Carmona | Parador Hotel

parador carmona (3)
I’ve been to this Parador several times over the years – for events, or just for a drink at the bar when visiting Carmona – so when I had the opportunity to stay overnight recently I naturally jumped at the chance.

The Carmona Parador is the one that serves Seville, and is about a half-hour’s drive from the city, in the little town of Carmona. Like its larger neighbour, Carmona has a history that stretches back almost three thousand years to the time of the Phoenicians, and was also an important town in the Roman period. The hotel, which opened in 1976, can be found in the Alcázar del Rey Don Pedro (the Palace of King Peter) on the top of the hill at the eastern edge of the town. Originally a Moorish fortress, it was substantially rebuilt by King Peter in the 14th century in the Mudejar style (like the Alcázar in Seville), and became one of his favourite residences. Part of the reason for this is undoubtedly due to its location – my stay here was in July, and during the day Carmona was extremely hot, but at night this hilltop location catches the cool breezes, and it was very pleasant to sit out on the balcony and relax in the perfect evening weather.

parador carmona (1)Although quite a lot of the old walls are still standing, in various degrees of preservation, the hotel is a mainly modern building, but it retains many original features and decorations, such as tiles, stonework and wood beamed ceilings, as well as a beautiful central courtyard with pillars and a central marble fountain. I particularly liked the recurring 8-pointed star motif of the shutters and on the woodwork of doors and cupboards, and which gave the hotel a unified decorative theme.

The hotel has all the general facilities you would expect of a good 4-star. There’s a restaurant, bar/lounge with a pleasant terrace overlooking the surrounding countryside, as well as a proper swimming pool in a garden area below the hotel. There is also a children’s pool. The one drawback is it’s a bit of a trek down a winding stairway to get there, though this is at least partly compensated by a splendid view of the castle/hotel on the hill above.

parador carmona (2)[click on images to enlarge]

My superior double room was spacious and airy, with a super comfortable bed, a good size desk to work at, table and chairs and a shelf for the suitcase. There was also a large balcony with a good view (in fact, the balcony, and being an extra floor up, is the main difference between the standard and superior double rooms). Cool terracotta tile floors, and the carved wooden doors of the closet gave it a “period” feel that I liked. The bathroom was adequate, with very good water pressure, and the towels were nice and thick. A hairdryer and plenty of toiletries were also provided. We were also given a complimentary bottle of chilled water and some nibbles, a boon in the hot weather. One quibble was a shortage of power outlets for charging or operating phones and computers, but the free WiFi was available throughout the hotel, no passwords required. The buffet style breakfast was one of the best I’ve seen, with plenty of variety, including several cooked egg and meat dishes, a cold meat and cheese section, breads and pastries, cereals, fruit, juices, and coffee was brought to the table.

Last, but by no means least, it was a handy base for exploring the picturesque old town of Carmona, with its charming little streets and attractive squares. I really enjoyed my overnight stay, and cannot praise the hotel staff enough. Excellent professional service at every turn.  I hope to be back again before too long, next time to try the hotel restaurant.

Carmona Parador Hotel
Alcázar del Rey Don Pedro
Carmona, Sevilla
Tel: 954 141 010

Granada | Hotel Casa 1800

hotel casa 1800 granada

A few years ago I watched the Hotel Casa 1800 in Sevilla transform the large family home next to my barrio Santa Cruz apartment into a lovely boutique hotel and, when asked for a tour upon completion, could not believe what they’d done to the place. Every room was unique and sumptuously decorated. So when I recently planned to revisit Granada I thought a night in their new hotel there would be just the thing. And it was. The Hotel Casa 1800 in Granada is a charming 25 room hotel in a traditional 17th century Granada townhouse (the Migueletes) that bats far above its 3-star rating in terms of comfort and convenience.

hotel casa 1800 granadajunior suite

Rooms range from standard doubles to a Grand Deluxe Suite Room with Jacuzzi. My superior double booking got upgraded to a junior suite, which was spacious and elegant, with a king-size bed with an ornate gilt headboard, and a sofa and coffee table for relaxing with the complimentary water, tea or coffee. Some of the rooms have views of the Alhambra (standard rooms, however, mostly overlook the street or central patio). The marble-lined bathroom was equipped with both a shower and bath, a proper hairdryer, nice fluffy robes and lovely toiletries.

hotel casa 1800 granada s

It’s in an excellent location, just one block away from the River Darro, which runs between the Alhambra and Albaicín (old Moorish quarter) hills, with easy access to all the main sights, shopping, and bars and restaurants. Like their sister hotel in Sevilla, the conversion from house to hotel has maintained the rustic and picturesque appearance of the building, especially the central patio – flagstone floors, wood pillars and railings, and a fountain with water spout grotesques. All the standard services which you’d expect are available, including free Wi-Fi, but they also do a free afternoon merienda (tea and snack) between 4 – 6 pm, which is a nice touch and very welcome after a long day of sightseeing. In fact, it was a struggle to decide whether to relax in my gorgeous room or in the charming courtyard. The staff all speak English and will arrange any reservations for shows and restaurants for you. Highly recommended for both comfort and style, though I’d spend that bit extra for a superior room.

Hotel Casa 1800 Granada
Benalúa, 11
Tel 958 210 700

Cádiz | Parador Hotel Atlántico

parador cadiz (1)

Well, I’d certainly come back here again! This is the second time I’ve stayed at a Parador (first was in Antequera), and both times the experience has been exceptional. It’s true that the exterior of the recently renovated Cádiz hotel is, to my mind, a not-very-attractive modern style (okay, I’ll just say it – UGLY) and that at street-level it appears at first glance to be in a fairly mundane setting. But take a slightly longer look around, or better still go up to a higher level inside the hotel, and you find it’s actually in a very good location, with the Caleta Beach on one side, and the Parque Genovese botanical garden on the other. It lives up to its Atlantico name, too – right on the sea-front with the ocean stretching away into the distance.

parador cadiz collageOur superior room on the sixth floor was wonderful. It was already big, but with a picture window and balcony to let in the light and give an added sense of spaciousness, it felt quite palatial. Great view of the Castillo San Sebastian and the ocean beyond – and of a spectacular sunset too (though the flashing of the lighthouse during the night was a mild annoyance). Useful sized desk with suitcase platform, headboard shelves, well thought out lighting, and a couple of easy chairs, too. Also great were the walk-in shower and a massive 2 metre long bathtub; so nice to be able to stretch out in lots of hot water!

parador cadiz (2)sunset view from balcony

When we first arrived and were getting settled in I realised how thirsty I was and suddenly there was a knock on the door. A waiter stood there offering a very welcome chilled bottle of mineral water. Later after we returned from lunch I kept looking at that long stone tub thinking a good lazy bath would be just the thing. Another knock on the door. This time we were brought a couple of chocolate desserts and a selection of fragrant bath salts. Like, what? Was the Parador reading my mind? So I tried conjuring up a nice bottle of cava, but that one didn’t work. Still, between all that and fluffy robes and our cosy table out on the terrace, it was almost a shame we had ot go out and explore the rest of Cádiz.

Hotel facilities generally were what you’d expect from a good 4-star hotel. Functioning Wi-Fi throughout, a couple of big swimming pools (including an all-year indoor pool) and sauna and solarium (looking a little wind-swept in November, but clearly would be great in the summer). Likewise the dining areas had seafront terraces that are in use outside the winter months and would make you feel like you are eating and drinking directly over the Atlantic. There was a plentiful breakfast in an breakfast room alongside the pool area, which we enjoyed at a table overlooking the park.

Paradors are pricy, of course, but it’s well worth checking the website for special offers. I’d come back here in a heartbeat, especially as Cádiz is one of my favourite cities.

Parador Hotel Atlantico

Avenida Duque de Nájera, 9
Tel: +34 956 226 905

Antequera | Parador Hotel

parador antequeraBack in February I won a free night for two including breakfast at the Parador of my choice and had decided to stay at the fabulous castle one in Carmona, but then found out that this wasn’t included in the list of available choices for Andalucía. So I ended up going to Antequera, which turned out to be quite serendipitous as I had never been there before and I was keen to do some research for my new trip planning biz. To wit I asked to book a second night along with my free offer, and I’m very glad I did. My friend Peter @SVQconcierge joined me for the first night and I stayed on by myself for the second.

The Antequera Parador is a modern 4 star hotel on a hill at the edge of town, with an easy walk to the town centre and monuments. Reception was friendly and efficient, and although we arrived quite early our room was already ready for us. One odd quirk that results from its hillside location with reception and “ground floor” at the top, is that the first and second floors are numbered in reverse, so that our second floor room beside the pool was the lowest level. Although we didn’t get to spend any real time there, the pool area was attractive with a terrace area and bar on one side, but otherwise the public areas, though clean and comfortable, seemed a little lacking in personality.

parador antequera collageOur room was quite spacious, with comfortable twin beds, a big desk, lots of cupboard space (with mini bar and safe) and a nice view of the pool outside the window. The bathroom was also roomy, and had some nice touches – twin sinks, big mirror, cleverly positioned make-up/shaving mirror with excellent lighting, and a sensibly simple shower in a full bath. I also really liked the pale green opaque coloured glass wall that separated it from the bedroom, but it could have been better ventilated. And it was a bit of a shame that the complimentary bathrobes and slippers didn’t show up until the second afternoon. But these are very small “complaints”.

Breakfast was typical large hotel fare (though with spectacular views from the dining areas). There was plenty of choice, from coffee and toast to fruit, to full English, but everything pre-prepared and a bit bland. It set us up for the morning, but I think hotels generally need to rethink how they do breakfast. I actually preferred the simple tostada & churros breakfast we had at a nearby bar when we first arrived.

But as you can see, I have no serious complaints at all. It was a lovely and luxurious getaway in a beautifully quiet and peaceful spot. A perfect introduction to Antequera. I’ll be back!

Parador de Antequera
Paseo García del Olmo, 2
Tel 952 84 02 61
Antequera, Málaga

Córdoba | Hospes Hotel Palacio del Bailío

Córdoba has long been famous for the Mezquita, the beautiful mosque-cathedral with its perspective-shifting array of columns and arches, but in recent years this fascinating city, which has the second largest preserved historic centre in Europe, has been increasingly recognised as one of the essential must-see places.

The Hospes Hotel Palacio del Bailío (Palace of the Knight-Commander), Córdoba’s first ever 5-star hotel, combines modern luxury with the charm of a building whose history is intertwined with that of the city. The site was occupied by the Romans (there are Roman ruins in the basement) and the Moors, and after the conquest of the city by the Christian king Ferdinand III in 1236 it was given as a reward to one of his supporters. It was owned for many generations by the family of the Great Captain (El Gran Capitán) Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, and the present palace was built between the 16th and 18th centuries. After part of the palace had been donated to the convent of Dolores and the Hospital of San Jacinto, and with the death of the last descendant of the Fernández family, the palace fell into decline until it was purchased by the Castejón family in 1929, who began the work of its restoration. It was declared a historic monument in 1982 and became a hotel in March 2007.

The entrance to the hotel from the street is surprisingly modest, and is watched over by a statuette of San Rafael (the unofficial patron saint of Córdoba), and a small stylised metal dragon. Once inside it’s impossible not to be drawn in by the combination of the grand and the cosy. The basic facilities are what you would expect from a 5-star hotel, but the special charm of this hotel is the way in which these are combined with Hospes’ own emphasis on restfulness and well-being, and expressed through the fabric of a historic building.

Last week my friend Peter (aka Seville Concierge) and I were invited to spend the night and also enjoy a flamenco-themed dinner. Our room was a modern standard (dreamer), with a fabulous slate-tiled bathroom, two balconies that overlooked the main patio garden with its swimming pool and fountain, and of course the amazingly comfy beds that Hospes is famous for. There’s also a pillow menu available. I loved falling asleep – and waking up – to the soothing sound of running water from the garden.

In the evening dinner was in the Roman patio, with an excellent singer and guitarist duo (there’s a different entertainment theme every month) and wonderful food by Senzone. The main restaurant is in the next room, and there’s also an attractive tapas bar, which are open to the public as well as guests. The patio also doubles as the breakfast room, where we had a substantial breakfast (well, it would be really, wouldn’t it?) on our second day. The Roman patio is so called because beneath the glass floor you can see the remains of a mosaic and marble columns of the Roman building that was once there (rediscovered by accident in the 1930s when the owners were building a tunnel to bring coal into the house without blackening the floors). It also has restored eighteenth century murals, including a row of upper story windows to match the real ones on the other two sides.

One thing we didn’t get to do was to sample the pleasures of the Bodyna Spa Roman baths and massage (having slept through our alotted time in the late afternoon – darn those comfy beds!) but we were able to have a look around the next morning when sales manager Laura Baena took us on a tour of the hotel. We were duly impressed, especially by the peacefulness of the cool, dimly lit stone baths (there are three of them, set to three different temperatures). I could certainly have spent a blissful hour there just soaking up the silence. We also got a peek at the Roman ruins, which aren’t open to the public and are under special protection, similar to the mosque.

All too soon our 24 hours of luxury were over. I can honestly imagine spending a couple of days at the Palacio Bailío and not even leaving the hotel, so if you do plan on staying here (and I highly recommend it) book yourself an extra night so that you actually get to see the city. I’m still dreaming of going back…

Oh, and did I mention the free WiFi?

[photo gallery below…]

Continue reading “Córdoba | Hospes Hotel Palacio del Bailío”

Seville| Las Casas de los Reyes de Baeza

hospes sevilla

Hospes Hotels Las Casas del Rey de Baeza

As you all know, I don’t get to travel much, and certainly not nearly as much as I’d like to. But a week ago today I got to take a “day trip” to a one of the most beautiful hotels in Sevilla . The hotel Las Casas del Rey de Baeza (longest name ever – try tweeting that several times a day!) is part of an exclusive chain of luxury hotels called Hospes Hotels, most (all?) of which are restored palaces. I have to say that it was interesting to see – and experience – how the other half lives…

My 24-hour staycation getaway was lovely and it was very nice that my friend & flatmate Peter was able to come with me. We got there around 5pm and, after getting settled in the room (mostly me taking tons of photos and both of us going WOW) we retired to one of the lounge areas just off a lovely plant-filled patio to read our books and enjoy some cava. Heaven.

After a couple of hours we went back up to the room, changed for dinner and went to try out the Senzone restaurant. They had us booked for a couple of tasting menus but we never like eating the same thing, so I convinced the waiter to bring us a selection of this and that to share. It was all very good but there was something about the place that made it feel “hotel-y” in a way the hotel itself didn’t. But we still enjoyed it very much. Back up to the room and I took a luxurious bath in the massive circular tub while Peter curled up with his book. By this time we were both pretty zonked so it was lights out and and I have to say the bed was amazingly comfortable. We were supposed to have been given a standard room with twin beds, but got upgraded to a deluxe one – nice!

Next morning we went down for brekky, not quite sure how things worked, and were told we could either have the buffet breakfast or order off the menu. So we decided to go for it and tucked into the buffet as well as ordering some very nice bacon & eggs. After all that we were so stuffed that all we could do was head for the fireplace lounge, sink into the big fat leather sofas and read some more.

Suddenly it was check-out time but we really didn’t feel ready to leave, and that wasn’t a problem. We were told just to leave our packed overnight bags in the room and later we could ask for them at reception, which gave us some extra time to go upstairs and enjoy the rooftop for awhile (see pic on the right).

I took so many photos that I really didn’t know what to do with them all, so here are a couple of collages (click on them to enlarge) of the hotel and our room, and of the food. It really was a fabulous getaway and many many thanks to Hospes Hotels for making it happen.

Senzone Restaurant

[click on collages to enlarge]

Disclaimer: Myself and my companion were invited as guests of the hotel, including dinner and breakfast, but all opinions here are my own.