Classic Hideaways

Spain’s collection of historic inns provide an elegant yet inexpensive lodging alternative

By: Carole Terwilliger Meyers

BARCELONA, Spain One of my fondest parador memories is of a sunset stroll through the garden at Chinchon. Ripe red pomegranates begged to be plucked, and so we sat down at a heavy iron table and spent the twilight hour sucking juice from the bursting seeds and washing it down with a shot of the local anisette liqueur. And just when we thought it couldn't get any better, the bells of the adjoining church clanged out joyfully. It became a moment I will forever savor.

Spain’s government-operated parador system is currently celebrating its 75th birthday, and your clients are invited to explore the system’s intriguing properties.

Spread throughout the varied countryside, the paradors operate inside converted historical buildings that are often in remote, scenic areas. Accommodations are comfortable and sometimes elegant, with original museum-quality art on the walls and antiques among the furnishings, and the house restaurants present dishes representative of the region’s cuisine. Children are welcome in all paradors. Considering the quality level, prices are surprisingly reasonable and are commissionable at 8 percent.

“Paradors are sometimes difficult to get in to because they are very small and popular,” said Antonio R. Alonso, a company that acts as a go-between in making reservations with Spain’s paradors. “We recommend making reservations way ahead of time.”

The three paradors detailed here could easily be visited in a three-night loop or sandwiched in between stops in Madrid and Andalucia.

62 rooms. Located 104 miles southeast of Madrid. About $133 (109 euros) per night. Reaching the Parador de Cuenca from Madrid requires driving for a few hours through rural farmland scenery dotted with vast fields of sunflowers and the occasional castle ruin. The town of Cuenca sits high atop a cliff in the La Mancha area. Once a lookout town, it is a natural fortress with rivers forming a moat on three sides.

An authentically restored 16th-century gothic convent, this spacious parador features a central cloister garden, a pool, a sauna, a fitness room and a tennis court. It abuts a bluff on one side of Huecar Gorge, and houses in the old village hang precariously on the other side.

Guests can reach the old town by crossing a dizzyingly high footbridge, then walking a twisting road that passes through an 18th-century gate. After a meal in one of the cliffside restaurants with a heart-stopping view, clients will appreciate a swig of the local digestive known as resoli a coffee liqueur flavored with orange and cinnamon.

79 rooms. Located about 150 miles west of Granada. About $142 (116 euros) per night. Situated high in the mountains of Andalucia, at 2,460 feet, the “white town” of Ronda is the site of another clifftop parador. Difficult to reach, it sits on a flat-topped mesa reached from the Costa del Sol via a white-knuckle drive up a two-lane road full of hairpin curves. It makes a good stopover between Granada and Seville.

A new property, Parador de Ronda is a stunning remodel of the former town hall. Some rooms have windows or balconies overlooking a scenic gorge with an ancient system of waterways that can be observed still in use.

The contemporary-style parador contains everything a traveler could desire, and guestrooms feature tall ceilings and spacious marble bathrooms. An outdoor pool is inviting in summer, and an elegant restaurant serves Andalucian specialties such as stewed partridge and almond cheese.

Way up here, the weather seems to change every few minutes, from pouring rain, to billowy clouds, to clear expanses. The town holds Spain’s first, and most beautiful, bull ring, and the bridge that spans a very deep gorge is said to have been mentioned in Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

38 rooms. Located about 40 miles south of Madrid, and approximately 60 miles south of the Madrid airport. About $133 (109 euros) per night.

Since it’s just a half-hour from the Madrid airport, the Parador de Chinchon makes a good stop on the night before a return flight. Once a nunnery, it has been charmingly refitted as an inn. Ancient oil paintings hang on walls in public spaces, floors are lovely worn terra-cotta tiles and rooms feature undulating ceilings, effective vintage wooden shutters and heavy painted wood armoires. Some second-story rooms overlook the treetops to a castle ruin beyond. The parador even has a pool and a charming subterranean bodega.

The hotel is also just a few steps from the town’s small Plaza Mayor, which is lined with tapas bars. The church here holds a painting by Goya, and the town plaza is ringed with picturesque houses with balconies overhanging the street. Many events are held in the plaza, including bullfights May through October.

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Reservations available through Marketing Ahead:


Last week, it was announced that Spain’s network of paradors will be expanding as seven more inns are scheduled to debut in 2005. That is in addition to the three new paradors that opened earlier this year.

As always, the new paradors are housed in historic buildings, including former monestaries, a military barracks, a royal summer palace and even a former women’s prison. Contact Marketing Ahead and the Tourist Office of Spain for more information.