16 April 2013

Spanish paradors - staying in luxury and historical accuracy.

In 1910 the Marquis de la Vega Inclán (1858-1942), close friend of King Alfonso XIII, was selected by the Spanish government to foster cultural tourism. In particular he was asked to create a hotel chain aimed at improving Spain’s international reput­ation as a unique tourist destination. A parador was to be a kind of luxury hotel, but the loc­ation had to be special - that is, it to be located in a signific­ant historic building like a monastery, convent, fortress or castle. And the original architecture had to be maintained with as much integrity as possible.

Per­sonally launched by King Alfonso XIII, the first parador opened in Ávila with thirty beds in 1928.

Since paradors were opened in sites as far north as Galicia and as far south as Andalusia, the landscape and views were very different in each location. The first Ávila parador was in the Gredos Mountains, surrounded by impressive scenery. Others would be on cliff tops looking out to sea or in medieval streetscapes in the centre of a town.

With the first hotel up and running, the Royal Tourism Commission was formed, specifically to find sites of great historical or natural interest where new paradors could be developed.

Things were going very well, and in the early 1930s four new National Parador Hotels were opened. But with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), tourists from other countries stopped travelling to Spain and internal travel was restricted to necessary business only. Also many of the hotels were converted into hosp­itals for wounded soldiers or suffered severe damage from battle.

 Santiago’s parador, courtyard

After the war ended, damaged parador hotels were rebuilt and projects for new paradors were proposed, but World War Two interfered. It wasn’t until 1945 that a fabulous parador was opened in the San Fran­cisco Convent in Granada, inside Alhambra Palace. Built over a small Muslim palace in the 16th century, the convent readily converted into a very special parador. Visitors can see where the Catholic monarchs had been interred, at least until the Royal Chapel Pantheon was built.

Alhambra's parador was a huge success, and a new and equally pop­ular site was found in the Gibralfaro fortress of Malaga. In the 1960s, everyone wanted to travel inside Spain (including me). Old historical sites were renovated and new paradors opened for business in places like Córdoba (1960), Guadalupe (1965), Ávila (1966) and Toledo (1968), then Salamanca somewhat later.

At present there are 93 parador hotels operating across the nation. So the National Parador Hotel  chain has created four special routes for tourists to discover Spanish history and to live in historic buildings while they explore. These routes have been arranged in several different categories: 

Cultural routes: castles, monasteries, Mozarabic, through the heart of Al-Ándalus/Moorish Iberia.
Natural routes: through the Costa de la Luz and the Picos de Europa/Peaks of Europe.
Wine routes: Alava wine, Rioja and Navarra wine, Ribera del Duero wine and other wine routes.
Pilgrimage routes: St James Way to the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana and on. 

Guadalajara’a parador, dining area 

Did the financial crisis in Spain have an impact on the paradors? Inevitably yes. The New York Times said the chain suffered a loss of 28 million euros in 2011 alone. The government wanted to close 7 paradors permanently and to close at least 25 paradors during the off-season. The Spanish population was outraged. Fortunately at least the top paradors still seem to be doing well. Guadalajara’s parador is in a former castle perched on a hill that was once fortified by the Moors (712 AD) and was for centuries the residence of bishops and cardinals. It is near Madrid.


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, This is an early example of adaptive reuse. Hotels are particularly appropriate for historic architecture, because while the bulk of the building can be made into rooms, many of the significant spaces can be kept open to the public, as lobbies, shops, restaurants, gardens, etc. (The conversion of the Old Arcade in Cleveland to a hotel is a similar example.)

It's too bad that some of the paradors are in trouble. Perhaps it's too much to expect that such ventures will be profitable consistently, and a commitment to historic preservation means also planning to get them through such trials.
--Road to Parnassus

iancochrane said...

Have stayed the Alhambra's parador; blessed with a fantastic location of course.

A great post that highlights the beauty of these lodgings. Interesting history too.
Cheers, ic

Hels said...


My cynical view of heritage architecture in Australia is that if a building is beautiful and historically valuable, developers will immediately pull it down and build a concrete carpark on the site.

Joe and I didn't even know what "cultural tourism" meant when we visited a parador for the first time. It was an amazing experience.

Hels said...


Alhambra is totally amazing, so you made an excellent choice for your first visit. The architecture of the entire mountain top is breath taking, ditto the art, gardens, views and water canals.

the foto fanatic said...

I have only had a couple of fleeting visits to Spain (and one of those was a navigation error!) but I must go back to see these architectural treasures.

Andrew said...

Marvellous but they do look to be expensive.

Hels said...

Foto fanatic,

How did you get to Spain in error? At least I hope it worked out well :)

Yes, saving and re-using architectural treasures is something well and truly worthwhile. Those of us who love medieval or Renaissance architecture would rarely see such places from the inside, had they not been preserved largely intact.

Hels said...


I only had one tricky time, financially. Back in the early 1990s, I asked the receptionist if I could see a room in the Santiago de Compostela parador before I paid what seemed an expensive price. She looked up and down my daggy Australian travelling clothes and said "No dear, I don't think so".

Other paradors seemed more normally priced.

the foto fanatic said...

"How did you get to Spain in error? At least I hope it worked out well :)"

Six of us in a mini-van driving from Andorra to Montpellier (I was only the driver, not the navigator) missed a left turn and ended up in Barcelona!

No harm done, just a journey that took twice as long as it should have!