcome relief in blistering Toledo. Such regional dishes as stewed partridge are featured in the hotel restaurant.
- Parador Hostal San Marcos, León (tel. 98-723-73-00): Originally home to the Order of Santiago -- a group of knights charged with protecting journeying pilgrims -- the building was expanded and converted into a monastery some 400 years later. These days, set beside the Bernesga River and with a lavishly decorated church on the grounds, it's one of Spain's most deluxe paradores. The public areas are pure medieval grandeur: a dramatic lobby, a huge cast-iron chandelier, and stone staircases.
- Parador de Zamora, Zamora (tel. 98-051-44-97; www.parador.es): This one-time Moorish fortress-turned-Renaissance palace is among the most beautiful and richly decorated paradores in Spain. A medieval aura is reflected in the details: armor, coats of arms, tapestries, and attractive four-poster beds. A swimming pool enhances the tranquil back garden. Castilian fare such as stuffed roast veal typifies the restaurant's offerings
- Parador de Cáceres, Cáceres (tel. 92-721-17-59): Live like royalty at this palace, built in the 1400s on the site of Arab fortifications. The parador is in the city's Old Quarter, recently declared a World Heritage site. The spacious public areas are decorated with soft cream shades and rough-hewn ceiling beams. Venison with goat cheese and roast kid with rosemary are typical of the varied Extremaduran cuisine served in the parador's restaurant.
- Parador de Trujillo, Trujillo (tel. 92-732-13-50): Set in the inviting 16th-century convent of Santa Clara, this parador was originally built in a combination of medieval and Renaissance styles. The building was transformed into a hotel in 1984; the guest rooms are considerably more lavish than they were during their stint as nuns' cells. The cuisine is the best in town.
- Parador de Mérida, Mérida (tel. 92-431-38-00): A 16th-century building that was at various times a convent and a prison, this parador once hosted a meeting between the much-hated dictators of Spain (Franco) and Portugal (Salazar) in the 1960s. Mudéjar, Roman, and Visigothic elements adorn the interior in unusual but stunning juxtaposition. The inner courtyard and Mozarabic gardens add graceful notes. The kitchen serves the area's best, including gazpacho, calderetas extremeñas (stews), and the famous Almoharin figs.
- Parador de Santillana Gil Blas, Santillana del Mar (tel. 94-202-80-28): This bucolic parador recalls the manor houses that dotted northern Spain's verdant hillsides more than 400 years ago. Composed of thick stone walls and heavy timbers, it's pleasantly isolated and elegantly countrified. A bonus is its proximity to what has been called "the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art" -- the Caves of Altamira.
- Parador Molino Viejo (Parador de Gijón), Gijón (tel. 98-537-05-11): As the name implies, this hotel was built around the decrepit remains of a molino, or cider mill (and the antique presses are still at hand). Close to San Lorenzo Beach, it's the only parador in the northern province of Asturias. The dining room serves typical Asturian cuisine, including the famous fabada, a rich stew of white beans and pork.
- Parador de Pontevedra, Pontevedra (tel. 98-685-58-00): The building is a 16th-century Renaissance palace built on foundations at least 200 years older than that. It's famous as one of Spain's first paradores. Inaugurated in 1955, its success led to the amplification of the parador program. The hotel is still alluring today, with its delightful terrace garden and stately dining room, which serves the fresh fish and seafood for which Galicia is known.
- Hostal de Los Reyes Católicos, Santiago de Compostela (tel. 98-158-22-00): We saved the best for last -- this is one of the most spectacular hotels in Europe. Originally a hospice for wayfaring pilgrims, it boasts a lavish 16th-century facade, four open-air courtyards, and a bedchamber once occupied by Franco. Today, the hotel is a virtual museum, with Gothic, Renaissance, and baroque architectural elements. It boasts four beautiful cloisters, elegant public areas, and spectacular guest rooms.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.