Her­itage hide­aways in Spain

The best her­itage hide­aways in Spain

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The trav­eller, slip­ping south­ward in Spain, can feel as if they have landed in­side a jewel box of el­e­gantly shabby cities and towns, grand build­ings over­grown with fig trees and broom, lanes lined with cis­tus, and hoard­ings cen­turies-thick with posters for bull­fights. Every­where you look, in this po­tent vi­sion of Byzan­tium and Rome, of Visig­oth and Carthaginian, the coun­try’s many in­vaders seem to be re­mem­bered on al­most ev­ery road, in ev­ery square. Never for­get that Spain claims the old­est city in Europe, Medina-Si­do­nia. Cadiz may of­fi­cially hold the ti­tle but it is tiny Medina-Si­do­nia that was the cen­tre of a Phoeni­cian colony, and the town still sits amid fields of sun­flow­ers and wheat be­hind a Moor­ish gate, its high­wind­ing street lined with 17th-cen­tury man­sions .

The long­ing to stay in such old build­ings, to en­ter even briefly such gor­geously jum­bled his­tory, is as much a part of tast­ing the in­tense flavour of a Span­ish jour­ney as eat­ing ta­pas or drink­ing sherry. In many of the prop­er­ties cov­ered in this fea­ture, the var­i­ous palaces and mano­rial houses and pretty cor­ti­jos have been re­stored by own­ers whose love of their prop­er­ties ex­tends to never dream­ing of lock­ing away their an­tiques and arte­facts as such things, and all their at­ten­dant fam­ily leg­ends, are as much part of the place as the bricks and beams.

I have been taken on spontaneous mid­night tours of pri­vate gar­dens to look at one beloved and par­tic­u­larly grand olive tree, or to ad­mire a paint­ing of flower-gar­landed chil­dren tripping along high bar­ran­cos. In Tar­ifa (as far south as you can get), I have lis­tened, through long af­ter­noons eat­ing gaz­pa­cho, potato omelette and bowls of garden cher­ries, to sto­ries about fam­ily oil mills and vine­yards, of the sis­ter so grand and beau­ti­ful the whole town called her La Reina, and of the rest­less gen­tle­man brother who, some time in the un­re­cov­er­able 1800s, trav­elled to live with the Tuareg tribes of the Sa­hara. Such sto­ries are al­ways told as if it were yes­ter­day. Not once have I come away from stay­ing in such places with­out a per­sonal in­tro­duc­tion of some kind, or a tip or de­tail that hasn’t made me look at a street or city or re­gion in a new way. To watch for the way the fa­ther of the bride sits out­side the church ac­cept­ing con­grat­u­la­tions dur­ing a wed­ding in Jerez, for ex­am­ple. Or to imag­ine how the streets of Ve­jer once op­er­ated like grand ball­rooms, as places de­signed to pa­rade and flirt, to laugh and love. “The two el­e­ments the trav­eller first cap­tures in the big city,” wrote the An­dalu­sian poet Fed­erico Gar­cia Lorca, “are ex­tra hu­man ar­chi­tec­ture, and fu­ri­ous rhythm.”



There are 900 years of his­tory to soak up at Aba­dia Retuerta LeDo­maine, a for­mer abbey in the wine-pro­duc­ing area of Rib­era del Duero in Val­ladolid, north of Madrid. It is now one of the most lux­u­ri­ous ho­tels in Spain, a place where calm­ness washes over you on ar­rival, and where the con­tem­pla­tive mood is helped by a glass of vel­vety Aba­dia Retuerta wine. One of the for­mer sta­bles is now the San­tu­ario Well­ness & Spa, where a ded­i­cated spa som­me­lier will of­fer a glass of wine be­fore ad­vis­ing on suitable vinother­apy treat­ments, then run­ning a wine bath in your room, so you can gaze across vine­yards to the moun­tains be­yond. The abbey, a cel­e­brated Ro­manesque build­ing, was founded in 1146 by the Pre­mon­straten­sian Or­der. Much of the orig­i­nal struc­ture has been re­spected — the monks’ for­mer cells are now smart rooms and at the abbey’s grand refectory, now an ac­claimed restau­rant, chef Marc Se­garra Saune uses the es­tate’s pro­duce to in­spire his menus; ledo­maine.es.



A sense of old-school lux­ury hits you as soon as you step through the grand door­way of Parador de San­ti­ago de Com­postela. One of the old­est lodg­ings in the world, it was founded at the end of the 15th cen­tury by royal cou­ple Fer­di­nand and Is­abella as a refuge where pil­grims could rest their feet af­ter walk­ing across Spain to pay homage to St James, who is buried in the cathe­dral on Obradoiro Square. The most im­pres­sive gue­strooms over­look the square and fea­ture four-poster beds and an­tique Castil­ian fur­ni­ture. You feel as if you are tak­ing part in a his­tor­i­cal drama but, for­tu­nately, G&Ts, per­fectly mixed by a bar­man with a life­time’s ex­pe­ri­ence, and ex­quis­ite Gali­cian cui­sine also form part of the sump­tu­ous con­tem­po­rary sce­nario. Pil­grims are still wel­come at the parador too, a lucky few be­ing given a meal ev­ery day. The mas­sive gran­ite build­ing in gothic, Re­nais­sance and baroque styles is set around four clois­ters. Every­where, there are tapestries, sculp­tures, coats of arms and paint­ings, with throne-like arm­chairs in all cor­ners to sit in and ab­sorb the sheer me­dieval gran­deur of it all. The chapel at the heart of the prop­erty pro­vides an evoca­tive set­ting for con­certs; parador.es/en.



Even the walk up to the front door cre­ates a fris­son of ex­cite­ment, and you can’t say that about many ho­tels. The Al­fonso XIII is a Seville in­sti­tu­tion, up there with the bull­ring and the cathe­dral, and a by­word for high liv­ing in the Span­ish style. Opened for the Seville Expo of 1929, the Al­fonso is steeped in his­tory, though an ex­em­plary over­haul in 2012 brought out the best of the past while re­mov­ing the fusti­ness of wall-to-wall car­pets and re­pro fur­ni­ture. Noth­ing has changed sub­stan­tially; still there are the arches and col­umns, the cor­ri­dors gleam­ing with iri­des­cent tiles in Moor­ish tones, the fluted ceil­ing mould­ings and the gold-trimmed lifts. And guests still sip a fino on the pa­tio, but there’s a sprightly light­ness about the new look. Novel­ties in­clude the Amer­i­can Bar, a bril­liant take on a clas­sic in a 21st-cen­tury art-deco id­iom, and Ena, a restau­rant where Cata­lan chef Car­les Abel­lan of­fers such di­vert­ing mod­ern cui­sine as the “McFoie”, great cro­quettes, as a kind of culi­nary gift from Barcelona to Seville. This is what a grand ho­tel ought to be — gra­cious yet com­fort­ing, op­u­lent yet ele­gant, but also just the tini­est bit awe-in­spir­ing; ho­tel-al­fon­soxiii-seville.com.



La Matar­rana is a sparsely pop­u­lated and pris­tine re­gion of moun­tains, val­leys and me­dieval vil­lages in what was once the King­dom of Aragon, in north­east Spain. La Torre del Visco (Mistle­toe Tower) is close to its heart, about 11km down a pri­vate track. A 15th-cen­tury farm­house with a watch­tower set in 100ha of olive and al­mond trees, it was bought in 1995 by a Bri­tish cou­ple, Jemma Markham and the late Piers Dut­ton, who had worked in pub­lish­ing in Madrid. Beau­ti­fully re­stored, it quickly es­tab­lished it­self as an ex­pertly run re­treat that counted the for­mer king and queen of Spain among its guests. I first vis­ited 15 years ago, af­ter fash­ion de­signer Karl Lagerfeld had nom­i­nated it one of the three most ro­man­tic ho­tels in Spain, and fell un­der the spell of the won­der­ful break­fasts of breads, hams, cheeses and home­made quince jam in its open kitchen; the gra­cious li­brary with its 3000 books and gleam­ing Bech­stein pi­ano; the serenity of the 17 gue­strooms with their art and fresh-cut flow­ers; the pro­found sense of peace en­coun­tered on walks in the grounds and the sim­ple plea­sure of lis­ten­ing to bird­song. There’s a pool with val­ley views, a stargaz­ing ter­race, and ac­tiv­i­ties that range from bird­watch­ing and truf­fle-hunt­ing to gin-tast­ing and wild swim­ming. For those who’d rather not drive from Zaragoza (two hours) or from Barcelona or Va­len­cia (2 ½ hours), there is the op­tion of ar­riv­ing by he­li­copter; re­lais­chateaux.com.



Orig­i­nally built in 1879 as a pri­vate palace, the Cot­ton House Ho­tel on the Gran Via has the gothic-tinged gran­deur beloved of Barcelona’s 19th-cen­tury bour­geoisie. In 1961 the build­ing be­came a club for mag­nates in the cot­ton in­dus­try (hence the name), but its wood pan­elling, stone stair­cases and creak­ing mar­quetry floors sur­vived in­tact. To­day, it is a ho­tel that brims with per­son­al­ity. The heady mix­ture of fin-de-siecle in­te­ri­ors, funky fur­ni­ture and ar­rest­ing art (courtesy of Span­ish de­sign doyen Lazaro Rosa-Vi­olan) could well make you gasp. The cot­ton theme is ever-pre­sent — arm­fuls of cot­ton flow­ers stand in mas­sive vases, cot­ton swatches are dis­played in vit­rines and you can even have a shirt made up by the chic Barcelona store Santa Eu­lalia. Hands-down win­ner among the 83 gue­strooms is the Da­m­asco Suite, once the man­sion’s mas­ter bed­room, with soar­ing ceil­ings and fres­coes with a pair of cherubs wish­ing you Bon Dia and Bona Nit. The ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails re­pay scru­tiny, none more so than the spi­ral stair­case, its iron su­per­struc­ture sus­pended from the roof with no other means of sup­port; hotel­cot­ton­house.com.



Hid­den in ver­dant farm­land be­neath the an­cient town of Ve­jer, Casa La Siesta looks part Ro­man villa, part coun­try house, and has stood here for as long as any­one can re­mem­ber. Now a bou­tique ho­tel, it has nine gue­strooms, and a mel­low at­mos­phere. All you hear are the sounds of larks and a faint bus­tle in the kitchen as the cooks at­tend to a menu that changes daily, but in­vari­ably in­volves lo­cal wines and fish and seafood from the coast nearby. The ac­com­mo­da­tion is large and airy, with muslin cur­tains, an­tique floor tiles and wooden beams; the walls are painted pale saf­fron, hi­lar­i­ously large beds and free­stand­ing baths give on to pri­vate sun ter­races. Out­side are a ter­ra­cotta court­yard and the gar­dens, full of swal­lows and pop­pies, olives, or­anges and laven­der. The two pools, edged with pome­gran­ate flow­ers, are never busy and in the apri­cot-coloured dusk, the court­yard is trans­formed with can­dlelit ta­bles for two. The sense of ro­mance is breath­tak­ing; casalasi­esta.com.



His­tory and her­itage meet con­tem­po­rary de­sign at Parador de Co­rias, which opened al­most four years ago in the re­gion of As­turias, in north­ern Spain. Its roots are in the Bene­dic­tine monastery of St John the Bap­tist, founded in 1032, and which for cen­turies was one of the most im­por­tant places in the re­gion. Un­like Spain’s gran­der paradors, there are no suits of ar­mour or heavy tapestries adorn­ing its halls, but just quaint de­tails such as a pair of tra­di­tional clogs out­side ev­ery room (many peo­ple in the vil­lages here still wear these). The ho­tel is all mod­ern, un­der­stated glam­our, with neu­tral tones, bare walls, wooden floors and Scan­di­na­vian-style fur­ni­ture that ac­cen­tu­ates the monastery feel. Staff are dis­creetly at­ten­tive and treat­ments at the spa in­clude the Olive Rit­ual with a scrub, olive mud wrap and mas­sage. Set deep in the coun­try­side by the Narcea River with moun­tains all around, Co­rias is close to the small town of Can­gas del Narcea, but some dis­tance from any ma­jor cities. In­stead, you have the lure of spec­tac­u­lar land­scapes and ru­ral calm; parador.es/en.


You feel as if you are tak­ing part in a his­tor­i­cal drama, but G&Ts and Gali­cian cui­sine also form part of the sump­tu­ous sce­nario

Aba­dia Retuerta LeDo­maine, main; San Fernando Restau­rant, Ho­tel Al­fonso XIII, top left; Parador de San­ti­ago de Com­postela, above left; the Cot­ton House Ho­tel, above; La Torre del Visco, be­low

In­door pool at Parador de Co­rias, top; al­fresco din­ing at Casa La Siesta, above; din­ing room at Aba­dia Retuerta LeDo­maine, above right

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