Hi, we are Nick and Christine Snowdon, two ex Travel Professionals, ex Travel Educationalists, and now Travel Bloggers. We enjoy searching out both new and traditional destinations on which to spend our retirement fund. Over the last 10 years we have travelled to over 50 destinations on 4 Continents and are loving it.
It’s good to get away whilst it’s chilly at home, but a pleasant 23 degrees plus in Central Spain, hence ……… Three Paradores in May.
Within 1hr 40mins of Madrid we visited three Paradors (historic buildings turned into luxury hotels) each with its own special feel and local attractions.
It was only a 2hr flight, which is always a good start, from Birmingham to Madrid Barajas Airport. We booked car hire in advance from the airport and had our handy TomTom Sat Nav with us, charged up with the map of Western Europe. Do you remember road atlases?
First Stop, Parador 1: La Granja de San Ildefonso
It took 1hr 30 mins to get to La Granja from the airport, taking the more scenic mountainous route using the M601 as opposed to the A6 motorway, and what a grand Parador this was, imposing from both inside and out. It was a bit chillier here than we expected because one thing they don’t tell you in the Parador information is the altitude. This one was at 1,200 metres, but the air was crisp and clean in the evening but very pleasant during the day.
Things to do in La Granja:
The Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso is a hidden gem, real value for money at 9 Euros, and worth spending a little more for the audio guide. In this town of 2,000 inhabitants you wouldn’t expect to find a Baroque Palace which was the Summer Palace of the Spanish Kings from 1720, and only a short walk away from the Parador. Fantastic buildings with incredible fountains (check before you visit as they are not on every day). Informal grounds with interesting things to see and miles of paths for you to follow – and watch out for the red squirrels!
Just 11km from La Granja is the town of Segovia – designated a World Heritage site in 1985. It boasts lots of things, albeit a bit busy with trippers, but you can’t miss the Roman Aqueduct, 167 arches built with 25,000 granite blocks and no cement.
Having wound your way through the narrow streets, passing the magnificent Catedral de Segovia you are presented with the Alcazar. Now it was getting late on into the day and it was hot and we were tired and so we wavered about going into the Alcazar – I’m glad we did. Again the audio guide was excellent. We must admit we prefer them the more protracted guided tours. Doing things at our pace is what we like.
Second Stop, Parador 2: Avila
An hours drive from La Granja de San Ildefonso found us at the front door of the Parador Avila, set within the walls of a delightful walled town.
Parking at the Parador was a bit of a challenge, but the staff were very helpful in getting us to the parking area behind the building. The Parador lived up to expectations with helpful staff, a pleasant bar with an outside patio area room and a great location not far from the town centre, everything in walking distance.
Things to do in Avila: Explore the Old Town
The Old Town was the major star of this part of our adventure and the following day, which was pleasantly warm and sunny, we spent our time exploring the town and its walls and fortifications. This was interspersed with coffee stops to spend time participating in one of our favourite pastimes – people watching. They had even arranged a wedding at the Town Hall in the main square for our entertainment!
Things to do in Avila: Walk the Walls
The Town Walls were pretty impressive and you can almost walk on them around the whole town. What was nice was that part of the wall passed by the garden of the Parador and we could see where we would be sitting in an hour with a cool beer and pinchos.
Things to do in Avila: The Palacia de Superunda
One thing we really enjoy about our travels to each destination is the unknown and quite often unexpected. Trip Advisor has its place but asking at the local Tourist Information Office often unearths a little gem. The Palacio de Superunda was one such find. Guido Caprotti was an Italian artist who got stuck in Avila when his train got trapped in snow close by. He went into the town for a day or so and stayed for 20 years. There are some wonderful paintings and a charming garden.
Third Stop, Parador 3: Toledo
At just under 2 hours the leg from Avila to Toledo was the longest of our trip. Despite this we thought that with an early start from Avila we could manage the extra one hour return trip to get to visit Consuegra before we checked in to the Parador in Toledo.
What we experienced was well worth the extra mileage.
The twelve windmills of Consuegro stand proud on the Cerro Calderico ridge on the Plain of La Mancha silhouetted clearly against the blue skies.
Brought to fame as part of the backdrop for Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’ they have been there for centuries. We spent some while walking from one end of the row of windmills to the other and back again, looking at different views which were thrown up every few metres. The views across the plains contrasted with the craginess of ridge and we just soaked in the whole experience.
Unfortunately the 12th century Castle was closed due to renovation but none the less added to the vista.
If you had to choose a Parador with the most spectacular view from the terrace then the Parador in Toledo must be near the top of the list.
The Parador itself is about 4km out of the town set on the hill opposite the town. You can almost plan your visits to the town by looking at a map and then view in front of you. The Parador itself was purpose built but in an old style and offered a variety of facilities.
The pool was open whilst we were there but only the hardy people took the plunge.
Things to do in Toledo: Explore the Town
We happily spent half a day just soaking in the atmosphere of this historic town. Toledo Steel was much in evidence in very touristy shops. You could even buy a full set of Armour if you should so wish! We spotted lots of coffee shops and bars and it is surprising just how time flies when you are mooching about. For speed and convenience we got a taxi to and from the town. They were well priced and could be booked from the Parador and Taxi Ranks were easy to find for the return.
Things to do in Toledo: Visit the El Greco Museum
Whilst El Greco hasn’t been one of our favourite artists up to now we thought we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit the museum dedicated to his work. We were glad we made the effort. The colours were amazing and his proportions made some paintings look almost surreal.
Things to do in Toledo: Visit the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes
A short walk away just down the road was the understated Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes. A tranquil spot, which in its time played host to royalty and you can walk in the steps of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile.
Food and Drink
Over the nine days each morning we ate breakfast at the Paradores.
As you would expect, the dining rooms were well appointed. The coffee was strong and good but in each case nothing was too much bother for the staff. Christine was drinking hot water and squeezed fresh lemon – not a problem.
The selection was great on the cold buffet with everything and more you would expect to find. The hot selection seemed to be a bit of a sop to the expectation of a English cooked breakfast but with local (very tasty) sausage which was fine as there was a wonderful tortilla too.
Having enjoyed a hearty but healthy breakfast, lunches were normally quite lightweight affairs. But there are lots of Tapas Bars to be found where you can lightly graze or get more involved if you want to.
In the local restaurants look out for the local specialities of suckling pig in a variety of forms, but beware the fried version I had it in one restaurant found the little pigs trotter on the edge of the plate! At least it showed it was the real thing. We know it is sometimes difficult to get excited about potatoes but you must try Patatas Revolconas (originally a humble dish from the countryside mixing potatoes with sweet paprika) but now found in a number of restaurants, sometimes with some trendy additions. One thing to bear in mind is that in each of our destinations most of the restaurants didn’t open until 20.30.
The local wines from La Mancha were very palatable and well priced, however the usual suspects of Rioja and Navarra were ever present too.
Rose gin seemed to be plentiful in the region and was a mixture of Spanish Gin infused with succulent strawberry, Larios was the most prolific. A delightful tipple, especially after a hard day on the tourist trail.
The Paradors have an Amigos Club which you can join for free, just ask at Reception for an application form. This will allow you to collect points towards rewards, but more specifically, once a member, each Parador you visit will offer you a free introductory drink.
It took us just over an hour to get from Parador Toledo to Madrid Barajas Airport and left ourselves plenty of time to deposit the hire car and check in for our flight home.
We have had a fabulous 9 days in our mini semi circumnavigation of Madrid. The Paradors are a fabulous way to see the “real” Spain and there are lots to choose from. With this type of break you can make of it what you want to. Busy or laid back and chilled, the choice is yours.