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What could you feel more luxurious than staying in an old castle or palace during your vacation? Spain’s Parador hotels and Portugal’s Pousadas give you the most exclusive holiday you deserve.

For those of you who are not so much into architecture and are more interested in Spain’s tasty gastronomy and wines, there are huge wineries with wonderful hotels available as well.
Keep reading for more information about these dream accommodations.

Parador and Pousada are both hostelry establishments that are known as a chain of luxury hotels. The concept of their exclusive, unique appearance is simple. Almost all Parador and Pousada hotels are located in historic buildings that used to be some palace, fortress, monastery or castle and give their guests a magical experience. That’s why they are so popular and sometimes even are a tourist attraction.

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Pousada de Portugal was founded in the early 1940s with the mission to create “hotels that look nothing like hotels”. The hotels usually don’t have a high number of rooms but offer first class service and focus a lot on exquisite, local gastronomy.
The Spanish equivalent Parador was born in 1910 and basically supports the same idea. Founded by Alfonso XIII, his idea was to promote tourism in Spain and therefore he opened the first Parador luxury hotel in 1928 in Gredos, Avila.
What started so little became a whole industry on the Iberian Peninsula and it strongly defines and influences luxury tourism there. Here are some examples of the best luxury accommodations in the country:

Parador de Carmona (Andalusia)
The Parador de Carmona is a proposal of beauty, tranquillity, exquisite cuisine, and beautiful scenery. The building stands on the ruins of an impressive Arab fortress of the 14th century that crowns the village and offers a fabulous swimming pool, terraces overlooking the countryside and a charming inner courtyard surrounded by peaceful living rooms. The restaurant, is one of the most spectacular of all Paradores. It offers beautiful views of the bright Andalusian skyline, as well as traditional food.

Parador de Ronda (Andalusia)
In the center of the city, in a privileged place, next to the emblematic new bridge of Ronda, you will find the Parador, located in the old town hall. It is located in an impressive building, with unique views over the Tagus, a 120-meter deep gorge. And it also impresses inside. The spacious, bright rooms will make you feel like royalty and the big gardens, the swimming pool and the marvel terraces make it an even more exclusive ambience.

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on the left the Parador de Carmona and right the Parador de Ronda

Parador de Cangas de Onís (Asturias)
On the banks of the River Sella, surrounded by the spectacular Picos de Europa mountains the Parador de Cangas de Onís awaits. The hotel used to be the Monastery of San Pedro de Villanueva, an ancient building, with spectacular stone and wood rooms, decorated in an elegant, warm and traditional way. The lounges and the garden next to the river are the ideal environment for unforgettable moments and the first class cuisine make guests enjoy this idyllic place to the fullest.

Parador de Cardona (Catalonia)
This Hotel is a wonderful medieval castle on top of a hill, overlooking the charming town of Cardona, Catalonia. It is a fortified enclosure of the ninth century where you can also visit the Minyona Tower and a beautiful church, both from the 11th century. Additionally, the panoramic view of the town, the landscape and the Cardener River is just breathtaking. This Parador is located in a very privileged area that offers a one-of-a-kind experience.

Parador de Santiago de Compostela (Galicia)
One of the most luxurious and magical of all Paradores is located in the pilgrims’ town of Santiago de Compostela. It is the only one of the chain’s hotels that holds 5 stars and therefore is unbeatable in terms of service and luxury. It’s  a mixture of history, art and tradition and can be found in the Plaza do Obradoiro, forming an angle of spectacular beauty in one of the most important cities in Spain.

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the parador in Cardona on the left and the one in Santiago on the right

Pousada do Porto, Palacio do Freixo (Porto)
The majestic architecture of this Pousada will blow your mind. The 18th-century Baroque palace is located near the city of Porto in the north of Portugal, on the banks of the charming Douro River. This hotel offers an irresistible combination of modern rooms and an authentic cultural experience with incredible cuisine and service.

Pousada Convento de Évora
The Pousada Convento de Évora or Pousada dos Lóios is located in the world heritage city of Evora. The building retains traces of its original architecture, such as the cloisters of the inner courtyard, a haven of peace and tranquility where you visitors will find an outdoor pool. Furthermore, all rooms are different and have their own characteristics.

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left the Palacio do Freixo in Porto and right the Pousada Convento de Evora

There are several other options to enjoy first class accommodation in Spain without staying in a Parador hotel. The region of La Rioja and especially the small town of Haro are famous for their excellent red wines. The charming area invites with large vineyards placed in the idyllic landscape and many wineries that offer tastings and tours through their institution. Many of them include accommodation and restaurants as well. Two of the most luxurious wineries are listed below.

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Hotel los Agustinos
The Hotel Los Agustinos, founded in 1373 as a convent, is a landmark building in the town of Haro. The building exudes history, whilst offering comfortable, well-appointed facilities, making guests feel exceptionally privileged to stay there. With its decorations that combine classicism and modernity, it makes the perfect accommodation for guests with high standards and demands.

Bodega de Marques de Riscal
Also called the city of wine, the Marques de Riscal winery is one of the oldest and most prestigious ones in the region of La Rioja. It hosts two hotels, a special wine spa, as well as two exclusive restaurants and a conference centre. It impresses with some of the best wines s of the country as well as with its futuristic architecture and first class hospitality.

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the famous “city of wine”

If this post inspired you and gave you some ideas for your next holiday in Spain and Portugal, come back for the next one to learn even more about the Iberian peninsula and its rich culture.

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Did you know that Spain has almost 5000 kilometres of coastline and two different seas forming its natural borders? The country is perfect for a summer holiday by the sea and even has some places that offer mild climate and nice temperature in winter. To make it a little easier for you to know the best places for a great vacation, we listed Spain’s top ten most popular and beautiful beaches.

  • Playa de la Concha in San Sebastian, on the Atlantic coast in the north of Spain is not only the most popular beach in Spain but also Europe’s number 1 beach and number 6 worldwide. With the beautiful promenade of San Sebastian, 1,5 kilometres of white sand and typical waves of the Atlantic, this beach is a surfer’s paradise. It is the perfect place for water sports, swimming, taking long beach walks and sun bathing.
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the bay in San Sebastian is just stunning

  • Number 2 on Spain’s favourite beaches is Playa de Ses Illetes in Formentera, one of the smallest of the Balearic Islands. White sand and chrystal clear water make this the ideal snorkel spot and in the evening you can watch some pretty amazing sunsets. The small island next to Ibiza is not so packed with tourists which makes it a hidden secret to enjoy when having a holiday on the Balearics.
  • Playa de Muro, in Mallorca, one of Spain’s most well known islands is characterize by turquoise blue water and great temperature of the Mediteranean. Ideally for families, this place offers fun activities and watersports such as banana boat and rowing.
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Formentera on the left and Mallorca on the right, both equally magical

  • Playa Del Duque, in Costa Adeje, Tenerife, one of the Canaray Islands is located in the south of the island. This beach with calm waters and golden sand offers a good temperature throughout the entire year and although it is small, it is equipped with all kinds of amenities and services in the surroundings.
  • Moving on to another one of the Canary Island, in Fuerteventura you’ll find Playa Sotavento on the Costa Calma which creates a natural lagoon that is more than 3 kilometres long and known to be great for windsurfing and kiteboarding because of it’s water depth. A very idyllic place to enjoy some calm abd quiet.
  • Fuerteventura, is known for its white sandy beaches and turquoise water. That is why Lagunas and Playa de El Cotillo, La Oliva, became so popular. Due to the great weather all year round you can swim and even dive there at any time of the year in crystal clear water and enjoy the beauty of the ocean and the island.
  • Playa de Cofete is located in an isolated corner of the island of Fuerteventura and can be reached through an unpaved track. With more than 12 kilometres in length, the place impresses with its wild nature, cleanliness and tranquillity. Only few people spend time at this separated part of the island.
Fuerteventura

all three of these stunningly beauitful beaches are in Fuerteventura

  • The Canary Islands offer another stunning place, the Las Canteras beach in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. It makes number 3 of the peninsula’s favourite beaches and is under the top ten of the best European ones. It’s speciality is a natural “bar” of sandstone and reef which can only be reached by swimming there.
  • The beach of Maspalomas, Gran Canaria is almost 3 km long and includes dunes, a palme grove and the clear water of the Atlantic Oceans. Watching the sunset over the dunes and having a drink in one of the close bars after sunbathing and swimming is very popular amongst tourists and locals.
  • Back to the peninsula, Playa de las Catedrales, in Ribadeo, Galicia, in the northwest of the country has some impressive cliffs and caves that can only be admired during low tide. The beautiful rock formations make this to one of the most popular beaches of Spain and gives it a mystical vibe.
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Maspalomas in Gran Canaria is known for its dunes

These are just a few of Spain’s greatest beaches but there are many more to explore. Hopefully you got inspired for your next adventure and try to discover even more of the peninsulas beautfiul nature.
If you enjoyed reading this post, come back for the next one to learn even more about Spain and its rich culture.

Spain has more than 200 Michelin star restaurants to offer, all spread across the country. However, when talking about Michelin stars, we automatically assume the most expensive meals and high priced restaurants. What we often forget is that the stars do not reflect a price scale but they exclusively describe the quality of what is put on the table.

Thus, one star indicates a good kitchen, which means, if you pass through the area you should try the food at this particular place. A second star defines an excellent kitchen and invites the diner to deviate from his route to get to know the restaurant. The third star is a strong recommendation of this restaurant because its exceptional cuisine is an experience and definitely worth a try.

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some of Cocinandos’ art works – a feast for the eyes

So let’s start our restaurant tour in the Galician Yayo Daporta restaurant which offers meals for a reasonable price and high quality. The chef Yayo Daporta himself bases his food on “good taste and common sense”. He calls it typical Galician cuisine “updated with winks to products from other areas, to combine the old with the current”.
(Rúa Hospital, 7, 36630 Cambados, Pontevedra, menu for 45€)

But that’s not it for Galicia! Nova, a restaurant in Orense, opened its doors in 2012 and obtained a Michelin star just two years later. The chefs of this place, Julio Sotomayor and Daniel Guzmán told their secret for every meal they create: product, proximity and freshness.
(Rúa Valle Inclán, 5, 32004 Orense, menu from 30€)

Up north, on the Cantabric coast there is another award-winning restaurant, the Arbidel. Jaime Uz the chef of this exquisite location mixes tradition with avant-garde touches and recommends to taste the menu outside on the terrace of the restaurant to enjoy the high quality cuisine even more.
(Calle Oscura 1, Ribadesella, Asturias, tasting menu 50€)

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chef Yayo Daporta, his restaurant and one of his culinary delights

In Leon, Spain’s gastronomic capital 2018 you will find Cocinandos, a one star restaurant founded in 2003 by Juanjo Pérez and Yolanda Leon. It is not only the only Michelin star restaurant in the city but also considered to be one of the cheapest haute cuisine restaurant in the country.
(Calle de las Campanillas, 1, 24008 León, tasting menu 45€)

Moving along to the Pyrenees, there are several restaurants waiting to be explored. Lillas Pastia in Huesca is one of them. Specialized in black truffle cuisine, Carmelo Bosque, who opened the place in 1995, just wants people to “eat well and enjoy”.
(Plaza Navarra, 4, 22002 Huesca, tasting menu 75€)

Tatau Bistro is the name of the second Michelin star restaurant in Huesca. Although it just looks like a tapas bar from the outside, it offers much more exquisite meals inside. With Tonino Valiente, who learned from the best in the famous Hofman school and Arancha Sáinz, the restaurant is in the hands of to master chefs who are known for their culinary works of art.
(Calle Azara s/n, 22002 Huesca, menu from 30€)

When we travel to the centre of the peninsula to the famous Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial in the Sierra Madrileña, we will discover Montia, the restaurant of Luis Moreno and Dani Ochoa. They embrace the variety of local ingredients and rely on producers of the area.  Their proposals vary constantly but are suitable for any customer: a small menu (for 45€), a big one (for 60€) and the XL version (for 65€) are available.
(Calle Calvario, 4, San Lorenzo del Escorial, 28200 Madrid)

acanthum xanty elias

Xanty Elías, top chef of Acanthum, focused on his mouth-watering creation, as the look is all part of the dining experience

And from the centre to the south. On the other side of the peninsula, on the Atlantic coast in Andalusia, Xanty Elías inaugurated Acanthum in 2011 in the town of Huelva. His intention was to revive the gastronomic legacy of the region and therefore he was rewarded with a Michelin star.
(Calle de San Salvador, 17, 21003 Huelva, from 55€)

And the list goes on and on. There are just so many renowned restaurants, it’s a pleasure for every food lover and gastronomic expert.
If you enjoyed reading this post come back for the next one to learn even more about Spain and its rich culture.

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If you’ve ever been to Madrid you will probably have noticed the tile street signs and tiles on house walls that show pictures and tell entire stories. Although people might not notice them that much, they are part of Madrid’s ancient history and belong to one of the oldest cultural goods of the area.

Pottery and ceramics have been a speciality of the whole community of Madrid since the Middle Ages.  With the foundation of the Royal Factory of Porcelanas del Buen Retiro, the school of ceramics, these handicrafts became even more established and built an important part of people’s daily life. The ceramic material forms one of the indigenous architectural elements since ancient times.

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Archaeologists found pieces of ceramics from the 9th and 10th century corresponding to the period of Muslim occupation as well as pottery from the 16th to 19th century made in Alcorcón, a neighbouring village of the city.
Pottery significantly entered Madrid’s architecture at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th through Ricardo Velázquez Bosco and popularized thanks to his outstanding student Antonio Palacios. The first examples can be found inside the Palacio de Comunicaciones. Especially important was the use of tiles at the beginning of the 20th century in the design of the first railway stations.

When walking around the streets of the city centre you will automatically come across some art pieces of former times. There is a collection of about 500 street plates of the historic quarter, made in 1990 by Alfredo Ruiz de Luna Gonzalez. The street art of old Madrid illustrates streets, squares, crossings, costs and more. They all have a common layout, they are composed by nine old-style tiles.

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signs like these can be found everywhere in the centre

Besides those smaller artistic features of the architecture, there are bigger and more obvious works of art spread all over the city as well, such as the bullring Plaza de Toros de las Ventas which is decorated with large tile murals, representing employees, breeders and masters of bullfighting.
But also restaurants and are partly covered in tiles that show pictures of former residents, their profession or stories about the building:
Restaurante Viva Madrid in calle de Manuel Fernandes y Gonzalez 7,  Villa Rosa on Plaza Santa Ana 15, or Antigua Huevería in calle de San Vicente Ferrer 32 just to name a few.

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this bar used to be a shop where people could buy eggs

Another great spot for this kind of street art is the huge park in the centre, the Parque del Retiro. Several buildings within the green gardens are lavishly decorated, like the Velazquez palace or also the Chrystal Palace. Their interior is used as exhibition rooms although their exterior also appears like a work of art.

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Chrystal Palace on the left and Velazquez Palace on the right

You thought you have seen it all? If you go underground there is even more. Some old subway stations are a real eye-catcher with their colourful pictures of tiles. The ancient metro station walls are entirely covered in tiles and even old adverts are made of them. Retiro or old Chamberí station are just two stops to enjoy the subterranean art. While Retiro is still a normally used stop in the widespread metro network, Chamberí was taken out of the system. However, people can still go down to visit the beautiful station for free, from Thursday to Sunday or have a guided tour through the underground area for just a small amount of money. Besides that, when you look out the metro window between stations Iglesia and Bilbao, you also get a glimps of what used to be a regular stop on metro line 1.

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Chamberi, also called Anden 0, is one of the most historical stations

If you enjoyed reading this post come back for the next one to learn even more about Spain and its rich culture.

Have you ever watched Game of Thrones? Or are you a fan of the fantasy series and think you know everything about it? Maybe this post will give you some new information. And if you have never seen a single episode of the show, after reading the following lines, you might want to give the series a chance or at least travel to some of these picturesque places.

GOT (as fans like to call it) is considered record holder of the Emmy Awards and analysing its audience numbers, it is the most successful series in the world. The production, based on the novels “The Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R. Martin, has achieved the cult status of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which it often gets compared to. And while the story around the highly competitive Iron Throne is of course fictional, many of the imposing locations are real! And above all, the filming locations are not that far away. The following places might give you a déjà vu. So lets us take you on a trip to Westeros and Essos.

While the first 4 seasons where mainly shot in northern European countries, season 5 of Game of Thrones added some Spanish locations in Andalusia. For example, the Royal Palace in Sevilla, the Real Alcázar. The former king’s palace from the 14th century took over the role of the water gardens of the peninsula Dorne in the south of Westeros, where Prince Oberyn Martell’s older brother, Prince Doran resided.
In real life, the Spanish royal family spends several weeks a year in this impressive building but the palace was used several times before as film setting, for example for  the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” by Ridley Scott.

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the Real Alcázar on the left and the shooting of a scene on the right

Another venue was the Andalusian city of Osuna, about an hour drive from Sevilla, whose bullring was converted into the Arena of Meereen. You might also remember that Daenerys had her first dragon flight starting from this arena.
Also seen in season 5, the Roman Bridge of Córdoba that helped Varys and Tyrion reach the city of Volantis.

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the bullring of Osuna made a great arena of Meereen

Moreover, season 6 was partly filmed in Andalusia too, just like season 5. Castillo de Almodóvar del Rio served as the rose garden.
The city of Cáceres in the region of Extremadura became an important location as well. Cáceres was transformed into Altsass while the Castillo de Trujillo took on the role of Casterly Rock.

Another castle that was used as film setting is the Castillo de Zafra, a 12th – century castle in Castilla – La Mancha. In addition to that, the Castell de Santa Florentina in Barcelona and many buildings and streets in the old town of Girona, Catalonia were among the filming locations. The small town north of Barcelona became the Free City of Braavos in Essos. With its Arab Baths, Plaça dels Jurats and Carrer de la Claveria, it was just perfect for the story line. The Cathedral of Girona served as the Great Septe of Baelor and the Monestir de Sant Pere de Galligants took on the role of the citadel in Altsass.

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do you recognize the Great Septe of Baelor?

But that’s not it! Some scenes of season 7 were again shot in Spain. The film crew travelled to the mountains of the natural park Bardenas Reales, a semi-desert in Navarra in the north of the peninsula and to the Basque Country.

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the mystical looking Basque Country with these Flysch formations made a great film setting

Places that embody the island of Dragonstone in Game of Thrones are the monastery of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, located on a small island between Bakio and Bermeo, the secluded Playa de Muriola near Barrika and Playa de Itzurun near Zumaia, which is located in a beautiful bay, surrounded by green mountains that reach down to the sea. The spectacular cliffs with their flysch formations were just perfect for some of the scenes in season 7.

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San Juan de Gaztelugatxe also known as island of Dragonstone

After reading all this, are you going to watch Games of Thrones now? The series is not over yet, there is still one season to come in 2019. While you’re waiting for the next season to air, come to Spain to have an exclusive behind the scenes experience.
Across Spain offers a unique Game of Thrones tour that includes some of the mentioned places. For more information get in touch with us!