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Mar
05

Don’t Miss The Hot deal on Spain

Spring is in the air, people are getting that itch to go somewhere and prices, well, they’re going up, of course.

Planes are pretty much recession proof. But countries are not. And nowhere is this more evident than Spain right now. Not that I’d want to take advantage of a country’s suffering, but because of the recession there, honestly there is no better place to go for Spring Break or an early-summer vacation—read before August.

And one of the best ways to travel Spain is by parador-hopping. What’s a parador, you might ask? It’s a castle. A real-live castle with turrets and a courtyard, dark twisted passageways and rooms filled with antiques that you can actually sleep in.

madrid

madrid

And there are so many of them. See, once upon a time, Spain had cash and they were smart enough to set about restoring their historic buildings and turning them into luxury hotels. Today, there are 93 government-owned sites as part of the chain Paradores de Turismo de España, most of them in ancient monasteries, medieval castles and Moorish forts.

Parador hopping is encouraged by the network themselves. They even help you organize routes and offer great deals‑like a personalized itinerary.

For example, most people pick an area they’d like to see. Like Madrid, for example. There’s no better way to get a feel for what Spain was once like and pay half of what you’d pay to stay in some modern hotel. Now, keep in mind that a parador will feel old-school and you ay not have every kind of convenience you’d have at a chain hotel. To which I say thank God.

prado museum

prado museum

And this is a great time to go. Madrid starts coming to life after Easter. All over the city, waiters are busy putting out the tables and chairs at the pavement cafés, getting ready for the crowds.  Afternoons slip by over languid lunches in shady squares.
From May onwards, the cultural festivals come thick and fast, with concerts and theater in outdoor venues. At the height of summer, fiestas turn the most traditional downtown neighborhoods into one long open-air party.

Madrid has really revamped itself in the past couple of years. The Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums have all got bigger and better, while the center of the city is smartening up with new boutiques, delis, cafés and bars opening up every week. It’s perfect for a culture-rich long weekend or city break, with great food and a fun atmosphere at night.

By staying in a parador, you can see Seville and Córdoba and get the hang of driving! It makes you feel like a local.

clear sailing

clear sailing

Seriously, the driving is easy, the highways are truly smooth and the Spanish are relatively angst-free. So as a tourist it’s pretty cool, and pretty liberating to rent a car here. If you like country roads, they are also in good shape. On the first stop along this particular itinerary is Cáceres, where the parador is in the city hall. It’s high on a hill and the medieval village surrounding it is also intact. Because it was controlled by the Arabs for centuries, you’ll see traces of them everywhere.

Cáceres parador

Cáceres parador

Inside the Cáceres parador, there are antique chests in the halls and a display of knightly armor. The bathrooms are all new and the Wi-Fi free. It is a nice bit of modernism in this town where nothing, and I mean nothing feels new. Even the staff can give you the feeling of the old days—but you’re not coming here to be in the Four Seasons. Here you feel like you’re not home, often some people will not speak your language, and that’s good. Sometimes not being to turn on CNN international is a good thing.

Don’t miss the Carmona parador, another Arab fortress, this one set high on a hill, offering amazing views. This parador was in great shape, too. But unlike the one in Cáceres, the interior was full of painted Spanish tiles, giving it a far more regional feel.

Almagro parador

Almagro parador

The next parador on the list is the Almagro parador, a rebuilt convent, which manages to capture the mood of contemplation (each room has a marble font for holy water). But there are enough brightly painted wooden beams and beautiful gardens to keep the place from being gloomy, even on a winter weekend.

Here’s a list of the ones you should build your itinerary around:

Zafra Parador A 15th-century storybook castle with stone battlements, nine looming towers. Plaza Corazón de María 7,  Zafra.

Cáceres Parador Two 14th-century palaces, linked by labyrinthine corridors in the historic town center.  Calle Ancha 6, Cáceres.

paradors

paradors

Carmona Parador Different civilizations have settled where this 14th-century Moorish citadel stands, high above the River Corbones Alcázar, Seville.

Santiago de Compostela Parador This late 15th-century hostel was originally a resting place for pilgrims, sinners and penitents traveling the St. James’ Way. It says it is the oldest hotel in the world. It certainly is one of the most beautiful. Plaza Do Obradoiro 1, Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña.

The La Granja Parador In the 18th century these two recently restored palaces in the Guadarrama mountain range were commissioned by Charles III of Spain as residences for his children. The lodge for the royal children was possibly the first building in Spain to have lavatories. Calle de los Infantes 3, La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia.

The Santo Estevo Parador A remote Benedictine monastery surrounded by woodlands. Rooms look out over the cloisters. Experts believe the monastery may date back as early as the sixth century. Monasterio de Santo Estevo, Nogueira de Ramuín, Ourense.

The El Saler Parador A luxurious, modern hotel for golfing enthusiasts, constructed on a nature reserve by the Mediterranean coast, rather than in a historic building. The 18-hole, 72-par golf course, which stretches down to the shore and incorporates several sand dunes, has hosted the Spanish Golf Open three times. Avenida de los Pinares 151, El Saler, Valencia.

The Alcalá de Henares Parador

The Alcalá de Henares Parador

The Alcalá de Henares Parador The extraordinary modern architectural design of this UNESCO world heritage 17th-century convent was recently on display at the MOMA in New York. The hotel is is only 26 km from Madrid. Colegios 8, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid. And it’s $150 a night!

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