A Five-Parador Tour

Posted by: Bill from NYC

A Five-Parador Tour - 07/26/06 10:32 AM

Copy from the New York Time. I do not know if I will every stay at a Parador, I just do not get excited about them. But I should stay a one for a night, just to experience it.

But to experience a good night sleep maybe that is why I have not done it? confused


(MadridMan feel free to move this to the correct forum.)

July 23, 2006
A Five-Parador Tour Through Northern Spain

FOR much of the 20th century, paradores were essential stops for visitors to the Spanish provinces. But that was before hotel companies (like the rapidly growing AC chain) began expanding to small cities, and country inns became showcases for ambitious chefs. Suddenly, the paradores had competition.

And that’s why the Spanish government is spending heavily to open new paradores (many in parts of Spain that tourists tend to overlook) and to reinvent the old ones.

At the same time, the paradores offer so many promotions that you’d have to be loco to pay the standard rate. My partner and I toured northern Spain in late May with a “pass” that entitled us to five nights at 85 euros (about $110 at $1.30 to the euro) a night for a room; a handful of the paradores charge a supplement. Given that rooms at the new Frank Gehry-designed hotel in the Rioja wine country, opening in September, will start at $800 a night, the paradores are an extraordinary value.

In the five we sampled — three newly opened and two recently refurbished — the accommodations ranged from lovely to glorious. All had some of the chic touches you’d find in Madrid or Barcelona (giant lampshades hung as ceiling fixtures, Lucite chairs by Philippe Starck), but also lots of carved wood furniture and flowered fabrics more appropriate to the historic settings. Bathrooms were, in every case, up to luxury hotel standards.

The paradores were also surprisingly easy to get to: In the last five years, Spain has completed a network of superhighways that brings once-remote parts of the country closer together. Whether or not the new superhighways are good for Spain, which until now has been markedly devoid of sprawl, they’re certainly good for travelers. We were able to travel in northern Spain from Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela in a week, without ever feeling hurried. And the one afternoon we did fall behind schedule, we benefited from another advantage to staying in paradores: we were able to transfer our reservation, at no charge, from one location to another.


Four hundred years ago, the Duke of Lerma, a favorite of King Philip III, expelled the Moriscos (Moors who had converted to Christianity) from Castile and used their confiscated wealth to build a palace. The building, in the town of Lerma, 125 miles north of Madrid, had been allowed to deteriorate over the centuries. Last year, beautifully refurbished, it became a parador.

Our room, perhaps the smallest in the parador, was the size of a one-bedroom apartment. The public spaces arrayed around a large double-arcaded courtyard, now covered with a glass roof, were nothing short of ducal. But we were rarely indoors; Lerma proved the perfect place to begin exploring Spanish history. To avoid mingling with commoners, the Duke built an enclosed, elevated walkway across town to the church of San Pedro. The walkway has long been converted to apartments, but you can enter the church with a tour guide (3 euros, about $4 at $1.30 to the euro, worth paying even if the guide doesn’t speak English).

Lerma is filled with restaurants, and we loved lunch at the Asado de Lerma, across the square from the parador: huge portions of roasted peppers with anchovies, and a perfect grilled dorade, with dessert, wine and water for 20 euros each. There were a few disappointments: The swimming pool and spa — increasingly common in the parador chain — hadn’t yet opened. But who’s complaining? With his palace now wired for air-conditioning and cable television (including CNN), the Duke of Lerma never had it so good.

Santo Domingo Bernardo de Fresneda

Prepare to feel guilty — the town of Santo Domingo is filled with pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela, many of whom will spend the night on floors or cots. The new parador, in the former convent of San Francisco, offers decidedly more luxurious accommodations. Most of the grand spaces are 16th century, but there is also a gorgeous new dining room on a patio covered by a vaulted glass ceiling.

This parador is an ideal base for a tour through Spanish wine country. A short drive east took us to La Guardia, a marvelously atmospheric hill town, and wineries, including Ysios, designed by Santiago Calatrava, and another stunner, Baigorri, by the Basque architect Iñaki Azpiazu.


Since the Guggenheim put it on the map, Bilbao has been sprouting hotels — the Hesperia Bilbao, across the river from the museum, opened this year. But a more interesting option is the new parador in Limpias, a tiny town half an hour west.

The parador occupies a 19th-century palace with a nature trail leading through its 10 acres of ash, magnolia and maple trees (plus pool and tennis court). The hotel’s new wing is uninspiring, but our five-night card got us a room in the original building, with a lovely balcony almost as large as the room itself. And the food at this parador — including a superb plate of calamari with green and red peppers — was well worth the 28-euro prix fixe.

The drive west from Limpias offered numerous rewards. Santillana del Mar is home to the magnificent 12th-century Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana (a must-see even if, like me, you don’t want your entire trip to be about ecclesiastical architecture).

A bit farther west, Comillas is a seaside village that contains several unusual country houses, the oddest designed by Gaudí in 1885 and now a restaurant. The 20-euro lunch included terrific seafood appetizers and entrees, and elegantly correct service. Between courses, we explored the house, which, like any Gaudí building, includes many memorably strange details.


León’s parador is housed in one of the city’s most important buildings, the Baroque Convent of San Marcos. The only way to see most of its breathtaking interior is to check in. Once you do, you’ll want to devote at least an hour to touring the public spaces, which include a lounge with a 16th-century coffered ceiling of remarkable complexity.

Some of the rooms in the original building — for those who want to splurge — can be nearly as impressive. (Room 559, in one of the corner towers, looks as if it could have been Ferdinand and Isabella’s bedchamber.) Less expensive are the rooms in a surprisingly graceful 1960’s wing, recently refurbished so that nothing detracts from the views through floor-to-ceiling windows; we faced the magnificent church linked to the main convent building.

But the service isn’t what it should be; endless efforts failed to produce a simple adapter that would allow me to plug in my computer (the AC Cuzco Hotel in Madrid had a cache of them on hand). The parador, its nonchalant employees seemed to be asserting, has no reason to adapt.


After we got lost during a rainstorm in the Galician city of Vigo, a series of parador signs guided us to Tui (pronounced twee, and sometimes spelled Tuy). Once there, we didn’t want to leave. This is a small parador, and one of the few that isn’t in an ancient building. (The structure, a very good imitation of a Galician manor house, was built in 1968 and extensively remodeled last year.)

But it’s the views to the Miño River — and then across the river to the Portugese town of Valença do Minho with its medieval fort — that make the location a gem. Adding to the richness, the bridge across the Miño, just north of the parador and visible from many of its rooms, is a basketweave structure designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Tui, charming in itself, is also a perfect base for exploring the Minho valley. Twenty minutes east of Tui is Ribadavia, where the old Jewish barrio is a trip back to the 11th century, when Jews first settled there. An elderly woman named Herminia runs a bakery that specializes in breads formed into stars of David — an apparent lure for the Jewish tourists who occasionally happen upon her shop.

Down the narrow cobblestone streets from the Jewish quarter is an imposing house bearing the coats of arms of the town’s leading families; poignantly, it was the regional headquarters of the Inquisition.
Posted by: nevado

Re: A Five-Parador Tour - 07/26/06 07:14 PM

Just in case anyone is interested in a treat, lastminute.com has great prices on paradors, especially the one in Santiago de Compostela...115euros/room/night. There are lots of dates left for july/aug.

The other day my husband and I stopped for coffee at the parador in Alarcón. Since we had been there last, they had done some renovations and I was surprisingly disappointed. I think they ruined the courtyard with modern touches and really took away the quaint, historical feeling you got when you entered.