Sunday, April 29, 2012


This was never published in the magazine but it was on the TIM website

Fancy staying in an old castle or monastery? Then one of the state chain of hotels, a Parador, may well be for you.

Paradores are a product of a dictatorship in Spain, probably not the last one but the one before. The dicatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera that lasted from 1923 till 1930. Primo thought that well heeled tourists might come to Spain bringing plenty of spending money if there were somewhere pleasant and interesting for them to stay.

The first Parador was built in the Gredos mountain range and in some ways it's a much more normal Parador than the stereotypical converted fortress or nunnery that hotel chain tend to use in their advertising nowadays. When we turned up there one dull, wet day the building looked like something from the Scottish Highlands. The original building has been added to so that parts are modern and parts are old. It's been done with style - all wood, grey slate, overstuffed chairs and brass standard lamps but it is essentially new build.

The second Parador was built in 1929 in Ciudad Rodrigo a town that I lived in for a while. We used to take our guests there for a cup of coffee. It never failed to impress, a real 14th Century castle with battlements and halbards on the wall.

There are plenty of Paradores that are new but they are usually in splendid locations. Clipped lawns and large swimming pools overlooking the sea or halfway up some tree covered mountain. Nearly all of the hotels provide themed holidays or specialist packages - bird watching or painting here, mountaineering and folk dancing there. Christmas breaks, New Years celebrations and any other date on which they can hang an event.

I've only stayed in about four of five Paradores but I've eaten in or at least had a drink in lots more. In most of them the restaurant and bar staff will wear the traditional costume of the area and the restaurant will specialise in local food. The food and drink isn't cheap but it isn't outrageous either. They do veggie too as a matter of course. You can still get a menú del día for around 30€ though the drinks aren't usually included. It's the same with the rooms, pricy but not exorbitant especially if you hunt out one of the, always available, deals.

I like Paradores, they have a certain charm but they can be disappointing. The one in Albacete for instance I remember as looking like a builders cabin set in the middle of a wasteland. The coffee bar was littered with old napkins. We didn't stay. The one in Ceuta, where we had a room, was blessed with terribly slow bar service and high quality but down at heel rooms. Often the bars are deserted and after the obligatory gawp at the oil paintings and coats of armour you begin to wonder if the bar is actually open. Nonetheless, when someone does come to serve you they will be highly apologetic and I've often thought that the staff make up for any deficiencies of the general management of these hotels.

Rooms vary; most are much like any modern hotel but some are terrific, designed to fit in with the ambience of the place - four poster beds, oil painings and high, vaulted ceilings. The restaurants are nearly always good and usually pretty busy. It's the sort of place that Spaniards take their Granny to celebrate her birthday, the sort of place where tourists wear linen trousers and Spaniards their chinos and Ben Sherman's.

If you're anywhere close to a Parador and you see the sign why not go and have a quick shufti. Decide for yourself.

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