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Perfect Paradors

Why you'll adore these paradors

Paradors are the shining stars of the Spanish hotel scene. You’ll find them within castles, convents, monasteries and manor houses, each and every one with its own story to tell as Dave Balow discovers

These majestic state-owned wonders are all in heritage buildings or amazing locations... and despite the luxury accommodation they all offer, to stay in some of them will cost you under £100 a night.

Chances are you’ve seen a parador without even knowing it - possibly while sipping coffee in a city plaza, or on a mountain hike, even from your beach lounger as you scan the cliff edge and wonder just what on earth is inside that spectacular building.

You’ll find them taking up prime real estate in a Unesco world heritage city, looking for all the world like a museum, or on a stunning promontory on which you assume only a celebrity could afford to live.

The concept originated in 1928 with the aim of showcasing and preserving unused historic buildings, and boosting tourism. Now they bring the luxury hotel experience to all, with some rates as low as £61 per night.

Today there are 98 paradors, one of which is actually in Portugal, and some are in the Canaries as the successful phenomenon reaches out beyond Spain’s borders. Routes have been designed to link some together, which is a practical way to experience them for first-timers.

Travellers tend to stay in one and then seek them out on every subsequent Spanish holiday. Why wouldn’t you when you realise you can sleep next door to the Santiago de Compostela cathedral in Galicia - in the same rooms used by 16th-century pilgrims - for £154. Or in a contemporary clifftop hotel with sea views of the Costa Brava for £104? 

Here are 25 of our favourites.

1. Parador de Cadiz, Costa de la Luz, Andalusia
There’s no bad seat when it comes to the natural amphitheatre that is the Bay of Cadiz, whether you’re on the city sands or the promenade, so handsome they say that it inspired Havana’s Malecon. But there is a best seat in the house at the Parador de Cadiz, and that’s any lounger beside the pool, sheltered from the Costa de la Luz breeze by a contemporary glass wall and backed by a sleek, angular hotel (where every room has a sea view), within which your tinto de verano - red wine and Fanta Limon on ice - is being prepared before being brought out to you.
Details: B&B doubles from £137. Fly to Jerez

2. Parador de Alcala de Henares, near Madrid
You’ll find the Unesco world heritage city of Alcala de Henares just a short drive from the capital, as if Madrid itself weren’t enough of an attraction in the area. The parador sits within a suitably historic building - three linked 17th-century convent schools in the old quarter. In the vaults you’ll find a spa with thermal baths and hydro-massage pools, as well as treatments using ancient herbal recipes, while contemporary glass corridors and modern annexes with dramatic light wells have been added to the original buildings to make space for bedrooms and a cool bar.
Details: Room only doubles from £88. Fly to Madrid

Parador de Gredos, Castile and Leon

3. Parador de Gredos, Castile and Leon
This was the first parador, inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII in 1928 - though, back then, it was a new building - a lodge for royal hunting parties among the Sierra de Gredos mountains rather than a heritage conversion. It reflects the commitment of the paradores network to build hotels in unique natural settings,  and to link some of Spain’s least-seen corners. Even a century on, this remote region is little known by tourists or developers. Stay here and enjoy mountain walking, river swimming, the best game dishes in Spain, and views that’ll leave you dumbstruck.
Details: Room-only doubles from £59. Fly to Madrid or Salamanca

4. Parador de Cazorla, Andalusia
Food is a serious business at the paradors with hyper-local produce as well as patriotism influencing the diverse menus. Past parador guests (150,000 of them) were asked to vote for their favourite dish and the venison loin served at Parador de Cazorla won hands down. It is sourced from the Sierras de Cazorla mountains, among which this former farmhouse sits. You can go hunting yourself while staying here, as well as fishing, before trotting back to the hotel ready to scoff the venison as well as torreznos (crispy fried bacon snacks) and a side of rin-ran (cold mashed potato with dried red pepper, olives and cod).
Details: Room only doubles from £70. Fly to Murcia or Granada

5. Parador de Trujillo, Caceres, Extremadura
The best time of year to find a bargain stay is in February and March, when many paradors reopen after winter closure but don’t anticipate high occupancy until Easter. Trujillo is one such parador, and while it isn’t the only hotel with low rates it is one of the loveliest and also very close to the excellent Parador de Caceres. Staying at the two makes a great twin break. Your £59 buys you a room in a 16th-century Franciscan convent built around a central cloister; there’s a pretty outdoor pool and atmospheric bar and lounges with stone vaulted ceilings. It's a three-hour drive to reach this remote parador from Seville or Madrid.
Details: Room only doubles from £59. Fly to Seville or Madrid

6. Parador de Aiguablava, Girona
From down below, as you bob about in the crystal-clear cove of Punta D’es Muts on the Costa Brava, sleek Parador de Aiguablava looks like a public art gallery. This is a brilliant example of a parador built in unique natural settings. If any hotelier got hold of this site, not that they could, rooms would cost four times as much. But here, democracy reigns supreme and every room has a sea view, as does the spa and the swimming pools, while the art collection includes works by Dalí and Miró. There are two restaurants, one right on the beach. This parador is ideal as a fabulous long weekend retreat.
Details: Room only doubles from £88. Fly to Girona

7. Parador de Carmona, Andalusia
Carmona’s parador is both beautiful and accessible, while also offering respite after visiting the nearby bucket-list cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. This makes it more expensive, relatively speaking, and popular. But a stay here means you’ll experience life among the ruins of a splendid 14th-century Moorish castle, now prettified to include stunning terraces and an outdoor swimming pool with a central courtyard that’s like a mini Alhambra. Restored ancient stone-walled spaces have been transformed into suites, lounges and bars that any Game of Thrones location scout would have been thrilled to unearth.
Details: Room only doubles from £104. Fly to Seville

Parador de Santiago de Compostela

8. Parador de Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Galicia
This is possibly the most famous parador, if not hotel, in all Spain, it being the oldest accommodation in the country - pilgrims first laid their weary limbs here in 1511. It feels like sleeping in a museum without the mustiness and it's so grand that some visitors mistake it for the nearby cathedral. It boasts preserved stone cloisters, ancient statues, as well as the largest collection of Madrid School paintings among the paradors. Even bedrooms are historic snapshots, with basic twin rooms offering two mini four-posters and suites with  wood-panelling and vaulted ceilings. If you can’t get a room, have a meal at Dos Reis, its Galician restaurant where tables are tucked into stone arches.
Details: B&B doubles from £154. Fly to A Coruña

9. Parador El Saler, near Valencia
So legendary is this golf course - repeatedly hosting the Spanish Open - the parador actually came second. On a stunning stretch of coastline backed by pine forests, the 1968 course was given approval to be built only on the promise of the construction of a parador. This means it has been built in a modernist style and is one of the more contemporary buildings in the collection. Happily, all that 1960s glass and space means golfers and non-golfers enjoy Costa del Azahar views, and there’s room for five-star facilities including a brilliant spa, various swimming pools, a football pitch and a golf school for children.
Details: Room only doubles from £121. Fly to Valencia

10. Parador de Vic-Sau, Catalonia
This popular parador stands on the edge of a tranquil reservoir and in a former Catalan farmhouse. It's a low-key place to stay with plenty of opportunities for rest and relaxation. There’s an outdoor pool, clifftop views, gardens and terraces, as well as a Catalan restaurant so good you needn’t explore other options - try the local sausages with broad beans. Girona, Barcelona and the beaches of the Costa Brava, are all under an hour away by car.
Details: Room only doubles fom £59. Fly to Girona or Barcelona

Parador de Ronda

11. Parador de Ronda, Andalusia
The views over the gorge from this beautiful parador are simply breathtaking. Standing next to the New Bridge, this building was Ronda’s town hall until 1994, but today instead of minuted meetings in stuffy offices - some of them now converted into the parador’s 78 rooms and suites - visitors take their time over meals on the restaurant’s terrace, where the Andalusian specialities include acorn-fed ham from Jabugo, stuffed anchovies and local cheeses. Diners look out on a panorama of olive groves and mountain ranges.
Details: B&B doubles from £157. Fly to Malaga

12. Parador de Tortosa, Catalonia
The bayou-style wetlands of the Ebro Delta are home to flamingos and farmers, plus wooden walkways leading to pristine beaches and birds stopping off while on migration. The city of Tortosa, in the deep south of wildly beautiful Catalonia, is just as enticing. Its 2,000 years of history started with a Roman settlement and now incorporates a gothic cathedral and some superb modernist architecture, while the parador is housed at the city’s highest point, a castle built under Arab rule in the 10th century, although its ramparts now shelter a swimming pool, locally focused food and 72 rooms.
Details: Room only doubles from £74. Fly to Reus

13. Parador de Arcos de la Frontera, Andalusia
One of the reasons the parador network was started in the 1930s was to fuel the concept of the motoring holiday. Today, your fellow guests are likely to be parking up at the Arcos de la Frontera in a hire car rather than a gleaming Hispano-Suiza, but this parador on Plaza del Cabildo is a brilliant way to start exploring the pueblos blancos of Andalusia. But don’t rush off - the on-theme white-clad building opens into a pillared courtyard, while 29 rooms have views of the Guadalete plain. The restaurant will set you up for onward explorations with local specialities, including roast goat and oxtail.
Details: Room only doubles from £110. Fly to Jerez

14. Parador de Cambados, Galicia
With their saline-tinged hit of citrus and mineral, albariño wines are a delight to discover, and by staying at this parador in the Rias Baixas you’ll be right at the source. Housed in a 19th-century mansion near the seafront and its made-for-sunset-esplanade, the hotel has 48 rather grand rooms and a swimming pool, while the restaurant gives Galician cuisine its rightful place to shine, including empanada de berberechos, a pie made with cockles, partnered with wines from local vineyards. This parador’s location in the coastal town of Cambados is close to a wine museum and ideal for walks into the vineyards.
Details: Room only doubles from £74. Fly to Santiago de Compostela

15. Parador de Javea, Alicante
Even though paradors were designed to help tourists discover lesser-known parts of Spain, some are in big resorts, and this one, on the Costa Blanca, has a prime position next to the golden sands of the Playa de l’Arenal. Built in the 1960s - its curved shape mirroring the crescent bay - the building has a vintage charm and a delightfully old-fashioned spaciousness. As with all paradors, food is a good reason to stay and the menu is a million miles away from the Brit-orientated fodder elsewhere on this coast. Instead, you’ll find properly made paella and plenty of inventiveness with squid croquettes and nutty torrone.
Details: Room only double from £91. Fly to Alicante

16. Parador de Cordoba, Cordoba, Andalusia
Cordoba has more world heritage sites than any other city; not bad for a population of just over 300,000. With the city’s unique blend of Arab, Jewish and Christian cultures, the Unesco-anointed highlights include the 8th-century mosque that is now a cathedral, the winding passageways of its medina, and the deliciously ornate, fountain-filled Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. Cordoba’s parador is a little out of the centre, but there are well-priced rooms, a stellar restaurant and - because the parador movement understands that even culture vultures need to cool down - a good size swimming pool. 
Details: Room only doubles from £100. Fly to Seville

17. Parador Cangas de Onis, Asturias
Hiking heaven awaits those who come to this former monastery that sprawls alongside the Sella river. The 56 rooms are split between the venerable 8th-century original wing and a modern extension, but all the guests can wander through the cloisters and restaurants. The Picos de Europa paths and peaks offer serious incentive to get out and explore and there are walking trails for all levels of fitness. Post-hike stiffness can be pummelled away with a massage, while the restaurant features salmon plucked from the river below.
Details: Room only doubles from £91. Fly to Santander

Parador de Granada

18. Parador de Granada, Andalusia
Visiting the Alhambra is pretty special, but getting to stay there is even more memorable. Check into Granada’s parador and you’ll be able to soak it up all day long. Built between the 13th and 14th century, the Alhambra is a masterpiece of Islamic design. Housed in a palace within the Alhambra’s confines, it has just 36 rooms at the parador and at peak periods you’ll need to book about a year in advance. Those lucky and organised enough to get a reservation will be in a sensory heaven with herb gardens and intricately tiled pathways. It’s pricey for a parador but, considering the privileged access, cheap at the price.
Details: Room only doubles from £283. Fly to Granada

19. Parador de Corias, Asturias
Your neighbours at this parador are likely to be very considerate. The monks who used to call the 17th-century cloisters of this building their own, now care for the Benedictine church next door. Age is on display in other ways as the foundations of the original 10th-century church can be seen. This is also a parador with a spa, a pool and a full range of treatments. There’s another equally distinctive set of cohabitants in this verdant, little-populated part of northern Spain - brown bears - alongside the equally rare capercaillie. These are the wildlife superstars in the nearby Forest of Muniellos, the largest oak forest in Spain.
Details: Room only doubles from £72. Fly to Santander

20. Parador de Jaen, Andalusia
The supermodel of the parador world, Parador de Jaen looks both unapproachable and arresting. You will spot it from miles away as you drive along the A316. From a distance, it looks like a modernist fortress  but it dates from the 8th century. Built along the spine of the Santa Catalina hill, it repelled invaders from Phoenician to Napoleonic times, but now it offers a warm welcome to guests. The restaurant has vaulted ceilings partnered with the sleekest of modern furniture and the rooms have balconies. Sunsets are out of this world and in the nearby parkland you can see eagles, wild sheep and boars.
Details: Room only doubles from £164. Fly to Malaga

21. Parador de San Marcos, Leon, Castile and Leon
If you are aiming to stay in all Spain’s paradors - and lots of people really do - save Leon for last. It’s one of the very best, yet least known by the British. A wedding cake concoction from the 16th century, all twirly pillars and stone swags outside, calm cloisters within, this is both a parador and a contemporary art museum. The restaurant brings locals in - both for the food and the painted ceiling by Lucio Muñoz. This is a parador where you’ll want to push the boat out when it comes to accommodation; so if you can opt for the original building rather than the cheaper rooms in a modern extension.
Details: B&B doubles from £222. Fly to Leon

22. Parador Costa da Morte, Lourido, Galicia
Spain’s newest parador both breaks and keeps all the time-honoured rules. Opened in 2020, this sprawling building by Alfonso Penela is carved into the hills above Praia de Lourido. And it’s full of fun inside, from diagonal, funicular-style lifts and 63 rooms showcasing modern Spanish design with wave-like wooden ceilings and clean-lined furniture. The infinity pool looks out onto the Atlantic and is glass-sided for extra cool optics. Debate whether to hit the beach, a three-minute drive away, or the parador’s spa circuit.
Details: Room only doubles from £138. Fly to Santiago de Compostela

23. Parador de Las Canadas del Teide, Tenerife
Want to see the Milky Way under perfect conditions? Two thousand metres above sea level, near the Mount Teide cable car station, this parador’s guests will appreciate the setting even more when the day-trippers leave and night begins to fall, when Tenerife’s famously clear skies make the constellations shine all the more brightly. The restaurant has a strong reputation and while the parador is an architectural mix of 19th-century mansion and a modern extension, with a small swimming pool, you’ll be looking upwards rather than at the decor.
Details: Room only doubles from £177. Fly to Tenerife

24. Parador de El Hierro, Canary Islands
The most far-flung of the Canary Islands, El Hierro is reached via a two-hour ferry from Tenerife or a flight to its own tiny airport, but there are abundant rewards for making the effort to reach it, especially if you’ve had Padi training. The island, just 104 square miles, has more than 40 dive sites, where underwater volcanic eruptions in 2011 and 2012 have brought a surge in marine life to its lunar landscape.You can step straight onto the black sand of Playa de la Arena from this parador. Purpose-built in the 1980s, rooms have balconies or terraces. The food is island based with plenty of rabbit and the fish you’ve been diving among.
Details: Room only doubles from £127. Fly to Tenerife

25. Parador de Ceuta, Ceuta

There are Spanish outposts well beyond the mainland, such as Ceuta and Melilla (both within Morocco). Here, Spanish is the first language and paella is definitely on the menu, but the uniqueness of Ceuta is its proximity to Tangier - a 90-minute drive away. Thus, it opens up Africa to non-fliers (the ferry crossing between Gibraltar and Ceuta is easy), or it simply adds an extra flavour to your parador recipe if you happen to be in the area, touring the Andalusian paradors nearby in Ronda, Cadiz and Malaga. The hotel is modern, with a focus on holiday rather than history, thanks to palm trees, sunny terraces and a lovely outdoor pool. 

Details: Room only doubles from £61. Fly to Tangier, or Gibraltar and take a ferry

First published February 2024

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