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Spain’s Parador Hotels Let You Sleep Where Royalty Ruled and Battles Ensued

By Andrea Guthmann

Oct 9, 2019

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Parador de Tortosa’s long history is on display across the grounds.

Courtesy of Parador de Tortosa

Parador de Tortosa’s long history is on display across the grounds.

The government has converted 97 significant buildings into boutique hotels up and down the country, making for a history-rich road trip.

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Many visitors to Spain never make it past Barcelona, Bilbao, or Madrid, but some of the country’s most interesting finds are outside the major cities. Between the awe-inspiring Pyrenees and the pristine coastline, you’ll enjoy plenty of captivating, cobblestoned medieval towns.

Since 1928, the Spanish government has encouraged tourism in these remote locales by transforming neglected fortresses, monasteries, palaces, and other historic buildings into boutique hotels. Called paradores, the hotels are a point of pride for the Spanish but off the radar for the majority of travelers.

Most are well-preserved landmarks, giving visitors an incredible opportunity to sleep in places where royalty ruled or battles ensued. Yet all 97 paradores have been updated with modern conveniences—Wi-Fi, cable TV, and luxurious bathrooms stuffed with amenities. The fairly priced rooms can be simple and functional—you’re here for the history, not the decor. Spain’s modern highway system makes parador-hopping a fun, history-rich road trip.

Parador de Tortosa

Tortosa, Catalonia 

Perched above the 2,000-year-old town of Tortosa, 90 minutes south of Barcelona, this parador is situated in Zuda Castle, which started life as a Moorish fortress before becoming a Christian castle in the 13th century. The parador is in a new building that seamlessly blends in with the rest of the historic complex, with an Arabic tombstone and other artifacts in the lobby.

Much of Parador de Tortosa’s charm rests in the outdoor, communal areas (the rooms actually feel a bit dated). So relax on a chaise longue beside the large swimming pool or head out on the private terraces to take in the sweeping views of the Ebro River and the terra-cotta-roofed houses of the sleepy old town. 

Spain’s paradores are known for their elegant restaurants in spectacular settings and this one is no exception; it serves an excellent breakfast buffet of eggs, quiche, fresh fruit and juice, pastries, and Spanish charcuterie and cheeses. For a magical evening, request one of the intimate tables tucked into the stone arches and illuminated by stained glass windows.

Book Now: From 95 euros per night, parador.es

Some 900 years of history are on display at Parador de Alcañiz.

Parador de Alcañiz

Alcañiz, Aragon

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After making it up the steep driveway to Parador Alcañiz, you’ll easily see how this imposing 12th-century castle and monastery dominated the town for much of its history. Spend time in the lovely courtyard or in the elegant bar with its exposed stones and medieval mural. Or check out the treasures inside the on-site church. Some of the 14th-century murals show religious scenes, but most depict military battles because the monks who lived here were also knights responsible for defending the castle.

As with every Spanish town, there’s a church worthy of a visit. Santa Maria la Mayor, built in the 13th century, was demolished in the 18th century and replaced with a baroque building. A two-euro entry fee includes an audio guide. Then have dinner the Spanish way—enjoying late-night tapas at the bustling, affordable Gastro Pub de Micelios. The lively town square, Plaza de España, is great for people-watching. 

Book Now: From 95 euros per night, parador.es

Parador de Olite is set in an old castle, allowing you to fulfill all manner of childhood dreams.

Parador de Olite

Olite, Navarre

The elaborate castle complex and narrow cobbled streets of Olite, near the northern border with France, seem straight out of a storybook. The town’s parador, in the old palace, offers a real portal into 15th-century life. Gold and red castle-chic furnishings throughout public spaces add to the opulent feeling. Velvet love seats lit from above by stained glass windows serve as restful reading nooks, while suits of armor guard hallways lined with antiques and heavy tapestries. Fall asleep under your bed’s canopy imagining a time when this was once home to kings and queens.

Olite is in one of Spain’s oldest winemaking regions, best known for its rosés, which can be sampled at any number of local vineyards, like Bodegas Chivite (which dates back to 1647) or Ochoa. Come during the grape harvest festival at the end of August to really immerse yourself in the local viniferous spirit.

Book Now: From 90 euros per night, parador.es

Parador de Bielsa is positioned at the gateway to several scenic national parks.

Parador de Bielsa

Bielsa, Aragon 

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If you don’t mind the panic-inducing cliffside driving on narrow roads required to get there, you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping views when you arrive at Parador de Bielsa. A stylish, rustic mountain lodge built in 1968, this one doesn’t have the long history of some other paradores. Instead, its setting is the selling point. Similar to America’s national park lodges, Parador de Bielsa sits at an entrance to Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park, which runs along the French border. You’re here for hiking and mountain air, and the parador is steps from a trail that passes waterfalls as it winds to magnificent views of the valley below. Relax with a beer on the hotel terrace after your hike and be mesmerized by the mountain peaks before you.

Book Now: From 90 euros per night, parador.es

Parador de Lleida was only converted two years ago, but it harbors centuries of stories.

Parador de Lleida

Lleida, Catalonia 

This former convent holds an important place in the fiercely independent hearts of Catalonians: In 1707, during the War of Spanish Succession, it was attacked and 700 members of the resistance burned to death inside. In 2017, the building was completely renovated and turned into a parador. The old convent’s entrance is now the hotel lobby and the chapel is a restaurant, yet the courtyard cloister looks as it did centuries ago. The artful renovation managed a miraculous marriage of modern architecture and historic preservation. A free Thursday afternoon tour, open to the public, shares all the details.

Make sure to visit the fourth-floor fitness center—not to exercise but to spend time on the terraces overlooking the bell tower of Lleida’s New Cathedral. A tour of Lleida’s 13th-century Old Cathedral, a massive Gothic masterpiece that looms over the town, lends greater understanding of the centuries of local conflicts.

Book Now: From 65 euros per night, parador.es

Parador de Cardona could be ripped from the pages of “Game of Thrones.”

Parador de Cardona

Cardona, Catalonia

Ninety minutes from Barcelona, this 9th-century hilltop fortress was the last stronghold of the Catalan resistance, finally surrendering to Spain’s King Felipe V in 1714. Museum-quality informational panels, antiques, and art abound, with plenty of opulent common spaces featuring traditional paintings of Spanish nobility and religious themes. A nod to the building’s history can also be found in the guest rooms, which are decorated in Gothic style, some with canopied beds.

Meander the maze of hallways to the terrace for an afternoon drink. The moats, towers, and old stone walls will remind you of King’s Landing from Game of Thrones. Imagining what life was like in the Middle Ages (when the castle wasn’t under siege) is part of the fun of staying here. If you’re looking for more facts than fantasy, guided tours are available for a small fee.

Book Now: From 95 euros per night, parador.es

>> Next: Portugal’s Exquisite Historic Lodgings Offer a Window to the Past

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