Spanish Quarters

Paradores offer alternative accommodations--and maybe even a history lesson

Arriving at the courtyard entrance of the four-star Parador de Chinchón, a 17th-century Augustinian convent-turned-hotel, you feel as if you’ve been transported to post-Gothic Western Europe. The narrow, winding roads surrounding this parador just 31 miles from the bustling metropolis of Madrid–and the nearby Plaza Mayor, the town square that was once the site of bull fights, soccer games, and executions–offer visitors a glimpse of authentic Spanish life.

For tourists seeking more than just a place to lay their heads after days of exhausting sightseeing, Spain’s paradores (www.paradores.es) are a great option. This lodging network made up of castles, fortresses, palaces, and stately homes that have been authentically restored through a government initiative offers guests an experience rather than merely accommodations.

Designed to promote Spain’s diverse artistic, historical, and gastronomical charms and its architectural treasures, these inns range from five-star properties to rustic structures. You’re not likely to find amenities like those at a traditional hotel (think high-speed Internet access or room service), but what you miss in technological comforts are more than compensated for in old-world Spanish charm.

Paradores like the one in Chinchón feature Renaissance murals and classic Castilian furniture in the guest rooms. Others, like the Parador de Vielha, offer spas and spectacular views of the nearby Pyrenees Mountains. Parador de Málaga Golf on the Costa del Sol and Parador de El Saler near the Moorish-influenced coastal city of Valencia are renowned for their Mediterranean views and 18-hole golf courses (the latter’s a venue on the PGA European tour). Built by renowned Spanish golf architect Javier Arana, the seaside course at El Saler has been ranked as one of the world’s best.

But regional cuisine draws just as many tourists to paradores. Take, for example, the 14-room Parador de Alarcón, a completely refurbished medieval Arab castle. Guests in its hilltop dining room feast on sublimely simple dishes with origins in the Middle Ages, prepared for the modern palate using today’s cooking techniques. And since Alarcón is located near La Mancha–home to famed literary character Don Quixote–chefs feature game dishes like quail and partridge prominently on their menus. That also makes sense in light of the region’s long-established hunting tradition. Other regional specialties include Caldereta de cordero, a hearty lamb stew seasoned with garlic and red wine. Nearly half of Spain’s wine is produced in this mountainous region.

Travelers can cross the country in rented cars or on Spain’s AVE (Alto Velocidad Española, or Spanish high-speed) trains. Though more than 400 years have passed since the publication of Miguel de Cervantes’ famed Don Quixote, the literary set can retrace his path through Spain. Or follow a route featuring important places in Cervantes’ life, such as his birthplace in historic Alcalá de Henares. For more information on travel to Spain, visit www.spain.info.

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