Paradores are a chain of luxury hotels in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries. What makes them special is that they are located in historical buildings — either former monasteries, fortresses, or castles, or in modern buildings with an exceptional view over historical cities and eye-catching landscapes. King Alfonso XIII created the state-owned and run company as a means of promoting tourism in Spain.
The first parador was opened in Avila in 1928, and over the years, the business proved profitable and at the same time, made good use of historical buildings whose owners would otherwise not have had the financial means to maintain the often large and sometimes run down buildings.
Paradores are found all over Spain, from north to south and even on the Canary Islands. They are luxurious hotels, often furnished with antiques and valuable paintings, chandeliers, tapestries, and carpets, but they don’t lack any of the modern conveniences one expects from a first-class hotel. Several have outstanding restaurants, swimming pools, and fitness centers. “State-run” does not necessarily mean cheap. They are expensive accommodations but in return offer a combination of exquisite locations, history, and culture.
1. Parador De Santiago, Galica
This exquisite parador is located in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia in the north of Spain. The city is the final destination of the pilgrimage Way of St. James. The building was erected in 1499 as a hospital and accommodation for the pilgrims who walked the St. James Way by the Catholic kings Isabel and Ferdinand as a work of charity. It is located in the central Praza do Obradoiro very close to the cathedral. It’s considered one of the world’s oldest hotels and consists of four cloisters, a terrace, elegant rooms, and a luxurious dining room that specializes in Galician fish and meat dishes. The hotel is so exclusive that you can’t get past reception to see the rooms and lobbies unless you have a reservation. You are free to visit the garden and have a drink on the terrace. I stayed there for two nights, so I know what the rooms are like. They are huge, including the bathrooms. An anecdote: I fell out of bed because the very comfortable mattress of the king-size bed rests on a rather high stone foundation and on a restless night, I just landed on the hard stone floor. It is furnished throughout with antiques and heavy drapes and deep armchairs. The entrance is made from huge glass doors and windows leading out to the cloisters. The location of the parador is ideal as it is close to the most famous buildings in Santiago, i.e. the cathedral and town hall and the lively Abastos market, as well as Alameda Park.
2. Parador Gibralfaro, Malaga
Gibralfaro is a pine-covered mountain in Malaga in the south of Spain. It’s crowned by the Alcazar, the ruins of the castle of Gibralfaro and, right next to it, the luxurious Parador Gibralfaro. The Alcazar was the palace/fortress of the Islamic rulers and is connected to the castle by a thick wall. The parador is built in the same Arab style as the Alcazar and so many other buildings in the region. The porticoed stone facade leads to an elegant lobby and spacious, comfortable rooms, all furnished with an Arabic touch. The views from the rooms and gardens over the city and bay of Malaga are spectacular and so is the rooftop swimming pool. There are facilities for practicing golf and tennis and the restaurant offers succulent Andalusia cuisine. Take a taxi down the hill for a day of exploring the many sights of Malaga.
3. Parador De Corias, Asturias
Located in the picturesque town of Cangas de Narcea in Asturias, the Parador de Corias is an 11th-century former monastery. In the basement of the hotel is a museum that documents the history of the building. The rooms offer spectacular views over the mountainous landscape and the river Nacea. The recently modernized spa offers a sauna, Turkish bath, a heated indoor pool and several kinds of massages. In the restaurant you can sample the original Fabada Asturiana, a stew of white beans and chorizo. In Cangas, you can admire a Roman bridge and many churches and palaces as well as a wine museum.
4. Parador De Leon, Castilla Leon
If a parador deserves the moniker “palatial,” it’s the Parador de Leon. Situated in the 16th century convent of San Marco, it’s one of the most important buildings of the Spanish Renaissance with 51 guestrooms and several halls for banquets and functions. Looking at the facade alone will leave lovers of architecture in awe as it combines renaissance with baroque elements on various levels. The same goes for the city of Leon, full of remarkable buildings like a basilica and cathedral, a history museum and Casa Botines, a house designed by famous Catalan architect Gaudi. Friends who stayed in the parador praised its cuisine, yet found the lighting in the dining room too harsh. Sculpted gardens, a glassed in courtyard and beautiful tapestries in the lobby round out the picture of being in a palace.
5. Parador De Baiona, Galicia
On top of the Montereal Peninsula in Galicia’s Rias Baixas region, overlooking the port town of Baiona close to the Atlantic Ocean and the wonderful Islas Cies, sits the medieval fortress that now houses the Parador de Baiona. Surrounded by the fortress walls, the parador is a truly majestic building with a soaring stone staircase at the entrance and beautiful gardens with a swimming pool that afford unobstructed views over the bay, the ocean and the port of Baiona. The rooms and lobbies are elegant and spacious, decorated with period furniture, wrought iron chandeliers, paintings and tapestries. The restaurant, once a favorite of Spain’s former king Juan Carlos, serves fantastic Galician dishes, foremost is seafood, oysters from the bay and pulpo, squid prepared in the local way — plus, a great selection of wines. Near Baiona you must visit a massive statue of the Virgin Mary that you can climb into, overlooking the port. Baiona was the first place where the news of the discovery of the New World arrived and in the port sits a replica of the Pinta, one of Columbus’ three caravels.
6. Parador De Caceres, Extremadura
A lavish Renaissance palace, located in the heart of Caceres, a Unesco World Heritage Site in Extremadura, has been refurbished and converted into the Parador de Caceres. This hotel combines history and modern amenities like LED bulbs and sustainable heating and cooling systems. The elegant guestrooms feature vaulted stone ceilings with huge windows looking out over well kept gardens. The city of Caceres is a paradise for art and history lovers with many more renaissance palaces around Santa Maria Square, Arab walls, remains of an old Roman road, called Via Dilapidata, churches and monasteries. Extremadura is famous for its hearty cuisine and stews, a pleasure on cold winter days to be enjoyed in the parador’s restaurant.
7. Parador De Granada, Granada
Imagine spending the night within the iconic Alhambra complex in Granada, next to the Generalife Gardens in this converted convent, under the magic lights that illuminate the world-famous World Heritage Site at night. The combination of Arabic and Christian art runs through every room and corner of this luxurious hotel. Exceptional works of art and furniture decorate the rooms, the cloister and cool terrace where Andalusian specialties like gazpacho ( a cold soup) and piononos ( sponge cake rolls topped with cream ) are served. In a few minutes, down the hill, you come to the center of Granada where you can visit the cathedral and the lively Plaza Nueva, Granada’s oldest square with historical buildings all around and a fountain in the middle.
8. Parador De La Gomera, Canary Islands
Built in the island architectural style, that is to say with white-washed walls and lots of wood, the Parador de la Gomera sits on the small, volcanic island of the same name, surrounded by the Atlantic. From the promontory, you have views not only of the sea but also of the much bigger island of Tenerife and the volcano Mount Teide. Whereas many of the paradores are in converted historical buildings and rather sumptuous, this one feels as if not much has changed since the time Columbus set out from here on his travels and might have stopped in this cozy abode for a rest before his great adventure. The rooms are full of light with canopied beds, verandas and lots of wrought iron decorations. There is a swimming pool close to the edge of the cliff and lush gardens with tropical plants. You can also relax in a sauna and Jacuzzi. Island specialties like watercress stew, black potatoes cooked in their skin and palm honey are served in the restaurant. La Gomera is also a great location for stargazing, there are several viewpoints.
9. Parador De Tortosa, Cataluña
On a hill over the mighty river Ebro, just before its delta, lies the city of Tortosa. Suda (also spelled Zuda) Castle, that dates from the 10th century and was built under Islamic rule, looms over it all and today is the location of the Parador de Tortosa. Imagine staying in a real castle, with fortress walls all around you, a dining room with Gothic windows and views of the charming town of Tortosa and the wide river Ebro. It might sound rather stern, but never fear, the hotel offers all the luxuries you can expect from an accommodation of this category.