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Parador Hotels: Spain's Gateway to History

Although trav­el has been a nec­es­sary func­tion of human sur­vival for thou­sands of years, it is only in the 19th Cen­tu­ry that peo­ple began to trav­el fre­quent­ly sim­ply for enjoy­ment. We’ll call these peo­ple tourists”. In the 1800’s com­pa­nies such as (the now-defunct) Thomas Cook rev­o­lu­tion­ized the indus­try by offer­ing pack­aged tours through­out Europe with pric­ing often with­in reach of the upper-mid­dle class. Of course, the oth­er half of this sto­ry was the intro­duc­tion of the nov­el con­cept of giv­ing employ­ees time off” or vaca­tion”, some­thing that was pre­vi­ous­ly unheard of. Euro­peans (and espe­cial­ly the Eng­lish) began to explore the world for fun. 

As is often the theme of these blog posts, Spain and the rest of the Iber­ian Penin­su­la were gen­er­al­ly left behind in this new boom. From rail gauge com­pat­i­bil­i­ty issues to moun­tain ranges, inte­ri­or Spain was not an easy des­ti­na­tion to reach. And if you did reach it, there was no real infra­struc­ture to sup­port tourism. Although Span­ish rail­ways were mak­ing great domes­tic head­way towards the end of the 19thCen­tu­ry, there were still very few options for tourists that ven­tured beyond well-known met­ro­pol­i­tan areas. 

What Spain lacked in infra­struc­ture, it more than made up for in poten­tial. With hun­dreds of cas­tles, monas­ter­ies, palaces, and oth­er struc­tures going unused, the gov­ern­ment of Spain under the lead­er­ship of King Alfon­so XIII began the process of restor­ing many of these beau­ti­ful ancient struc­tures as mod­ern hotels. The first of these estab­lish­ments opened in 1928 in a restored palace in the Gre­dos Moun­tains just north of Madrid. Briefly inter­rupt­ed by the Civ­il War and its after­math, the net­work of hotels, brand­ed as Parar­dores, began a peri­od of growth that con­tin­ues today. 

Today, there are 95 Paradores through­out Spain. Although some are mod­ern struc­tures, a vast major­i­ty of them occu­py remark­able his­toric mon­u­ments. In fact, the Parador of San­ti­a­go de Com­postela, occu­py­ing a roy­al hos­pi­tal for Pil­grims built-in 1499, is con­sid­ered to be the old­est hotel struc­ture in the world. Paradores are still owned and oper­at­ed by the Gov­ern­ment of Spain, pro­vid­ing an effi­cient and qual­i­ty hos­pi­tal­i­ty ser­vice ded­i­cat­ed to pre­serv­ing the char­ac­ter and tra­di­tion of these invalu­able monuments. 

Unlike the 19th Cen­tu­ry, today’s Spain offers a wealth of lodg­ing options. That being said, I always con­sid­er Paradores for my clients as well for my own fam­i­ly. One of my favorite vaca­tion plans in Spain is Parador Rout­ing”. In oth­er words, plan­ning routes that move from Parador to Parador. It’s a great way to get off the beat­en path and enjoy a tru­ly authen­tic Iber­ian expe­ri­ence. Por­tu­gal has a sim­i­lar net­work of hotels called Pou­sadas which I will dis­cuss in more detail in a future post. Like Paradores, they are rel­a­tive­ly afford­able. The ser­vice is out­stand­ing. And per­haps more impor­tant­ly, I know that I am invest­ing in the future of these beau­ti­ful struc­tures. I hope that your future Iber­ian trav­el plans will include the Parador experience. 

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Parador de San Estevo Monastary (Galicia, Spain)