Spain’s Paradors: Positively Medieval

Posted on October 2, 2012

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Spain’s Paradors: Positively Medieval
by AnneLise Sorensen

SPAIN Getting lost in Galicia’s Parador de Compostela is entirely possible – but you won’t mind if you do. This is medieval Spain in all its gold-flecked grandeur – a saunter from the Last Supper-style dining hall takes you padding down carpeted hallways lined with tapestries and stern-faced busts of who’s who in Spanish history. And that’s just one wing.

The golden-granite Parador was built in 1499 by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand as the Hostal dos Reis Católicos, a royal hospital that provided refuge and relief to all the foot-blistered pilgrims who streamed into this northwestern corner of Spain. Five hundred years on, travelers still seek shelter here – though now high-thread-count sheets and heated towel racks are part of the package.

The suites reveal the pampered life of the royal family: Stretch out on canopied beds once warmed by Spanish monarchs, tug on a tassel to turn on the light, catch your reflection in an antique mirror. The marble bathroom could double as a Parisian pied-à-terre. Having catered to devout pilgrims, the parador is also awash in spiritual nooks: Leafy cloisters offer moments of absolute stillness in the late afternoon, as shadows fall across the pillars, one by one.

The Parador shares the Praza do Obradoiro with the city’s famous Catedral. All roads to Santiago lead to this Baroque behemoth, where the mortal remains of Saint James are supposedly buried. Roam the Romanesque interior – made all the more memorable if you visit when the massive botafumeiro (incense burner) is being used: Hung on ropes as thick as well-fed pythons, the Botafumeiro is swung in a wide arc across the transept, a rite originally performed to perfume the air as the disheveled, pungent pilgrims filed into the cathedral. These days, a scented bath at the Parador should suffice.

This story by AnneLise Sorensen originally appeared in a variety of publications, including Rough Guides: Best Places to Stay Around the World.

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