A Riveting Paradox

The paradors of Spain—historic monasteries, palaces, and buildings transformed into luxe accommodations with just the right brush of history—blend New and Old World charms with seamless perfection.
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Zafra parador in Spain
FIT FOR A KING: The parador—exterior and entrance—in Zafra  (image courtesy, Tourism España)

My room is down a corridor, past a sunlit courtyard where a Mudejar fountain lends the sound of falling water to an already melodic mixture of spoken languages. Under columned arches, rows of blue and yellow tiles frame marble almost too beautiful even to tiptoe across.

Inside, the room is opulently decorated with thick rugs, Sevillian tiles, and rich, floral drapes that complement a massive wardrobe door of dark, intricately carved wood. From floor-to-ceiling windows the wide, green plain of the Corbones River stretches away from the steep hill on which the medieval town of Carmona is built. Beneath the imposing walls of this 14th-century fortress an aqua pool, an exquisite anomaly in the pastoral setting, gleams under the brilliant Mediterranean sun, the palms around it casting the slenderest of shadows.

In a very real way, I am standing in the 1300s staring out at the 21st century, a time traveler free of sci-fi machinations or cheesy special effects. That is the gift of the Spanish Paradors.

The Paradors de España Network began in 1918 with one parador and a mission to guard Spain's historic and artistic heritage. Today there are 91 across the country, castles, palaces, and convents that have been converted to host contemporary travelers. Each accommodation evokes a rich cultural legacy, and everyone who stays there becomes a partner with Spain in historical preservation.

Paradors offer far more than rooms. They offer intimate immersion in history and a palpable sense of place. The buildings have been retrofitted with modern conveniences like plumbing and electricity, but original architectural and design elements remain—grand doorways, winding marble stairways and narrow corridors, courtyards with soaring arches and carved faces grimacing from the tops of columns, windows framing fountains or fortress walls, and row upon row of magnificent tiles on which footsteps have tapped and echoed for centuries.

With the exception of Sevilla and Córdoba, I knew little beforehand about the places I visited across Southern Spain—Almagro, Úbeda, Baeza, Carmona, Zafra, Mérida, Trujillo. It's not just me. When asked how many U.S. tourists come to his town, my Almagro guide smiled a little sadly. "They don't come."

That's a pity, because these towns charm you without effort, and the Paradors-as-time-portals provide not only unique lodging but a compelling perspective on past and present.

Published: 5 Aug 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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