Read all of JOY DODDS previous Mediterranean Musi

first_imgRead all of JOY DODDS’ previous Mediterranean Musings – from Italy to Spain, and including gastronomic delights … Medieval decor becomes the height of elegance inside Hotel El Emperador, Plaza de Armas, HondarribiaStaying in paradores across España Verde, northern Spain, added a unique new dimension.With Spain marking the 90th anniversary of the first parador, now a network of government-owned historic and cultural estate hotels, it was a perfect opportunity to join the celebrations and experience something different, the equivalent of staying in a stately home.In 1928, King Alfonso XIII of Spain came up with the idea of restoring Spain’s palaces, fortresses, manor houses, convents and monasteries, many at the time run-down, by converting them into state-owned hotels, promoting the historical and cultural heritage of the nation. He chose the site for the first parador in the Sierra de Gredos, near Madrid.Today there are 94 paradores in the network of Paradores de Turismo de Espana, including Moorish Alcazars and some new buildings. More than half of the paradores are located in monumental settings or in the most beautiful natural parks in the country, one, Parador Canadas del Teide, located in a natural crater more than 2000m above sea level. Historic paradores are decorated with tapestries, antiques, paintings, coats of armour and the like to reflect and preserve their past. The hotels also offer excellent gastronomic experiences, reflecting the traditional regional [email protected] the finest and most emblematic of Spanish paradores is Santiago de Compostela’s Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos (15th century), located in the famous Plaza do Obradoira. One of the oldest continuously-operating hotels in the world, it includes four stunning cloisters, elegant bedrooms and sitting rooms and two fine restaurants.Our first parador experience was at Ribadeo, the hotel overlooking the River Eo which separates Galicia and Asturias. This exceptional setting is spellbindingly beautiful, outlooking to tiny Asturian villages on the far shore, with mountains in the distance. The hotel estate also overlooks a local timber loading operation on the tidal waterfront, offering fascinating viewing of the loading operations of one of Galicia’s prime industries from its forested mountain regions.Riverside dining and lounge areas at Ribadeo paradorThe elegant Art Deco mansion featured an elegant décor with dark timber, polished floors, high ceilings and great ambience. Our suite’s nclosed verandah overlooking Rio Eo and frontier with Asturias – perfect for lunchOur bedroom was spacious and elegant, with panoramic views offered from the spacious glassed-in verandah over the river and environs, not to mention being an idyllic setting for enjoying the odd tapas and glass of Rioja wine. The sleeping quarters were huge, with a particularly large bed and comfortable sofas to sink into after a day’s Galician explorations, together with a deep bathtub in which to soak tired legs.Art Deco decor reflects maritime location and regional delicaciesIn classic Spanish tradition, the parador restaurant does not open until 8.30pm but it’s well worth the wait. Local delicacies included shoulder of pork and suckling veal with Cebreiro cheese sauce, seafood including Bay of Biscay lobster, Galician broths, a variety of empanada (savoury pies) and the sweetest of sweet desserts. A table for two overlooking the Rio Eo only enhanced the enjoyment of the evening.From Galicia, we drove through Asturias into Cantabria and a different estate house, Parador de Santillana Del Mar, inland from Santander. Located in a medieval jewel of a town declared a National Monument, its origins dating back to the 8th century, the parador sits in the main square, surrounded by noble houses embellished with coat of arms. The cobblestone streets and alleys of the preserved town are open only to pedestrians.Rear view of Santillana parador showing dining rooms and garden areaThe superb Santillana Del Mar parador was built in the 17th century, complete with exposed beams, forged metal lamps and paintings, some illustrating the animals depicted in the prehistoric caves of Altamira nearby. Santillana, CantabriaEverything is well-appointed with lofty spaces, wooden furniture, oil paintings and a thoroughly genteel ambience. The impressive restaurant, open to members of the public as well through a separate entrance, specialised in regional cuisine including a bean and pork stew (cocido montañés), turbot steak, baked cheese mustard and Cantabrian cheeses, including quesada pasiega.Even more historically striking was the parador in our next destination, Hondarribia, close to the French border in Spain’s Basque region. The grand building, the Castle of King Carlos V, was originally a fortress built by the King of Navarre. The fortress dates back to 980AD, complete with thick stone walls and arches. Both a castle and a palace, it had six floors for troops’ rooms, warehouses, depot for ammunition and gunpowder, dungeons and stables. Later it boasted among its house guests Felipe II of Spain ad Mary of Austria. In 1968, it became a Parador de Turismo.Today Hotel El Emperador dominates Plaza de Armas on the hill overlooking the town and the Bidasoa Estuary, with views of beaches in nearby France (and any would-be modern-day invaders.) It’s a four-star hotel in every sense of the word, its magnificent interior a mix of medieval adornments, mainly suits of armour and spears, side-by-side with designer themes. Particularly impressive is the inner courtyard with its naked stonework fortifications and wrought iron. The outdoor terrace and elegant bedrooms offer panoramic views out to the French coast and the river estuary.Outdoor terrace commanding views to the French coast – Hotel El Emperador, Plaza de Armas, HondarribiaThere are 22 paradores throughout Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country. A good way to become acquainted with these unique buildings is through “the Parador Routes”, which offer exciting week-long cultural itineraries through Spain. Currently there are 28 routes available that allow the tourist to explore attractions such as the great Spanish wines, the Muslim legacy in Andalusia, Green Spain, monasteries or the World Heritage cities, staying at paradores along the way.El Emperador parador dominates Hondarribia’s Plaza des ArmasAll hail to Alfonso XIII for introducing the Parador concept 90 years ago. No visit to Spain will ever be the same again until a search for the local parador, in whatever region, has been completed, to highlight the experience of Spain’s historic, cultural and natural attractions. historyJoy DoddsMediterranean MusingsparadoresReviewsSpainlast_img

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