Officially-Appointed Representative of the Paradors, Chateaux Les Collectionneurs and Keytel Hotels, and ‘Preferred Agent’ of the Pousadas

Historical Festivals

3rd July 2018

With a rich and varied history, it is no surprise that Spain has a multitude of interesting historical events to look back on and celebrate.

Many towns and cities celebrate notable moments in local history through fiestas, re-enactments and parades, and we have selected some interesting options to explore.

19th - 22nd July 2018 - Renaissance Festival, Tortosa

To celebrate the birth of this 16th century town, a Renaissance festival has been held each year since 1996. Over a weekend in July, the streets are decorated with tapestries, rugs, torches and banners and locals adorn different colour rosettes representing each neighbourhood. 

Open air stalls sell local ware and restaurants offer renaissance-style menus. You can enjoy street performances from a variety of actors and artists and the main event involves the ‘Parade of the Flags’.

Nearest Parador: Tortosa

24th – 31st July 2018 - Moors and Christians Fiesta, La Villajoyosa

A memorable battle fought in 1538 between the Christians and Berber pirates is commemorated with a large and colourful festival each July in the town of La Villajoyosa, north of Alicante. Legend has it that during the ceaseless attacks by the Moors, St Martha came down to the town and caused flash flooding, destroying the pirate fleet. St Martha’s rumoured intervention is why she is the town’s patron saint and the reason the festival is held in her name.

The festival has been held for over 250 years and each year follows a similar schedule. The fiesta kicks off with street processions of the opposing forces on the first couple of days, leading up to the re-enactment of the Moorish landing which is the main event. Crowds collect on the beaches from as early as 5 am whilst the ‘Christians’ prepare their artillery in defence. 

The event reaches peak excitement with the approach of 30 Moorish vessels and, on landing, the enemy forces battle between them up to the castle. In addition to this spectacular re-enactment, the fiesta features plenty of dancing, food contests, live music and fireworks. 

Nearest Paradors: Jávea and Lorca

5th August 2018 - Catoira Vikings Festival

The Galician village of Catoira looks back to thousand-year-old Viking invasions as the inspiration for its annual festival. Held on the first Sunday of each August since 1960, the festival begins at 10 am as thousands head to the village to watch folk group performances through the streets and around the 11th century Torres del Oeste Castle ruins. During the festival the ruins act as the centre point, hosting a medieval market and cooking seafood for those involved in the festival.

The main event is the arrival of the Vikings in replica 11th century vessels. Vikings disembark and attempt to take the former castle whilst locals try to fend them off, culminating in a battle between the opposing forces – though not quite so bloody as the original battle as today’s fighters end up drenched in wine!

Festivities continue into the evening with picnics, plays and celebrations.

Nearest Paradors: Pontevedra and Cambados

26th August – 4th September 2018 - Cantabrian Wars Festival, Corrales de Buelna

This festival celebrates Cantabrian resistance to the Roman Empire in 1 BC - the region was the last of Hispania to hold off the Romans.

During the last weekend of August, locals split up to dress as the Roman legionaries and as members of the Cantabrian resistance.  The hostile encounters are re-enacted via parades, a Cantabrian wedding and Roman senate sessions as well as creations of Roman camps and markets.

Nearest Paradors: Santillana and Santillana Gil Blas

 

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Spain's Highlights

27th June 2018

How many of Spain's greatest attractions have you ticked off your list?

We know that most people travelling from Parador to Parador tend to be familiar with many of Spain's famous places of interest, but we find that no matter how many places we’ve been to, we’ve not managed to visit all of the country's key attractions yet.

Spain is home to some of the world’s most cherished historical monuments and with 44 World Heritage Sites, it ranks third in the world for most sites behind China and Italy. We have composed a list of unmissable places to visit in Spain – which ones do you have yet to visit?

The Alhambra Palace, Granada

Spain’s most visited site, the Moorish fortress-palace of the Alhambra dates back to the 9th century and is the crowning jewel of Andalucia, standing proudly at the top of Granada. Originally consisting of the Alcazaba fortress, it was expanded by the Moors in the 13th and 14th centuries when it served as a royal residence for Moorish leaders and subsequent Catholic monarchs. Despite attempts by Napoleon to destroy the Alhambra, the beauty and art of the building remain in good condition and its peaceful gardens are shared with the Parador de Granada.

Entry tickets often sell out as early as 3 months in advance, so we recommend booking your tickets as soon as possible.

Nearest Parador: Parador de Granada

 

The Great Mosque of Córdoba, Córdoba

The Great Cathedral-Mosque of Córdoba (Mezquita), with its iconic white and terracotta Moorish arches, is the city’s most recognisable building. The Mosque was built on the site of an ancient Visigoth church in the 8th century and was added to by subsequent Moorish leaders in the 9th and 10th centuries. A Christian chapel was added in the 14th century and the grand cathedral was erected in the centre in the 16th century. This is a true testament to the shifting cultures that have inhabited Córdoba over the centuries. 

Nearest Parador: Parador de Córdoba

 

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela

This is one of the most famous religious monuments in Spain and marks the final destination for pilgrims completing the Camino de Santiago (Way of St James).  Initial construction began on the cathedral in the 11th century and later additions have created an impressive blend of architectural styles including Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque.  The Cathedral is home to the crypt of Saint James and is rumoured to house his relics.

Nearest Parador: Parador de Santiago de Compostela

 

   

Alcázar Fortress, Segovia

This beautiful fortress with its high reaching turrets looks like it has been plucked straight from a fairy tale. The first mention of the Alcázar dates back to 12th century Christian writings when it was used as a Royal residence by King Alfonso III. The Gothic elements of the building were added by later monarchs in the 13th century and the final touches were put in place in the 16th century. Since the 18th century the Alcázar has housed the Royal College of Artillery. Its strategic location overlooking the Eresma and Clamores Rivers hints at its military origins, and high positioning also serves to make the Alcázar stand out on Segovia's skyline, adding to the majesty of the building. 

Nearest Parador: Parador de Segovia

 

 

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Gaudi's visionary but unfinished cathedral is without doubt Barcelona's most iconic building. Its multiple spires, dramatic and intricate facade, as well as its magical interiors cannot fail to impress and the never-ending construction to complete Gaudi's vision only adds to the mysticism of the building. Will it ever be completed? 

Nearest Parador: Parador de Cardona

 

Burgos Cathedral, Burgos

This Gothic Cathedral dates back to the 13th century and dominates Burgos’ skyline. Building began in 1221 and additions and extensions were added as late as the 18th century. Its architecture is considered one of the finest examples of the Spanish Gothic style and is unique in that is the only Spanish Cathedral that has received UNESCO World Heritage designation as a single site. Its claim to fame is as the final resting place of medieval military commander El Cid.

Nearest Parador: Parador de Lerma

 

Roman Theatre, Mérida

This unassuming town in Extremadura is home to some of Spain's best preserved Roman ruins and was the most important city in the Iberian Peninsula under Roman occupation. The Roman Theatre composes part of the Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida which also includes a circus, amphitheatre and Roman bridge.  The theatre dates back to 16 or 15 B.C and is in excellent condition, seating up to 3,000 people. Each summer there is a classical theatre festival on the site with performances beginning late at night to avoid the hot August sunshine.

Nearest Parador: Parador de Mérida.

 

Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) - Cuenca

Balanced on the edge of a gorge on the Huécar River, these houses are daringly built onto the rock wall and are Cuenca's pride and joy. Views of the houses can be enjoyed from the bridges crossing the gorge and from superior rooms at the Parador de Cuenca, which sits in the heart of the valley opposite the old town.

Nearest Parador: Parador de Cuenca

 

El Escorial Monastery, San Lorenzo de El Escorial (near Madrid)

The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo was built in the 16th century as a multipurpose complex by King Philip II to serve as a burial site for his father (Holy Roman Emperor Charles V), a monastery and a palace. This concept resulted in the very grand building with palatial gardens that we can see today, whose intricate interiors have been worked on by the likes of the artist El Greco.

Nearest Parador: Parador de La Granja

 

The best ways to explore these sites is by a driving tour of Spain and Paradors have some excellent packages to help you discover Spain at a superb price. Pre-set 3 and 7 nights routes, such as the World Heritage City Route, feature many of the cities that house these wonders and are available from as little as £46* per person/night on B&B basis. The 5 Night Card offers you more flexibility in designing your route and is available from only £51 per person/night on B&B basis.
 

Parador Rutas                5 Night Card

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Beaches in the Algarve

26th June 2018

The Algarve is best known for its long sandy beaches and small bays nestled between rocks filled with white sand and clear, sparkling waters as well as the sunshine which pours down onto the region around for around 300 days of the year.

There are so many delightful beaches to explore in this Portuguese region and we have chosen to highlight some of the best: Praia do Carvoeiro, Praia do Benagil, Praia dos Três Irmãos and Praia do Alvor, Praia Falésia and Praia Grande.

Praia do Carvoeiro is a smaller beach, but no less beautiful, bordered by cliffs and the small village of Carvoeiro. Dotted with colourful fishing boats and overlooked by white houses, this beach is perfect for those looking for a more relaxing Algarve break. Carvoeiro is a small village, but has a number of restaurants, bars and terraces providing a livelier atmosphere than you might expect. 

Praia do Benagil is another small beach surrounded by golden coloured cliffs, naturally eroded into wonderful shapes. This is known as one of the prettiest stretches of the Algarve coastline and is still used regularly by the local fishermen so you may spot their boats coming back in with their catch of the day.

The Benagil Sea Caves are the highlight of this area and an extraordinary feature on the landscape. These cathedral-like caves have arched entrances and a small beach inside. There is a large opening in roof of the caves with sunlight streaming through and creating a spotlight on the sand, the effect is just magical. It is strongly recommended to take a boat trip to the caves to experience this wonderful sight.

Praia da Falésia is situated to the West of Faro stretches for 6km between the resorts of Olhos de Agua and Vilamoura. It is a popular place to visit during the summer and is a good beach for families with children. This beach is known for its beauty and diversity with orange rocks contrasting with the green trees and blue skies creating a picturesque setting.

Another beach worth checking out is the Praia Grande located next to Ferragudo, a lovely little fishing village located opposite Portimão. Interestingly, this village once helped defend this stretch of the coastline from pirates during the 16th century using the fortress of São João do Arade which can still be spotted on the cliffs from the beach. The name of the beach (Big Beach) does not exaggerate and on arrival you will find a large expanse of sand. The size of the beach and favourable weather conditions are perfect for water sports such as surfing and windsurfing and there is water sports school located on the beach.

The Praia do Alvor and Praia dos Três Irmãos make up a stretch of beach nearly 7km long.

Praia dos Três Irmãos is an extraordinary beach known for the cove-like bay surrounding rocky outcrops and the rock pools on the beach itself. It is located at the Eastern end of the Alvor sands.

The Praia do Alvor seems to stretch indefinitely and offers a range of water sports including sailing, windsurfing, water skiing and snorkelling.
Many of the Pestana Algarve hotels are located on this stretch coastline by Alvor such as the Pestana Delfim, Pestana Dom João II, Pestana Alvor Praia and the Pestana Alvor South Beach.

Discover more about these hotels and how you can explore a truly beautiful region of Portugal.

 

Pestana Hotels & Resorts

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Parador Museums

24th May 2018

Parador Museums is designed to help you make the most of a stay in these magical hotels and learn more about the history of the building you are staying in. It invites you to understand the history, legends and settings of each building, with fascinating factual information on the important aspects of each part of the building.

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Galicia: A haven of natural beauty

19th April 2018

Located in North West Spain, Galicia is a haven of natural beauty; filled with towns, villages and countryside as well as cities such as the golden Santiago de Compostela. This region is part of what is known as ‘Green Spain’ due to its luscious mountains and valleys and many Paradors are located within vicinity or amongst this greenery in order to be able to enjoy it to the full!

Santiago de Compostela

We begin with Santiago de Compostela, one of Spain’s finest cities and the region’s capital, which many would argue is Galicia’s crowning glory. Steeped in history, Santiago’s historic centre became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and many visitors enjoy digging into the depths of the city and discover hidden secrets around each corner.

A significant city during the middle ages, Santiago once rivalled Rome and Jerusalem as a place of pilgrimage and is famously the final destination for pilgrims undertaking the Camino de Santiago, or ‘Way of Saint James’, a pilgrimage which ends in the Plaza de Obradoiro in front of the cathedral. The imposing Baroque cathedral is rumoured to house the remains of Saint James and, with its fine architecture and grand vestibule, can only be considered a masterpiece - is undoubtedly Santiago’s greatest attraction.

Weary travellers can rest their feet at the spectacular Parador de Santiago, an ancient former Pilgrim’s Hospice which borders the Plaza de Obradoiro and boasts luxurious communal areas, bedrooms and suites, complete with gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements and a magnificent ancient dining hall.

Baiona

South of Santiago we have Baiona with its fine walled-fortress Parador and bay views - however there is more to this town than just its spectacular Parador. This is a fantastic coastal location at the mouth of the Vigo estuary with views across to the Cíes Islands, an idyllic nature reserve whose ancient sand dunes and emerald green waters can fool you into thinking you are on your very own desert island.

Baiona has a fascinating history; it was the first place in the ‘old world’ to learn of the New World discoveries following the return of Columbus’ ships. There is a museum in the harbour which is designed to look like a traditional Caravel (the sailing ship used by Spanish and Portuguese explorers) where you can learn more about Columbus’ first forays to the Americas.

Those looking to explore beyond the realms of the town will be greeted with a picturesque coastline and verdant natural surroundings. Follow the ‘Camellia Trails’ to see these flowers brighten up the Galician countryside. Originally from the east, camellias have adapted well to the Galician climate and the region is now home to almost 8000 varieties.

La Coruña

Also known as A Coruña in Galician and Corunna in English, this was the former Galician capital before being replaced by Santiago de Compostela. You cannot fail to be charmed by this lovely city with its expansive beaches and dramatic cliffs jutting out into the Atlantic.

One of the symbols of the city is the Tower of Hercules, the only working roman lighthouse in the world. If you are feeling active, climb the 242 steps to access a magnificent view of the city and its coastline.  You will find it in the old city where you will also find interesting Romanesque streets, squares and medieval churches. The oldest of which is the Church of Santiago built in the 12th century. Similarly of which, in the upper part of the old city, find another church, called Santa María del Campo, incidentally where one finds inside the museum of religious art.

For any history buffs out there, you may recognise La Coruña and its region from the role it played in the Anglo-Hispanic conflicts during Elizabeth I’s reign. The nearby town of Ferrol (birthplace to Dictator Francisco Franco) was used by King Phillip II as a base for launching his Armada attach on England in 1588. As a counter-attack, Sir Francis Drake sailed into La Coruña and proceeded to sack and burn down much of the town before being fought off by a citizen uprising led by the brave Maria Pita. 

Its claim to fame is as the base from which Spanish King Phillip II launched his Armada attack on England on 22nd July 1588. A year later, Sir Francis Drake sailed into La Coruña, only to be defeated by the resistance of the citizens led by Maria Pita.  Nowadays, step back in time and see the glazed balconies on the tall houses.

The Parador de Ferrol is located in the ancient town of Ferrol, an east drive to La Coruña. Or you could stay in a comfortable Keytel Hotel such as the Eurostars Ciudad de La Coruña or NH Collection A Coruña Finisterre.

Pontevedra

This Galician town is a mixture of old and new, with the newer elements of the city sprawling into the outskirts, and the fascinating historic centre at the heart of the town, remaining largely unchanged - this is where you will find the Parador de Pontevedra. Nestled in the ancient streets near the Puente del Burgo Bridge you will find an ideal stopping place to explore this wonderful little place. Ancient houses, many complete with ‘escudos’ (coat of arms), line the streets and the cathedral only serves to impress with its intricate carving of the crucifixion on the West front.

For those who love nature, Pontevedra lies in the heart of the attractive Rías Baixas, a sunken valley of bodies of water similar to the Norwegian fjords, which include the Vigo Ría and connect the city to the Atlantic.

Cambados

Cambados also benefits from a privileged location beside the sea. It is a pleasant town on the Ría de Arousa full of character and history.  Explore the hidden ruins of the 16th century Santa Marina church or the Plaza de Fefiñanes bordered by the Pazo de los Figueroa, a traditional Galician manor house, and the 16th century San Bieito church. The Parador de Cambados is built around a 17th century Pazo de Bazán ancestral home, with peaceful patios and tranquil gardens to relax in.

Cambados is widely considered to be the home of the popular Albariño white wine. The grape is grown in Galicia and northern Portugal, and for any wine lovers looking for a great Spanish vintage, look out for the special Rías Baixas D.O. classification. Along this part of the coast you will find many small ‘Pazos’ (Galician manor houses) which have their own vineyards.

Ribadeo

From the Parador de Ribadeo, you get magnificent panoramic views across the estuary to Castropol, a lovely village with a church which has an inverted golf tee-shaped spire. As for Ribadeo itself, it is a quiet fishing town with a small harbour below the Parador charming town centre.

The main attraction of Ribadeo is its fantastic location on the estuary, perfect bird watching, and its proximity to some of northern Spain’s best beaches including the breath taking Playa de las Catedrales.


Food

Of course, no trip to Galicia is complete without sampling some of the delicious fish and seafood on offer. Typical seafood found in the area includes oysters, mussels, cockles and sardines, but the region is also home to some fantastic dairy produce, such as the scrumptious tetilla and San Simón cheeses. Chestnuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and wild mushrooms can all be found in the region’s forests and are eaten seasonally.

Delicious regional dishes that can be found throughout the region include the Galician empanada - a pastry filled with tuna and bell peppers, Galician broth - consisting of green beans, French beans, cabbage, parsnip, potatoes and haricot beans and the famous Tarta de Santiago, an almond-based cake made as a tribute to St James himself.

One cannot go wrong by accompanying these dishes with a delicious, regional Albariño wine.

Celebrate the gastronomy of Galicia by attending one of the many gastronomic fiestas held throughout the region, where visitors and locals alike exalt in the regions local produce. These fiestas are typically held during harvest time and religious holidays such as ‘romerías’ where promises are made to the patron saint over a traditional meal. These fiestas can pull in big crowds and ones of note include the Alvariño wine festival of Cambados, the lamprey festival of Pontevedra and the cuttlefish festival of Redondela.

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Stargazing in Spain

17th April 2018

From Van Gogh’s Starry Night to the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, we have always been fascinated by the stars above us, and the past few years have seen a huge rise in ‘Star Tourism’.

Fortunately, for any budding astronomers out there, Spain is home to an abundance of excellent stargazing locations and the Starlight foundation is one of the biggest companies offering stargazing guided tours in Spain.

Canary Islands

What makes the Canary Islands perfect for stargazing are the low levels of air and light pollution, as well its elevated position due to the volcanic landscape.
The area around Tenerife’s Mount Teide volcano has been visited for many years by astronomers from all over the world, and its unique rocky terrain has been used to depict alien planets and prehistoric landscapes countless times in film and photography. It was famously used as the backdrop for the 1966 film One Million Years B.C (better known by some for the film poster of Raquel Welch featured in The Shawshank Redemption).

In addition to its ‘on-theme’ landscape, Tenerife has also played host to the astronomy ‘Starmus Festival’ a number of times and it has been attended by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Richard Dawkins. The island’s observatory sits at 2,390m above sea level and has been operated by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias since its inauguration in 1964.

The Parador de Las Cañadas del Teide is handsomely located to make the most of the island’s stargazing hot spots, and the Parador hosts talks by a Starlight guide every Friday evening for its guests.

The island of La Palma has jumped on the popularity of stargazing, having offered astronomy tours for many years already, in fact, it is a self-proclaimed ‘Stars Island’ thanks to the Sky Law specifically put in place in 1988  to reduce light pollution and protect the  views of the starry skies.  Each municipality on the island has its own observation points with different themes, and the island encourages you to explore as many points as possible and learn about the different constellations and planets. The most important astronomical aspect of the island is the internationally renowned Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory, one of the most complete telescopic complexes in the world. Sitting at over 2,400m above sea level, the observatory is used as a scientific base in both Solar Physics and High Energy Astrophysics, as well as for observational purposes.

The Parador de La Palma is located between the Parque Los Alamos and the Barranco del Carmen observation points, and only 10km away from the island’s capital of Santa Cruz de La Palma.

Gran Canaria has also put measures in place to limit light pollution and the Parador de Cruz de Tejeda is located in one of the island's most prominent beauty spots, surrounded by beautiful forests.

Spanish Peninsula

Extremadura

The Monfragüe National Park in Extremadura is renowned as one of the best bird-watching locations in Spain and you can spot the magnificent Black Vulture amongst its bird population, but did you know that during the night people turn their eyes to the skies for an entirely different reason? Excellent sites for stargazing include the Torrejón el Rubio Astronomical Observatory and Monfragüe Castle. We have three historical Paradors within easy reach of the nature park in Plasencia, Cáceres and Trujillo.

Andalusia

Andalusia, home to flamenco, tapas and the Costa del Sol, is less well known as an excellent stargazing location in mainland Spain. The high altitude sierras are perfect for spotting constellations. The Sierra Sur de Jaén district and Sierra Morena range in Northern Andalusia are popular sites for stargazing and some local companies offer night tours among the stars as part of the nature trail packages.

The Parador de Jaén and Parador de Cazorla are both located within easy reach of the sierras. 

La Rioja

Famous for its wine production, La Rioja is also home to some fantastic nature parks including the Valles del Jubera, Leza, Cidacos and Alhama Biosphere Reserve which offers night tours to see nocturnal birds, as well as star gazing tours - you can even look upon the stars as you bathe in the thermal springs!

The region also benefits from two 'star parks' in Laguna de Cameros and Cervera del Río Alhama, both of which are within an hour and a half's drive of the Parador de Soria.

 

In addition to the areas mentioned above, Spain is home to numerous other star gazing locations including the Gredos Mountains, the Serranía de Cuenca Nature Park, Galician islands and the Spanish Pyrenees. For anyone interested in star gazing and organising tours, we recommend checking out the Starlight Foundation website which provides much more information on the types of tours and services offered all across Spain.

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Spain on the small screen

26th March 2018

We like to travel to Spain as often as we can at Keytel International, but alas our wallets and work schedule mean that we can’t always make it to the continent as often as we’d like. As a substitute we try to catch glimpses of our favourite towns and cities or learn something new about the beautiful country on the small screen and it just so happens that there are some great shows currently airing (or easily available) following interesting folks across Spain.

We have chosen the ones that we think are particularly interesting covering a range of topics including art, food and religious pilgrimages.


The Art of Spain with Andrew Graham-Dixon - BBC

Join art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon as he traverses across Spain discussing some of Spain’s greatest artists and unique architecture. From Picasso to El Greco’s Toledo and the northern absurdists, Graham-Dixon offers great insight into the artists and their influences. Originally aired in 2008, the BBC has been airing the series again in March and you can still catch the episodes on iPlayer.

Graham-Dixon explores Spain over three episodes beginning with ‘The Moorish South’ travelling from Cordoba to Granada and looking at the Moorish influence on architecture and art. Andalusia is the birthplace to some of Spain’s most prominent artists including Velázquez, Murillo and of course Picasso, as well as home to some of the country’s most impressive architecture, with Cordoba’s Mezquita mosque-cathedral, Seville’s Royal Alcázar fortress-palace and Granada’s Alhambra Palace serving as magnificent examples of true Moorish architecture.

The second episode ‘The Dark Heart’ heads north into central Spain exploring 16th and 17th century art with Madrid and its famous trifecta of art museums the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Reina Sofia housing some of the world’s most famous artworks, as well as Toledo, chosen home of the great El Greco, whose influence on the city is one of its main attractions.

The last episode, titled ‘The Mystic North’, explores the work of modernists from Goya to Picasso and the future of Spanish art. The north was famously the birthplace of some of Spain's most prominent surrealist artists including Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and LuisBuñuel, and home to the extraordinarily-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

In addition to the well-known cities, Graham-Dixon travels off the beaten path to places like Trujillo, famous as the birthplace of conquistador Francisco Pizarro, whose 16th century architecture looks like something from a storybook or film. We happen to have a charming Parador in Trujillo which occupies a former 16th century convent, as well as hotels throughout Seville, Madrid, Bilbao, and Toledo (including the Parador de Toledo and its fabulous views).

Picasso's Last Stand - BBC

Coninuing on the artistic theme, the BBC recently aired a short documentary chronicling the last decade of the Picasso's life. Born in Malaga at the end of the 19th century, Picasso's work and founding of the Cubist movement cemented his role as one of the world's most influential artists. Despite making France his home early into adulthood, Picasso's continued to keep Spain close to his heart, as evidenced by his famous work Guernica, capturing the terrible plight of the Basque town during the Spanish civil war.

The documentary focuses on the last 10 years of his life and the work he was putting out at that time as biographer Sir John Richardson is joined by Picasso's granddaughter Diana Widmaier Picasso. First aired on Saturday 24th March on BBC2, you can now catch the film on BBC iPlayer.

Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago – BBC 2

This series follows a number of famous British faces including actor, Neil Morrissey, entertainer Debbie McGee, comedian Ed Byrne, and singer Heather Small as they tackle the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage (sometimes known as The St James Way) to their destination of Santiago de Compostela.

The first episode of this three-part series aired on 16th March and the remaining episodes are scheduled to broadcast on Friday evenings at 9pm on BBC 2. We fully recommend this as a must-watch for anyone thinking of travelling to ‘Green Spain’ or who just want to learn more about the Camino and what it means to undertake such a journey.

Traditionally the Pilgrimage was undertaken for religious reasons, however many completing it for the challenge, new experiences, or to overcome personal strife (as seen in one episode). There are many ways to do the Camino; you can take the traditional ‘French Way’ from St Jean Pied de Port in France taking in great cities like Pamplona, Leon and Burgos, ‘The Northern Way’ takes you along the northern coast of Spain. Other routes include ‘The Silver Way’ which takes you up from Seville and through Extremadura and Salamanca, and ‘The Portuguese Route’ beginning in Lisbon and travelling through Porto.

Some complete the whole Camino on foot, or do sections on foot, while others prefer to follow through route on bike or in cars. True pilgrims must apply for a ‘passport’ which they must fill with stamps from various stops and churches along the way to qualify as having completed the Pilgrimage.

The routes can be challenging, and at times the scenery can seem somewhat repetitive, but there is no doubt that you will find yourself having undertaken a massive accomplishment and seeing some of Spain’s most beautiful and religiously-significant areas en route.

The historic Parador de Santiago de Compostela, a former Pilgrim’s Hospice, takes pride of place on the main square where you will find the Cathedral de Santiago, the final destination for pilgrims. We represent hotels, Paradors and Pousadas scattered along the different Caminos in important locations including Leon, Burgos, Santo Domingo de La Calzada, Porto, Pontevedra, Villafranca del Bierzo, Tui, Cáceres and Salamanca.

The Trip to Spain – Now TV & Amazon Video,  Sky Atlantic (originally)

Following the success of The Trip and The Trip to Italy, comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon continued their culinary adventures and celebrity impressions, this time travelling through Spain. 

Exploring culinary innovations in the Basque country and traditional dishes in central Spain, the pair’s journey south through Spain takes them across the regions and via some truly marvellous areas. 

Eagle-eyed viewers will spot visits to and dinners in Paradors including the Parador de Sigüenza, the Parador de Almagro, and the Parador de Cuenca. The pair also visits towns with Paradors such as Hondarribia, Sos del Rey Católico and the famous cities of Granada and Malaga. All of this whilst occasionally dressed as the eponymous literary hero Don Quixote and his trusty squire Sancho Panza.

The Trip to Spain originally aired on Sky Atlantic in April 2017 and can still be caught on Now TV and available to download on Amazon Prime.

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Our Porto Top Picks

13th March 2018

Pestana have just opened a 5-star hotel in the historic A Brasileira Café in downtown Porto. The building is over 115 years old and has 89 bedrooms, a restaurant, a vertical garden and will be reopening the café serving coffee and tea, pastries and an all-day menu. Its central location is ideal for exploring the historic centre and the popular Ribeira with its lively cafes and restaurants.

To celebrate the latest addition, we thought we’d tell you about some of our personal highlights of Porto.

Port Cellars
No visit to Porto is complete without a visit to its famous wine cellars. With a variety of brands including Sandemans, Porto Cruz and Graham’s, you have plenty to choose from. Tours with tastings typically start from 12€ per person.

Open Top Bus Tours
A tourist staple in any city, these buses help newcomers get their bearings and learn some interesting facts about the various areas. The Porto open top buses are particularly good value with some packages including short boat trips along the Douro, and tours that take you across to Vila Nova de Gaia and up to the Matosinhos beaches. A tour over to Vila Nova de Gaia offers the perfect opportunity to take marvellous photos of Porto’s famous terracotta-roofed landscape.

Café Culture
Portugal often gets overlooked when it comes to the world’s most famous coffee drinkers, but let’s not forget that the Portuguese explorers were some of the first involved in the trade. Porto has two historical coffee houses, the A Brasileira which is over 115 years old and claims to be the first establishment in Porto to serve a cup of coffee; it is now home to the Pestana A Brasileira hotel. The other famous café is the Majestic Café, a functioning café with grand Art Deco interiors. The Majestic dates back to 1921 and was a hotspot for artists, writers, intellectuals and politicians who met for coffee and absinthe and to discuss the news of the day. 

Although these cafés are historically important, we’re confident you’ll enjoy a delicious coffee and pastel de nata in most of Porto’s cafés.

Livraria Lello Bookshop
Any book lovers cannot afford to miss a visit to this beautiful bookshop which dates back to 1906. Its intricate façade, elegant winding staircase and dazzling stained glass roof are spellbinding, so it’s no wonder the shop is rumoured to be one of J.K. Rowling’s inspirations when writing the Harry Potter series. Photography is prohibited so as not to disturb shoppers, but this is all the more reason to have a real wander around the bookshop and soak in the atmosphere and maybe pick up a book or postcard to remember your visit.

Mercado do Bolhão
This wrought-iron fresh produce market dates back to the 19th century and is the perfect place to pick up fresh cheese, olives, fish, bread and smoked meats. It is best to visit on Friday and Saturday mornings where you can join the lively crowds and try some delicious samples.

Ponte de Dom Luís I & Cable Car
This impressive double-deck iron bridge is a distinctive part of Porto’s landscape connecting Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. A walk southbound across the top of the bridge offers unbeatable views of Porto and the Douro, and takes you to the Jardim do Morro where you can catch the cable car down to the port cellars; whereas the bottom of the bridge connects Porto’s lively Riviera and the Gaia riverfront restaurants and port cellars.

Historic Centre
Hop on a bus or tram and explore Porto’s historic centre where you’ll find treasures like the Clérigos Church Tower, the tree-lined Praça da Liberdade Square and the stunning São Bento train station with its azulejos-coated entrance hall (azulejos are the famous Portugese blue tiles). 

Wherever you go in Porto, you will stumble on some part of its rich history, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled as you stroll around this beautiful city.

Find out more about the Pestana A Brasileira.

For more ideas on how to incorporate a stop in Porto on your visit, call our friendly team on 0800 160 1013 or you can gain inspiration from our recommended routes.

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Parador Swimming Pools

1st March 2018

For the 2018 swimming pool closures, please click here.

2018 dates will be updated over this month. The opening and closing dates will be similar to the previous year.

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Sitges Vintage Car Rally

22nd February 2018

A small coastal town just south of Barcelona, Sitges is a perfect option for those seeking a peaceful resort with easy access to a lively city. It is known or its popular February carnivals and parades, but Sitges also holds a unique classic car rally each year.

2018 marks the 60th edition of the rally which will take place from 3rd to 5th March and attracts both tourists and locals. The rally was established in 1959 and classic car enthusiasts gather from all corners to see grand pre-1924 museum vehicles meet and race. A number of classic brands such as Ford, Rolls Royce and Fiat take part, but one of the most popular makes featured is Spanish-owned Hispano-Suiza whose models are famous for their grand vintage designs.

The rally takes the cars and their owners from Barcelona to Sitges via numerous Catalan towns and each year locals are delighted to see these unique and irreplaceable vehicles pass through their hometowns. The winner is not the quickest motorist but in fact the one with the most original car, not to mention, that a costume in keeping with the year the car was created is encouraged and only serves to aid the lucky winner to victory.

If the idea of seeing the vintage cars lined up along the promenade in Sitges tickles your fancy, or you fancy a break in this charming coastal town, we represent both the Hotel Antemare y Spa and the URH Sitges Play through Keytel Hotels Worldwide.

 

Browse Keytel Hotels Collection

 

Photo 1 Hispani-Suiza: By Xavigivax, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6917555 

Photo 2 Sitges: By Rubenal26 - http://www.helloapartmentssitges.com/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59540126 By Rubenal26 - http://www.helloapartmentssitges.com/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59540126

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Seasonal Closures 2018

1st January 2018

Paradors have released dates for seasonal closures at a number of their properties for 2018.

To find out which Paradors are affected, please click here.

 

 

 

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Gastronomy in northern Spain

6th December 2017

Over the past decade, northern Spain has exploded onto the gastronomic scene and is an unmissable chapter of any foodie trip to Spain. The varied coastal and mountainous landscapes have led to a diet rich in fish, meat and dairy with many traditional dishes using this fresh local produce.

The Basque Country

The number of Michelin starred restaurants in the Basque Country is on the rise, such as the famous ‘Arzak’ in San Sebastian and there are no fewer than seven three-Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastian, one of the highest concentrations of Michelin stars per square metre in the world. Innovative and exciting flavour combinations created by Basque chefs are designed to excite even the most experienced taste buds!

If pintxos and tapas are more to your taste, the local tourist office can advise on a variety of tapas and pintxos tours in order to take full advantage of the local cuisine. Sampling tapas and pintxos in the many bars and restaurants of the old town is a popular and fun way to try some of San Sebastian’s best dishes. 

For wine lovers, a visit to Elciego is a must. This small town and municipality is located at the southern end of the Álava province where you will find the home of the famous Marques de Riscal hotel and vineyard. Designed by Frank Gehry, the architect behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum, the Marques de Riscal’s dramatic facade provides an interesting contrast against the luscious surrounding vineyards. You can arrange tours of the wine cellars as well as wine tastings as part of your stay, or make it a stop on your drive through the region. Marques de Riscal's wine is considered a great Rioja wine, however this is a bit of a misonmer as it is actually located in the Basque Country and Rioja refers to the grapes which are grown in La Rioja. Elciego itself is a charming town and well worth a stroll around, you can also find a number of other wineries close by.

On the northern coast, near the French border, the Parador de Hondarribia is in a prime location for discovering San Sebastian’s gastronomic delights. This is the only Parador in the network with no restaurant, but there are several delightful restaurants and eateries nearby, in fact Hondarribia has its very own Michelin-starred restaurant, Alameda. You can explore the Basque Country’s rural offerings from the Parador de Argómaniz which is only an hour's drive from Bilbao and is excellent for visiting both the Basque Country and La Rioja regions.

Cantabria

To the west of the Basque Country, you will find Cantabria, one of the smallest regions of Spain. Defined by its charming coastal towns and breath-taking natural scenery, Cantabria is also home to Santander, one of Spain’s most prominent port cities and the first destination for most people travelling to Spain via ferry.  A trip to Santander’s fishing quarter rewards visitors with great paella and fresh ingredients caught earlier that day. Situated less than 20 miles from Santander is the picturesque town of Santillana del Mar whose cobbled streets and flower-filled façades make the perfect base to explore surrounding towns and cities. Dotted around you will find little restaurants housed in medieval buildings and the quality of food that matches the charm of the town. There are two Paradors in the town on opposing sides of the main square, the Parador de Santillana and the Parador de Santillana Gil Blas.

Cheese-lovers are in for a treat in Cantabria; the quality of the milk produced in the region is very high and cheese production in the area is a cherished trade.  You can sample a large range of regional specialities such as the various carefully cured strong cheeses and ‘queso de nata’ (cream cheese) which can be found throughout the region. Famous local cheeses include Picón Treviso-Bejes blue cheese, special smoked cheese from Áliva, Pido and ‘quesucos’, made from a blend of cow and sheep’s milk .

Whilst in Cantabria, you should make time to enjoy its spectacular beaches. The Parador de Limpias is only a short drive away from the golden sands of Laredo's beaches, and is well placed for a day trip to the delightful town of Santoña, so famous for its anchovies that it has an annual Anchovy festival each spring. 

La Rioja

Any trip to northern Spain would be incomplete without a visit to the La Rioja region and its famous wines. Though it is another of the smaller regions in Spain, La Rioja has much to offer in terms of its pleasant landscape, wonderful towns and its delicious wine and it was in 1991 when wines from La Rioja earned the distinction of ‘calificada’ adding to ‘denominacion de origen’ – confirming the excellent quality vintage from this region. The historical town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada is home to two Paradors, Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Bernardo de Fresneda which offer easy access to nearby vineyards. On the edge of the La Rioja region you can find the Parador de Calahorra, where wine cellar visits and wine tasting in local bodegas are popular pursuits, or perhaps a  visit to the Vivanco museum in Briones for a deeper insight into wine culture. Follow wine routes like Rioja Alta wine route or La Rioja Alavesa wine route in order to take full advantage of the vineyards on offer. Don't forget a visit to the town of Haro, considered the capital of La Rioja, where each June you will find people throwing wine at each other as part of the yearly 'Battle of the Wine' festival in honour of St Peter's Feast Day.

 

Asturias

Heading to the west of Cantabria, you will cross over into Asturias, a notably green region rich in flora and fauna and home to Western Europe’s largest wild brown bear population located in in the Carondio and Valledor Mountain ranges as part of the 'Protected Landscapes'. Asturias is also home to a unique tradition of cider pouring. Pop into a local bar, buy a cider and hold your glass low and pour your cider from on high to enjoy it the Asturian way, though take care where the cider is being poured!  To accompany your cider, why not sample some typical dishes from the area such as ‘fabada asturiana’, a rich stew made with typical Asturian butterbeans, pork shoulder, chorizo, blood sausage and saffron. Further specialities include beans with clams, ‘cachopo’  (a dish consisting of 2 veal fillets with ham and cheese), and cabrales - a strong blue cheese from the Picos de Europa.  Spend the night at the Parador de Cangas de Onis for a rural escape and short drive to the wonderful coastal town of Ribadesella, or bask in the natural verdant surroundings from the Parador de Corias.

Catalonia

Of course, no feature on northern Spanish cuisine can forget Catalonia, the region famous for its sparkling 'Cava' wine and introducing the world to Ferran Adrià, the chef who’s Michelin-starred restaurant ‘El Bulli’ was repeatedly crowned ‘best restaurant in the world’. The region is also home to the ‘El Celler de Can Roca’ restaurant which was the most recent Spanish eatery to hold the title. As of November 2017, Catalonia boasts 55 Michelin-starred restaurants, the greatest number of Michellin-starred restuarants in any Spanish region. Catalonia has a number of delicious specialities including ‘pa amb tomaquet’ (tomato bread) and ‘crema catalana’ (similar to creme brulée). We have a number of wonderful Paradors in the region including the imposing castle at Parador de Cardona, the latest addition to the Parador network the Parador de Lleida, and the very popular Parador de Aiguablava whose spectacular cliff-top location offers magnificent bay views, this Parador is due to reopen in summer 2018 after a year of complete refurbishment.

San Sebastian and Barcelona are well known for their Michellin-starred restaurants, but great food and restaurants can be found across the towns and cities of Spain. So if you are interested in discussing great food and locations across northern Spain and organising a tour, please do not hesitate to pop us a call on 0800 160 1013. 

 

 

 

Image Credits
Image 1: By Basotxerri - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38781444
Image 5: By Juan J. Martínez from Valencia, España - Fabada, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9679727 

 

 

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An Unsung Pioneer of Spanish Tourism

1st September 2017

How often do the achievements of the great get overlooked with the passage of time?

Paradors of Spain are a phenomenal concept enjoyed by many national and international travellers over the last 90 years, but one man was instrumental in their creation as well as being the force behind a substantial wave of hotel and cultural development in Spain, encouraging tourism to the country and improving its image abroad.

Don Benigno de la Vega-Inclán, born in 1858, followed his father into the military and upon his passing became the 2nd Marques de la Vega-Inclán in 1898. Having served at home and overseas, he left the service in 1920 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel but by this time he had already started to influence major cultural and hospitality developments in Spain with the restoration of the Toledo home of the artist El Greco and its conversion into a museum, the recovery of the Ritz Hotel in Madrid, which had fallen into difficulties, and the development of the similarly magnificent Palace hotel nearby. Other hotels followed, such as Hotel Alfonso XIII in Seville, and the Marques was soon appointed to establish a Royal Tourism Commission to generate tourism to Spain from abroad, primarily from the United States and Europe and to increase awareness of Spanish culture, under the instruction of the Government of Jose Canalejas. 

The Marques was extremely successful in this role and was very well received abroad, meeting various American Presidents and travelling extensively. Keep in mind that tourism in Spain was still relatively in its infancy and no hotel infrastructure was in place at this time; and the lengths that he went to as effectively a “cultural ambassador” to Spain. His journey along the Pacific coast of the States and back to Boston created a very high profile for his cultural mission with a heavy workload to achieve, before setting off by ship again for Spain in 1913.  

The early roots of the Paradors could technically be dated back to 1910 although it was not until 1928 that the first Parador was inaugurated in Gredos, the birth of the hotel organisation. During those years, the Marques achieved several other major feats such as promoting Spain internationally at the summer exhibition in London in 1914, when the tag line ‘sunny Spain’ was created. The Commission had also successfully arranged the visit of the French President to Toledo the year before and he was part of the team responsible for the creation of Spain’s first social housing project with the first homes built in 1915, this model continues to be the standard throughout Spain today.

Original Promotional Material for the Parador de Gredos

Original Promotional Material for the Parador de Gredos

In 1926 the King of Spain selected the site for the first hotel to be built by the Commission, a hunting lodge in the Gredos mountains west of Madrid, and when it was opened 2 years later, the first of what are now 97 Paradores de Turismo de España was born. More were to follow quickly, as the network of Paradors started to take shape. Its mission – to open up Spain’s regions to more cultural tourism and to provide a good standard of accommodation at very affordable prices. These objectives still stand today, 90 years later.

Our congratulations to Paradors for leading the field in Spain’s hospitality sector with their consistency, innovation, affordability and specialness; and our gratitude for the legacy of this now-departed but remarkably successful man – the Marques de la Vega-Inclán – for his drive and pioneering achievements!

Published in collaboration with Alberto Bosque Coello of the Castilla Leon Tourist Board.

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Extremadura: The Land of Romans and Conquistadors

14th July 2017

Extremadura, land of Iberian pigs, birthplace of Conquistadors, former capital of Roman Lusitania and home to some of the best bird-watching locations in the country, is a fascinating and often overlooked region of Spain abundant in history, sunshine, wildlife and great jamón ibérico.

One of our team spent a fair amount of time in Extremadura and we fancy showing you what to do in some of the region’s main cities.

Mérida

Mérida has some of the best preserved Roman ruins in Europe and was the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania. It was founded by Augustus in 25BC as a settlement for retired (emeritus) Roman soldiers and originally named Emerita Augustus. The Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida  received UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1993 and is made up of a Roman theatre, a Roman amphitheatre, a Roman circus, Temple of Diana, two aqueducts, Tiberius arch, one of the world’s longest and best-preserved Roman bridges, and the Alcazaba fortress. Most of these historical sites can be found by walking along Mérida’s streets, however the Roman theatre & amphitheatre are within the same enclosure and tickets can be bought to visit both ruins.

Extremadura is well known for its high temperatures in the summertime, nevertheless each summer the Mérida Theatre Festival is held at the Roman theatre and performances are scheduled at night when the air is cooler.

To learn more about the Roman ruins you can visit the fascinating National Museum of Roman Art which is home to a large range of art and artefacts discovered at the sites in Mérida, as well as more information about the history of the city.

The Parador de Mérida is about a 10 minute walk from the main Roman ruins (theatre and amphitheatre) and, despite being an 18th century convent, plays homage to the town’s Roman heritage through décor with subtle artworks throughout the Parador. The interior patio offers shade from the sun and you can cool off in the Parador’s pool and garden.

Trujillo

Despite being a land-locked region, Extremadura was the birthplace of an unusually high number of Spanish Conquistadors who discovered the Americas including: Hernán Cortés (conqueror of Mexico), Francisco Pizarro (who discovered Peru), and Francisco de Orellana (the first to trek the Amazon), as well as many more. Some theories suggest that these men (and some women) joined the Discoveries as a way of adventure, others theorise that, as many were second or third sons of nobility and would not inherit their family’s fortune, they saw the Discoveries as a way to make their own fortunes and avoid a life in the army or clergy.

Many of these men came from one town in particular, Trujillo. In the town’s main square you will find an imposing statue of Francisco Pizarro on horseback in front of the San Martin church, and around the town you will be able to spot the homes that the Conquistadors grew up in. The Francisco Pizarro museum occupies Pizarro’s former home, and for a very reasonable price you can learn all about this explorer’s fascinating life and Spain’s role in colonising the New World.

A wander through Trujillo’s medieval streets shows how very few of the edifices have changed over time with many hotels and restaurants inhabiting the ancient buildings, it is very easy to imagine medieval citizens traversing the cobbles.

Along with the impressive Plaza Mayor surrounded by fascinating buildings, cafes and restaurants, one of the main attractions is Trujillo’s castle situated at the top of the town with spectacular views across the Extremadura landscape. For any fans of the HBO show Game of Thrones, this castle was used as a filming location in Season 7 of the popular series.

The Parador de Trujillo occupies a former 16th century convent and is decorated in a contemporary style which complements the history of the building. The indoor courtyard is perfect for relaxing with a drink in the evening and in summer months you can enjoy the Parador’s outdoor swimming pool. It is only a short walk from the Parador to the town centre and Plaza Mayor.

Cáceres

Cáceres was the third city to receive World Heritage City status and the first in Spain, and it is very easy to see why. The city’s historic old town is an excellent example of well-preserved medieval architecture with an abundance of medieval palaces and residences; it is no surprise that the city is frequently used by filming crews across the world looking for a medieval setting. Traffic is very heavily restricted within the old town to protect the cobbled streets, which means you can meander along the medieval paths and get lost in the maze of streets knowing that very little has changed in nearly 800 years.

The city’s epicentre is the Plaza Mayor which was first built in 1229 and was originally used for jousting, fairs and religious ceremonies. Today it is where Cáceres’ residents come to meet for a café con leche or a tipple of an evening and enjoy the beauty of the historic churches, convents, ancient town hall and the entrance to the old town which surround the square. Cáceres is home to many churches and places of worship, most notably the church-cathedral of Santa María which was built throughout the 13th, 15th and 16th centuries and is Cáceres’ most important religious centre. Like many towns in Spain, Cáceres has been home to a number of religions throughout history, and the city’s old and new Jewish quarters are also of historical significance, you can find subtle references to their Jewish roots through plaques and pavestones across the city.

Something else to look out for in Cáceres besides the wonderful architecture are the stork’s nests. The stork is a symbol of Extremadura (particularly the nearby town of Malpartida de Cáceres) and their giant nests can be spotted throughout the region. These large structures (and occasionally the storks themselves), neatly balanced on some of Cáceres most prestigious buildings, adds an extra layer of charm to this beautiful city.

Caceres is also one of the stops on the Via de la Plata (one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela) and the famous scallop shell can be found etched across some parts of the city.

The Parador de Cáceres has prime position within the walls of the old town in a 14th century palace. The décor is fresh and contemporary, yet works very well with the buildings ancient architecture and the excellent use of light makes for a bright interior. We recommend having a drink on the Parador’s terrace and enjoying the medieval surroundings.

Plasencia

Plasencia is situated near the bank of the Jerte River and was occupied by many years by Moorish forces until the 12th century when it was reconquered by King Alfonso VIII. It is easy to see the military advantages of this small medieval town with its well-preserved protective city wall and high position.

Since the 15th century noblemen have built palaces and manor houses in Plasencia, many of which are still standing within the old town, and you can drink in the architecture from the charming Plaza Mayor with its many bars and cafes. On Tuesdays you can head to the Plaza and enjoy the colourful market with vendors selling a variety of fresh produce and local delicacies.

Alongside the wonderful palaces and noble houses, Plasencia is home two cathedrals, the Old Cathedral dating back to the 13th century with its Romanesque floorplan and small Gothic details, and the 16th century New Cathedral with its Gothic and Renaissance features. Indeed, in Plasencia you are sure to find find some fascinating building, square or street sign around each corner.

In addition to the medieval architecture found in the town, Plasencia is also well placed to visit some of Extremadura’s beautiful natural attractions such as the Jerte Valley with its delightful cherry blossoms (one of Spain’s main cherry growing areas) and the Monfragüe National Park which is a fantastic spot for bird watchers and home to majestic Black Vultures.

The Parador de Plasencia is situated in the old convent of Santo Domingo built between the 15th  and 17th centuries. The Parador enhances the history of its building with carefully sourced furniture in the communal areas, including antique seating and tables. The Parador’s dining hall occupies the former refectory and leading from the bar to the upper floors is a fantastic solid stone staircase. Windows opening into the courtyard create a bright and airy atmosphere and the Parador’s relaxing garden and swimming pool area adds a touch of modern comfort.


Storks in Extremadura

No trip to Extremadura is complete without sampling some delicious jamón ibérico. Extremadura is one of the largest producers in Spain and you can sometimes spot the famous Black Iberian Pigs out in the open as you drive by. Bellota is the finest quality of jamón ibérico, however you can find all kinds sold in most locations around the region and we definitely recommend sampling some during your visit. 

How to get there

To visit Extremadura, you can fly into either Seville or Madrid airport and hire a car to visit this lovely region. You can reach some of the cities by train; however many of the smaller towns are more easily reached by car.

For a fly-drive visit from Seville to Madrid you are look at a maximum driving time of approx 8 hours (700km) with a maximum daily driving time of 2.5 hours.

Pricing: Using a 5 Night Card for £512*, with flights from as little as £100 return per person and car hire (one-way) from £130 you could book a 5-night trip for two people for less than £900.

*Please note Cáceres has an additional 35€ nightly supplement for the 5 Night Card for reservations between April and October. More information on the 5 Night Card can be found here.

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Paradors in Spectacular Locations

15th June 2017

Paradors are primarily known for their impressive and historic buildings, but many are just as popular for their breathtaking surroundings. We have chosen a few of these well located Paradors below:

Parador de Ronda

Overlooking Ronda’s famous ‘El Tajo’ gorge, you are unlikely to find many hotels with a more dramatic location than the Parador de Ronda. It occupies a very central position in the former Town Hall building next to the Puente Nuevo Bridge and boasts fantastic views of the Tagus River. You can relax in the Parador’s garden by the swimming pool, or go for a leisurely stroll around Ronda’s charming streets and visit the famous bullring and museum directly alongside the Parador.

Parador de Jaén

Set atop the Santa Catalina hill, this imposing 13th century fortress towers over the historic city of Jaén. Built in 1249 on the ruins of a former Moorish fortress, it now houses the city’s Parador and its décor reflects its proud history with tapestries and suits of armour adorning the communal areas. From the Parador and its pool area you can look down to the city below or across to the distant sierras, soaking in the sweeping landscapes. Of an evening you can spot Jaén’s Cathedral which is illuminated at night to highlight its impressive façade.

Parador de Baiona

This former Pazo (Galician Manor House) is situated within the Monte Real walled fortress and surrounded by the sea on three sides, giving guests the impression they have their own private island. Access to the Parador via a number of historic arches creates a grand entrance, whilst the Parador’s terrace provides spectacular sea views, particularly at sunset.

Parador de Vielha

Up high in the Aran Valley in the heart of the Pyrenees you will find the Parador de Vielha. The dramatic landscape surrounding the Parador can be enjoyed from many of the superior rooms, the panoramic restaurant and the swimming pool. In winter months the sloping valley is dusted with snow and you can marvel across the snow-capped vista from the warmth of the spa’s heated pool.

Parador de Santiago de Compostela

One of the most famous Paradors in the network, the Parador de Santiago de Compostela is rumoured to be one of the oldest hotels in the world, previously accommodating pilgrims after their long pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. Situated in the same square as the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela, the journey’s end for pilgrims on the Camino, you would struggle to find a more prestigious location to rest your head.

Parador de Cuenca

No list of spectacular locations in Spain would be complete without the Parador de Cuenca. Set in a 16th century convent in the heart of a gorge, Cuenca’s Parador offers magnificent views of the famous hanging houses (Casas Colgadas) which date back to the 15th century, one of which houses the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art. There is a bridge connecting the Parador to Cuenca’s old town which achieved UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996 and is home to some fascinating buildings such as the Gothic Cathedral.

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Cervantes - A 400 Year Legacy

12th January 2017

2016 was a very significant year for literature marking 400 years since the deaths of both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes on the 22nd and 23rd April.  As such, many literary festivals and theatres paid homage to both of these great writers who are arguably the most notable from their respective countries.

Cervantes statue in Alcala de Henares

Miguel de Cervantes is one of Spain’s proudest exports and is an incredibly important figure in the literary world with his most famous work, Don Quixote, being one of the earliest examples of modern Western literature and often cited as the first canonical novel. His famous tale follows the adventures of Alonso Quixano whose love of chivalric tales and loss of sanity sends him on a quest to restore chivalry and justice and undo the world’s wrongs under the moniker Don Quixote. 

In addition to his literary endeavours, Cervantes led a fascinating life. In 1570 he put down his quill and picked up a weapon to serve overseas as part of Spain’s military. He was noted for his bravery as a soldier and sustained significant injuries during the Battle of Lepanto against the Ottoman Empire, maiming his left hand (luckily he wrote with his right hand). In 1575, whilst returning to Spain he was captured by Turkish ships which led to his imprisonment and enslavement in Algiers for five years. After several failed escape attempts, he was finally returned to Spain after his ransom was paid. On his return he worked as a tax collector for the Armada, collecting from small towns and villages whilst pursuing his literary passions. His time spent travelling through the various towns and villages provided him with plenty of material for his many plays, poems and essays. His life in Spain was tumultuous and he completed two stays in jail, it is even rumoured that he began writing Don Quixote during his stay in Seville’s notorious prison.  

Despite this interesting life, Cervantes legacy lives on through Don Quixote, whose popularity spawned numerous plays, films, operas, and a famous ballet. It has been translated into nearly 50 different languages and is celebrated globally. The work even inspired other Spanish notable figures such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali who have produced well-known illustrations for the tale. Don Quixote’s story has stood the test of time for 400 years, and we are sure that it will continue to live on for many years more.


Exploring Cervantes’ Spain

Consuerga Windmills

One of the most famous locations connected to Cervantes is Alcalá de Henares, his birthplace. The city has developed much of its cultural centre around this association and, due to its prestigious university, is one of Spain’s most important educational centres.  Alcalá de Henares continues to honour its most notable citizen through the Cervantes Award Ceremony which takes place each April and celebrates Spanish-language writers; and Cervantes Week, a festival held each October featuring lectures, theatre performances, concerts and traditional markets.


To explore more of Spain featured in Don Quixote, head to Toledo where you can easily access the surrounding La Mancha region whose plains are home to the windmills which have become synonymous with Cervantes’ greatest work.


Paradors also have the Don Quijote Ruta which takes you through some of the areas featured in Cervantes' work.


Photo of Cervantes Statue: provided by Ciudades Patrimonio de la Humanidad
Photo of Consuerga windmills: Hugo Díaz-Regañón via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA can be found here.

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The perfect getaway - Paradors' beachside and coastal properties

5th January 2017

The Spanish coastline offers travellers the ideal opportunity to discover Spain’s historical and gastronomic heritage while enjoying magnificent seaside sceneries. With the eastern and southern parts of the country being open to the Mediterranean Sea, and its Northern regions facing either the Atlantic Ocean or the Cantabrian Sea, Spain truly is the ideal destination for anyone looking to spend a few days – or even a few weeks – surrounded by beautiful beaches.

The Paradors’ network counts no less than 25 properties located on the Spanish coastlines. There are, therefore, plenty of beachside and coastal Paradors to choose from if you fancy an exceptionally fresh fish dish, a dip into the sea or the ocean, and a well-deserved dose of sunshine at any time of the year.

The eastern and southern coastline

The Paradors in Malaga serve as a prime example of how successfully they merge with seaside landscapes. Located a mere 5 and 10 kilometres away from this popular airport, they are therefore particularly easy to reach from all international departure points, and can be used as luxurious gateways to inland Spain. The Parador de Malaga Gibralfaro, at the heart of the city, provides guests with fantastic views on to Malaga’s port, which can be enjoyed either from the rooms’ balconies or the restaurant’s terrace. As its name indicates the Parador de Malaga Golf centres on the practice of this enjoyable sport. The 18-hole golf course within the hotel’s luxuriant gardens looks right on to the infinite Mediterranean Sea, thus allowing golfers to relax in a picturesque environment.

Further along the Costa del Sol, east of Malaga, the Parador de Nerja can also be mentioned as the beachside hotel par excellence. The great transport links to Nerja make this very Spanish town a preferred destination for travellers who wish to stay in Spain for a couple of days or longer. The unusual location of the Parador – at the top of a cliff – transforms views from the restaurant and rooms into a stunning panorama of the Mediterranean Sea. If you feel like taking a dip, the Parador’s private lift takes guests from the swimming pool area directly to the golden sands of the beach below.

The Parador de Mojacar, on the Costa de Almeria, shares the same modern features as the Parador de Nerja. Surrounded by palm trees and rich vegetation, the hotel’s promise undoubtedly is one of exoticism and tranquillity. Situated on the seafront, there is only a small road separating guests from the beach and the Mediterranean waves. For those who prefer warmer water temperatures, the Parador offers a large outdoor swimming pool in which to dive after, for example, a game of padel tennis played on the hotel’s own private court.

Another beachside Parador in which sport plays an important role is the Parador de El Saler. Often associated with the Parador de Malaga Golf, El Saler’s property is equipped with a prestigious 18-hole golf course set against the stunning seaside scenery. One of the hotel’s most striking attribute, however, remains its modern architecture. The Parador’s ideal location – 25 kilometres away from Valencia Airport – contributes to it being a popular destination; especially for travellers looking for a four-star accommodation by the sea with striking, yet welcoming features.

150 kilometres down from El Saler is the Parador de Javea, with similarly stunning sea views, and where you can watch or participate in windsurfing, sailing and many more sea-related activities. The Parador has even integrated the Mediterranean Sea into its interior decoration. The rooms’ design is reminiscent of traditional beach huts, while retaining the comfort and modernity which is customary to Paradors. All standard rooms at the Parador de Javea have sea views, thus guaranteeing guests a complete immersion into Javea’s exceptional seaside landscape.

Most of the standard rooms in the Parador de Cadiz also offer fantastic sea views, unobstructed by a cleverly-designed glass panel balcony. The Parador’s restaurants also celebrate the city’s seaside culture by offering a wide selection of seafood dishes, modernised to the highest standards of Spanish gastronomy. There could not be a more relaxing experience than popping into the Parador’s lower-ground restaurant to have dinner while facing the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean. With the airports of Jerez and Seville less than 35 and 90 minutes’ drive away, Cadiz undoubtedly is a beachside Parador worth visiting.

The Parador de Benicarlo completes our list of eastern and southern Spain’s coastal Paradors. As one of the jewels of the Costa del Azahar, Benicarlo is renowned for its beaches of golden sand and its port, hosting a still-active fishing industry. The Parador invites visitors to discover the charm of the city while staying in a sophisticated and elegant accommodation. The hotel is indeed remarkable by its spaciousness, tasteful decoration and multiple facilities, such as: a great outdoor swimming pool stretching out to the seaside, a tennis court and a lovely children’s playground. As such, the Parador de Benicarlo is ideal for long and short stays, and provides activities intended to please every traveller. 

The western and northern coastline

Situated on the border between Spain and France, the impressive Parador de Hondarribia is notable by its unusual location and the easiness with which it can be reached. San Sebastian airport is less than 5 kilometres away, and a number of French airports can also be used as points of arrival to get to the Parador (Biarritz is 40 minutes away). A 10th century castle transformed into an elegant hotel, the Parador de Hondarribia is steeped in Spanish history and culture. Its proximity to the port, whose rustic charm attracts many visitors every year, makes of the Parador de Hondarribia the perfect spot for travellers in search of stylish accommodation in a tranquil atmosphere. Although this is the only Parador of the network without a restaurant, just outside of its doors are several excellent restaurants to enjoy.

The Paradors de Santillana del Mar and Santillana Gil Blas can be found further along the northern coastline. These Paradors are the closest to Santander, and function as both comfortable stopovers and enjoyable short breaks, with the Altamira Cave Museum nearby. The Parador de Santillana Gil Blas, an ancestral home dating back to the 17th century, has welcomed several prestigious guests such as King Alfonso XIII, and will immerse you into a world of luxury and serenity. Only a few steps through a gorgeous paved square separate the hotel from its twin, the Parador de Santillana del Mar. This Parador retains the lavish style of the Cantabrian manor in which it is housed, while at the same time presenting modern facilities. The restaurant ‘Gil Blas’ serves both Paradors with its terrace surrounded by vegetation in which to enjoy the cooler morning and evening air. Although Santillana is not located directly by the seaside, a short drive can take you to the superb beaches of Comillas, Suances and Cobreces, among others.

The Parador de Gijon stands at the heart of the Costa Verde. This branch of northern Spain’s coastline takes its name, which literally means ‘green coast’, from the abundance of luxuriant vegetation forming its natural landscape. The hotel occupies a beautifully-restored water mill situated within the Isabel la Catolica Park. Long walks through this magnificent natural area are certainly recommended and might lead you to the popular San Lorenzo beach – to take a nap on the sand or a dip in the Cantabrian Sea.

Less than 140 kilometres west of Gijon is the Parador de Ribadeo; a prosperous-looking mansion built in traditional Galician architectural style. The Parador overlooks the city’s estuary, whose visit is undoubtedly a must when travelling to Gijon. Activities available near the Parador include golfing and bird-watching, since the estuary and the River Ero have been classified as a Special Protection Area for Birds and a Wetland of International Importance. The proximity to the Cantabrian Sea entices locals and guests to take part in sea-related sports, such as fishing and sailing, as well as enjoying quiet, spacious beaches – the most famous being ‘Cathedral Beach’ with its prominent rock formation along the sand.

The Parador de Pontevedra occupies a prominent place among the Paradors established in Galicia’s western coastline. The hotel is set within the walls of a Renaissance Palace, and will give your stay an incomparable touch of lavishness and sophistication. Candelabras and antique pieces of furniture make up the interiors of this Parador, which is proud of its history and willing you to take part in it. The Lerez River meets the Atlantic Ocean precisely in Pontevedra, and is only a few metres away from the hotel. The Parador’s great location – at the heart of the city’s old quarters – also enables guests to easily explore Pontevedra’s historic quarters and ports.

Baiona and its stunning Parador, finally (and majestically), close our compilation of some of Spain’s most exceptional beachside and coastal properties. As a Galician fortress facing the mighty Atlantic Ocean, the Parador de Baiona impresses travellers through both its stunning architecture and the fantastic views it offers. We would recommend booking a superior room (with only a small surcharge) in order to make the most of the picturesque seaside landscape surrounding the Parador. The coastal city of Baiona takes pride in its fishing industry, and the beautiful marina is worth strolling through in the late afternoon, before popping in the Parador’s restaurant for a fish dish prepared with the freshest local catch.

The proximity to the sea or the ocean confers on the Paradors an atmosphere of tranquillity and timelessness. The hotels’ impressive architecture, state-of-the-art leisure facilities and respect for Spanish cultural and culinary traditions participate as well in making your beach holiday unique. With 25 coastal and beachside properties to choose from, spending time by the seaside in Spain can be nothing else but simply unforgettable.

 

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Gift Vouchers

12th December 2016

Looking to surprise someone with a special break?  Our gift vouchers are the perfect treat, offering flexibility to allow the recipient to choose their ideal getaway.

We can issue a gift voucher for any amount in sterling, which can be redeemed for bookings at any of the properties we represent: Paradors, Pousadas, Châteaux & Hotels Collection or Keytel Hotels. So whether it is a weekend break in Lisbon, or a 7-night route exploring Andalucia, with a Keytel International gift voucher, you have the freedom to choose.

For a special occasion, Paradors now offer a “Unique Rooms Experience”
allowing you to stay in the best rooms and indulge yourself with gourmet menus and VIP treatment.

 

To buy your gift voucher, contact our helpful reservations team on 0800 160 1013 or by email on info@keytel.co.uk

 

Terms and Conditions:
- No refund can be given in respect of any value that is not redeemed.
- Voucher may only be redeemed via Keytel International and must be redeemed within one year after purchase even if the reservations are for a future date the following year.
- Bookings must be made in advance and are subject to our normal terms and conditions.

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Mountain Retreats in Spain

6th December 2016

Spain is a holiday destination which attracts a tremendous amount of travellers over the summer months, spring time and the autumn season. From the Pyrenees to the Canary Islands, the country is home to a wide range of mountainous areas which can be considered as the perfect spot for a cosy retreat. Some Paradors in these areas are designed as mountain lodges and provide visitors with the opportunity to see and experience Spain differently. Plenty of activities are available at these Paradors, ranging from hiking to bird watching through to mountain climbing. So think of Spain for your next summer or autumn break, and treat yourself to an invariably magical stay.

Fuente De

The stunning location of this Parador makes it a preferred choice for anyone who wishes to enjoy Spain’s natural wonders. Situated in the heart of the Picos de Europa National Park, the Parador de Fuente De is surrounded by magnificent forests, mountain slopes and rocky peaks soaring towards the sky. Views onto these exceptional surroundings are available either from the Parador’s bedrooms or restaurant. There could hardly be a more relaxing experience than having breakfast while facing the beauty of the Picos de Europa. If you are looking for the perfect picture to take of this exceptional scenery, the Parador is located right at the foot of a cable car leading up to several stunning viewpoints. The walk back down from these viewpoints is not physically challenging, and allows you to make the most of the forests’ beauty. 

Bielsa

Like Fuente De, the Parador de Bielsa is located within a spectacular National Park – Ordesa. The Park is home to some of the most impressive peaks in the Pyrenees, such as Monte Perdido which has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. It is under its slopes that the Parador de Bielsa has been established, and provides visitors with lovely views over the Pyrenean mountain range as well as with great walking routes. While the Parador’s location is immersing travellers in nature, its interior design enables them to enjoy the cosiness and comfort of a traditional mountain lodge. The Parador’s proximity to France also makes it an ideal location for skiing opportunities in winter, with a number of ski resorts less than an hour’s drive away across the border.

Cruz de Tejeda

The Parador de Cruz de Tejeda, on Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, is surprisingly well-suited for mountain-loving travellers. Rising at 1,560 metres above the sea level, the Parador offers unrestricted views onto the forests and mountainous sceneries within which it is encapsulated. The hotel’s style can be described as modern, yet retaining some of the traditional features of Canarian architecture. Visitors can thus enjoy a peaceful retreat in the both cosy and lavish environment of the Parador, which is also equipped with state-of-the-art spa facilities including the outdoor infinity pool, perched above a luxuriant pine forest.

Gredos

Famously known for being the first Parador to open in 1928, the Parador de Gredos deserves a place among the best ones to visit during the summer, spring and autumn seasons. The hotel was formerly used as a royal hunting lodge, and has kept its atmosphere of comfortable refuge thanks to, for instance, the great fireplaces warming up the common areas. The Parador’s location, at the heart of the Sierra Gredos mountain range, invites guests to long walks throughout the surrounding forests, meadows and picturesque hills. Hiking and fishing are only some of the outdoor activities to do at the Parador de Gredos, which possesses so much charm as to transform your stay into an incredibly soothing experience.

The numerous mountainous areas dispersed throughout Spain welcome visitors all-year round, and their enchanting atmosphere constantly charms guests. If you think of taking a break from it all over the next few months, we invite you to consider Spain and its superb Paradors, some of which are undoubtedly made for relaxing, homely-feeling retreats. The Paradors de Vielha, Arties, Canadas del Teide and Cazorla could be further added on to the list of Spain’s best summer, spring and autumn destinations, which proves that the country has plenty to offer at any time of the year.

 

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Cádiz - An Andalusian Treasure

21st November 2016

In anticipation of Rick Stein’s stop in Cádiz as part of his culinary Long Weekends (9pm on BBC Two on Friday 25th November), we would like to share our knowledge and experience of this truly exceptional city. The magnificent Parador – Cádiz Hotel Atlantico – enables guests to take a relaxing break. In addition to the charming atmoshphere, there could not be a better place for cultural outings, seeing as the city is often referred to as the ‘cradle of Western European civilisation’. History-lovers, however, are not the only ones the city takes care of, as foodies will find in Cádiz an incredible wealth of fresh products and traditional dishes.

A short history of Cádiz

Located in Andalucía, the Southern region of Spain, Cádiz is the definition of a perfect coastal city. It features hot summers and warm winters which favours tourism all year around.  A historically rich city, Cádiz dates back to almost 3000 years ago and was founded by the Phoenicians but since then, the city and the region have undergone many rulers including the Moors,and the Kingdom of Alfonso X The Wise, who in the middle of the 13th century merged the city with the Kingdom of Castilla. Due to its exceptional history, Cádiz owns the title of oldest city in Western Europe.

Cádiz was also a key port for Spain during the Napoleonic period; in fact, the province and the city played an important part in the colonization of the Americas during the 15th century. During this time, Columbus chose the city as a departure point for his second voyage in the New World and this has resulted in Cádiz experiencing an incredible growth in regards of international trade.

Today, Cádiz remains a city steeped in history, with the famous neighbouring quarter of Santa Maria, believed to enclose most of the city’s historical monuments. Some neoclassical buildings include the Royal Jain, the Barroque Casa Lasquetty, La Santa Cueva and The Holy Cave, featuring Goya paintings. 

Around Cádiz

Located a few kilometres away from Cádiz, El Puerto de Santa Maria highlights many features of the Andalusian coast. Enjoying 300 days of sunshine a year, El Puerto is a main destination for tourists visiting the region.  Some of the city’s main attractions include 15km long golden sand beaches as well as excellent places to taste the local cuisine. With fish caught locally, typical dishes feature seafood specialities accompanied by vegetables, noodles as well as an extensive range of wines. El Puerto is also home to many historical buildings; from the Castle of San Marcos to the Great Priory Church, the city highlights its history with museums and many sites of cultural interest such as the Monastery of La Victoria.

Spain’s capital of Flamenco, Jerez, is situated just further inland from Cádiz. Jerez hosts the world’s largest Flamenco festival from February to March which includes dances and music from performers coming from all around Spain and the world. The Jerez Flamenco district is located in the inner part of the city, in the Barrio de Santiago. This district offers an opportunity to find out more about Flamenco but also houses many museums. Jerez is also famous for its dancing horse spectacles and its sherry production.  

Cádiz Hotel Atlantico

If Cádiz is the oldest city in Western Europe, the Parador it is home to, by contrast, is one of the most modern in the entire network. The Parador’s architecture proves to be particularly striking: the smoothness of concrete materials has been used to build the hotel, which can be characterised by clear architectural line sand the transparency of glass and water is also a key element in creating the Parador’s relaxing atmosphere. Each room has a glass-panelled balcony providing unrestricted views onto the endless ocean and the Parador’s very name pays homage to the Atlantic. Spectacular sea views can also be enjoyed from the multiple outdoor swimming pools and the restaurants’ terraces.

Spanish gastronomy plays an important role in making your stay at the Parador de Cádiz particularly exceptional. Haute cuisine is served at the hotel’s three restaurants, and transforms the region’s traditional products into dishes of outstanding quality at an affordable price. To complete the Parador’s luxurious facilities, a spa has been built outside of the main building adjacent to the pools. If offers a wide variety of treatments, as well as a circuit including a Finnish sauna, a Turkish bath and hydro-massages bathtubs. Once you treated yourself to a full-body regeneration, we would recommend sitting at the spa’s back terrace to enjoy a glimpse of Western Europe’s most mesmerizing traces of ancient civilisation.

Accessing Cádiz

Reaching Cádiz and the Parador is very easy from several airports in Andalusia. Seville airport is approximately 90 minutes away from Cádiz (130km) and welcomes a number of international flights. Many companies fly daily into Málaga from a wide range of UK airports and from there, the drive to Cádiz takes approximately 3 hours (240km). Ryanair also fly into the more local airport at Jerez which is only 40km from Cádiz (approximately 40 minutes’ drive or 45 minutes on the train).

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Christmas in Spain

14th November 2016

Navidades (the Christmas festive period) in Spain generally last from 22nd December to 7th January and we have marked out a handy guide for the most important festive dates in the Spanish calendar.

22nd December: ‘El Gordo’ Spanish Christmas Lottery
This national lottery draw takes place each year on 22nd December and has been held every year since 1812. Tickets are sold for months before the draw in kiosks and shops throughout Spain with Spaniards queueing in the hopes of buying winning tickets. It boasts the largest jackpot of lotteries worldwide (over 2.1 billion Euros in 2016) and the largest one single entrant can win is 4 million Euros. Due to the unique nature of ticket printing and distribution, winners of the largest prizes often live in the same towns and municipalities. The winning numbers are sung out by pupils of San Idelfonso School in Madrid but were previously sung by orphans of civil servants.

24th December: Nochebuena – Christmas Eve
Like many other European countries, 24th December is the more important date of Christmas period with families and extended relatives coming together to feast and enjoy each other’s company until the early hours. Children typically have not received Christmas presents until 6th January (Reyes), however with the influence of American films; more and more families are exchanging gifts on 25th December giving their children longer to play with their toys from Papa Noël before returning to school.

28th December: Santos Inocentes – Spain’s April Fools Days
Instead of pranking each other on 1st April, the Spanish save this tradition for 28th December to prolong the joy and levity of the festive period.

 

31st December: Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve) Lucky Grapes
New Year’s Eve is a huge celebration worldwide and with their penchant for fiestas, Spaniards know how to throw a fantastic New Year’s Eve party! On 31st December in many towns and cities, people congregate in the squares, dressed in lively costumes to celebrate Nochevieja (old night) and bring in the New Year. One of Spain’s most unique traditions takes place at midnight when revellers eat a grape on each chime of the clock. If you can finish all 12 grapes in time, you are set have a lucky new year.

6th January: Día de los Reyes – Three Kings (Epiphany)

Typically gifts are not exchanged until the 6th January in Spain to mark Epiphany, when the three Magi visited Jesus with their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Instead of sitting on Father Christmas’ lap, children in Spain go and visit the Three Kings to receive their presents. The town of Alcoy in Alicante is particularly well known for its Three Kings parade culminating in a large fireworks display.

Festive Food

Turrón – This (typically) almond-based nougat is probably the most famous festive treat and comes in two varieties duro (hard) and blanco (soft).

Marzipan figurines – Marzipan is shaped into various Christmas figures.

Polvorones – These soft crumbly cakes are a staple in any Christmas feast and are delicious dipped in coffee or hot chocolate.

Roscón de Reyes – Eaten on 6th January, this colourful cake with its bright jellies is designed to resemble a crown with a trinket hidden inside the cake for one lucky person to find.

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History of Paradors and Pousadas

10th November 2016

Have you ever wondered how Paradors and Pousadas came into being? Or who had the idea of transforming Spain and Portugal’s historical buildings into stunning hotels? We invite you to explore the fascinating history of Paradors and Pousadas, a story of those who were passionate about preserving and promoting Portuguese and Spanish culture.

Paradors

The first idea for a national hotel network in Spain came as early as 1910, when politician José Canalejas, spotting Spain’s fantastic potential for tourism, charged the Marquis de la Vega-Inclán with setting up a collective of existing locations that hosted travellers. For various reasons, the Marquis was never able to realise Canalejas’ ambitions, but in 1928, King Alfonso XIII restarted the project, building the Parador de Gredos in the classic ‘hunting pavilion’ style of the day. The Parador is still open today, and continues to offer stunning views of the Tormes Valley, just as the royal party would have enjoyed during their first stay hundreds of years ago. In the following years, several more Paradors opened their doors to visitors, including the Parador de Toledo which has bewitched visitors with its incredible panoramas over the ‘City of Three Cultures’ since 1930.  


During the Spanish Civil War, the opening of more Paradors understandably slowed, but in the years following the conflict the network continued to grow. One of the most popular Paradors, the Parador de Santiago de Compostela, was opened in the 1980s and is widely considered to be one of the world’s oldest hotels where weary pilgrims traditionally rested their heads after a long day on the Camino. Guests can now wander through the mesmerising interior, exploring the four cloisters and feast on the very best of Galician delicacies, including its wonderful seafood. The Paradores are an exquisite fusion of old and new, allowing the visitor to walk in the footsteps of some of Spain’s most important historical figures while enjoying modern comforts.

Pousadas

In the early 1940s, the politician and writer Antonio Ferro suggested the creation of a chain of hotels, unique in its respect of Portugal’s culture.  The term ‘pousada’, which translates as ‘inn’ or ‘lodging’, was chosen to represent the ensemble of hotels.  Ferro’s dream that guests would get to experience the ‘authentic Portugal’ and its famous hospitality are summed up to a quote attributed to him from 1942 – “When a guest ceases to be referred to by name, and is instead known by his room number, the spirit of the Pousadas will truly be lost.” Pousadas throughout Portugal were meant to include only a small number of rooms, and to provide guests with a memorable insight into the country’s culinary traditions. Ferro’s idea of a Pousada with an intimate atmosphere endures to the present day.  

The first Pousada opened in 1942 in the Alentejo region, which was already being lauded as one of Portugal’s most appealing destinations. Several years later, the concept of Pousadas as cosy and traditional hotels was furthered to include majestic accommodation in historical monuments. Castles, convents and monasteries were transformed to welcome visitors from around the world, and thus promote Portugal’s rich history and culture. The Pousada Castelo de Obidos, set within the walls of a magnificent 14th century medieval castle, was the first to open its doors as a truly historical Pousada.

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Discover the charming Alentejo

28th July 2016

Between the Portuguese capital and the popular holiday destinations on the Algarve is one of Portugal’s most beautiful and unspoilt hidden treasures. If you are looking to explore an authentic side of Portugal, then the Alentejo region is for you, and today still retains an abundance of character from a Portugal of the past. Wandering through the many sleepy towns nestled among the vast plains and farmlands one can appreciate the charm of the white-washed buildings, Baroque-style churches and the humble activities of many locals going about their day. With a selection of beautiful Pousadas in the Alentejo region, it is the perfect place to explore while enjoying the history and charm of Pousadas.   

The Alentejo region is Portugal’s largest farming area, aided by its fertile soils and warm climate. As such the region is known for its wine production, cheeses, fresh produce and also for its growing of cork. With a thriving wine industry, visitors have the opportunity to explore many vineyards and sample the lovely wine for themselves.

In addition to the production of food and wines, the landscape makes the region an ideal place for walking and cycling, particularly the ‘Alto Alentejo’ area. The Pousada de Marvão is situated in the stunning Serra de São Mamede Natural Park, making it the perfect base for anyone looking to explore the beauty of the Alentejo on foot.

Charm and culture are two key attractions of the Alentejo and the region has an array of fascinating historical towns. Evora, the capital of the region and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must-see. The town boasts a number of historical monuments including a Roman Temple, and its buildings and churches demonstrate a range of influential architectural styles. The Pousada de Evora, a lovely 16th century convent situated in the heart of the historic centre, is not only an ideal place from which to explore the city, yet the perfect place to immerse oneself in the charm and history of the town.

Moving towards the west, along the Atlantic coast, are the region’s endless un-spoilt sandy beaches. Quaint fishing villages are dotted along the coast where you can sample Portugal’s exquisite fresh seafood after a relaxing day on the beach.  

      

The Alentejo has plenty to offer if you are in search of a peaceful getaway, if you fancy exploring this region for yourself, take a look at one of our suggested 5-night itineraries which would be the perfect introduction to this fascinating region. We also offer 7-night route packages available from October - April for only £488 per room!

 


 

 

Photos kindly provided by Turismo de Portugal

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Bastille Day in Paris

5th July 2016

July 14th marks Bastille Day in France, the French National Holiday.

The storming of the Bastille in 1789 was an emblematic event of the French Revolution and marked the collapse of the French monarchy in France (with Louis XVI) and the country’s transformation to the Republic we know today.

In 1880 the 14th of July was chosen as a French National Holiday in memory of this revolutionary event and is celebrated each year throughout France.

Like any capital city, Paris has some of the grandest celebrations and we have looked into some of the events you can take part in on this day:

Fire Station Balls - 13th & 14th July 2016
From 9pm to 4am Fire Stations around Paris open their doors to the public hosting free balls with dancing and drinks throughout the night!

Most of these are free entry, however you are encouraged to make donations towards the brave firemen.

Military Parade on the Champ Elysées - 14th July 2016
From 10am troops parade along the Champs Elysées between the Place de Concord and the Arc de Triomphe on foot and on motorcycles. This event is attended by locals, tourists, military personnel, and even the President himself, François Hollande!

Fireworks - 14th July 2016
From 9pm orchestras and bands will perform concerts for all spectators in the streets of Paris and at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. This night culminates with a magnificent fireworks display at 11pm. The fireworks will be fired from the Trocadero Ponds and spectators can watch from Champs de Mars and the Trocadero.

Fireworks begin at 11pm and last for around half an hour.

Many people come to enjoy the fireworks, so we advising making your way there from at least 8.30pm to get a good spot!

Did you know?

We represent a number of high-quality hotels in Paris in excellent locations such as the Banke Hotel (pictured below) which, as its name might suggest, occupies a former bank and uses the original features to create a unique interior. You can find all the hotels we represent in Paris here.

Suite at the Banke Hotel

 

 

 

 

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San Juan Bonfires

17th June 2016

June 23rd marks the Eve of St John (San Juan or Sant Joan in Catalan-speaking areas) where all across the country Spain's beaches are illuminated in the light of bonfires and locals celebrate with food, drink and fireworks until the early morning.

The celebrations have their roots in ancient pagan traditions marking the middle of summer solstice (midsummer) and the fires were said to ward off evil spirits. Today the eve is celebrated globally, including in Portugal, and many Spanish regions and towns take part, particularly Catalonia and Valencia, and above all the city of Alicante for whom San Juan is the most important event of the year.

San Juan has been celebrated for many years in Alicante and people would originally head for the countryside on 23rd June for feasts with their families and to set off fireworks. In 1928 the celebration was formalised and people began celebrating with bonfires on the beaches finding spare wood to burn, be it old furniture or nearby kindling. Nowadays the celebrations in the city take place from 19th to 24th June and are likened to the Fallas festival in Valencia, with processions involving large cardboard figures and large tent spaces created for dancing. One of the most important figures of the festival is the 'Bellea del Foc' (Beauty of Fire) - a local girl chosen as carnival queen who, along with her ladies in waiting, helps bring in the celebrations. Party-goers will then typically dine on figs and 'Coca de Sant Joan', a typical pastry decorated with colourful cherries and dried fruits to create a festive cake which perfectly reflects the bright and joyful atmosphere. Fireworks displays take place in one of the main squares each evening and visitors are advised to bring earplugs as the rockets and firecrackers (called mascletàs) can be particularly noisy!

The festival is also celebrated in the regions of Galicia and Cantabria where celebrations include customs which are more closely tied to the original pagan traditions such as the collection and washing of traditional medicinal plants.

You can't fail to have a good time, or at the very least marvel at the beautifully illuminated beaches on a warm Spanish evening.

 

Photo By Bruno Zaragoza - originally posted to Flickr as fuegos artificiales hogueras 4, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8850119 

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San Fermín Festival

14th June 2016

The festival of San Fermín, known locally as Sanfermines, takes place in the  northern city of Pamplona in Navarre each July and has become one of the most iconic and popular festivals across Spain. The festival, held in honour of Saint Fermin, dates back centuries and was originally celebrated in October before being moved to July in order to take advantage of the warmer weather. Over the years the festival has grown into a week-long celebration with many events being added. It has since become remarkably popular not only across Spain but worldwide and attracts many foreign tourists. The popularity of the festival among tourists could also be attributed to writer Ernest Hemingway who wrote about the festival many times, most famously in his novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’. Hemingway had great enthusiasm Sanfermines, and returned on several occasions to enjoy the festival.

Festivities begin on 6th July with the ‘Chupinazo’ where large crowds dressed in red and white gather in the city hall square holding up their red neckerchiefs as they await the launch of a rocket from the balcony of the city hall. This rocket marks the start of the festival and the partying commences, this event is known for its particularly lively atmosphere as the crowds bring the festival to life. 

The following day the San Fermín procession takes place and a statue of the saint is transported through the old town accompanied by religious dignitaries, dancers and entertainers. Each day there is a large variety of shows, activities and concerts and participants can enjoy fireworks every night. Daily events include the Gigantes and Cabezudos procession, the famous Encierro (running of the bulls) and bullfights.

The Gigantes and Cabezudos (Giants and Big Heads) procession takes place each morning. The Giants compose of four Kings and Queens representing America, Asia, Africa and Europe; other figures include the Cabezudos which are costumes with large wooden heads, Kilikis who carry foam sticks with which they playfully chase youngsters and, Zaldikos, men dressed in red and gold riding horse figures. 

The Encierro is perhaps the event that attracts the most attention, and has gained the Sanfermínes worldwide recognition. Every morning from the 7th-14th July just before 8am, daredevils gather to ask for protection from Saint Fermín before they take part in the running of the bulls, the purpose of which is to lead the bulls to the bullring where they will take part in the bullfights later that day. At 8am a rocket launch marks the start of the run and participants run in front of the charging bulls along the 820m route towards the bullring, once all the bulls have entered the bullring another rockets marks the end of the run. It is a controversial, yet iconic, event due to the dangerous nature and injuries that can be sustained by those who dare to take part.  

Bullfights take place every afternoon and many social clubs from the town with season-tickets help to create an electric atmosphere within the bullring. The best bulls in Spain are brought to Pamplona to fight and, although tickets can be difficult to get hold of, they are definitely some of the best bullfights to watch in Spain due to the lively atmosphere and enthusiasm among the spectators.      

The closure of the festival, known as ‘Pobre de Mí’ takes place at midnight on 14th July. After nine days of celebrations and partying the people unite once again in the city hall square and sing along to ‘Pobre de Mí’, a song which expresses sadness at the end of the festival. The mayor announces the closure of the festival and people remove their red neckerchiefs, this is not quite the end, however, as partying continues throughout the night. 

The Paradors of Olite and Sos del Rey Catolico are both within 30-40 minutes of Pamplona so if you fancy taking part in this fascinating spectacle, why not combine it with a trip to Paradors.

Photos kindly provided by Turespaña

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‘The Year of San Sebastian’

5th June 2016

Situated in Northern Spain, only a few kilometres away from the French border, the city of San Sebastian has been awarded the title of European Capital of Culture 2016 alongside Wroclaw in Poland. The title is unsurprising to those familiar with the Basque city given the number of cultural events hosted in San Sebastian each year.

The cultural programme designed for San Sebastian in 2016 pays tribute to both the essence of the city and the ways in which it represents a new European culture. Emphasis is placed on notions of cultural coexistence, innovation and participation on the one hand; and technology, industry and energy on the other. San Sebastian, therefore, fulfils the mission of embodying the cultural partnership uniting European countries around the development of ever more advanced and forward-looking societies.

Cultural projects taking place throughout the year – ranging from workshops and conferences to exhibitions and concerts – are tailored to reflect three pillars of culture in Europe: Peace, Life and Voices. As the organising principles of San Sebastian’s programme, these poles promote cultural dialogue, diversity and understanding. The message that the city wishes to deliver through the many cultural activities offered is one of unity.

San Sebastian has been chosen to represent the community-building essence of European culture, perhaps owing to the city’s efforts to put international spotlight on different forms of Spanish arts as means of uniting people.

The major cultural events organised in San Sebastian are dedicated to Spanish culture and its interaction with the rest of the world. The Heineken Jazzaldia Jazz Festival, in particular, is attended by travellers from all destinations, wishing to participate in Europe’s longest-standing celebration of jazz music. Likewise, the famous Zinemaldia Film Festival is held each September and is perhaps the city’s most important cultural event drawing huge names from both the Spanish and international film industries, this year celebrates the 64th anniversary of the festival.

In addition to its cultural offerings, San Sebastian and its surrounding area is home to a number of internationally celebrated restaurants such as the Michelin-starred Arzak and Mugaritz.

The 2016 European Capital of Culture presents its visitors not only with warmth and breath-taking coastal sceneries, but also with a truly welcoming atmosphere. With the Parador de Hondarribia and the Hotel Villa Soro only a few kilometres away, one can enjoy San Sebastian’s enriching cultural activities all the while staying in unique accommodation. 2016 is undoubtedly the year to visit San Sebastian; a city which, in promoting unity and dialogue, makes travellers feel at home in the heart of European culture, well-deserving of its title.

 

Photos provided by Turespaña

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Portugal Day

27th May 2016

10th June is a very important date in the Portuguese calendar, it marks Portugal's National Day.

The date is chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the death of poet Luís de Camões in 1580. Camões is revered as the greatest Portuguese-language poet, compared to the likes of literary greats such as Shakespeare and Homer.  His greatest work is 'The Lusiads' which celebrates Portuguese achievements, particularly  the country's roles in the Discoveries during the 16th century, it was this work that made him popular amongst his countrymen, and he was particularly lauded during Salazar's authoritarian rule. A statue of Camões can be found in Lisbon.

Portugal Day is a national holiday and people generally celebrate with parades and parties.

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The Carnation Revolution

22nd April 2016

Emerging from the longest-standing dictatorship in Western Europe’s recent history, the events which occurred in Lisbon on the 25th April 1974 are particularly significant to Portuguese society. As a result the 25th April, which marks the break with the Estado Novo regime, is celebrated every year as a national holiday.

25 de Abril Bridge in Lisbon

By April 1974, with violent colonial resistance occurring in Africa, there was great discontent among both the military and Portuguese society. Economically the country was growing yet the heavy oppressive hand of the regime and its colonial policy was still holding Portuguese society by the reigns. Opposition to the colonial wars within the military led to the formation of the “Armed Forces Movement” which conspired to overthrow the dictatorship.

At midnight on 24th April the beginning of the coup was signalled over the radio by the broadcasting of “Grandola, Vila Morena” by Zeca Afonso, an influential singer who was banned from Portuguese radio at the time. By the following afternoon the regime was no more.

Described as a ‘very Portuguese coup’ the military coup was almost entirely peaceful with very few shots fired, and a total of six casualties. The Portuguese people unexpectedly flooded the streets in support of the coup and in hope of a newfound freedom. During the celebrations that marked the end of the regime; carnations were placed in the barrel of the soldier’s rifles; thus lending the name ‘Carnation Revolution’.

Today 25th April is a day of celebrations commemorating the freedoms and political and civil rights which Portugal has developed since the end of the regime.

Photo credit
25 April Bridge By Vitor Oliveira from Torres Vedras, PORTUGAL (Lisboa vista de Almada (Portugal)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Córdoba's Patio Festival

20th April 2016

May is probably the finest time to visit this wonderful city, Cordoba’s patios and streets grow ever more colourful with a host of flowers, mosaics and ceramics for the annual Córdoba Patios Festival.

Due to the hot climate, buildings in Cordoba have historically been structured around a central patio which was often decorated with plants and water features to create a cool area. The people of Córdoba wanted to share their beautiful courtyards and opened their doors to invite others to marvel at their colourful handiwork. In 1921 Córdoba’s town hall began organising the annual Courtyards and Crosses competition as part of the Patios Festival with the city’s best patios competing for recognition. The festival begins with a jubilant parade known as the ‘Battle of the Flowers’ and then the lasts for a week with plenty of music, flamenco,  tapas, wine and, of course, flowers filling the streets of Córdoba with revelry.

In 2016 the festival took place between 2nd and 15th May, however some patios are open to visit from April to June.

The Patios Festival coincides with the Córdoba Feria. Based around the city's main fairground, the fiesta is the liveliest event in Córdoba with many flamenco performances, horse shows, and firework displays to be enjoyed throughout May.

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You can stay at the Parador de Córdoba or one of 13 hotels we represent from Keytel collection hotels

Photos kindly provided by Turismo de Córdoba

 

 

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A Taste of Portugal

14th April 2016

Discovering the local cuisine undoubtedly plays an enjoyable part of any trip abroad. With 17 Michelin stars being attributed to 14 restaurants across Portugal, such experience has been raised to new standards. 

The most iconic dish that can be found on nearly every Portuguese restaurant’s menu must be the Bacalhau. The dish is primarily comprised of dried and salted cod, accompanied by potatoes – although the Portuguese often state that it can be prepared in more than a thousand ways. Portuguese cuisine is often simple, but delicious and national staples include regional stews, cured meats, and the delicious Pasteis de Nata, the popular egg custard tart. Portugal also has it's own selection of tipples including the wide selection of Port vintages that you can sample in Porto's famous wine cellars , and Ginjinha - a cherry licquer commonly found in Obidos and often served in a chocolate cup. 

Fish features prominently in Portugal's Michelin-starred restaurants which have gradually appeared throughout the country, securing Portugal’s place as a developing gastronomic destination. Lisbon, which is home to three out of the 14 establishments praised by the renowned guide, offers its visitors a plethora of choice when it comes to high-end cuisine. The Eleven, the Freitoria and the Belcanto restaurants are all run by success-driven chefs, looking to promote local products in a luxurious setting. In Cascais, the Fortaleza do Guincho and its elegant décor promises to enhance your experience of both food and beverages: the restaurant hosts a monthly dinner with a menu specially designed to harmonise dishes with the right type of wine. Finally, Pedro Lemos’ restaurant in Porto completes our list of unmissable Michelin-star establishments. The guide paid particular attention to the restaurant’s roof terrace, a marvellous setting which provides a stunning backdrop its diners to enjoy an exceptional meal whilst taking in Porto’s magnificent landscapes.

If Lisbon, Cascais and Porto provide travellers with the opportunity to go on a luxurious gastronomic route, you cannot forget that their Pousadas, and Pousadas in general, serve delicious menus featuring plenty of regional dishes and products. The Cozinha Velha restaurant, which is connected to the Pousada de Queluz, is one the Pousadas’ most notable restaurants. With recipes varying between modern and  traditional dishes, the gargantuan marble preparation table, and historic cooking spit and chimney, any meal here is a unique experience.

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Discover the Camino de Santiago

18th March 2016

Dust off your walking boots for the Camino de Santiago, also known as 'The Way of Saint James' - Spain's most famous pilgrimage!

April to October marks the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage where pilgrims and walkers from all of the world flock to embark on routes to Santiago de Compostela.

The city, famous for its cathedral and as its status amongst European Christians, was at one point ranked alongside Rome and Jerusalem as one of the world’s primary religious centres, and St James’ famous pilgrimage to the city has left many following in his footsteps.

Over the past 30 years, the Camino de Santiago has seen a surge in popularity, with many walking and cycling enthusiasts joining pilgrims in completing this prestigious route. Restaurants and hotels located en route provide plenty of opportunities to sample some of the local cuisine and visit beautiful surrounding towns.

Many people picture the ‘Camino de Santiago’ along Northern Spain from the Bay of Biscay to Santiago de Compostela, however pilgrimages can begin from a whole host of different European locations, as originally many began the walk from their homes.  Today there are a variety of ‘caminos’ you can take:

The Northern Way

Probably the most well-known, this route takes in many of northern Spain’s most prominent cities such as Bilbao, Santander, and Oviedo. This more traditional route can take up to 35 days to complete.

The French Way

Starting at St Jean Pied-du-Port, another of the more famous routes features some the best that northern Spain has to offer. The route is so popular that in 1993 the trail received UNESCO World Heritage status.

The Silver Way (Via de la Plata)

One of the longest pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela and taking between 7-8 weeks to complete in full, this route begins in Seville and primarily focuses on the Spanish Roman sites in western Spain. The route passes through Merida, Caceres, Salamanca and Zamora, some of Spain’s most interesting historical cities.

The English Way

This is one of the shortest ‘caminos’. British pilgrims arriving by boat would typically begin their pilgrimage from either A Coruña or the seaside town of Ferrol (famed as the birthplace of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco) following the river down to Santiago de Compostela.

The Portuguese Way

This route, typically starting in Lisbon and passing through Porto, is flatter than most as it avoids hilly areas and allows pilgrims to experience the joys of both the Spanish and Portuguese north-west coastlines.

Did you know?

The Parador de Santiago de Compostela offers a free breakfast to the first 10 pilgrims to arrive each morning? Widely regarded as one of the oldest hotels in the world, this Parador has offered respite to walkers ever since the very first pilgrimages.

Exploring the Camino de Santiago with Paradors
Paradors have a number of three and seven-night ‘Rutas’ to help you explore the fantastic cities and sights which are key features on the pilgrimage such as:

Camino de Santiago (Portuguese Route)

Silver Routes I, II, III & IV

Camino de Santiago Route I & Route II


Tell us about your Camino de Santiago experience!

Check Availability and Book

 

If you have any questions about Paradors on the Camino de Santiago routes, please contact our friendly reservations team on 0800 160 1013.

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Explore Spain's Natural Beauty

19th February 2016

In addition to its fabulous historic towns and cities, Spain has a lot to offer for those who love nature and the outdoors.

Spain is blessed with a rich and diverse geography, from the dry plains of Andalucia, to the rich green lands of Asturias and the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada. With an abundance of national parks dotted around the country, you will be mesmerised by the beauty of the landscape and diverse flora and fauna. If you are looking for an escape away from the crowded beaches around Spain’s popular holiday resorts, do not overlook the fantastic coastal national parks with quiet beaches in breath-taking settings. For those who enjoy winter sports, you could even combine a day’s skiing in the Sierra Nevada with a weekend on the coast!


Northern Spain

 

Ordesa y Monte Perdido, Aragón

Situated in the Pyrenees of Huesca, in the Ordesa valley, this national park is part of the Pyrenees – Mont Perdu World Heritage site. The dramatic landscapes of the park have been formed by glacial erosion creating the stunning valleys and chains of limestone peaks. Several different walking routes around the park will allow you to enjoy the impressive views, lush green pastures and cascading waterfalls.  The park is home to fascinating wildlife including marmots, eagles and the bearded vulture.

The Parador de Bielsa is located on the edge of the national park and would be the perfect base for exploring the park. You can enjoy a day’s hiking and retreat to this cosy Parador in the evenings.

 

Picos de Europa 

Stretching across the regions of Asturias, Cantabria and Castille and León, the Picos de Europa mountain range consists of three impressive limestone massifs.The park is home to spectacular crags, lakes and forests making the area very popular with walkers, climbers and mountaineers. The Naranjo de Bulnes peak is one of the most famous climbs in Spain; however there is also a number of different walking trails to suite all abilities. Wildlife, including Cantabrian Brown Bears and wolves, inhabit the more remote areas of the region and you will hopefully catch a glimpse of the birdlife which inhabits the park.

There are several lovely towns and villages in the region including Potes and Cangas de Onís, which are interesting places to visit during your trip. The Parador de Fuente Dé or Parador de Cangas de Onís are ideal places to stay when exploring the Picos, a cable car is located next to the Fuente Dé Parador which takes you to the edge of the massifs in under 5 minutes.


Galicia and its islands

Galicia is a fascinating region of Spain, unique in its independent language, customs, as well as its fantastic seafood-based gastronomy. A very green region, it is difficult not to come across some stunning nature points such as the beautiful Cies archipelago off the coast of Pontevedra, home to indigenous flora and fauna which has secured the island’s protected status as part of the Marine National Park of the Atlantic Islands.

This nature reserve is perfect for walking tours, hiking, or relaxing on the stunning white sand Figueiras and Rodas beaches with their turquoise waters, it is also a great area for casual star-gazing due to low pollution levels.  Another island worth visiting in Galicia is the island of La Toja which is renowned for its wellness centres and natural thermal spas, offering a relaxing and rejuvenating experience. A great natural attraction of Galicia is the Rias Baixas estuaries where much of the region’s shellfish is cultivated and which also make up a famous wine-producing region specialising in Albariño wine. 

With a number of Paradors in this region, we recommend the Parador de Baiona, Pontevedra or Cambados as the perfect places to stay and enjoy the natural beauty of this coastal region.

 

Central Spain

Cabañeros National Park, Castilla-la Mancha

The Cabañeros national park is the largest surviving area of Mediterranean forest. It is treasured for the extensive variety of plants and also the endangered species which live there including the wild boar and several different species of deer. The park is a specialist conservation area for birdlife including the black stork and Spanish imperial eagle.

This national park would be an ideal place to stop while exploring the west of Madrid, and could be combined with a trip to visit the lovely historic Paradors in between Caceres and Madrid.

 

Monfragüe National Park, Extremadura 

For any ornithologist, the Monfragüe national park is a must-see when visiting Spain. A mountainous ridge extends across the park alongside the River Tagus, which has created dramatic rock formations. In 1988 the park was named as a Special Protection Area for bird-life, and you will be able to spot over 15 different species of birds of prey.   

Situated in-between the towns of Trujillo and Plasencia, the Monfragüe National Park can be explored while also admiring the beautiful historic towns which surround it. With Paradors in Plasencia, Caceres, Trujillo and Guadalupe, the national park can be easily accessed from any of these Paradors. There is a 3-night Parador Ruta ‘Cáceres and the Monfragüe Nature Reserve’ and a 7-night Parador Ruta ‘Gredos and Monfragüe Nature Reserve’ both of which would be a perfect break for anyone who enjoys both history and nature.

 

 

Southern Spain

Sierra Nevada, Andalucia

The largest national park in Spain, the Sierra Nevada has a spectacular landscape stretching across the south east of the country. The park not only offers breath-taking scenery, but is home to a number of rare and native plant species, as well as various interesting animal species and birds of prey.

The Sierra Nevada is popular for both skiing and hiking. Despite being Europe’s southernmost ski resort, the high altitude provides good conditions for an ample winter ski season. With a variety of different hikes on offer to suit all abilities, the park can be easily explored on foot.

After a couple of days exploring the city of Granada, it would be the perfect opportunity to spend a day hiking or skiing in the Sierra Nevada.

 

Cabo de Gata-Níjar, Andalucia

This unique natural Park is Andalucia’s largest coastal protected area and has some fabulous geological features. It is the only area in Europe which has a true hot desert climate, making winter an ideal time to visit when temperatures are cooler, however still pleasant with an average temperature of between 15-20 ° Celsius.

The park’s mountain range, the Sierra de Cabo de Gata, is home to mainland Spain’s largest volcanic rock formation and there are also a number of unspoilt sandy beaches with clear waters, and coral reefs which make it perfect for snorkelling. The salt flats are an important habitat for birds including flamingos, herons and also migrating birds heading south for the winter months. 

A number of quaint, traditional towns are dotted around the park, where you can enjoy local cuisine after a day visiting the park.The closest Parador is based in Mojácar about 1 hour’s drive from the National Park, and would be a suitable place to visit while enjoying a relaxing break and some warmer temperatures in southern Spain.

Doñana National Park, Andalucia

This coastal national park is an area of marshland and sand dunes, situated in the province between Huelva and Seville where the Guadalquivir River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It is considered to be the largest nature reserve in Europe, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. With a number of ecosystems, the park is inhabited by a large variety of migratory birds, fish, deer, mongooses and also the endangered Iberian Lynx. If you enjoy bird watching, over 300 different species of birds can be spotted in the park throughout the year. The park is not only a highly important conservation area for animals, but for plant life too.

Guided tours of the park can be organised in advance, usually lasting either half a day or a full day. The core of the park is not accessible by independent walkers; however there are a number of footpaths leading from the El Acebuche, La Rocina and El Palacio del Acebrón vistor centres. There is also the Sendero Laguna del Jaral Medano del Asperillo trail which is a 5.6km trail and the Sendero del Maneli which is 2.3km.

The Parador de Mazagón is just a 10 minute drive from the nature reserve; this tranquil Parador is situated in a peaceful location overlooking the beach, surrounded by pine trees. If you enjoy nature it is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings including the nearby national park.

Canary Islands

Teide National Park, Tenerife 

The Teide National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site, home to the dormant volcano, Mount Teide.  The volcano and park is the most visited natural attraction in Spain. The mineral rich soils allow the growth of varied plant species which have also adapted to the harsh environmental conditions of the park. Such conditions have also led to the area becoming an ideal reference for scientists investigating Mars, due to the similar conditions between the planet and Teide. It is also a popular high-intensity training site for cyclists and a popular film location for science fiction films.

If you would like to explore this beautiful setting, there is no better place to stay than the Parador Las Cañadas del Teide which is located in the heart of the national park. Guests can enjoy the spectacular views of the volcano, and explore the entirety of the park and island with ease.

 

 

If you would like any further information on the Paradors in these areas, or assistance with planning a route, please do not hesitate to contact us.

 

Image Soruce © Instituto de Turismo de España (TURESPAÑA)

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Paradors new formal and informal dining experiences

1st February 2016

 

Explore Spain's authentic cuisine with Paradors' new restaurant offerings

 23 of the Paradors in quieter locations away from major cities have adapted their menu and restaurant arrangements in order to offer a more appealing selection of tapas, salads, and light options, alongside a short ‘Menu del dia’ at most properties from 22€ - 33€ per person. You can now enjoy a lighter lunch or dinner at many of these properties, you are not restricted to a complete 3-course meal.

 You will still be able to enjoy an evening meal with a decent range of wines available, and emphasis has been put on local produce, sometimes prepared with a contemporary twist. These are their 'Tamizia' restaurants, which also include 8 Galician experiences of local cuisine (these restaurants are called Enxebres).

Most Paradors still offer you a wonderful, formal dining experience in their 'Marmitia' or 'Especia' restaurants, always with a focus on authentic Spanish cuisine but complemented with popular international options.You can expect to enjoy 3-course menus at restaurants within both these brands, along with varied wine lists and formal dinner service. Stylish, sophisticated and special.

Focus on authentic, local cuisine and traditional recipes encouraging you to explore different aspects of regional cuisine.

Three course menu with international variety.

A great selection of wines

More informal dining experiences in often less formal settings

Offering lighter options including salads and tapas, as well as some excellent sharing dishes, special dishes of the day and some conventional ‘a la carte’ options.

This includes the 8 "Enxebres" which are traditional Galician eateries. A wine selection with more focus on regional wines.

Classic Parador restaurants.

Three course menus plus seasonal tasting menus and special dishes in season.

A carefully selected range of wines

 

 

 

 

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Andalucia - Warmth, Colour and Culture

22nd December 2015

If you find yourself in need of a change of scenery, new experiences and an enjoyable, relaxing break, you can jump on a short flight from the UK to Southern Spain. A whole new dimension of the country awaits you there: Andalucía, a region thriving with culture and history. Arriving at Malaga Airport, an entire tour of the region can take you from one Parador to another, one fascinating city to the next.

Malaga

Situated on the tip of Southern Spain, Malaga is undoubtedly one of Andalucía’s most prominent coastal cities. Its gastronomy has been greatly impacted by its proximity to the Mediterranean and the availability of fresh seafood. Similarly, the city makes the most of the richness of its natural environment and is bordered by several nature reserves in which the abundant flora and fauna of the region can prosper. One of the oldest cities in Europe, Malaga’s numerous historical monuments also enhance the beauty of its landscape. The Alcazaba, a fortress built on a small hill in the 11th century, seems to dominate the entire city and some of the best views in Malaga can be admired from the terraces of this stunning historical landmark.  The city also owes its reputation to the Picasso Museum honouring the accomplished artist who was born there in 1881.

Places of Interest:
• Gibralfaro Castle
• Natural Park Montes de Malaga
• Plaza de la Merced
• Cervantes Theatre
• Museum Casa Natal de Picasso


Malaga is home to two different Paradors, strategically placed across the city. The Parador de Malaga Gibralfaro is the closest to the centre and therefore allows an easy access to Malaga’s best-known historical monuments, while the Parador de Malaga Golf is closer to the airport and some of the city’s beautiful beaches. From there, we would recommend working your way inland which provides a different, but equally thrilling travel experience.

Antequera

Only an hour’s drive away from Malaga, Antequera (nicknamed ‘the heart of Andalusia’) stands at a crossing point between all the major cities of the region and embodies some of the most fascinating features of Spanish culture. With its numerous churches and convents, the city displays a few of the best samples of religious architecture the region can offer. El Carmen church is especially outstanding due to the combined Baroque and Mannerist style of its interior. Folkloric dances are an important aspect of Antequera’s cultural heritage, and are usually paired with traditional songs. The Blues Festival which takes place in the summer months demonstrates the harmony between the tradition and modernity which echoes in the city. For adventurous travellers in search of a unique connection with Andalucía’s natural environment, the Lobo Park or ‘Wolf Park’ allows daring visitors to have a close look at Timber, European, Iberian and Polar wolves.

Places of interest:
• Church Real Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor
• Palace of Najera
• The Alcazaba Fortress
• El Torcal de Antequera Nature Reserve

You can also admire the vibrant landscape surrounding Antequera from one its Parador's multiple terraces. The four-star hotel, with its practical location between the region’s endless plains and the city centre, is undoubtedly among the best accommodation Antequera has to offer. To continue the tour of Andalucía’s most iconic cities, a stop at Granada also seems unavoidable.

Granada

As a place particularly marked by its tumultuous history, today Granada hosts a variety of different monuments, the most emblematic of which being the Alhambra, a ‘palace city’ declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The Alhambra is without doubt one of the most visited landmarks in Spain. It displays a perfect blend of different architectural styles, conforming to its evolution over several centuries, and boasts an ingenuous use of light and water as decorative elements. In addition to visiting this legendary monument, it is worth walking through the picturesque maze of narrow streets composing Granada’s historical neighbourhoods. From witnessing a Flamenco performance in the caves of the Sacromonte district to enjoying a refreshing drink on the welcoming terraces of Albayzin, the old Arab Quarter, Granada provides an array of different cultural activities which will make your stay simply unforgettable.

Places of interest:
• Alhambra and Generalife Gardens
• The cathedral of Granada
• Granada Science Park
• The Plaza Nueva
• Banuelo Arab Baths

And what would be better to fully enjoy the charm of this fascinating city than to stay at the Parador de Granada which enables travellers to experience the city to the full by giving them an opportunity to stay within the grounds of the Alhambra Palace. The unique experience of a night spent inside one of Spain’s most famous historical monument could be the high point of your journey through Andalucía. The region however has many more enticing aspects to show, so let’s change direction and go further north to explore yet another beautiful city, Cordoba.

Cordoba

The city of Cordoba, with its remarkable historic and artistic legacy, is one of Spain’s most treasured secrets. The Old Town, which entered the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1994, is filled with impressive architectural monuments and charming cobbled streets. With numerous restaurants serving delicious local cuisine and a plethora of museums at hand, Cordoba delights every traveller and provides an exceptional cultural experience. The Guadalquivir River is also central to Cordoba and contributes greatly to its stunning architectural landscape, with several magnificent bridges connecting the different parts of the city. Several parks adorned with flowers and fountains also participate in Cordoba’s undeniable charm. The city’s welcoming atmosphere is particularly vivid in May, when three different festivals take place in the course of the month, each involving regional food, traditional music and floral decoration contests.

Places of interest:
• The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba
• The gardens in the Alcazar de los Reynes Cristianos
• The Madinat Al Zahara Museum
• The Roman Bridge over the Guadalquivir River
• Calleja de las Flores (“The Flower Street”)

The Parador de Cordoba, with its luxury facilities and green surroundings, provides an excellent resting place in between two cities, or is in itself a very enjoyable resort in which to spend a couple of days.

Only 140 kilometres away from Cordoba is Sevilla, the next stop on our tour of the ever-inspiring region of Andalucía.

Sevilla

The largest city in Southern Spain, Sevilla is a vibrant city with an incredibly rich history.  The Old Town alone contains three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and architectural wonders seem to appear at every corner of every street. Whether one decides to row a boat on the impressive Plaza de España and admire the mixture of styles composing it, or wander through one of the city’s multiple museums, there always seems to be cultural artefacts to discover in Sevilla. Renowned to be one of the hottest cities in Europe, with temperatures soaring up to an average of 35 degree in the summer, Sevilla also provides the traveller with a number of parks in which to find some shade and rest. One of the key features to explore in Sevilla remains its gastronomy, and especially the traditional tapas which originated in the region. Made with a variety of ingredients, tapas can satisfy everyone’s tastes and gather both family and friends for an evening of pure Spanish delight.

Places of interest:
• The Royal Alcazar
• The Cathedral of Seville
• The Archives of the Indies
• The Museum of Arts and Tradition
• The Parque de Maria Luisa

Whilst there are no Paradors in Sevilla itself, the Parador de Carmona is only a thirty minutes’ drive away from the city. Set in an ancient medieval fortress, including this Parador in your route will add an extra touch of charm and history to your journey across Southern Spain. From Sevilla, you can then travel down to Cadiz for a refreshing breeze of Atlantic air.

Cadiz

Almost entirely surrounded by water, Cadiz is the definition of a perfect coastal city. It stands dramatically on the tip of a peninsula, and due to this extraordinary location, Cadiz’s maritime tradition prevails throughout the city and manifests itself in both the gastronomy and architecture. The most prominent architectural landmark would probably be the Cathedral Nueva which seems to dominate the entire city with its dome of golden tiles, reflecting the burning Andalusian sun. Cadiz is home to several galleries celebrating the multifaceted artistic heritage of the region. The Museum of Cadiz however remains one of the main cultural attractions: this institution resulted from a merger of the Provincial Museum of Fine Arts with the Provincial Museum of Archaeology. For those travellers who enjoy the heat of sandy beaches, Cadiz is bordered by a beautiful sea shore from which to observe the boundless horizon.

Places of interest:
• Plaza de San Francisco and its Church
• Playa de la Victoria
• The Casa del Almirante (The Admiral’s House)
• The exhibitions inside Castillo de Santa Catalina
• The Roman Theatre

Located on the peninsula, in the Old Quarter, the Parador de Cadiz distinguishes itself by its modernity and the breath-taking views of the Atlantic.

The Parador de Ronda, which is only 150 kilometres away from Cadiz, also boasts spectacular views of a different genre, opening its windows on the green scenery of inland Spain.

Ronda

Overlooking a 100 meter high canyon named El Tajo, Ronda is known for the unusual geography and the landscapes surrounding the city. Three bridges over the canyon participate in Ronda’s architectural peculiarity, and connect the different parts of this city which seems to float above ground. The oldest bullfighting ring of Spain, Plaza de Toros de Ronda, is a must-see for any visitors interested in a full immersion into Spanish traditions. Once a year, it hosts the Corrida Goyesca, an ageless type of corrida in which the torero wears specific historical costumes. Famous writers and intellectuals including the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles and Rainer Maria Rilke have stayed in Ronda and praised the city’s unique beauty, which contributed greatly to Ronda’s international reputation.

Places of interest:
• The Puente Nuevo (The New Bridge)
• The Church of Santa Maria la Mayor
• La Ciudad, the old Moorish Citadel
• The Paseo de Blas Infante, connecting the Paseo Welles to the Paseo Hemingway

Only an hour and half’s drive will take you back from Ronda to Malaga Airport, where you can embark on a direct flight to the UK almost daily. Thus closes our tour of Andalucía, an impressive region full of charm, culture, history, colour and the undeniable warmth of both Spanish weather and local population.


Photo credits:
Malaga: "Da Gibralfaro" by Kiban - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Da_Gibralfaro.jpg#/media/File:Da_Gibralfaro.jpg

Antequera: "Antequera View" by Ingo Mehling - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antequera_View.jpg#/media/File:Antequera_View.jpg
Granada: "Alhambra evening panorama Mirador San Nicolas sRGB-1" by Slaunger - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alhambra_evening_panorama_Mirador_San_Nicolas_sRGB-1.jpg#/media/File:Alhambra_evening_panorama_Mirador_San_Nicolas_sRGB-1.jpg
Cordoba: "Roman Bridge, Córdoba, Espana" by James (Jim) Gordon - originally posted to Flickr as Roman Bridge, Córdoba, Espana. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Roman_Bridge,_C%C3%B3rdoba,_Espana.jpg#/media/File:Roman_Bridge,_C%C3%B3rdoba,_Espana.jpg

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Lisbon, a cultural gateway to the warmest region of Portugal

18th December 2015

The Portuguese do benefit from a milder winter and early spring. Lunch is often still enjoyed on a terrace, and even on a colder day the coffee still tastes good outside whilst you take in the sight of Baroque churches and palaces, cobbled squares, and tiled facades. The days are milder, although the evenings still have a chill in the air, and unless you are unlucky with the weather, you can often get more pleasure from visiting cities like Lisbon in the off-season without the crowds. The roads are quieter, you probably won't need to make use of your wonderfully-honed British queueing skills, and you can take your time. The one thing you may shy away from will be swimming in the sea in January, or are you brave enough?. You can always find a hotel with an outdoor pool open early in the season.

Oh, and you will make considerable savings on your costs - air travel, car hire, and hotels are all much better value away from the peak summer months. So you can upgrade in style for less, or just bank the savings.

 

Lisbon

We thoroughly recommend a stay in Lisbon, capital of Portugal and full of character and colour. Lisbon is an exciting mix of the old and the new - wonderfully colourful terraces of historic buildings framing famous squares, and contemporary construction reflecting the regeneration of parts of the city. All set in a bowl with the castle of St George standing prominently on one side and the Tagus estuary extending across the front from the imposing 25th April bridge, which leads your gaze to the monument of Cristo Rei (Christ the King) on the other bank, standing 110m tall.

You will want to spend a few days here, there is no point rushing, particularly when you get into the Portuguese pace of life. Portugal's cities are particularly notable for their tiles and colourful architecture - terracotta, yellow, pink, red and blue shades blend remarkably well into the panorama and Lisbon is no exception. Everyone ends up in the Praca do Comercio, with its yellow frame of arched galleries and the proud statue of King Jose I on horseback as its centrepiece. But Lisbon is a city with so many aspects to take in, that everyone seems to get there from different directions. The Alfama district is perhaps the most famous since it retains a lot of the original narrow streets and buildings that were mercifully spared the destruction widely wreaked by the tragic earthquake of 1755. Some of the oldest trams still run here, nearly scraping the walls of the houses and shops as they pass, and some of the best Fado (Portuguese folk music) can be experienced here by night. Lisbon spent over 400 years under Moorish rule and its influence in design and cuisine are still markedly apparent, as are its seafaring roots which are celebrated in the names of many monuments. Vasco de Gama set off from here to discover the route by sea to India and many Portuguese caravels brought riches, spices and cloths from Brazil, Africa's north and west coasts, and the East to its docks which have recently been rejuvenated and developed with restaurants and bars. The Marques de Pombal was the prime minister who oversaw the rebuilding of the city ravaged by the earthquake of 1755 and the square named after him is considered perhaps the most central point of the city. The centre is home to a wealth of museums, historic sites, shopping areas and plenty of terraces offering you respite and a coffee. For those who appreciate a good view but not too strenous a hike, it also has 3 funicular railways taking the effort out of exploring.


Lisbon is a gateway to so much more though - set on the north side of the Tagus estuary and a short drive from Atlantic beaches with surfers and the occasional palm tree, you are with easy reach of Cascais - a charming seaside resort popular with the nobility of Europe during WWII alongside Estoril with its famous casino - and "colourful" Sintra inland - with its memorable Pena Palace, National Palace, castle and the Quinta da Regaleira to visit.

To the south, cross the impressive 25th April bridge spanning the Tagus to the Setubal peninsula, or to the east enjoying crossing one of the longest bridges in Europe - the Vasco de Gama bridge (17 km long) - towards Evora and Alcacer do Sal. 
 

The Alentejo 

You are now in the Alentejo, a quiet region of beautiful plains, quieter coastline with national parks and cork trees and several provincial cities and towns to visit. Evora, with the Roman ruins of the temple of Diana, Beja with its 13th century castle and Alcacer do Sal with its medieval castle and the river Sado running through it. Unsurprisingly, there are fine, historic Pousadas in each of these towns, each a fine place to stay and to enjoy some calm, stylish Portuguese hospitality. This is also an up-and-coming region for wineries, where white wines are starting to gain international recognition and wineries are starting to open up to tourists visiting. To the east of the Alentejo are extensive lakes and rivers, and castles aplenty such as the attractive fortifications of Monsaraz, to the southeast - the Atlantic coast - are great surf beaches and even further south - on the northwest end of the Algarve region - the Atlantic beaches are much quieter and less visited than the southerly beaches which have given the Algarve its popular tourist appeal.

In between, you can enjoy the rolling landscape of plains, hills, reservoirs and lakes, and the subtle architecture of a region less visited, almost timeless, and more attractive as a result. Immense orchards of cork trees, vineyards, olive groves, old churches and the occasional medieval castle sitting prominently on a hill hold your gaze and reassure you that not all things change quickly.

 

The Algarve

And as you approach the Algarve, you are suddenly brought back into the 21st century with the extensive road systems and construction along the coastline and a small distance inland. Inland, you have some lovely towns like Mertola, with its medieval Mosque, Almodovar and its castle, and Silves with its riverfront and yet another imposing castle above! Ignore the main resorts and enjoy the quieter beaches to the west and east, as well as the islands off the coast around Faro, with the nature reserve. Bookending the Algarve are Sagres, near Europe's southwestern Cape (Saint Vincent), where you can find the tranquil Pousada on the clifftop near the town and overlooking a great beach, and to the east the really delightful town of Tavira on the Gilao river just above the estuary and extensive saltmarshes.Tavira is a lovely place to visit all year round with a busy riverside square and small shopping streets, and set above, the mustard-coloured walls of the convent which houses the Pousada de Tavira. Enjoy a rivertaxi ride from the wharf near the town centre down the river to the "Island of Tavira" just offshore: 11 km of great sandy beaches and several relaxed restaurants where you can enjoy a long, lazy lunch in the sun or shade. And to the east, some of Portugal's best, yet lesser visited beaches, with warmer water for swimming and some excellently-priced restaurants. 

There is more to the Algarve than you imagine, and a great deal of natural beauty to enjoy once you leave the resorts behind.

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Heart and soul of Spain

10th December 2015

With so much to see and visit in these towns and cities, you could lose yourself for weeks here exploring the museums, historic sites, cathedrals and man-made wonders such as the Roman aqueduct of Segovia. And why only visit when the world and his wife descend on them, when prices are at their highest? Make the most of the quieter roads and milder winter of Spain to beat the crowds and avoid the heat of summer. You'll save a small fortune too.

Toledo was once the capital of Spain and is arguably one of the best Spanish cities to explore on foot for its cathedral, churches, monuments, museums and restaurants. Segovia comes a close second though, with the wonderful and imposing Roman aqueduct rising above the city and its famous suckling pig. But you can't rank cities like these effectively, each one has its own charm and attraction. The approach to Avila provides you with one of the most awe-inspiring sights you will encounter as the lofty city walls come into view, easily rivalling the famous views of the walls of Carcassonne in France. Aranjuez with its Versailles-style palace must not be missed, likewise the Monastery of El Escorial. Alcala de Henares is a lovely small city with attractive architecture, whose centre is one large Unesco site centred around one of the oldest universities in the world. And we haven't called upon Madrid yet to vie for your attention.

This is a wonderfully compact mini region of enormous historic and cultural interest, a photographers' and food lovers' paradise with a long list of significant locations to explore. Enjoy the short, easy drives between these cities and stay in some of the loveliest Paradors, you deserve the comfort!

You won't want to miss the following places to visit, and we can prepare a bespoke route for you using the 5-card Night offer from £512 per room (for 2 people on Bed & Breakfast basis for 5 nights in Paradors) or using other offers, plus the cost of a stay in Madrid, from as little as £72 per couple in an attractive 4* hotel:

Madrid and its satellite cities

Fly into Madrid airport, pick up your hire car and drive straight to Alcala de Henares - the 14 miles will only take you twenty minutes and you can stretch your legs strolling around the centre of this very attractive city with its Unesco-protected old town.

 


Alcala de Henares:
27 miles east of Madrid, this city is famous as the birthplace of Spain’s most treasured literary figure and author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes.  With these literary roots, it is no surprise that Alcalá was Spain’s first university city and remains one of the country’s most important educational centres. In fact, much of the city was developed around the university and it now hosts the prestigious Cervantes award ceremony each April which honours Spanish-language authors.


Places of interest:

• Casa de Cervantes Museum
• University (particularly the Paraninfo lecture hall with its Mudéjar coffered ceiling)
• Plaza de los Santos Niños
• Cathedral
• Plaza de Cervantes
• Roman ruins

Stay at the lovely Parador de Alcala de Henares on the edge of the Unesco site - a wonderful blend of historic architecture complemented by some contemporary design. It has a great restaurant and the main sites to see are within a short walk.

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From Alcala de Henares, the drive to Aranjuez may take you an hour to cover the fifty miles by road, but enjoy the views as you skirt around Madrid and prepare for the charming sights of Aranjuez's palace and gardens. This is an ideal day trip and Aranjuez has lovely restaurants for lunch.

Aranjuez:  This is a little gem of a place to visit, at its heart is the Royal Palace which houses famous works of art and was designed by some of Spain's most prominent architects. Alongside it are extensive, beautifully landscaped gardens with scuplted fountains and several smaller palace buildings, and you will appreciate the consistency and carefully-coordinated Baroque style of architecture throughout the town which is replete with churches, palaces, convents and museums thanks to the city's prominence and popularity with the Royal courts.

Places of interest:
• Royal Palace
• Casa del Labrador
• The Queen Mother's Garage
• The Royal Theatre
• The Osuna and Medinaceli Palaces

 

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From here, Toledo is only 28 miles to the south west and along the way you should stop at the charming little town of Chinchon to see the cobbled central square, overlooked by balconies and the terraces of bars and restaurants. There is a lovely Parador here too: Parador de Chinchon

Then off to Toledo - the Parador is located opposite the city and above the gorge, with the panorama of Toledo laid out beautifully in front. A very memorable Parador to stay in, with its terrace and panoramic restaurant. Parador de Toledo

Toledo: This stunning city is one of Spain’s richest sources of culture and history and has held World Heritage status since 1986. Like many Spanish cities, Toledo has been occupied by Moorish, Jewish and Christian communities, each leaving its cultural and artistic impact, and therefore gaining its nickname, the ‘city of three cultures’. The town was famously the chosen home of artist El Greco with many tributes to the Renaissance artist found throughout the city. You can drive down to the city and park in several large car parks, or leave your car and take a taxi from the Parador, to enjoy the views as you descend.

Places of interest:
• Bisagra Gate
• El Greco's house and museum
• San Román church & church of Santo Tomé
• The cathedral
• Alcázar
• Old main synagogue
• Tavera Hospital

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Head around Madrid to the west and within 70 miles you arrive at San Lorenzo de El Escorial, or simply "El Escorial", another perfect day trip.

 

El Escorial: This very attractive town has grown around the grand monastery of El Escorial (founded by Felipe II, yet another Unesco site), with its pantheon of the Spanish monarchy and art gallery, and the summer residences of the Spanish court of old.

 

 

 

Places of interest:

• The Monastery, galleries, the pantheon and the botanical gardens
• The chair of Felipe II, where he reputedly sat to observe the construction of the monastery from afar
• The Valley of the Fallen (Franco's monument to those who fell in the Spanish civil war) with its 150 metre high cross

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And Avila is only 45 miles to the north west, with its cosy, historic Parador nestled within the old city walls: Parador de Avila.



Avila: This medieval city is one of Castilla y Leon’s historical and religious treasures. The castellated walls that surround the city date back to the Moorish rule and are truly a marvel. One of the most famous figures associated with the town is Saint Teresa de Jesus, also known as Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun celebrated for her dedication to her religion and pilgrimages across Spain.




Places of interest:
• Castellated Wall
• Los Dávila Palace
• Saint Thomas Muesum and Oriental Museum
• Los Guzamanes Tower
• Avila’s Cathedral
• Saint Teresa Convent
• La Incarnación Monastery

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Enjoy a last stroll around the city walls, perhaps a coffee on one of the terraces, and then head to Segovia, less than an hour away (42 miles). The Parador de Segovia is colourful and charming.

Segovia: Just 30 minutes north of Madrid, this lovely town is home to one of Spain’s most well-known UNESCO World Heritage Sites, its impressive Roman aqueduct which dates back to the 1st century and runs through the heart of the town. The town also boasts two other important World Heritage sites, the Alcázar and the Cathedral. This is a great city to stroll around and take in on foot. Along with its impressive historical architecture, the town is also famed for its delicious suckling pig which is showcased by many of its restaurants (the meat is so tender that it is often cut by the edge of a plate and served in front of you).

Places of interest:
• Roman Aqueduct
• Alcázar
• Cathedral
• Jewish Quarter
• San Antonio El Real monastery
• Romanesque churches of San Millán and Vera Cruz
• Plaza de San Martín and Plaza Mayor
• The palace of La Granja (7 miles away)

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And finally the great capital city of Madrid awaits you. We'd recommend leaving your car at the airport. Avoid the hassle of urban traffic and the high cost parking your car in this busy city centre. Just take the modern and very efficient underground straight from the airport to the centre, we can help you choose from over 100 hotels there. We'd recommend you stay west of the Retiro park, between the Prado museum and the Royal Palace, perhaps close to Gran Via.





Madrid: Madrid's restaurants, art galleries and shops are legendary. You can spend days here, this is a great city to see on foot, although it has an excellent underground, urban train and bus network.






Places of interest:
• The Royal Palace, set right in the heart of the city
• The most prominent museums: The Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia
• The Plaza Mayor (by night for the tapas bars)
• The Retiro park
• The area around Gran Via for the lovely restaurants
• The rastro / flea market of Ribera de Curtidores (open only on Sundays)

This is a suggestion for visiting these places of interest in a fairly natural order, but this can be varied easily. Contact us if you would like to discuss a route like this and for pricing: 0800 160 1013

Aranjuez Photo credit: "Aranjuez Palacio Real 1" by MartinPutz - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aranjuez_Palacio_Real_1.jpg#/media/File:Aranjuez_Palacio_Real_1.jpg
 
El Escorial Photo credit: "Vista aerea del Monasterio de El Escorial" by Turismo Madrid Consorcio Turístico from Madrid, España - Monasterio EscorialUploaded by Ecemaml. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vista_aerea_del_Monasterio_de_El_Escorial.jpg#/media/File:Vista_aerea_del_Monasterio_de_El_Escorial.jpg
 

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Porto, gateway to the Douro Valley

10th December 2015



Tiles, tiles, tiles, everywhere. Ochre, cobalt and copper, constantly catching your eye.

The only sounds are the birds, the leaves rustling and the whisper of the vine leaves. A varying, beautiful landscape – comparable to those of Tuscany and Napa Valley. You cannot help but be impressed by the mesmerising scenery of northern Portugal and particularly by the Douro valley.

If your idea of Portugal is ''all sardines and chourizo'', let us introduce you to a much more sophisticated aspect of this diverse country, one full of vibrant colour, traditional charm and authentic character.

The Douro river meanders through valleys of stepped grape vines and olive groves interspersed with grand manor houses, neat little villages and towns and the occasional title of a port house, depicted in large letters and standing out proudly from its setting. Immaculate terraces of vines join up like a patchwork quilt broken up by the white, mustard and terracotta shades of the houses, mansions and churches, and the zigzag of roads and paths that cross them. Long ranges of intensely dark and cheerfully green hills stretch into the distance with the occasional statue, cross or hamlet standing out in relief. Gorse bushes and rock roses regularly add colour to this canvas. It finally arrives at the Atlantic coast where it neatly parts the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, set majestically on its banks.

One of the greatest attractions of Portugal is the easy driving once you are away from the bustling major cities of Porto, Lisbon and Faro, and the Douro region is one of the best to explore by car, armed with a camera.

With a population of 10.5 million, a landmass about a third of the size of Great Britain, and an excellent and modern road network, you cannot fail to enjoy a less pressurised experience behind the wheel as you pass through the remarkable landscapes of mainland Portugal.

Portugal’s gastronomic appeal has grown enormously and whilst you can still rely on the simple and delicious typical dishes that include freshly grilled sardines, meat and bean stews, and colourful salads, your taste buds will be delighted with the sophistication and elaboration of refined dishes such as carpaccio of octopus, trio of marinated fish and rhubarb and almond tartlets.

Recipes emerging from Portugal’s more experimental restaurants today blend local natural products from land, sea and river with French Spanish and Brazilian influence (amongst others), presenting you with a fresh, new gastronomic experience that cannot fail to impress.
Urban restaurants jossle with Quintas and Wine Estates for the top position on the food scene, with traditional and contemporary dishes on offer, whilst cafes and bars with their panoramic terrace settings challenge for the attention of discerning passers-by looking to enjoy a port tonic or a fine wine. Modern wineries vie with centuries-old wine estates for your attention, developing and proudly introducing a wide range of quality wines, often made from grapes that are native and unique to Portugal.

Value is another strength that Portugal can boast which, coupled with a minor revolution in hotel standards and design and a revitalised culinary offering, makes it an enormously attractive destination for those looking for high quality at a great price. Add to that some flashes of panache and some subtle reminders of its significant historical achievements and discoveries, you will find real Portugal is massively appealing. Portugal has discovered the perfect blend of contemporary and classic, combining authenticity with innovation and style. All at a very reasonable price.  

The Douro region showcases all that is remarkable about Portugal, with Porto and ‘Gaia’ – the heartbeats of the region – leading you into a colourful landscape with lots to discover.



    What is the appeal of the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia?

These cities straddle the picturesque Douro river, making up the Porto Metropolitan area. The waterfront and the historic quarter of ‘Gaia’ behind are where you will find the famous port wine warehouses and visitor centres, as well as fine terraces, restaurants and riverboat departures. Porto city covers a much greater area and you will find at its heart the museums, cathedral, markets and facades for which the city if so famous, as well as its own, longer waterfront that continues towards the Atlantic surfing beaches just around the corner. Both cities are connected easily and majestically by the Dom Luis I iron bridge with its huge arch, downriver from Gustav Eiffel’s Dom Maria Pia’s bridge. 

Highlights of the twin cities include:
- the waterfronts with their lively terraces and restaurants. Enjoy the 'petiscos' (taster dishes)
- the cable car ride from the quayside to the heights of Gaia, to enjoy the superb views across and down the river
- Dom Luis I bridge, similarly a superb photostop
- twilight drinks on PortoCruz's rooftop terrace, before their ''wine experience'' and excellent restaurant.
- the 12th/13th century romanesque cathedral and the walk down to the riverbank through the old streets
- Taylor's wine cellar and port experience, one of the best in Gaia
- a Rabelo trip along the Douro and down to the mouth of the estuary
- a cycle ride along the riverbank west towards the surf beaches of Matusinhos, which is an enjoyable ride in very picturesque settings, rewardable with a great meal in one of the restaurants there.
- a tram ride on one of the few original trams down towards the waterfront.
- the Alfandega Transport Museum, both for its architecture and for its car collection
- Our recommendation for a great hotel experience: the Pousada de Porto, a historic palace beside the river
 

Where do we recommend from here?

An hour’s drive or an easy train ride east takes you into the more popular and visitable sections of the Douro valley, and between Peso da Regua and Vila Nova de Foz Coa you can enjoy visits to the famous wineries and their stepped vines, a steam train ride (during high season) from Regua to Pinhao’s idyllic station house with its charming tiled panels and boat trips along this particularly attractive section of the valley. You can spend several days here, particularly if you enjoy wine-tasting (both port and table wines) and walking.

Braga and Guimaraes are also well worth a visit, both cities within an hours’ drive from Porto. Guimaraes is the ‘’birthplace’’ of Portugal, chosen by their first king - King Afonso Henrique – as the administrative capital of Portugal following his victories over the Moors. This city is well worth an extended visit to see its substantial historic centre, castle ruins and the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza, as well as its lovely cobbled streets and squares. Guimaraes is renowned for its terraces and café lifestyle. A guided city is well recommended, since this is a fascinating historic city with so much to see and great charm to appreciate. There is a lovely historic Pousada here: Pousada de Guimaraes

Braga is also a lovely city to see, with a smaller historic centre and more shopping streets, and high above the city are the sanctuaries on the hills, the most significant of which being that of Bom Jesus do Monte with its shrine and church. This was the most important Roman settlement in northern Portugal and well worth a visit today.

Heading north towards the Minho river - Portugal's natural frontier with Spain - through the Minho region, famous for its Vinho Verde and green lanscapes, takes you to Viana do Castelo, a historic port by the Lima estuary (see Pousada de Viana), and inland to Ponte de Lima with its mediaeval bridge and panoramic restaurant terraces. From there you can head into the Geres Canicada National Park, with its wealth of outdoor activities and highly rated walking routes through the valleys and across the hills, near the Spanish border.

Heading south takes you to Aveiro, with its canals, seafood restaurant and saltmarshes, and inland to Viseu with its baroque architecture and the Dao wineries nearby.

Where to stay?
We can thoroughly recommend - personally - most of the Pousadas in this region:

The Pousada at Geres-Canicada is set in the National Park with some of the finest views from its terrace, and similarly Viana do Castelo's Pousada has tremendous views of the estuary and beaches below from its lofty position on the hilltop. The Pousada in Amares is a lovely historic Pousada, full of character, also within a short distance of the National Park. The Pousada in Guimaraes is one of our favourites, set in the 12th century convent slightly above the city.

In Porto, one of the best places to stay is the Pousada do Porto - the Baroque Palacio do Freixo - because of its tranquil setting just outside the centre and its fountains and terraces overlooking the Douro. In the centre of Porto and literally on the main waterfront esplanade, stands the Pestana Porto Hotel, housed in a collection of townhouses. This is another highly recommended hotel, whose appeal is its charm and location - it is the perfect choice for those looking to have all the sights on their doorstep.

Around the Douro valley, the Pousadas at Alijo and Marao are comfortable bases from which to explore with decent restaurants to enjoy in the evening.
The Pousada de Murtosa/Torreira/Aveiro is set by the waterfront, and the Pousada de Viseu is very central in this charming historic city.

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Parador de Casa da Insua

6th October 2015

https://www.keytel.co.uk/parador-Casa%20da%20Insua%20(Portugal)-details-2795.html

A new Parador has opened in Portugal in October 2015. This is a very significant step for Paradors, as they open their first Parador outside Spain's borders. Casa da Insua is an 18th century ancestral home located in central Portugal, around 25km away from the attractive town of Viseu. The Parador is surrounded by elegant, colourful gardens and has its own working cheese and jam factories, as well as its own vineyard, and guests can taste and buy these products. 

To celebrate the opening of Casa da Insua, Paradors have a special opening offer where guests can stay from £85 per room per night, find out more here.

 

 

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Amigos

1st October 2015

If you are a frequent visitor to Paradors, you may already be an Amigos member?

We can help you plan your Parador stays making the best use of Parador special offers and Amigos offers when available. We can also make reservations using your Amigos points for your free night stays.

The Keytel team can also offer advice on where to stay and transport options to and from the UK in order to make planning your trip as simple as possible.

Call us on 0800 160 10 13 for more information.

 

 

 

 

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Fundraising Tours

18th August 2015

Do you enjoy touring the continent and helping charitable causes?

We would like to congratulate two businesses with whom we work for their impressive and longstanding fundraising ventures for worthy charities. Both “Jolly Good Motor Tours” and “Cape to Cape” have organised many tours and rallies over the years to raise money for Youth Cancer Trust and Macmillan Cancer Support respectively and have been enormously successful in raising very large amounts. The tours have proven hugely popular and from the feedback received from participants, they have been thoroughly enjoyable.

Jim Gavin (Jolly Good Motor Tours) and Dennis Greenslade (Cape to Cape) have gained extensive experience over a number of decades in rallying and organising car tours all around the world. Their modesty and motivation in organising these trips to aid such fantastic causes is inspiring and we want to shine a light on their excellent work.

Jim Gavin runs several leisure events each year and was a fervent rally participant himself, having competed in cross country rallies for many years, including a trip from London to Australia in only 10 days! Jim works with his wife Mary in organising tours, and each plays their own role with Jim organising the technical aspects and routes, whilst Mary organises the participants and ensures that they are well looked after and the event runs smoothly. Several  (Gavin) friends support them voluntarily with the financial aspects of the organisation.

Dennis Greenslade has been an important fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Support for many years with his latest trip raising £100,000 for this fantastic cause and a total of £657,000 raised since he started in 2004. A former classic reliability trials multi champion, he has successfully competed in many international historic rallies, and has received special recognition from Macmillan Cancer Support for his commitment and achievements. His events are of a competitive nature which appeal to those who enjoy a challenge, although the focus is also on fun.

You may be inspired to join them; so here is a recap of what they have achieved this year:

Jolly Good Motor Tours – Loire Valley Tour July 2015
Following the Loire across the country and visiting wineries and fascinating sites.
Location : France
Hotels : Hostellerie Le Cedre (Beaune), Auberge de Templiers (Boismorand), Domaine de Beauvois (Luynes), Domaine de la Bretesche (Missillac) 

Special mention: Hostellerie Le Cedre, Beaune

 

This lovely 5 star property is situated in Burgundy and was a highlight of the tour. With 40 rooms, a Michelin starred restaurant, and a lovely garden terrace, this is a perfect relaxing base for exploring the popular wine-producing region. It is only a 10-minute walk away from the Hospices de Beaune, an impressive 15th century building that is one of Beaune’s major attractions and well-known for the famous wine auction it hosts each year.

 

Hostellerie Le Cedre was generous enough to aid Jolly Good Motor Tours with its fundraising efforts by offering a free drinks reception on the first night of their tour. You can find more information here:  www.lecedre-beaune.com   Tel: 0033 80 240 101

Cape to Cape April 2015
Crossing from Cap de la Hague to Cap d’Antibes, enjoying the best cross-country roads through some of the most attractive valleys and villages.
Location: France
Hotels: Chateau de la Bourdaisiere (Montlouis-sur-Loire), Art Hotel (Rochecorbon), Les Bains Romains (St Nectaire), Hotel de France (Valence), Atrium Hotel (Valence) Le Mas de la Cremailliere (Greoux les Bains), Villa Borghese (Greoux les Bains), Le Gran Pavois (Juan Les Pins)

Special mention: Le Mas de la Cremailliere, Greoux les Bains

 

This charming property offers comfort and tranquillity in the beautiful French countryside and was a favourite among the participants.  With its own thermal spa, relaxing poolside, and restaurant featuring local specialities, Le Mas de la Cremailliere is a treat for those looking for a quiet refuge. The small town of Greoux-les-Bains is close by and is a perfect example of a typical French rural municipality.

 

If you would like to take part in future tours run by either Jim or Dennis, please find their details below:

Jolly Good Motor Tours
Organisers: Jim & Mary Gavin
Hunt Cottage,
Wisborough Green,
West Sussex. RH14 0HN.
jimgavin@btinternet.com
Cape to Cape
Organiser: Dennis Greenslade
Tregunna,
Penpol,
Cornwall, TR3 6NN.
greensladetregunna@btinternet.com

 

Our heartfelt congratulations go out to both organisers and their teams who achieve so much for charity voluntarily with such dedication, whilst organising perhaps the most enjoyable tours you will find.

 

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Paradors' Rebranding

13th August 2015

Following the Paradors’ recent review of standards, the hotels have been rebranded into three individual categories with the aim of redefining the character and appeal of each property to help clients choose the right Parador.


Civia 

Helping you to get the most out of your city stay whether the purpose of your trip is for work or leisure. Civia Paradors provide you with the comforts you enjoy at home, in a destination full of opportunities to explore. These Paradors offer a wide range of facilities combined with the latest technology making them suitable for events and groups.

 

 


 


Esentia

Castles, palaces, former convents and monasteries, these Paradors allow guests to gaze back in time in some of Spain’s most magnificent historical treasures. Some Esentia Paradors may be over four centuries old, however they are equipped with all the modern conveniences meanwhile retaining their charm and character; they are unique hotels echoing memories and stories of the past.

 

 


 


Naturia 

Paradors defined by their location in a particular site of beauty and tranquillity - by the coast, in the mountains or the countryside. Naturia Paradors are the perfect places to relax and enjoy nature’s offerings in comfortable surroundings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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World Heritage Cities

31st July 2015

Spain has the 3rd largest number of World Heritage Sites in the world (after Italy and China) and 15 Spanish cities have received UNESCO World Heritage City status. Here is a brief introduction to these selected cities and their principal attractions.

You can't ask for 15 better excuses to explore real Spain. Find out more here.

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Our favourite Pousadas

2nd July 2015

Our team have dared to declare our favourite Pousadas, not an easy task! Click here to find the Pousadas we cherish the most.

 

 

 

 

 

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Car Hire

30th June 2015

You can now book car hire via Keytel through rentalcars.com. Click here for a quote.

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Vendimia Festival, Jerez

26th April 2015

The Vendimia (grape harvest) takes place each year in Jerez de la Frontera and its surrounding areas and lasts for around a month. The region is well known for its sherry production, with many vineyards and bodegas offering tours and sherry tasting, and this harvest is a very important time for the region so it is celebrated with a local Vendimia festival.

Dating back to 1948, the festival takes place on the weekend closest to 8th September in order to coincide with the feast of the Nativity of our Lady, whereas elsewhere in Spain celebrations usually take place around the 21st September. This year the Jerez Vendimia festival will begin on the 5th & 6th September.

The festival programme changes annually, but usually begins with a large parade through the streets of Jerez. Like many fiestas, they have a carnival queen known as the Queen of the Vintage who is accompanied by her handmaidens who dress in white and blue to represent the vine growing process with white representing the chalk in the soil and blue for the sky.

The remaining celebrations see fireworks, concerts, horse shows, flamenco performances, bullfights and parties. The most important part of the celebrations is the Blessing of the Grapes which takes place on a Sunday after mass and features the first pressing of the grapes.

We have several hotels in Jerez which are perfect for visiting the Vendimia or for enjoying a trip to Jerez to experience wine tasting and the famous horse shows throughout the year and we have chosen two of our favourites below:

 

Sherry Park Hotel

Located in the centre of Jerez, a short walk from the bullring, this hotel is surrounded by gardens, creating a tranquil oasis in the city. Featuring outdoor and indoor swimming pools, a restaurant, spacious communal areas and comfortable rooms, this hotel provides a welcoming and relaxing stay.

 

 

Jerez Hotel & Spa

This contemporary hotel offers peace and relaxation a short distance from Jerez’s city centre. With onsite spa facilities, an outdoor swimming pool, restaurant and bright guestrooms, this is a great location to soak up the Vendimia celebrations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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St George in Catalonia

31st March 2015

April 23rd is La Diada de Sant Jordi (St George’s Day), or ‘the day of books and roses’ as it is sometimes known, and is an important day in the Catalan calendar. In the UK we often recognise St George’s Day as an inherently English concept; however George is the patron saint of many countries and communities throughout the world, and few celebrate him more vibrantly than Catalonia.

St George’s day in this area of Spain is essentially the equivalent of Valentine’s Day, and is very much a celebration of love and literature with friends and lovers exchanging books and roses. The red rose has often been associated with St George, with many cultures bearing a rose on their clothing in recognition of the day; the exchanging of books, however, wasn’t introduced until later. Traditionally, lovers would exchange gifts, with men presenting a single rose to their sweetheart and receiving a book in return.

Barcelona is one of best places to be on April 23rd as streets are lined with stalls offering both new and previously owned books, and you can find a flower vendor on each street corner selling roses of every colour imaginable. The Rambla is packed with people surrounding the book stalls, cafes and venues hold 24-hour reading marathons, and book signings are arranged all over the city, renowned for being Spain’s publishing capital. To celebrate, some of the bigger companies even give free roses away with book purchases!

The event coincides with UNESCO's World Book and Copyright Day - established in 1995 to mark the anniversary of the deaths of literary greats such as William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes (who actually died on the 22nd April) .

Nevertheless, Catalan celebrations for Sant Jordi aren’t just limited to flowers and literature. Spain is infamous for its ability to throw a good fiesta, and Sant Jordi is no exception. Celebrations in Catalonia involve lots of dancing as well as staging of the popular Castellers (towers of people) that the region is known for.

 

 

 

 

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What is a Parador?

12th November 2014

Is this the first you've heard of Paradors of Spain?

These beautiful properties, often occupying historical buildings and in fantastic locations, have been offering the opportunity to explore 'real Spain' for over 80 years. We have put together this useful document  on the history of Paradors and what to expect from your stays, as well as useful information on facilities, parking, swimming pools etc.

We love Paradors, and we're sure you will too! 

 

 

 

 

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Lorna Roberts' Tours

9th November 2014

 

If you are a resident of the Republic of Ireland or are interested in escorted Parador tours please contact our representative in Ireland - Lorna Roberts. Click for details.

Escorted holidays in Paradors, for those who do not want to drive themselves but do not like the idea of a hectic coach tour. These holidays are relaxed and allow plenty of time to enjoy the Paradors.

 

 

 

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Our favourite Paradors

13th October 2014

Our team have dared to declare our favourite Paradors, not an easy task. Click here to find the Paradors we cherish the most.

 

 

 

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Portuguese Road trip

11th October 2014

There is no single route that can showcase the best of Portugal in just 7 days, but we have tried to squeeze in as much as possible here.

From the Algarve to the Spanish border in the north, you can't fail to love Portugal's great cities and historic towns, its beautiful and diverse scenery, and its calm, reserved people!  Click here

 

 

 

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Spotlight on Óbidos

3rd October 2014

Since 2002, the medieval town of Óbidos has celebrated its fascinating history through an annual Medieval Fair, held at weekends in July and August. It is rare to see a community come together so completely for a local celebration, but for those visiting Óbidos during the fair, you will be hard pushed to find someone not dressed in typical medieval garb.

The entire town dresses up to celebrate this festival of times gone by, with flags, banners, jugglers, wizards and jesters filling the streets of this impressive medieval town. Entertainment also stays faithful to the medieval theme with mimes, musicians, and acting troupes offering performances throughout the day.

Foodies can also have their fill of enjoyment with nearly 20 taverns offering typical meals such as grilled meats and hearty soups. Some 100 vendors sell a variety of food, beverages, and merchandise in the marketplace, all of which can be bought using the fair’s very own currency the “torreão” which can be bought with Euros (1 Euro = 1 torreão).

Makeshift civil and military camps can be found at the entrance to the town, and a host of animals, including donkeys, horses, falcons, and even snakes are on display. The crowning moment of the afternoon is the daily jousting competition, where knights compete on horseback.

Pousada de Obidos

One of the is in near perfect condition and guests can choose to sleep in medieval tower rooms, castle rooms, or the more contemporary ‘cottage’ rooms which occupy the old servant’s quarters, each room is named after a significant royal family member.

The castle is easily the most distinctive medieval building in the city, and it is here that the royal banquet is held in the courtyard, with diners sat around impressive banqueting tables, overlooking the evening’s entertainment. This banquet is very popular amongst guests and locals alike, so we advise booking your place in advance.

Royal Banquet at the castle

Óbidos truly is one of Portugal’s gems and this lively town has celebrations throughout the year including a chocolate festival, jazz and classical music festivals, opera and art performances, and a special Christmas village.

 

 

 

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Music & Dance in Seville

2nd October 2014

Seville is one of the largest and most lively cities in Andalusia. Renowned for its Moorish heritage, the city boasts both beautiful architecture, and fantastic cultural offerings, with many well-known Spanish traditions practiced here. This is a fantastic choice for those looking for a relaxing city break.

What is there to see?

Seville’s historic centre is home to some of the most beautiful and important buildings in Spain. Thousands of tourists and locals flock to visit the many attractions the city has to offer such as the grand Catedral de Santa María de la Sede situated on the former site of the famous 12th century mosque. This incredible monument combines architecture from a number of periods including Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance, and Neo-Classical design. The building’s most striking feature is the Giralda Tower, a former minaret converted into the cathedral’s bell tower, which stands proudly forming part of Seville’s stunning skyline.

One of the main attractions is the Alcazar Palace. The palace is fantastic piece of Moorish architecture, famed as the place where Charles V married Isabella of Portugal. This beautiful Arab fortress was rebuilt by Peter the Cruel and today is one of Seville’s most popular and prestigious buildings, not to mention the spectacular gardens that surround it. Focused mainly around the two courtyards, the building exudes splendour, with water featuring prominently in its design.

Music and Dance

In addition to the beautiful buildings around the city, Seville is a great location to experience some of Spain’s most famous customs. Flamenco is still practiced by many in Seville, and to celebrate this passionate dance every two the city hosts the Biennial Flamenco Festival where some of Spain’s best dancers meet to compete. This year the festival takes place from 12th September to 5th October and is a must-see if you are visiting the area.

However, you cannot dance without music, and luckily, Seville equally cherishes the country’s rich history of guitar music. The Seville Guitar Festival will be held from 23rd October to 1st November in 2014 featuring fantastic performances and interesting features on the history of the art.   

Where to stay?

We represent over 30 fantastic hotels in Seville and have chosen our favourite of the month.

 

Vincci La Rabida – This stunning hotel occupies the site of a former 18th century palace in the centre of ‘Old Seville’, the perfect spot to enjoy the area’s fantastic range of restaurants.

To see more of our Seville hotels, click here.

Parador de Carmona

We also represent the stunning Parador de Carmona, a converted medieval Moorish fortress located in the historic town just 30km from Seville. The hotel has a luxurious outdoor swimming pool which is open during the summer months and the Parador’s terrace enjoys fantastic panoramic views over the surrounding plains. This is an ideal, tranquil base perfecting for relaxing away from the busy city centre of Seville however is still easily accessible by public transport and by car. 

 

 

 

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TAP - Air Portugal

2nd October 2014

TAP’s services are a comfortable alternative to the budget airlines and they offer competitive prices.

With TAP Portugal you can check-in on your mobile, online or at the airport and enjoy inflight service, free checked baggage allowance and seat selection.

TAP Portugal has been voted “Best Airline” by Condé Nast Traveller magazine as well as “Best European Airline” on three separate occasions by US magazine Global Traveler.

Click here for more details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Portugal's road tolls

30th September 2014

Road Tolls:

Portugal has a good road network composed of Motorways (AE), Main Trunk Routes (IP), Complementary Trunk Routes (IC), Main (National) Roads (EN) and Secondary (Municipal) Roads.

There are two types of motorways of which some will charge toll fees:

– the traditional motorways with toll booths, where payment is made either in cash or by bank card. These motorways also have a Via Verde (green channel), which is an electronic toll system that allows drivers  to make the payment by bank debit and is intended for use solely by those who have an electronic device identifying their vehicle, which they have previously acquired at one of the respective sales outlets (www.viaverde.pt)  

- and motorways that have an exclusively electronic toll system, where tolls are collected by exclusively electronic means. As vehicles pass through the toll gates, they are picked up by electronic detectors placed at the entry to the channels, which are identified with the words “Electronic toll only”.

This handy map (for Summer 2015) shows which road tolls can be paid locally and which require a pre-paid card or electronic toll device.

‘Via Verde Visitors’ – Temporary Device

The ‘Via Verde Visitors’ is a Temporary Electronic Device designed for use by vehicles with foreign plates, which facilitates the payment of tolls on the nation’s motorways. In order to take advantage of the ‘Via Verde Visitors’, all you need is an international credit card issued by a foreign entity that is valid and recognized by Via Verde Portugal. This Temporary Electornic Device can be rented at any Via Verde store (www.viaverde.pt) 

For more information visit www.visitportugal.com

 

 

 

 

 

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"Easy access" Paradors

25th September 2014

The accessibility policy of Paradors seeks to make the highest possible number of establishments accessible to those either in a wheelchair or with reduced mobility whether it be the common areas or certain rooms.

The particular location and the characteristics of many of the Paradors which are housed in historic buildings - and therefore under special protection - make it difficult or even impossible to implant physical accessibility measures due to their structural conditions. However, Paradors has tried to overcome as many obstacles as possible to provide easier access to the majority of their properties for those guests with reduced mobility.

Paradors is committed to limiting physical barriers as much as possible and making access easy for customers, as well as supplying clear information on the accessibility of each establishment.

One of the main measures developed in relation to accessibility has been the drawing up of a Universal Accessibility Handbook, made to the measure of the hotel facilities and with the purpose of serving as a practical and useful tool that will offer solutions about safe, comfortable accessibility in each of the Paradors.

Nowadays 50% of Paradors are accessible by wheelchair, of which 25 are physically accessible1 and another 23 are accessible with some assistance2

There are 29 Paradors that have completely adapted rooms3 (including the bathroom) for wheelchair users and there are 6 Paradors with poolside chair lifts for wheelchair users4, to provide easy access to their swimming pools.

The remaining Paradors are still partially wheel-chair friendly5, but some stairs and the original design of some historic buildings may restrict passage to some public areas. We would simply recommend checking with us first before including these in your plans if you strictly require properties with clear wheelchair access.

Keytel's staff can help you to select the most appropriate properties, and will be pleased to ensure that the right rooms are booked so that you can enjoy your holiday without frustration.

  __________________________________________________________________________________________________

1 Accessible Paradors: Aiguablava, Alcalá de Henares (but not the Hostería), Alcañíz, Benicarló, Cádiz, Cambados, Cangas de Onís, Fuente Dé, La Gomera, Granada, Limpias, Lorca, Málaga Golf, Monforte de Lemos, Nerja, La Palma, Pontevedra, Puebla de Sanabria, El Saler, Soria, Sos del Rey Católico, Toledo, Tui, Vic-Sau and Vielha.

2 Accessible with some assistance (people using wheelchairs or with reduced mobility are able to move around the Parador with some assistance up/down stairs): Almagro, Baiona, Calahorra, Cañadas del Teide, Cañadas del Teide, Ciudad Rodrigo, Ferrol, Gredos, El Hierro, Jarandilla de La Vera, La Granja, León, Lerma, Málaga Gibralfaro, Mazagón, Olite, Plasencia, Ribadeo, Salamanca, Santo Domingo Bernardo de Fresneda, Santo Estevo, La Seu D´Urgell, Teruel and Trujillo.

3 Paradors with adapted rooms for wheelchair users: Aiguablava, Alcañíz, Benicarló, Cádiz, Cambados, Cangas de Onís, Cardona, Fuente Dé, La Gomera, Granada, Limpias, Lorca, Málaga Golf, Monforte de Lemos, Nerja, La Palama, Plasencia, Pontevedra, Puebla de Sanabria, El Saler, Sigüenza, Soria, Sos del Rey Católico, Toledo, Tui, Vic, Vielha and Vilalba.

4 Paradors with their swimming pools adapted for access by wheelchair users: Albacete, Benicarló, Córdoba, Jávea, El Saler and Toledo.

 5 These Paradors may be accessible enough, depending on your requirements  : Alarcón, Albacete, Antequera, Arcos de la Frontera, Argómaniz, Arties, Ávila, Ayamonte, Benavente, Bielsa, Cáceres, Cardona, Carmona, Cazorla, Cervera de Pisuerga, Chinchón, Córdoba, Cruz de Tejeda, Cuenca, El Saler, Gijón, Gredos, Guadalupe, Hondarribia, Jaén, Jávea, La Palma, Las Cañadas del Teide, Manzanares, Melilla, Mérida, Mojácar, Oropesa, Ronda, Santiago de Compostela, Santillana, Santillana Gil Blas, Santo Domingo de La Calzada, Segovia, Sigüenza, Tordesillas, Tortosa, Úbeda, Verín, Vilalba, Villafranca del Bierzo, Zafra and Zamora.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Special Menus

17th September 2014

If you are a vegetarian, coeliac, diabetic or travelling with children or babies, you will be pleased to know that Paradors have varied menus which will appeal to you. Paradors have taken great care to include menu options for those with specific dietary requirements and want you to enjoy their dining experience to its fullest.

Paradors of Spain were pioneers in the introduction of healthy options on their daily menus and they remain a step ahead of the competition in terms of catering for all dietary requirements. Paradors were the first Spanish hotel chain to prepare menus which are attractive to all eaters whether they are coeliacs, vegetarians, diabetics, children or babies.

To view the full article, please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pets in Paradors

17th September 2014

Did you know?

13 Paradors now invite you to bring your cats and dogs with you on your travels, provided they are of a small or medium size and not of a dangerous breed, these properties being:

Albacete, Cangas de Onis, Cañadas del Teide, Cazorla, Cervera, Ciudad Rodrigo, Cruz de Tejeda, El Hierro, El SalerFuente Dé, GredosVerin & Villafranca.

Please note that the Parador de Mojácar no longer accepts pets as of 1st September 2017.

The Parador does require prior notice and will ask for your compliance with their pet policy and a refundable deposit. But then in return for a small charge of around 15€ per night, payable direct, they supply a Royal Canin welcome pack which includes Royal Canin dog and cat food, a sleeping mat and a food/drink bowl.  

 

Information correct as of 08/11/17.

 

 

 

 

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Barcelona rooftop pools

16th September 2014

Take in Barcelona's eye-catching skyline from some of the city's best rooftop terraces.

Click here for our exclusive hotel recommendations in Barcelona.

 

 

 

 

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San Sebastian's Jazz and Film Festivals

9th July 2014

© Instituto de Turismo de España (TURESPAÑA)

A popular tourist spot since the 19th century, the coastal city of San Sebastian has plenty to offer in terms of scenery, history, and culture.

Jazz Festival

https://www.flickr.com/photos/heineken_jazzaldia_san_sebastian/

The annual Heineken Jazzaldia Jazz festival is held on the third week of July in this beautiful Basque city. Established in 1966, it is the oldest jazz festival in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe and celebrates its 49th year in 2014.

The Heineken Jazzaldia organizes nearly a hundred concerts, both free and paid, in dozens of indoor and outdoor venues. The most popular are those held at Zurriola Beach, Trinidad Square and the Kursaal terrace.

Below are details of five of the best concerts this year which will be held in Trinidad Square, Kursaal Auditorium, San Telmo Museum and the Victoria Eugenia Theatre.

24th July 2014: Trinidad Square. 9pm. €35.00
·      Enrico Rava Tribe
·      Bobby McFerrin: spirityouall

25th July 2014: Kursaal Auditorium – Kutxabank Space. 6.30pm. €35.00

·      Chick Corea & Stanley Clarke Duet: The Songs of Return to Forever

25th July 2014: Trinidad Square. 9pm. €28.00
·     Sketches Of Spain: Nicholas Payton & L'Instrumental de Gascogne The John Scofield Überjam Band

26th July 2014: Trinidad Square. 9pm. €28.00

·     Dave Holland: Prism
      Sun Ra Centennial Dream Arkestra

Film Festival

Courtesy of  San Sebastián Turismo & Convention Bureau

The Zinemaldia International Film Festival of San Sebastian is a film festival held annually in the month of September.

First established in 1953, this is one of the most prestigious internationally recognized film festivals in the world and attracts both home grown and international giants of the film industry. In previous years, the festival has been attended by big names such as Woody Allen, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Pedro Almodovar, and Steven Spielberg to name but a few.

It has also hosted major film events such as the international premiere for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and the European premiere for Star Wars.

This year marks the 62nd anniversary of the festival and San Sebastian is hoping to draw in film lovers and tourists alike. The festival is a great opportunity to discover new European and international talent and see some of the best films of the upcoming year.

For more information on both of these festivals, visit the San Sebastian Tourist Office website here.

Did you know?

© Instituto de Turismo de España (TURESPAÑA)

We represent over 10 Keytel Hotels in San Sebastian so give us a call for some personalised recommendations.

 

 

 

 

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