How to live in a real castle in Spain

Enjoy medieval life in castles and monasteries of Spain's Paradores

Spain's Paradores are Europe's most luxurious and spectacular hotels. These imposing hotels, fill the ruins of ancient castles, palaces, monasteries, and convents in Spain. They evoke days of yore. These majestic hotels offer visitors romantic, atmospheric, and luxurious lodging in Spain.

Built within the restored walls of magnificent castles and stately palaces, travelers get a unique taste of history. Some have crenelated towers and soaring archways with massive battlements. Inside, sumptuous throne rooms and breathtaking views beckon.

All Paradores are not created equal. 

Luxury oozes from some. Others sport modern rather than reconstructed buildings. The newer Parador sites take advantage of fabulous, one-of-a-kind views. And unusual palaces nestle within a labyrinthine old town. Some sit on splendid countryside estates. Others cling to cliffs, adorn hilltops, or preside along white beaches. Each provides an exclusive and magical experience unto itself.

About 95 or so Paradores stand throughout Spain. Roughly half of them are modern and the other half are built into restored historic buildings. Every Parador boasts an excellent restaurant that focuses on local gastronomy. Each restaurant provides a grand architectural and fine dining experience. Award-winning regional chefs craft meals that draw on local produce, fowl, fish, and game.

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For luxury, enjoy these two regal Paradores

Parador Hostal de San Marcos, Leon (above). This hotel, founded in a 12th-century pilgrim's lodge, underwent a complete renovation. It has all the trimmings for luxury and is considered one of the crown jewels in the Parador chain. No one staying here performs penance. The city's Gothic cathedral stands only minutes from the beautiful Renaissance building and its formal gardens. There, the cathedral affords a 12,000-square-foot sea of stained glass windows.

Parador Hostel Reyes Catolicos, Santiago de Compostela. One of the oldest hotels in Spain faces one of its more beautiful squares. Inside, the hotel features four ornate cloisters, Gothic and Baroque decor, spacious hallways, and two excellent restaurants. Steps from the front door is the Cathedral of Santiago. There rest the remains of apostle St. James in one of the holiest shrines of the Catholic Church.

These Paradores, once monasteries exude the good life

Parador San Francisco, Granada. Here, a modern man can live like a caliph ruling the Islamic lands in Spain. Make sure to book early because the Parador is the most popular in Spain. The luxury is not found in the decor and amenities, but rather in the wonderful location. It sits between the evocative Alhambra and the Generalife (the Moorish palace and gardens) in a restored monastery overlooking Granada. In the hills across town, flamenco was born.

Parador Monasterio de San Pedro de Villanueva, Cangas de Onis. The spectacular Picos de Europa isolate this luxury Parador in spectacular natural beauty. It is a civilized haven surrounded by rugged mountains, deep gorges, hairpin turns, stone-age caves and cascading rapids. The Parador has public areas and rooms carved within an old monastery that links with a modern wing as well. This wild, mountainous region is where the Christian Reconquest started with a tumultuous battle in 722, eventually driving the Moors out of the peninsula 770 years later.

Parador Convento de Santo Domingo, Plasencia. This relatively new regal Parador sits in a 15th-century Dominican convent in medieval Plasencia. The interior features colorful tiles, wooden ceilings, and arching stonework. Nobel palaces line the evocative streets in this still-undiscovered town. Wrought-iron balconies adorn the buildings. Laundry still hangs over steep alleys and the curious cathedral offers two distinct architectural styles.

Several regal Paradores built in ancient castles sprinkle every corner of the country, with various levels of luxury. These castle hotels sit precariously on mountain peaks. They control borders and rivers or dominate the surrounding countryside.

Here is a list of five of the most memorable and picturesque regal Paradors.

1. The castle Parador Santa Catalina, Jaen (above), crowns a hilltop in a restored Moorish castle that dominates the town below.

2. Once a palace, the Parador Cardona, Catalonia, rises within the massive walls of a medieval 9th-century fortress. It still dominates the town.

3. Parador Ciudad Rodrigo, Extremadura, offers hospitality in a bastion that once guarded the Portuguese frontier.

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4. The imposing castle Parador Siguenza, Guadalajara (lead photo), provides rooms within the crenelated walls of a 12th-century Moorish fortress that was eventually converted into a bishop's residence.

5. Parador Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa, a defensive castle, overlooks the Bay of Biscayne and the river that forms the border with France.

These regal Paradors are found in castles and monasteries and convents

6. Parador Tortosa, Catalonia, in a 10th-century castle, strategically guards the Ebro river where it joins the Mediterranean. The Zurda Castle, from high above, offers a combination of monumental beauty and historic attractions areas that surround it. The Parador itself blends ancient and modern architecture.

7. The royal summer palace Parador of Olite, Navarra (right), occupies a wing of the fairytale 15th-century castle set in the midst of a little-changed medieval town. Its Disneyesque towers watch over the walled town.

8. Parador Alcaniz, Teruel, is a castle turned convent. It dominates the small town known for its beautiful Mudejar towers and tells a sad story of unrequited love. The keep, belfry, sacristy, and a section converted into an Aragonese palace are all preserved.

9. The restored castle Parador Alarcon, Cuenca, rises from an 8th-century Moorish fortress. Perched on a dramatic promontory the castle still guards the Jucar River. Today, it lives on as a wonderful lodging destination, with the river wrapping around the town.

10. Parador Vilalba features a defensive tower that houses six rooms and protects the village of Vilalba. The remaining rooms fill a stone building constructed as a Galician country house. The Parador sits beside the timeless Northern Route followed by pilgrims heading to Santiago de Campostella. Roman city walls surround Lugo, founded in the 3rd century in Galicia. This Parador is tucked into the northwest corner of Spain,

For more information about the Paradors of Spain, contact the Tourist Office of Spain.