SPAIN is a popular destination for British holiday makers and a short tour round Catalonia gave me a good idea why.
From the hustle and bustle of the Catalonian capital Barcelona, where you try to dodge the oncoming human traffic along Las Ramblas, to more tranquil rambles through beautiful landscapes to a mountain top with breathtaking views, there really is something for everyone.
And such delights can be experienced while staying in Spain’s Paradores hotels, if you can tear yourself away from the beauty and comfort of the room itself of course.
A tour of three Paradores hotels opened up the chance to explore more remote parts of the country which may have been overlooked otherwise.
After arriving at Barcelona Airport I was transported in style by Blai Limousines luxury car rental, and the chauffeur-driven experience certainly gave me the opportunity to sit back, relax and take in the impressive landscape and scenery I was being confronted with at every turn.
Just an hour and a half’s beautiful drive with mountainous long winding rounds which were negotiated with ease and I arrived at my first destination Parador de Cardona, Castell de Cardona – a magnificent hilltop medieval castle which provides a spectacular vantage point of the fortified town below. The historic building has been given a new sense of life, but the heritage of the building remains with its large solid stone walls, impressive courtyard, and display cases with pistols.
The reception area offers a view as impressive as the one from outside with grand floor to ceiling windows overlooking the town’s salt mine.
But if I thought the grandeur would end with the building structure itself I was wrong, as I entered my room I was presented with a vast drapped four poster bed, stretching four metres by four metres, I truly was in a castle.
As I began to feast on the large plate of complimentary fruit which had been laid out for me I tried to imagine the stories this castle held and then I walked into the bathroom and my focus shifted to the complimentary items in there. I had never seen so many in a hotel before. I picked each bottle and box up one by one to examine its contents I was even covered if I had forgot my toothbrush.
And then it was off to dinner in no other than the castle’s very own medieval restaurant with furniture and music inspired by the era, large wooden beams and arches supporting the ceiling and stone walls, and then the food itself certainly gave the air of a banquet.
With a variety of delicacies to choose from I was spoilt for choice but having decided to opt for Dish with History for my starter, with day old bread cut into small pieces and prepared with olive oil, paprika and garlic, cooked with bacon, seasoned pork sausage and served with seven different garnishes, I took the opportunity to try as much as possible, but didn’t realise the epic portions would leave me almost full before my main meal.
For which, I selected low temperature roast suckling pig with crispy pumpkin from the seasonal food section of the menu, and was not disappointed, this was complemented nicely with a glass or two of local wine.
The following day we embarked on a tour of the grounds of the castle and the church it inhabits, some of which dates as far back as the ninth century and is still used for weddings today.
Other rooms have been adapted for special events or business conferences and the castle offers a gym and sauna for guests.
This was rounded off with a visit to Cardona, the quaint little town beneath the castle which is made up of an unusual mix of shops, coffee bars, narrow lanes with balconies overhead and a Gothic church, before it was back in the car and onto the next destination just over an hour away.
Vic is a larger town which holds a week-long Medieval Fair in its square every year offering rows and rows of tented stalls with food and entertainment.
Parador de Vic-Sau, although strikingly different from the first hotel, offers a beauty of its own looking out over a reservoir with mountains in the distance and a terrain with varying vegetation.
This hotel feels very modern in comparison but is charming in its own right with a stained glass ceiling as its focal point in the reception area.
But perhaps the real beauty of the area lies in not what you can fully see but what you realise lies beneath the reservoir.
Looking without knowing the object in the distance looks no more than a bouy floating on the water but is in fact the top of Sant Roma de Sau bell tower, and the reservoir’s secret of a village submerged under the water is revealed, even more so when the water is low-level.
A short drive from the Vic- Sau Paradore is the now isolated monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres, around 1,000 years old and one of the leading monuments of Catalan Romanesque architecture The Romanesque church it holds is unusual in that it wider than it long and was built around the land.
It was once surrounded by villages and could be reached by crossing the river but now there is only one route to the monastery and the isolation of the area feels fitting for the life of solitude you can imagine the monks of the time living.
The final stop on the tour of Paradores hotels was Parador de Aiguablava, on the Mediterranean coast, boasting perhaps the best view from my room’s balcony, achieving what I thought was impossible by topping the views from the previous two.
The sea looked so inviting and the surrounding cliffs and houses on the landscape made the scene look so idyllic you would have thought it was a painted picture.
Even when it was raining in the afternoon, the beauty remained.
Winding tree-lined steps led you straight down from the hotel to the sandy beach, each step offering you a slightly different perspective of the beautiful surroundings.
At dinner the perfect picture was, to our astonishment, improved by not one but two illuminating overarching rainbows stretching as far as the eye could see.
But if a walk down to the beach isn’t challenging enough for you then you could always try a trek up a rambler’s path which takes you to a mountain peak offering yet more spectacular views as you ascend to the top, from which you can see the hotel opposite.
From the hotel we also enjoyed outings to Peratallada a village constructed entirely of stone and the fisherman’s village of Calella de Palafrugell.
The tour concluded with a morning in Barcelona, Gaudi’s Segrada Familia surrounded by crowds of eager people.
The magnificent building with such detail including fruits carved on the exterior is hundreds of years in the making with completion expected in 2025.
• All three Paradores featured can be booked using a range of special offers throughout the year, including the 5 Night Card - a Go As You Please scheme of 5 nights’ accommodation available at more than 70 Paradors for £435 per room.The Parador de Cardona charges a small supplement of €35 per night to take bookings under the scheme but includes free buffet breakfast.
Other offers include the Golden Days Offer - a 30 per cent reduction available to those aged 55 and over (only one occupant in the room needs to be eligible to obtain the discount) and the Lowest Prices Yet offer - starting at €90 for a room at Vic and €130 for a room at Aiguablava and Cardona over some Summer dates. For assistance with route planning and to take advantage of the special offers, call Keytel International on 020 7953 3020 or visit keytel.co.uk.
• For summer 2012, with an expanded UK route network,Vueling is operating from London Heathrow to Bilbao, Galicia, La Coruna and Vigo, from Southampton to Barcelona, from Cardiff to Alicante, Barcelona and Palma Mallorca and from Edinburgh to Barcelona. UK passengers can access onward connections via Vueling’s Barcelona Hub operations, currently accessing more than 40 destinations throughout Europe and North Africa with full through baggage check-in from the origin to final destination. Fares on all UK routes start from €49.99 one way, taxes included, through all Vueling’s sales channels: vueling.com, tour operators and travel agencies, iPhone and Android apps, the airline’s mobile portal m.vueling.com and via Vueling’s UK call centre on 0906 754 7541.