The Paradors of Spain (called Paradores in Spanish) are a government-run chain of hotels which include many beautiful historic buildings that once housed kings, sultans, monks or pilgrims. You'll find them in the most fascinating cities and scenic locations all over the Iberian Peninsula, on the Balearic and Canary Islands and in Spanish-held pockets of North Africa. The concept of "paradores", meaning "stopping places", was created in 1926 by the Royal Tourist Commissioner the Marques de la Vega-Inclan. The idea was to preserve ancient buildings of historic importance whilst providing good quality affordable accommodation in out of the way places which would not normally attract commercial hoteliers.
Today many visitors come to Spain specifically to tour the Paradors which are run on a non-profit basis and so provide excellent services and facilities at a fraction of the price you'd expect to pay for equivalent accommodation in northern Europe. Most of the hotels have a four-star rating and provide top quality facilities including health and fitness clubs, business services and superb restaurants specialising in typical regional cuisine.
There are nearly 100 of the hotels in the chain, about a third of which are located within buildings of historic importance - ancient castles, palaces, fortresses and convents. The more modern hotels are set in beautiful locations, by the sea, in the mountains, at the heart of national parks.even inside a volcano in the case of the Canary Island of Tenerife. The Canarian Parador of Cañadas del Teide offers a unique opportunity to bed down in a mountain lodge 2,200 metres above sea level in the stunning setting of an extinct volcanic crater.
Undoubtedly one of the best hotels in the chain is the sumptuous five-star Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. This claims to be the oldest hotel in the world, having been built originally as a shelter for exhausted pilgrims arriving in the city to pay homage to the world-famous shrine of the martyred apostle St James. These days it's one of the most impressive hotels in the whole of Europe with an ornate 16th century façade, four open-air interior courtyards, cloisters and luxurious bedrooms (including a bedchamber once occupied by the fascist dictator Franco).
Another five-star hotel in the government chain is to be found in Leon - this too started life as a humble lodging for poor pilgrims heading for Santiago in the 12th century. Pilgrims still make the journey in their thousands but only the wealthy ones can now afford to bed down for the night in this hotel which is one of the most beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture in the whole of Spain. The public rooms are adorned with valuable paintings, tapestries and carvings.
There are two Paradors in North Africa. The luxury four-star hotel in Ceuta was an impregnable fortress for centuries but the former artillery stores have now been converted into elegant bedrooms. The three-star Melilla hotel overlooks the ancient walled city of the same name and the bay and beaches of the North African coastline.
In Caceres, in the Spanish province of Extremadura near the Portuguese border, a 15th century palace is now used as a government hotel in the city's old quarter which was recently declared a World Heritage Site.