'A journey through Spain's regions' by Lorna Roberts
Lorna Roberts has explored every nook and cranny of Spain, and has given us the benefit of her knowledge and experience here. Read up on some of Spain's most interesting regions, and see what there is to see and do there:
- La Rioja
-Castilla y Leon
-Communidad de Madrid & Castilla la Mancha
-Canary Islands & Balearic Islands
LANZAROTE is the most northerly and easterly of the Canary Islands and also the closest to the African coast. The barren volcanic landscape contrasts with the coastal resorts which have built up beside the beaches, many of which have black volcanic sand. There are a number of protected plants and vineyards in the more fertile parts of the island. Its most popular attraction is the “Fire Mountain” where the heat from the volcano is sufficient to fry an egg! Arrecife, the capital city of the island, was originally a small fishing port in the centre of the east coast.
The north coast, in contrast is a series of small coves beneath dramatic cliffs where the mountain range, the Sierra de Tramontano, reaches the sea. There are longer sandy beaches in the bays of Pollensa and Alcudia, close to the north western headland of Cap Formentor. It is in the Tramontano range that Puig Mayor, the Balearics’ highest mountain rises to 1445 metres. In the foothills of the mountains are the 13th century monastery at Lluc and the 14th century monastery at Valdemossa.
PALMA is the capital of the island and also of the province. It is a most attractive city with the Cathedral crowning one end of the harbour and Bellver castle on a hill at the other end. The old town around the Plaza Mayor is behind the Cathedral. There is only one railway in the Balearics. This 27 Km railway was opened in 1912 from Palma through the mountains to Soller, where it links with a tram to Puerto de Soller, one of the prettiest coves on the north coast. There are many smaller islands and islets around the large islands, too numerous to mention except for CABRERA, a small island with 18 islets around it, lies south of Mallorca and is connected by ferry to Sant Jordi, close to Cap Salines, the most southerly point of Mallorca. Cabrera has been protected as a Maritime Natural Park since 1991 so that only parts of the island can be visited in order to preserve the wealth of nature as it has over 450 species of plants and 150 varieties of birds.
MADRID, the capital of Spain, is an autonomous community at a height of over 600 metres (2000’) on the central plain, between the two regions of Castilla y Leon to the North and West and Castilla La Mancha to the south and East.
The city of MADRID, with a population of almost three and a half million spreads out to the foothills of the Sierrade Guadarrama in the north and the Sierra de Gredos in the west, so for the residents of the capital there are some stunning areas of natural beauty, and also ski resorts within easy reach. The historic centre surrounds the Plaza Mayor from where the Calle Mayor leads to the Royal Palace. The city is famous for its fountains, restaurants, tapas bars and also the museums and art galleries, notably the triangle of the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen.
Outside the city boundaries are two of Spain’s most impressive buildings. On the south side is the magnificent Royal Palace beside the River Tejo (Tagus) at Aranjuez for which the “Concierto de Aranjuez” was written, while 45 km from Madrid, in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, is the grand Renaissance Palace of El Escorial, built in 1563 by Philip11 as a burial place for his father Carlos V.Thirty km from Madrid with good connections by road and rail is the historic town of Alcala de Henares. The home of Cervantes, this has been a World Heritage Site since 1998 and contains over 450 listed buildings, many of which are colleges of the world famous university, including an Irish College which opened in 1630. There are archeological remains dating back to Celtiberian settlements. The town is said to have the longest arcaded CalleMayor in Spain.
PARADORES IN THE COMUNIDAD DE MADRID
The PARADOR DE ALCALA DE HENARES opened recently in a 17th century college. The central cloister has been restored in traditional style surrounded by a modern construction which has won architectural awards. In contrast there is a restaurant across the road in the former 16th century college of San Jeronimo, and a function room which is used for weddings which have retained all the features of the original building. The Parador has a spa and seasonal outdoor pool.
The PARADOR DE CHINCHON is in the centre of a small town 50 km from Madrid in a restored Augustinian convent beside the Plaza Mayor. It is decorated traditionally and has formal gardens with cypress tress and roses surrounding a large pool.
Map showing all the Paradores in Castilla La Mancha and those in Castilla y Leon close to Madrid.
CASTILLA LA MANCHA is the southern part of the central plain of Spain, made up of 5 provinces: Toledo and Ciudad Real in the west and Guadalajara, Cuenca and Albacete in the east. It is probably best known for the stories of Don Quixote and the windmills, some of which have been preserved as national heritage. Today the plains are home to modern wind turbines producing energy from the strong winds which sweep across the plain. There are mountain ranges, protected wetlands and nature reserves. La Mancha is famous for its Manchego cheese and the wines from the area around Valdepeñas.
GUADALAJARA is the most northerly province of Castilla La Mancha east of Madrid. There is an industrial strip in the part of the province closest to Madrid and in contrast are vast plains dotted with small towns across the plain.
The city of GUADALAJARA has evidence of a mixture of cultures but many buildings were lost in the civil war. but there are remains of the city wall and palaces and a 10th century bridge across the River Henares. The Infantado Palace is the only remaining Gothic building.
The PARADOR DE SIGUENZA is the only Parador in the province. It is a fine example of a Medieval castle with thick stone walls around a courtyard. It was built on a Roman settlement dating back to the 12th century with a 13th century Romanesque chapel. It stands on a hill at the top of the town close to the Cathedral and the Plaza Mayor.
CUENCA is a rural province surroundingits capital city. Gorges, river valleys, lakes, nature reserves and mountain ranges make this one of the most spectacular inland provinces. Five rivers rise near the Serrania de Cuenca including the Tajo which, after flowing through Toledo and Extremadura, crosses Portugal to reach the sea as the River Tagus in Lisbon. 35 km from the city is the “Ciudad Encantada” where extraordinary rock formations have been developed for tourism with walking routes through the “Enchanted City”.The city of CUENCA was declared a Unesco Patrimony of Humanity World Heritage Site, It is beside the Huecar gorge at the point where the Huecar and Jucar rivers meet. The city is in two sections with the modern town 100 metres (300’) below the old town which stands high above the gorge and is best known for the casas colgadas (hanging houses), built into the sides of the gorge and precariously hanging from the rocks. In the old town is the Plaza Mayor dominated by the Gothic Cathedral and the coloured houses which are a feature of the square. The city is host to an annual music festival.
The PARADOR DE CUENCA is the 16th century convent of San Pablo standing above the gorge opposite the old town with views of the hanging houses. It is built around a central cloister with thebar in the former chapel. In the restaurant is a tiled mural picturing an orchestra in honour of the city’s music festival. The Parador is connected to the old town by a metal bridge across the gorge. There is a seasonal pool.
The PARADOR DE ALARCON is a Medieval Arab fortress with thick stone walls and vaulted ceilings. It is the smallest Parador where all rooms have a different theme dedicated to a historical figure. It stands above a meander of the River Jucar, which forms a natural moat. Alarcon is 86 km from Cuenca on a scenic road through gorges.
ALBACETE is a province of La Mancha characterised by wide open plains, mountain ranges and vineyards around Villarobledo. The Sierra de Alcaraz is known as an area of artistic and historic interest and close by is the source of the Guadiana River which continues westwards through underground lakes towards Badajoz in Extremadura from where it flows in a southerly direction to form the border between Spain and Portugal before flowing into the Atlantic in the province of Huelva 818 km from its source.
The city of ALBACETE, the walled city of knife making, has a Cathedral, Arab baths and its most visited building is the knife museum in the Casa de Hortelena, a Gothic building with a green tiled façade.
The PARADOR DE ALBACETE is a country house 4 km from the city on the plain in a tranquil, rural setting with gardens surrounding the large seasonal pool. It is light and spacious and being on the main road from Madrid to Alicante is an ideal stopping place (the meaning of the word Parador) to break the journey.
CIUDAD REAL is a mixture of all that La Mancha has to offer. Open spaces and natural parks cover the province and surround large areas of lagoons, rivers, waterfalls, volcanic landscape and the Tablas de Daimiel, an area of wetlands which was upgraded to National Park status in 1973. It is, consequently, a popular area for fisherman and birdwatchers as many migratory birds visit the wetlands and theLagunas de Ruidera which stretch across both Ciudad Real and Albacete. The wines of Valdepeñas have brought great acclaim to the province.
The city of CIUDAD REAL has a mixture of architecture from Christian, Moorish and Jewish communities.
The PARADOR DE MANZANARES is a country house beside the main road from Madrid to Andalucia, so a good stopping place. It is also a base for the natural attractions of the area being between Tablas de Daimiel and Las Lagunas de Ruidera, and close to the vineyards of Valdepeñas. It has a garden surrounding the seasonal pool.
The PARADOR DE ALMAGRO is a 16th century Franciscan convent close to the Plaza Mayor, monastery and other monuments in the centre of the town. It is built round a courtyard and has well kept gardens around the seasonal pool.
The city of TOLEDO is the former capital of Spain standing above the gorge of the River Tajo. Within the city walls are buildings from all eras, reflecting the history of Spain in the Moorish, Mudejar, Gothic and Renaissance periods earning it Unesco World Heritage status. The magnificent skyline is dominated by the spire of the 13th century Cathedral,churches, synagogues, mosques and the grand Alcazar. El Greco’s house can bevisited and his paintings are seen in the city’s art galleries, and “The Burial of Count Orgaz” in the church of Santo Tomé. The narrow streets of the walled city are lined with cafés, bars and small shops selling the steel swords and marzipan for which the city is so famous.
The PARADOR DE TOLEDO is a countryhouse standing above the gorge opposite the city so from the terrace and restaurant there are magnificent views of the city skyline, especially at night when the buildings are floodlit. There are also views of the city from the large seasonal pool.
The PARADOR DE OROPESA is a 17th century Renaissance palace which was the ancestral home of the Counts of Oropesa. It was the first Parador to open in a historic building in 1930, which is now a Parador-Museum. The large rooms are furnished and decorated to suit the building. From the Parador are panoramic views across the plain to the foothills of the Sierra de Gredos. Being close to the main road from Madrid to Lisbon it is a convenient stopping place.
CASTILLA Y LEON is the largest region in Spain made up of the two regions of Castilla la Vieja and Leon which were united in 1983. It is bounded by moutain ranges and is south of the four provinces of "Green Spain" in the North,east of Extremadura and north of Madrid and Castilla La Mancha. Nince provinces make up the region, all with a capital city with the na;e of the province. There is great variety as the whole region is rich in history in its monumental cities in the south and along the Camino de Santiago, and also has natural parks, mountain ranges, lakes and rivers so that many areas are paradise for nature lovers. As part of the central plain, with cities at heights of over 1100 metres, it is very cold in winter and hot in summer.
The region is crossed by two of Spain’s longest rivers - the River Ebro (910 Km) which passes through Zaragoza, and the River Duero (765 Km) flowing from Soria to the Portuguese border near Zamora. The Roman road “Via de la Plata” runs from North to South and the Camino de Santiago enters the region at Redecilla del Camino, east of Burgos, and continues through historic cities and natural landscapes until it reaches Galicia. Castilla y Leon boasts the best roast meat and from Ribera del Duero some of the finest wines in Spain are produced.
SORIA is the most easterly province in the region. The River Duero rises in the province to become one of Iberia’s longest rivers as it passes through the city of Soria, crosses the fertile plains andvineyards and finally reaches the sea at Porto in Portugal as the River Douro. In the city of SORIA are Romanesque churches and monumental buildings around the arched Plaza Mayor and there are many historic buildings in the smaller towns. There are large areas that are protected as natural parks and nature reserves so that it is known as Soria Verde in areas such as the Cuerda del Pozo reservoir and La Laguna Negra (Black lagoon), a lake surrounded by mountains and pine and beech forests. Eight Km from Soria are the Ruins of Numancia with remains from as far back as 153 BC and the Celtiberian War.
The PARADOR DE SORIA stands on a hillnamed “Parque del Castillo”, a hill covered in trees and overlooking the valley of the River Duero with panoramic views of the plain and the walled city below.
BURGOS is a large province dropping from the mountains in the north to the wide fertile plains stretching southwards. The city of BURGOS is known as the “Royal City” as it contains a magnificent monumental centre dominated by the majestic Gothic cathedral, declared a Unesco “cultural monument” . The entrance through an arch beside the bridgespanning the River Arbanzon, opens into the Cathedral square, one of the most important stopping places on the Caminode Santiago.
The PARADOR DE LERMA is one of the more recently opened Paradores, 40 Km south of Burgos on the main road from the North coast to Madrid so is a convenient stopping place for travellers. This former Ducal Palace dating back to the 17th century forms one side of the Plaza Mayor and has been beautifully restored with a central cloister as one of its main features.
PALENCIA is one of the provinces in thenorth of the region and is blessed with spectacular scenery in the Picos de Europa mountains from where the road drops from 1355 metres at Puerta dePiedraslungas to the town of Cervera de Pisuerga. The city of PALENCIA , on the River Carrion, is sheltered by two hills on one of which is a 30 metre statue of Christ. It has a Cathedral with Visigoth foundations and a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Other towns in the province known for their Gothic buildings are Tamaru, Villalcazar and Aguilar de Campoo.
The PARADOR DE CERVERA DE PISUERGA, at a height of 1143 metres is 2 Km from the town, in a modern buildingwith décor blending with the rural landscape in one of Spain’s natural areas in the Fuentes Catriones Reserve. It overlooks the Ruesga reservoir with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and countryside with walking routes starting at the Parador.
LEON was a former region until it joined forces with Castilla Viejo in 1983 to become Castilla y Leon. It is a large province stretching from the Cantabrian Mountains in the North to Galicia in the West and to the province of Salamanca in the south. There are large areas of natural parks, nature reserves, rivers, so hunting and fishing are popular pastimes. The area bordering Galicia is Bierzo and in this part of the province many people consider themselves to be Galician. It is an area of river valleys, wide open spaces and mountain ranges including the Sierra de Los Ancares, a Unesco Biosphere Reserve with outstanding flora and fauna including brown bears,eagles, vultures and peregrine falcons. It is one of the prettiest sections of the Camino de Santiago as it passes through vineyards and chestnut groves after leaving the cathedral cities of Leon, Ponferrada, with its Templar castle, and Astorga, The “Silver Route” reaches Leon from the North aftercrossing the Cantabrian Mountains at Puerta de Pajares (1376 metres) and continues to Astorga. The city of LEON was the former capital of the Kingdom of Leon with its striking Gothic cathedral, its Gaudi house and the Parador, the former hospital on the Camino de Santiago.
The PARADOR DE LEON is one of the most impressive buildings in the city with its Plateresque façade forming one side ofthe Plaza de San Marcos and, along with the stunning Gothic Cathedral, and the Gaudi house, is one of the most visited buildings in the city. The San Marcos Church is connected to the Parador, a former hospital on the Camino de Santiago, standing on the right bank of the River Bernesga. The entrance hall is stunning and the rooms in the old part of the Parador are beautifully furnished in keeping with its history. The Parador was featured in the film “The Way”.
The PARADOR DE VILLAFRANCA DELBIERZO is in the centre of one of the most important towns on the Camino de Santiago which enters the town on a cobbled street and leaves following the valley of the River Valcarce. There are many churches and monasteries and acastle reflecting the history of the town. The Parador has recently been refurbished and has an outdoor pool surrounded by vineyards, and a small indoor pool alongside it.
A new Parador is being built at VILLABLINO in the valley of Laciana.
VALLADOLID is the province south of Palencia on the plain with its capital city in the centre. It has been a Royal town since 1208 with many churches and monasteries. The province is rich in history with castles at Penafiel and Medina del Campo. The River Duero flows through the province at Tordesillas, an interesting historic town 24 Km from the city of Valladolid and on the main road from Madrid to Galicia. The city of VALLADOLID was built on Celtic and Roman remains. The Palace of Los Pimentes was the birthplace of Philip 11, King of Castille, and also of Queen Anne of France, the mother of Louis X1V.
The PARADOR DE TORDESILLAS is on the edge of the historic town in a tranquil setting in the middle of pine woods. It has a large outdoor pool and also a small indoor pool and gym.
ZAMORA is a large province through which the River Duero flows down the valley where vineyards cover the hillsidesand produce the excellent wines for which the area is celebrated. The Medieval city of ZAMORA, on the River Duero, is full of 12th century churches as well as the Romanesque Cathedral founded by Alfonso V11 in 1835. It has the largest number of Romanesque temples in Europe. An added attraction are the storks’nests on many of the turrets.
The city is on “The Silver Route” (Via de la Plata) which was a Roman road linking Oviedo in the north with Seville in the south, and close to the city are the remains of Las Medulas Roman gold mines, from the 1st century AD, and now a Unesco World Heritage Site. The SilverRoute also passes through the city of Benavente, where three rivers meet and isalso the meeting place of five routes. In the city are Romanesque churches and the Castle of the Courts of Pimental, the former seat of parliament in the 12th century.
The PARADOR DE ZAMORA, a 15th century Renaissance palace was built on a former Roman fortress. The rooms lead off a central cloister and all the décor reflects its past history. It is in the centre ofthe town within walking distance of the Cathedral, convents, mansions and the river. It has a seasonal pool.
The PARADOR DE BENAVENTE is the castle which, although destroyed by fire in the Peninsular War, has been beautifullyrestored with the Torre del Caracol a survivor of the original building. It is surrounded by well kept gardens from where a walkway connects it to the town centre.
The PARADOR DE PUEBLA DE SANABRIA, a small recently refurbished Parador, is below the town with a view of the Castle of Condes de Benavente and only 12 Km from the Sanabria Lake, the largest glacial lake in Spain in the midst of
SALAMANCA is a rural province surrounding one of Spain’s most magnificent cities, known as the “Golden city” on the banks of the River Tormes. The collection of sandstone buildings glow when floodlit at night. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage site for its historic buildings some of which date back to Hannibal and Roman times. It is also on the “Silver Route”, the old Roman way. The arcaded Plaza Mayor, one of the largest in Spain, is in the centre of the city just a short walk fromthe two Cathedrals and the world famous university, considered to be one ofthe best in Europe.
The PARADOR DE SALAMANCA, a modern, recently refurbished Parador, stands on a hill on the opposite bank of the river from the monumental centre so from its large windows and gardens is a superb view of the “Golden city”, especially on nights when it is floodlit. The building is light and spacious and has a seasonal pool in the garden.
The PARADOR DE CIUDAD RODRIGO is a well preserved 14th century castle with a keep offering views of the countryside and surrounded by trees and a small garden. It is in the centre of the historic walled town in the west of the province, close to the Portuguese border.
A new Parador is being built at BEJAR, south of Salamanca.
AVILA isa province with spectacular mountain scenery in the Sierra de Gredos from where scenic roads follow picturesque valleys westwards towards Extremadura. This is hunting and fishing country, The capital city of the province is AVILA, the birthplace of St Teresa and founded in the 11th century. It is surrounded by a perfectly restored Roman wall within which are mansions, palaces, narrow streets and pretty squaresaround the Cathedral and a number of churches, notably the Basilica of San Vicente and St Teresa’s church and convent. It was declared a World HeritageSite for the walls and the buildings.
The PARADOR DE AVILA is a 16th century palace surrounded by gardens where archeoligical remains have been found. Itbacks onto the city wall and is close to all the historic buildings of the city.
The PARADOR DE GREDOS was the firstParador to be opened in 1928. The stone building stands in the heart of the Sierra de Gredos surrounded by rivers, nature reserves, walking routes and pine groves, so a paradise for country lovers and walkers.
SEGOVIA is a province north of Madrid separated from the capital by the mighty peaks of the Sierra de Guadarrama. Ski resorts, mountain villages, and walking routes make this a popular leisure area for Madrileños.
The city of SEGOVIA was declared a World Heritage Site for its collection of outstanding buildings. The 818 metre Roman aqueduct is made of 250000 granite blocks carefully constructed to hold together with no mortar. The Gothic Cathedral beside the Plaza Mayor is connected by a narrow street to the Alcazar, the Royal Palace which is a classic fairy tale castle standing out like the prow of a ship. The city also has a claim to fame for its restaurants serving roast meats, especially the suckling pig of Segovia. Only 11 Km from the city is the Royal Palace of La Granja in the village ofLa Granja de San Ildefonso. The palace was a former monastery bought by PhilipV to be converted into the palace for his summer residence.
The PARADOR DE SEGOVIA is on a hill,3 Km from the city centre, with panoramic views of the Alcazar and Cathedral from the garden and the large windows of the restaurant - a wonderful sight when floodlit at night. There is a large outdoor pool and also a heated indoor pool.
The PARADOR DE LA GRANJA was recently opened in the converted “casa de las infantes” – the house of the Royal princes which waspart of the summer palace of the Royal family. It was built in the 18thcentury by Carlos V for his children. It is close to the palace with formal gardens, trees, fountains and sculptures. There is a spa and a large conference centre beside the Parador.
AIRPORTS: For the north of the region the nearest international airports are at Santander and Bilbao, and for the south of the region Madrid is the closest. There is a small airport at Zaragoza with some international flights.
SPANISH REGION OF THE MONTH: ARAGON
ARAGON stretches for over 400 Km from North to South, from the Pyrenees on the French border to the southernmost point in the province of Teruel. It contains 3 provinces, HUESCA, ZARAGOZA and TERUEL, all with capital cities bearing the name of the province. There is great variety ranging from the highest mountains in the Pyrenees and also the Maestruzgo mountain ranges in Teruel, the fertile plains of the River Ebro and the lush valleys of its tributaries, and the arid areas on the high plain. The Desert of Calandra stretches across parts of Zaragosa and Teruel. The province has fine examples of Moorish, Gothic and Romanesque architecture and well preserved Medieval villages.
ZARAGOZA is the central province of Aragon lying between Huesca to the north and Teruel to the south. It is crossed by the River Ebro resulting in fertile plains covered with almond blossom in Spring as well as vineyards and a variety of other crops in the area around Calatayud, the second largest town in the province, renowned for its Mudejar architecture and its Celtic and Roman remains. Trout streams, the Reservoir of La Tronquera with its nature reserve make the area around Nuevalos and the Cistercian Monastery of La Piedra a popular tourist destination.
The city of ZARAGOZA is not only the capital of the province but also capital of the region of Aragon. Different eras of history are represented with the Romanesque and Gothic styles of the Cathedral, the Basilica of Pilar beside the River Ebro and the Palace of Aljaferia, the Gothic palace of the Catholic kings.
Many smaller towns are rich in history, such as Sos del Rey Catolico, a small walled town in the east of the province which was the birthplace of King Ferdinand. Luna, associated with Papa Luna has two palaces and Tarazona has a Gothic Cathedral. A new Parador is planned to be built in the Cistercian monastery at Veruela which dates back to the 12th century.
The PARADOR DE SOS DEL REY CATOLICO is built in typical Aragonese style so blends into the historic and artistic ambience of the walled town, From the Parador are views of both Aragon and neighbouring Navarra as well as the foothills of the Pyrenees.
TERUEL is the most southerly province in Aragon but also the coldest in winter. It is a rural province much of which is high causing the extremes of temperatures dropping to -19 in the mountains in winter and rising toover 40 degrees on the plains in summer. Ski resorts have become popular in the snow clad mountains in winter. In the rural and farming countryside, apart from rearing pigs to provide the famous “Jamonde Teruel” there are many attractive villages and small towns with stunning architecture reflecting the different periods of history in the area, as seen in the medieval towns of Albarracin and Mora de Rubielos, Alcaniz on the River Guadalope, the historic town of
Valderobres and Cantavieja in the Maestruzgo.
The city of TERUEL, at a height of 915 metres, was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site for its Mudejar architecture (a mixture of Islamic and Gothic styles) seen all over the city, notably the Cathedral and the Towers of Salvador and San Pedro. The walled city which is entered through arches was occupied by the Moors until it was liberated by Alfonso 11 in the 12th century. The green of the tiled Mudejar buildings is reflected in the ceramics for which the city is famous. Close to Teruel is Dinopolis, a museum displaying archeological remains and a theme park featuring dinosaurs.
There are 2 Paradores in the province:
The PARADOR DE TERUEL, a former palace built by the Moors, was recently refurbished in the local style. It has a largegarden with a seasonal swimming pool and tennis court. It is on the edge of the city on the main road from the Mediterranean coast to Burgos.
The PARADOR DE ALCANIZ, the former castle of Calatrava dating back to the 12th century, stands on the hill of Cumbre de Cerro Pui-Pinos with far reaching views of the Maestruzgo area and retains many original features including the keep, the Gothic walls and the 18th century Aragonese palace.
HUESCA is the most northerly provincewith spectacular Pyrenean scenery and ski resorts such as Candanchu, Astunand Formigal. The mountains rise to 3350 metres at the Tres Sororo Summit in the Ordesa National Park close to the French border. The River Cinca flows down from the mountains through Bielsa, to Ainsa, where the 12th century church and Plaza Mayor of the old town stand on a hill above the modern town. Many other rivers tumble down deep valleys in which local dialects of the Aragonese language can still be heard. In the foothills is the Somontano, a region becoming renowned for its excellent wines, from the area around the town of Barbastro and the pretty Medieval village of Alquezar, a historic and artistic compound with examples of cave drawings.
The mountain pass at Somport is the Spanish starting point of one of the routes of the CAMINO DE SANTIAGO following the valley down to the town of Jaca, formerly the capital of the Kingdom of Aragon for a thousand years. From Jaca the route continues to Pamplona where it joins the French Way and continues to Santiago. Close to Jaca is the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña, a retreat which is built into a rock with an 11th century church.
HUESCA, the capital of the province, wasfounded in 30 BC by Augustus and was later inhabited by Arabs before being recaptured by Peter 1 of Aragon in 1096 and was the capital of Aragon until 1118. The city’s best known landmarks are the Gothic Cathedral and the Monastery of San Pedro el Viejo, one of Spain’s oldest Romanesque buildings with a cloister dating back to 1140.
The PARADOR DE BIELSA is 14 Km from the small town of Bielsa. It is built in the style of a mountain refuge in a most tranquil setting beside the entrance to the Ordesa National Park and Monte Perdido. The Cinca River flows past the Parador as it descends from the mountains.
I am featuring the two neighbouring regions of LA RIOJA and NAVARRA as both are connected by the River Ebro flowing through them, the Camino de Santiago passing through them and the fact that they are both have a great reputation for their excellent wines. Each autonomous region consists of only one province: La Rioja with its capital LOGRONO, and Navarra with its capital PAMPLONA.
THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO: The “French Way”, the most important route of the Camino de Santiago starts at Roncesvalles in Navarra, where pilgrims find the first auberge, one of the hostels that are built along the way for weary travellers. A Mass is held every evening to bless the pilgrims before they set off on their journey. The Camino drops down to PAMPLONA, a university city and the capital of Navarra where pilgrims enter across the 12th century Gothic bridge.
The Camino continues through Puente de la Reina to Estella, known as the “Toledo of the North” as it contains so many monumental churches, palaces and museums. It was founded by King Sancho Ramirez specifically as a resting place for the pilgrims, and became the “Site of Royal Culture”.
After entering La Rioja the Camino passes through LOGRONO, the capital of the region and the centre of wine production. After crossing the River Ebro at the Puente de Piedra (stone bridge) it then passes through Najera and close to the two monasteries at San Millau de la Cogalla and Yuso, before reaching Santo Domingo de la Calzada, the city where Sto Domingo, or Saint Dominic, devoted his life to caring for pilgrims in the hospital which is now a Parador. After crossing the River Oja and passing through the village of Granon the Camino leaves La Rioja and continues through Castilla Leon to Burgos and eventually to Santiago de Compostela.
The RIVER EBRO, the longest river in Spain, is the life blood of both regions providing fertile plains which are ideal for vines and other crops. Having risen in Cantabria it enters La Rioja near Haro and then flows through Logrono, and across Navarra before continuing its journey through Aragon and into Catalonia where it reaches the Mediterranean as a delta.
LA RIOJA is divided into Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja each producing their own distinctive wines. Mountain ranges, the valley of the River Ebro, pretty Medieval villages and vineyards covering large areas make this a most picturesque area, especially in Autumn when the vines turn to gold.
LOGRONO is the capital of La Rioja and an important stopping place on the Camino de Santiago. The Medieval walls date back to Roman times and the city contains many parks and open spaces as well as churches, museums and the Gothic Cathedral in the historic centre.
The Cathedral town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, is where St Dominic devoted his life to caring for pilgrims. In the Plaza del Santo is the Cathedral, with a live cock and hen as a reminder of the miracle performed by St Dominic when a pilgrim was hanged and brought back to life. Alongside the Cathedral is the former pilgrims’ hospital which is now a Parador.
The wine towns are surrounded by vineyards with backdrops of the mountain ranges. Haro, known as the wine centre of La Rioja has restaurants and bars around the central square and Cenicero produces some of the finest wines of Rioja Alta. In Calahorra almost every shop in the main street is connected with the wine industry.
PARADORES IN LA RIOJA
The PARADOR DE CALAHORRA is a modern red brick building in the centre of the town so a good base for wine tasting and visiting the bodegas. It is tastefully furnished and decorated in keeping with the region.
The PARADOR DE SANTO DOMINGO is the former hospital on the Camino, forming one side of the Plaza del Santo, alongside the Cathedral in the historic centre of the town. It is a stopping place for pilgrims as they pass through the narrow streets of the town
It has many original features including the impressive Gothic arches in the entrance hall.
The PARADOR DE BERNARDO DE FRESNEDA is also in Sto Domingo de Calzada, in the beautifully restored former Convent of San Francisco with the church and cloister attached to the Parador, and has also retained many original artefacts and decoration.
NAVARRA is a former kingdom rich in history and contains many well preserved buildings in the medieval villages and walled towns. The region stretches from the Pyrenees to La Rioja in the west, to Aragon in the east and Castilla in the south. It is divided into three very different areas:
The Pyrenees – foothills rising to mountain ranges, rivers and trout streams and Pyrenean villages.
La Zona Media - nature parks, canyons and most of the vineyards
La Riviera - plains and lagoons of the River Ebro in the south
PAMPLONA, a university city, in the centre of Navarra is the capital. Around the impressive Plaza del Castillo, the Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria, and numerous churches and museums is the city wall leading up to the Citadel which dates back to the 16th century. It is possible to walk around a large part of the wall. Pamplona is probably best known for the Festival of St Fermin in July when the bull running takes place in the narrow streets and the city also found fame as it was featured in many of Hemingway’s novels including “For whom the bells toll”.
Other historic towns are Sanguesa, Tudela, Artajona, Estella and Olite, the former seat of the Kings of Navarra and now a national monument with the castle and church of Santa Maria la Real and the 15th century palace which is now the Parador.
Roncesvalles, as well as being the starting point of the Camino de Santiago is also known for the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778 when Charlemagne was defeated by the Basque tribes. The north-eastern part of Navarra considers itself to be part of the Basque country so many people speak the language as their mother tongue.
Navarra has many monasteries, convents, palaces and castles as reminders of its royal and religious past, notably the Castillo de Javier which was the birthplace of St Francisco Javier in 1506, the founder of the Jesuit missionaries and Patron Saint of Navarra, and the monasteries of La Oliva and San Salvador de Leyre.
The PARADOR DE OLITE is the only Parador in the region. It is part of the 5th century castle beside the Royal Palace and the church of Santa Maria La Real. All the furnishings and décor are in keeping with the Medieval building and surroundings.
AIRPORTS: There are no international airports in either region so the nearest are at Bilbao, Biarritz and Vitoria.
ASTURIAS & CANTABRIA are two regions in the centre of “Green Spain” on the North coast between the sea and the Cordillero Cantabrico, the mountain range which stretches from the Pyrenees to Galicia in the West. They are both autonomous regions although each consists of only one province. Although different they are similar in many ways so I am featuring them together The River Deva flows down from the mountains through a deep gorge to form the boundary between the two regions before it reaches the sea at Unquera.
A motorway, the “Autovia del Cantabrico” runs parallel to the coast with spectacular views of the majestic mountains, the green rural countryside and the deep blue sea. Off the motorway the old road winds up and down valleys through small villages where the brightly coloured houses and traditional stone houses all have well kept gardens growing every imaginable vegetable and all appear to have a lemon tree, an orange tree, a palm tree, an occasional vine and a prickly pear – all assumed to be found further south but flourishing here. However the main crop is apples, grown to produce the cider for which Asturias is so famous. Every small town has its sidreria, and most restaurants call themselves “Restaurante y Sidreria”, where the waiters love to show off the art of pouring cider from a great height!
The coastal CAMINO DE SANTIAGO enters Spain in the Basque country and then follows the coast all the way to Santiago de Compostela, passing through the coastal towns and along the beaches in Asturias and Cantabria. I met two ladies walking on the Camino and they said that they were astonished how different all the beaches are.
AIRPORTS: There are flights to Santander and Bilbao, and also to the small airport at Asturias from the UK.
The TRANS CANTABRIAN RAILWAY is a narrow guage luxurious railway which follows the North coast from the French border through Cantabria and Asturias to Galicia
FERRIES from Portsmouth and Plymouth sail to Santander.
Local FERRIES cross some of the estuaries in Cantabria and boat trips are arranged from many ports and harbours.
ASTURIAS, is a principilaty as Felipe, the heir to the throne, and his wife Letizia, are the Prince and Princess of Asturias. In the centre of the region is a triangle of three very different large towns. OVIEDO is the capital of the region and has an interesting historic centre while Aviles is the hub of most of the industry in the area and Gijon is a resort which has built up around the old town and a long sandy beach, and is the coastal capital. On either side of this triangle is some of Spain’s finest scenery with expanses of green fields dotted with pretty villages, eucalyptus forests, nature reserves, and rivers reaching the sea as wide estuaries beside golden beaches.
A feature of most of the homesteads is the square barn built on stilts, very often with corn hanging out to dry. These are different from the horreos in neighbouring Galicia where the barns are rectangular with crosses on them to show that the grain has been blessed.
The Asturians pride themselves on their cuisine as fresh fish is brought in daily to Gijon and many smaller ports, and the green fields give excellent grazing for cows, goats and sheep, so that roast meats are a speciality, along with Cabrero, the local cheese. Most famous is La Fabada, the bean stew for which connoisseurs will travel to Asturias from all over Spain.
BEACHES: In Asturias many of the beaches are isolated and reached by following sandy tracks out of villages, and the tourist towns, such as Ribadesella, Llanes, Calonga and Villaviciosa have developed tastefully with villas and carefully planned new houses alongside their beautiful beaches Gijon, on the other hand, is a lively resort with high rise buildings lining the promenade alongside the long beach which stretches from the church on the headland in the old town at the western end to the Isabel La Catolica Park at the eastern end. The estuary at Villaviciosa is a favourite spot for birdwatchers as it attracts a huge variety of birds. Around the town of Ribadesella is the Jurassic coast with its dramatic rock formations, and all along the coast are small harbours, marinas and sandy beaches. There are more than twenty superb beaches between Colunga in the west and Llanes in the east of Asturias.
PARADORES IN ASTURIAS: Three kilomentres from the small town of CANGAS DE ONIS is the restored convent of San Pedro de Villanueva on the banks of the River Sella in the foothills of the Picos de Europa. This has been beautifully converted into a Parador with a tasteful modern extension joined to the old building by a glass conservatory. It has its own church leading off the cloister where Mass is said on Sunday and is very popular for weddings. A path runs alongside the river connecting the Parador to Cangas de Onis in one direction and downstream to Arriondes a centre for canoeing and white water rafting. The river continues its journey to reach the sea at the lovely town of Ribadesella.
In GIJON the Parador is set in a tranquil corner of the Isabel La Catolica Park, a 100 year old mill close to the San Lorenzo beach and the town centre. Typical of Paradores in large towns it has an extensive bar menu with a selection of tapas. The bar has an entrance off the street to cater for local trade and tourists in the town.
CANTABRIA is also a province and autonimous region, similar in many ways to Asturias but with its own character. The well preserved towns and villages are characterised by stone churches and houses with red tiled roofs. The planning laws seem to have been adhered to as, apart from a few apartment blocks in the large resorts, most of the modern buildings are built in local style with red tiled roofs. The stone walls, red roofs, green fields and blue sea all combine to make this the most picturesque landscape in countryside where settlements date back to prehistoric times as seen in the many cave drawings. The most famous of these, the Altamira caves, in the Medieval village of Santillana del Mar, were the first to be discovered in 1880 and are now a Unesco World Heritage site. They have been closed for several years (except to archeological groups with special permnits) but a replica has been built in the museum with every detail an exact copy of the original caves. There are many other caves that can be visited in both Cantabria and Asturias.
SANTANDER, a gracious city at the head of a wide estuary, is the capital of Cantabria. The wide estuary and five beaches, including the famous Sardinero beach, below the headland on which stands the Magdalena Palace, make this is one of Spain’s most attractive cities, with hotels and restaurants lining the seafront. The old town surrounds the Cathedral close to the port from where ferries cross the estuary to Somo and Pedrena, and Brittany Ferries from the UK also berth at Santander.
BEACHES: In Cantabria there is an endless chain of small rocky coves, fishing harbours and long surfing beaches all along the coast, a picture in Spring when the cliffs are covered with brightly coloured mezumbryanthemums. Across the estuary from Santander is Somo with golden sand and dunes, and Pedrena with its fine villas and famous golf course. Heading eastwards, through the area known as Trasmiera, is a series of idyllic beaches connected to the large resort of Laredo by a 10-minute ferry journey from Santona, the fishing port renowned for its anchovies, and separated from its beach at Berria by Monte Buciero, a mountain on a tree clad headland which is a Cultural Natural Park. On the other side of Santona are extensive wetlands and marshes – birdwatchers’ paradise as many migrating birds visit every year.
West of Santander are small resorts at Suances, Comillos, and endless stretches of sand at Oyambre and beside the picturesque harbour at San Vicente de la Barquera, with little isolated coves at the end of rough sandy tracks across the headlands. There really are beaches to suit all on this magnificent coastline.
MOUNTAINS, NATIONAL PARK, NATURE RESERVES & GOLF COURSES
The mountain range runs along the whole North coast from the Pyrenees to Galicia, but it is in Asturias and Cantabria that they are most spectacular as they rise to 2648 metres in the PICOS DE EUROPA, a fairy tale group of peaks that resemble a theatrical backdrop. They can be admired from viewpoints from all directions and the peaks can be reached by a cable car beside the Parador at FUENTE DE. It was these mountains that blocked the way to prevent the Moors reaching the North coast so that they retreated after the battle of COVADONGA where there is a tiny chapel in a grotto, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and a large basilica standing high in the mountains marking the spot. A little further up the road are the picturesque Lakes of Covadonga. The mountain village of POTES is the centre of the area of LIEBANA where valleys meet from Asturias, Castilla Leon and Cantabria and are surrounded by mountains. The monastery of Santo Toribio is its famous landmark, as it is a pilgrimage site often linked to the Camino de Santiago and contains a piece of the “Lignum cross”. Many churches and hermitages can be found all around Liebana. Potes and many other mountain villages have become small tourist centres for hill walkers, mountaineers and those who simply want to relax.
REINOSA, a mountain town in the south of Cantabria, is on the main road going south from Santander to Madrid. Close by is the source of the River Ebro. The water from this tiny spring then heads eastwards for almost 600 Km to become the large delta flowing into the Mediterranean near Tortosa.
NATURE RESERVES: The Picos de Europa were declared the first National Park in Spain in 1918 with total protection. There are also many nature reserves and natural parks all over Asturias and Cantabria, notably the marshes and wetlands at Villaviciosa in Asturias, and near Oyambre and at Santona in Cantabria. All are favourites with birdwatchers as they attract many migrating birds in Spring and Autumn.
GOLF COURSES: There are plenty of opportunities for golfers in the area as Pedrena, a small town across the estuary from Santander, was the home of Seve Ballesteros. He was very involved with the beautiful golf course there and also redesigned the Santa Marina course near San Vicente de la Barquera where there is a statue of him beside the 18th green. There are other courses at Noja, Oyambre and near Santander.
In Asturias a small course at Berbes, near Ribadesella, has recently been extended to become an 18-hole course with stunning views of both the mountains and the sea. Other courses are at Llanes and near Gijon
PARADORES IN CANTABRIA: At Santillana del Mar there are two Paradores in the centre of the well preserved Medieval village.
SANTILLANA GIL BLAS is a 17th century palace in the Plaza Mayor, with manyoriginal features making it one of the most atmospheric Paradores with an excellent restaurant.
The PARADOR DE SANTILLANA is built as a traditional manor house in a quiet corner just off the square with a garage - a necessity as the village is almost traffic-free, but if the friendly policeman at the entrance to the village hears the word “Parador” he waves you through with a smile.
The PARADOR DE FUENTE DE is a modern building in a stunning remote position high in the Picos de Europa - a paradise for walkers and nature lovers. Beside the Parador is a cable car going up to the peaks.
The PARADOR DE LIMPIAS, the former Eguilior Palace is in a small village beside the River Treto. Only 4 Km from the motorway and 8 Km from the coast at Laredo, the Parador is surrounded by well-kept formal gardens and woodlands. It has a large outdoor pool, a tennis court, small gym and a heated indoor pool.
THE COMUNIDAD DE VALENCIANA (also written as La Comunitat de Valenciana in the local version of Catalan) is the coastal region between Catalonia in the North and Murcia in the south. It consists of 3 provinces: Castellon, Valencia and Alicante all of which rise from the Mediterranean coastline to the high central plain. Typical of the region are the blue domes on the churches in the small towns. MURCIA is a province and also an autonomous region in its own right, but as it lies between the province of Alicante in Valenciana and the province of Almeria in Andalucia I am writing about the two regions together as they are close to each other.
AIRPORTS: There are flights to Alicante and Murcia all year and at certain times of year to Reus (for Benicarlo) and Valencia.
CASTELLON is the province which is divided from Catalonia close to the River Ebro and its delta. It is a combination of fertile plains which are a picture in early Spring when almond blossom stretches as far as the eye can see, pretty inland villages and walled towns, an industrial area around the city of Castellon and a string of small resorts, golf courses and fishing harbours on the Costa Azahar.
One of its claims to fame was the filming of “El Cid” in the historic town of Peñiscola and on the beach below. This picturesque town, built by the Knights Templar in the 14th century, winds its way up narrow streets to the castle where Pope Benedict 13th, known as Papa Luna, lived. The sandy beach stretches for 8 Km to BENICARLO where a modern Parador is located in gardens with a tennis court, pitch and putt course and large pool leading to the sea. This is a good base for exploring the Ebro delta and the interesting inland countryside. It is the only Parador in the province but combines well with the 10th century castle at Tortosa, only 50 Km from Benicarlo for a holiday on the beach and in a castle. A new Parador is being built in the inland walled city of MORELLA.
VALENCIA - a name known for decades by the song of the same name. From the time that the song was written there have been dramatic changes in the city of Valencia. “The city of Arts and Sciences” is a modern architectural miracle as the works of Santiago Calatrava, its famous son, are seen alongside magnificent parks and gardens filling the old river bed which leads to the historic centre around the Cathedral. The River Turia was diverted to make way for the new developments which have been so tastefully designed to blend the old with the new.
There are coastal resorts along the long sandy beaches on either side of the city, an industrial area around Sagunto and small rural towns in the hills surrounded by vineyards, olive and almond groves and orange and lemon trees. Eighteen Kilometres south of the city is the only Parador in the province at EL SALER. This is in one of the loveliest areas as it lies on a spit between the undeveloped coastline and the Albufera Nature Reserve famous for its flora and fauna and for being the main rice-growing area in Spain. The vast areas of rice paddies in the salt water lagoon has led to Valencia being the paella capital of the country. The Parador has recently been rebuilt as a superb modern hotel surrounded by a championship 27-hole golf course which has hosted some of the major European tournaments. With its new spa, a large pool and tennis court in the gardens, a seemingly endless beach, and a football pitch where some of the top Spanish teams train, this Parador has something for everyone.
ALICANTE is one of the best known provinces to visitors in Spain, as many resorts of the Costa Blanca line the coast on either side of the city, but there are still some unspoilt villages and beaches on the coast at the Northern end of the province where natural parks cover the headlands of Cabo de Nau and Cabo de Sant Antoni. The city, port and busy airport of Alicante are in the south of the province and are crowned by the Medieval fortress of Santa Barbara on top of the Benacantil mountain behind the city.The castle can be reached by road or by an elevator in a tunnel carved through the mountain. Inland is some spectacular scenery as the rural roads descend from the plateau through acres of almond, olive, orange and lemon groves. The town of Jijona (Xixona in Catalan) is the home of turron, the nougat for which Alicante is so famous. The only Parador in the province is at JAVEA, a tourist town and small harbour lying between the two headlands, away from the larger resorts. It is, like most of the coastal Paradores, a modern hotel with a large pool in gardens leading to the sea and a good base for a relaxing holiday, or for the more energetic there are many excellent golf courses in the area and good walking country on both sides of the town. On the other side of Cabo de San Antoni is the attractive port of Denia from where ferries leave for the Balearic Islands.
MURCIA is both a province and one of the smallest regions in Spain. It has become one of the most popular tourist areas with the old established golf and country club at La Manga sandwiched between the newer resorts such as Torrevieja and Mazarron on the Costa Calida. The city of Murcia lies on the Segura River surrounded by mountains and fertile plains. The largest coastal city is Cartagena, an ancient port founded by the Phoenicians and now one of the most important naval ports in Spain. It has an interesting historic centre and a Roman theatre.
There is only one Parador in the province at Lorca, in the 13th century castle on a hill overlooking the city of LORCA, a former frontier town between Christian and muslim Spain.
EXTREMADURA is the region in the West of Spain lying alongside the Portuguese border between the province of Salamanca in the North, Toledo and Ciudad Real in the East and Cordoba, Seville and Huelva in the South. It consists of only two provinces - CACERES in the North of the region and BADAJOZ in the South. Both contain large areas of outstanding natural beauty, vast expanses of woodlands and some of the most beautiful historic cities in Spain.
RIVERS, NATIONAL PARKS & NATURE RESERVES. Extremadura is a paradise for nature lovers and walkers who enjoy the wide open spaces. From the high plain at Puerto de San Vicente at a height of 807 metres the hilly landscape of Extremadura drops to lower levels towards the West of the region. Two major rivers cross the region - The River Tejo rises in Castilla La Mancha and after flowing through Toledo crosses Extremadura in the Monfrague National Park before entering Portugal as the River Tagus. to reach the Atlantic at Lisbon.
The Guadiana River flows through the cities of Merida and Badajoz and then forms the boundary between Spain and Portugal, reaching the Atlantic near Ayamonte. Many small rivers join the Tejo and the Guadiana after flowing through some of the prettiest valleys in Spain. One of these, that of the River Jerte, is renowned for the acres of cherry blossom covering the hillsides in Spring. MONFRAGUE has recently been upgraded to National Park status so that the wildlife is highly protected. At one point in the Park at “El Mirador de la Gitana” (the viewpoint of the gypsy) we watched rare black storks, eagles and black vultures putting on a magical display for us as they soared above the craggy rocks beside the River Tejo. The wild flowers are equally impressive along the many walking routes in the Park, one of which leads to the castle from where there are far reaching panoramic views of the countryside. The road from Trujillo to Plasencia passes through the Park, via the visitor centre and village of Vilareal de San Carlos. There aretwo other protected areas - the Natural Park of Cornalvo, near Merida, and the Regional Reserve de Caza de Cijara, in the mountains surrounding one of many large reservoirs, and many other nature reserves all over Extremadura.
HISTORIC CITIES: Extremadura is the region from where the explorers set out to discover the “New World”. The conquistadores are remembered in the historic cities where the castles, convents and mansions that they built are perfectly restored and often floodlit at night, especially those in the walled city of Caceres. In the Province of CACERES are many cities and small towns full of history, art and relics of their glorious past. In the North of the province on the banks of the River Jerte is the lovely walled city of PLASENCIA. The Parador is the restored Convent of Santo Domingo dating back to the 15th century. It has been beautifully converted with all the original features preserved. Beside the Cathedral it is ideally situated close to the palaces of the old quarter and only a few minutes walk from the lively Plaza Mayor. The mountainous area to the east of Plasencia is known as La Vera, a spectacular area dotted with villages, in one of which is the Parador at JARANDILLA DE LA VERA. This 15th century castle in the centre of the village was the home of Emperor Carlos V for a while. The location is stunning as it is surrounded by olive and orange trees with chestnut groves and oak woods stretching into the distance with the backdrop of the Sierra de Gredos. In the mountains further south is another most atmospheric Parador also dating back to the 15th century, in the former Hospital of St John the Baptist, alongside the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria in GUADALUPE. This historic small town is surrounded by spectacular mountains and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1993. Other monasteries have been restored all over Extremadura, notably those at Yuste, between Jarandilla and Plasencia, and at Palancar, said to be the smallest monastery in the world. TRUJILLO ia a most attractive city, crowned by its castle, and surrounding a large Plaza Mayor in which is a statue of its famous son, Pizarro, who along withCortez and many of the explorers, or conquistadores, left the town to discover much of the American continents. The Parador is the former Santa Clara monastery built around two cloisters, a few minutes walk from the Plaza Mayor. Last but by no means least in the province of Caceres is the city bearing its name. CACERES is a protected walled town which has recently been pedestrianised so that it is the most peaceful tranquil setting for another Parador in a 14th centiry palace in the centre of the historic quarter of the “City of the storks”. There apprears to be a stork’s nest on top of every building. Caceres was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1986 and is also the third most important conservation area in Europe. It has been described as “an open air art museum” as the monumental city is a cluster of palaces, churches and noblemen’s houses with their coats of arms. From the bustle of the Plaza Mayor in the modern city a wide stone staircase ascends through an arch in the wall to the silent city above.
In the province of BADAJOZ is another walled city of the same name on the banks of the Guadiana River and from where the river turns south to form the boundary with Portugal. There is a Cathedral and interesting centre. Further up the river is he city of MERIDA. Known as “The Rome of Spain” it certainly lives up to its name as it has a perfectly restored Roman theatre and amphitheatre, a pedestrianised Roman bridge spanning the Guadiana, a fine aqueduct as well as the Moorish Alcazar standing above the river. The Plaza Mayor is a lively centre and in the roads leading from it are relics of its Roman past around every corner. The Temple of Diana stands between the Plaza Mayor and the Roman theatre.. The “National Museum of Roman Art” was described recently by a well travelled friend of mine as the best museum he had ever visited. The Parador is a restored 18th century convent which was built on the remains of a temple, close to the Plaza Mayor. There are also several Roman dams one of which is in the Cornalvo Natural Park near the city.
South of Merida is the town of ZAFRA where the Parador is a former 15th century castle which was the home of the Dukes of Feria, in the centre of the town. This is one of the most spectaular Paradores with a magnificent facade filling one side of the main square. Zafra is known as “Little Seville” with its two squares surrounded by interesting historic buildings. Between Merida and Zafra is an area of vineyards with good wines being produced around Almemdraledo.
ROUTES ACROSS EXTREMADURA: The region is crossed by two major routes as the N14 motorway from Madrid to Lisbon
passes Trujillo, Merida and Badajoz, and the road from Seville to Salamanca and the North of Spain passes through Zafra, Merida, Caceres and Plasencia, making the whole region easily accessible by road. There are also scenic roads following the river valleys and crossing the nature reserves and National Park.
However the most famous route is the VIA DE LA PLATA (or Silver Route), the Roman road which was originally from Merida to Astorga where it joins the Camino de Santiago. It is one of the routes followed by pilgrims heading towards Santiago as it passes through towns and villages with Roman bridges, thermal spas, remains of settlements and a preserved stretch of the original Roman road at Banos de Montemayor.
JAMON IBERICO is the best cured ham in Spain and most is produced in Extremadura which is home to the black pigs which feed on the acorns from the oak trees growing on the plains. Lamb, game and local cheeses are also favourites.
GOLF: Two golf courses have recently been opened - one in the province of Caceres at “Norba Club de Golf” and “Golf Guadiana” in the province of Badajoz.
ANDALUCIA is the most southerly region of Spain consisting of 8 provinces stretching from the Portuguese border to the Mediterranean province of Almeria in the S.E. corner of the country. Although known for the sprawling coastal resorts of the Costa del Sol, these actually only form a tiny part of this large and varied region. There are 5 coastal provinces – Huelva and Cadiz on the Atlantic, and Malaga, Granada and Almeria on the Mediterranean, Inland there are 3 provinces – Seville, Cordoba and Jaen. Fifteen very different Paradores are located all over Andalucia – on the coast, in the mountains, in nature reserves and in villages and cities.
AIRPORTS: There are flights to Malaga all year, and in the summer to Seville, Jerez and Almeria. For the province of Huelva another possibility is to fly to Faro in Portugal.
THE COASTAL PROVINCES
HUELVA lies between the Guadiana River, the boundary between Spain and Portugal, and the Guadalquivir River which flows into the Atlantic beside the Donaña National Park, one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in Europe. West of the city of Huelva are some small resorts and golf courses while East of the city are 25 km of undeveloped Atlantic beaches. The city of Huelva has an interesting centre but the large port is very industrial. Inland is some beautiful rural countryside and the area in the hills around Aracena and Jabugo is famous for producing “Jamon Iberico”, the best cured ham in Spain. Almonds, olives, oranges, lemons, figs, strawberries and vineyards cover the whole province. Beside the Donaña National Park is the pilgrimage village of El Rocio to which thousands of people travel on horseback at Whitsun to the Hermitage of El Rocio in Wild West country. The Parador of MAZAGON, a delightful hotel, set in large grounds on a cliff with steps down to the beach, is a haven of tranquillity. The small town of Mazagon can be reached along the beach or is 3 km away along the road. 24 km in the other direction is the town of Matalascanas on the edge of the Donaña National Park.
The Parador of AYAMONTE, overlooks the bridge across the Guadiana River and the Portuguese coast and hinterland, It stands above the town of Ayamonte, from where a ferry crosses the estuary to Vila Real in Portugal. There are excellent golf courses in the area.
CADIZ is one of the loveliest provinces in Spain as the long sandy Atlantic beaches of the Costa de la Luz stretch from the city to Cape Trafalgar and further south to Tarifa, the “Windsurfing capital of Europe”, a Moorish town separating the Atlantic from the Mediterranean at the most southerly point of mainland Europe. Inland are green hills surrounding the “pueblos blancos”, the white villages characterising the area which rises to the mountains of the Grazalema National Park.
Jerez, the second largest town, is in the centre of the vineyards so famous for producing sherry, and the familiar names of Tio Pepe, Gonzalez Byass, Domecq and Sandeman are found all over the town. It also attracts visitors to the horse displays of the “Royal Andalucian School of Equestrian Art”, and to the Formula 1 racing circuit.
There are plenty of first-class golf courses all over the province of Cadiz. The Parador of ARCOS DE LA FRONTERA is in one of the prettiest white villages. It is reached by climbing up narrow streets (a small car is advisable!), well rewarded by the view from the top. It is a charming traditional palace in the main square beside the Santa Maria church. The Parador in the city of CADIZ is currently being rebuilt as a magnificent modern hotel within the city walls, beside the sea, due to open in 2012 when Cadiz is “the European city of culture”. It is a historic maritime walled city on an isthmus surrounded by the sea, with the large harbour on one side and sandy beaches on the other. The port is visited by many cruise ships, is the departure point for ferries to the Canary Islands, and also has ferries crossing the harbour to Puerto de Santa Maria, renowned for its seafood restaurants. The COSTA DE LA LUZ (Coast of light) deserves a special mention as the bright sunny days and glorious sunsets make this west acing coast popular in the Summer months as the Atlantic breezes cool the air, but the area has its fair share of rain in the winter. Small resorts, attractive white villages and fishing harbours are dotted along the coast, divided by miles of sandy beaches, secluded coves and cliffs covered with wild flowers. The larger port of Barbate is the centre of the tuna fishing industry and south of this, near Tarifa are the Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia at Bolonia.
MALAGA is the starting point for many Andalucian holidays. Although much of the coast is built up there are also some lesser developed beaches, spectacular inland scenery and many interesting towns and villages. There are 5 Paradores in the province: The Parador of MALAGA GIBRALFARO lies below the walls of the Gibralfaro castle with panoramic views of the coastline and with a wide path leading down to the historic centre of the attractive city which is so often overlooked as people head west to the resorts of the Costa del Sol. The Picasso museum is in the centre, close to the Cathedral. The Parador of MALAGA GOLF is a few km from the airport, and 8 km from Malaga, and has its own 27-hole championship golf course in large grounds leading to the beach. The Parador of ANTEQUERA, a modern hotel in an interesting town, is 60 km from Malaga in a position between all the “show” cities of Andalucia, so a good base from which to explore the cities, natural parks and countryside nearby. The Parador of RONDA stands above the famous gorge in the lively mountain town close to the Grazalema National Park and many of the picturesque white villages. The Parador of NERJA is the only coastal Parador in the province, and one of the most popular, as the recently renovated modern building is on a cliff at the edge of the town, with its own lift down to the Burriana beach, so a perfect base for a winter holiday.
ALMERIA is said to have the best climate in Spain. Long beaches and small coves stretch from Mojacar to Cabo de Gata, a nature reserve surrounding the lighthouse at the most south-easterly point of Spain. Vast areas of agriculture can be seen growing under plastic tunnels, and inland is desert country where many cowboy films were made so that it is known as “Mini Holywood”. In the west of the province the mountainsides of the Alpujarras are covered with almonds, olives and vineyards. The Parador of MOJACAR is a tastefully designed hotel which has recently been renovated, with gardens leading to the beach. It is beside the Playa de Mojacar, below the centre of the pretty white village on a hill a few kilometres inland.
THE INLAND PROVINCES & THE THREE MAGICAL CITIES
GRANADA is one of the most varied provinces as, apart from the city itself, it stretches from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the relatively undeveloped coast, so that it is possible to ski in the morning and swim in the Mediterranean in the afternoon! In the Alpujarras ranges isTrevelez, the highest village in Spain and one of many pretty white villages. The Cathedral dominates the city centre which is overlooked by the palaces and gardens of the Alhambra, with the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada behind. The Parador of GRANADA, a 15th century convent is situated within the grounds of the Alhambra so a very special place to stay. Recently restored with many original features, it has fine views across the gardens to the Generalife from the terrace outside the restaurant. It is one of the “Parador Museums” and although expensive has promotions off season.
SEVILLE lies either side of the mighty Guadalquivir River which flows from the mountains in Eastern Andalucia to the Atlantic, between the provinces of Cadiz and Huelva. Seville is a rural province surrounding the third largest city in Spain, and some smaller typical Andalucian towns such as Estepa, Osuna and Carmona. The city is full of excitement and the essence of life in Southern Spain. The third largest Cathedral in the world is surrounded by magnificent buildings, traditional houses lining the banks of the river, large parks, wide avenues contrasting with the narrow streets of the Santa Cruz area, and the Arabic designs adorning the palaces and gardens of the Alcazar. There is something to see around every corner. The Parador of CARMONA is the only Parador in the province but quantity is compensated by quality. It is in the Alcazar at the top of the Andalucian town which has a replica of the Giralda tower in Seville, 30 km from Carmona. The Parador is full of atmosphere and sums up the three keywords of Paradores – quality, history and charm.
CORDOBA is also divided by the Guadalquivir River, on either side of which are plains, hills, olive trees and small towns. The city is smaller than Seville as the historic centre is compact around the Mezquita, the extraordinary mixturen of cultures with the Arabic pillars surrounding the Christian Cathedral within the mosque. In spring and summer the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter are ablaze with colour as flowers trail from balconies. The Parador of CORDOBA is a modern, spacious building on a hill above the city so it has panoramic views of the city, the river and the hills beyond.
JAEN is the most easterly of the inland provinces and is the most important area of Spain for the production of olive oil. A landscape covered with olive and almond trees rises up to the high central plain of Spain. The source of the Guadalquivir is in the Cazorla Natural Park, a spectacular, remote mountainous region. The city is 80 km North of Granada, on the main route from the South to Madrid, and has a historic centre. The Parador of JAEN is one of the most stunning buildings in which Paradores are located, as the 15th century Arabic fortress stands proudly above the city. The Parador of UBEDA is a 16th century Renaissance palace beside the church in the centre of one of the province’s monumental towns, 60 km from the city of Jaen. The Parador of CAZORLA, in contrast, is a country house in the centre of the Natural Park in the dramatic Sierra de Cazorla, home to some of Spain’s rarest flora and fauna. The Parador is at the top of a valley, 24 km from the town of Cazorla.
TWO PARADORES IN NORTH AFRICA
From Tarifa and Algeciras there are regular ferries to CEUTA, a Spanish enclave in North Africa, where there is a Parador. There is also a Parador in MELILLA, another Spanish city along the N. African coast.
CATALONIA (which may also be written as Cataluña or most commonly in Catalan as Catalunya)is a large autonimous region in North-East Spain made up of 4 provinces: Girona, Barcelona andTarragona on the Mediterranean coast, and Lleida inland stretching up to the Pyrenees and the French border.GIRONA has something for everyone from the spectacular Pyrenees in the North to the Costa Brava – a combination of resorts and unspoilt coves and Mediterranean beaches. Large areas are covered with green fields and naturalparks dotted with medieval villages, historic sites and the city of Girona, dominated by the Cathedral standing above the old town alongside the banks of the Ongar river. Salvador Dali is one of its best known sons, remembered in his irthplace of Figueras and the coastal town of Cadaques. The area around Emporda is famous for anchovies, and close by are the museum and well preserved ruins of the Roman and Greek settlements at Empurias.
The Parador at AIGUABLAVA sits on a headland surrounded by idyllic coves and beaches in the unspoilt part of the Costa Brava. One of the friendliest and most relaxing Paradores, all the standard rooms have sea views and balconies and as well as the hotel’s restaurant, the Parador also owns an award winning restaurant, voted oneof the Top 10 beach restaurants in Spain. A perfect week’s holiday is a combination of 3 very different Paradores - AIGUABLAVA on the coast and the two inland Paradores in the province of Barcelona.
The Parador at VIC is a country house overlooking the reservoir of Sau in the foothills of the Pyrenees – a relaxing, tranquil place for those who want to get away from it all, and also a base for a walking holiday. CARDONA is one of the most traditional, historic and atmospheric Paradores as it is a Medieval castle, with views of the mountains and the Monastery at Montserrat. It is one of the Parador-Museums with a Romanesque church.
The province of BARCELONA surrounds the city and stretches to the foothills of the Pyrenees, to the Costa Brava in the North and to the Costa Dorada south of the city.The works of Gaudi can be seen all over the city, on the hill of Montjuic and in his unfinished Cathedral of Sagrada Familia.The other Cathedral is surrounded by the narrow streets of the Gothic quarter leading to La Rambla, the mile long promenade filled with markets and stalls and links the Plaza de Catalunya to the statue of Columbus standing high above the port. Barcelona hosted the Olympics in 1992 and has been one of the liveliest tourist destinations since then, as it offers so much variety - historic buildings, large parks, a magnificent beach and numerous shops, tapas bars and restaurants. North of the city is a series of small towns with long sandy beaches and marinas. These are connected by a coastal railway so are easily accessible to the city, and an hour’s drive inland are the two Paradores in the province. In the foothills of the Pyrenees near the city of VIC, the Parador overlooks the reservoir of Sau and at CARDONA a Medieval castle stands high above the town famous for its salt production and offers views reaching as far as Montserrat where the Benedictine Abbey is perched at the top of the jagged mountain.
TARRAGONA is the most southerly province of Catalonia and apart from its coastline along the Costa Dorada it contains some magnificent mountainous country with vineyards producing some excellent wine in the Priorat area, also renowned for its olive oil. The Monastery at Poblet, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is one of four monasteries along the Cistercian route. The delta of the River Ebro is a wildlife sanctuary and fertile area producing almonds, fruit, vegetables and rice. North of the delta are small fishing ports and the city of Tarragona, the former Roman capital of Spain and principal port of entry for the Romans. It radiates out from a balcony overlooking a well preserved Roman ampitheatre beside the sea.
There is only one Parador in the province at TORTOSA, a 10th century castle overlooking the River Ebro and surrounded by fertile plains. It can be combined with Paradores in two neighbouring provinces at Benicarlo on the coast and inland in the castle at Alcaniz.
THE INLAND PROVINCE OF LLEIDA & THE PYRENEES