A Night in a Parador
People have raved about this system of tourist hotels, and given our experience at the converted Franciscan Convent of Santa Catalina, we emphatically concur. This beautifully restored 400-year-old building was by far the finest, most interesting place we stayed in in Spain.
No expense had been spared in making the building like new while insofar as possible retaining its authenticity. Real antique furniture filled the public rooms. You were permitted, even expected, to sit on furniture like the 17th-century bench pictured above.
Below, Jean relaxes in an old leather and wood armchair, keeping an eye on the newly hatched pigeons in the laurel tree just outside the window.
As of now, there are 92 paradores. Mosty are large old properties that have historical significance. While not budget accommodations, they offer truly elegant surroundings at mid-level prices. All of the furniture and fixtures are high quality as is maintenance of the facility. Beds are comfortable. WiFi is available in every room and—unusual for Spain—actually works. You get free razors, toothbrushes and toothpaste without having to ask for them. There are huge, fluffy white towels to wrap up in after your shower. Rooms all have mini-bars with reasonable prices: I bought a coke for the same price as from a vending machine. They have a dining room offering three good meals a day. There's a bar with drinks and tapas for when the dining room isn't open. The staff, government employees (whom I expected to be as customer-conscious as post office clerks), all turned out to be the most courteous, helpful, accommodating hospitality service folks we met anywhere in Spain.
Bedrooms had low, wide doorways. I'm 5' 9" tall, and ours was barely high enough to clear my head.
The doors, I imagine, were made recently, but still use the 17th-century wire hinge design. The bedrooms originally were nuns' cells, and while comfortable, manage to give off a feeling of being cloistered.
In the bar I saw large pottery containers. I asked the bartender what they had been used for, and he told me "Wine storage."
I had trouble believing that. First of all, I suspected that the bulk of each jar was underneath the floor, hidden like an iceberg, which would make for a heck of a lot of wine. And secondly, the simple wooden tops laid on top of the jars would not have kept oxygen out. Any wine stored there would have gone sour in a matter of days or weeks.
Later, driving through the countryside, I saw houses with unburied jars standing alongside. Many were plumbed. Other jars were lying around in groups, as if for sale.
They turned out to be water storage jars and every house has one for keeping a reserve for when the supply is intermittent. The jars are called tinajos, very close to tinacos, the word we use for the plastic water storage tanks atop our houses in Mexico.
When we return to Spain, we'll spend more time traveling through the countryside. And we'll plan our trip well in advance so that we stay, for the most part, in paradores. They are the crown jewels of Spanish hostelry. To check out paradores for yourself, look here.