IF YOU’RE planning to head abroad when you collect your pension and unsure where to set up home, we’d recommend you come to Spain – naturally. But you don’t need to listen to us; magazine’s 2019 ‘Best Places...
A place to stay in Spain: Bubble, cube, castle, monastery or tree-house?
WHEN is a hotel not a hotel? When it's a bubble, a cave or a castle, naturally.
Or perhaps a prison.
Even though our priorities when picking a place to stay are usually along the themes of free wi-fi, central location, decent room service, and so on, a hotel doesn't have to be just a bed for the night, however luxurious.
If you want to add a touch of quirkiness to your holiday that the usual chains can't offer, Spain has a whole catalogue of options ranging from 'just wow' to just plain weird.
Capture the castle
If it's historic splendour you're after, look no further than Spain's nationwide network of Paradores – a State-owned chain of 97 unique, very individual hotels set in stunning, stately buildings. Hand-picked for their heritage value, historical significance and amazing architecture, very few make the grade but those which do are highly sought-after. The first Parador out of the 97 was the Gredos hotel in the centre-northern province of Ávila, in an ancient palace, and which triggered the whole thing 90 years ago. Many are set in castles – like the Parador de Cardona, built into the 9th-century fortress of the same name; the eponymous Parador in Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca province, in the 14th-century Enrique II Castle; the Carlos V Castle in Fuenterrabía in the Basque province of Guipúzcoa; the 9th-century Lorca Castle in the Region of Murcia; the Parador de Alarcón in an eight-century castle on top of a mountain in the province of Cuenca...and that's just a few picked at random.
Other Paradores are based in old convents, including the 17th-century Rosario Convent in Lleida, Catalunya and the huge San Marcos Convent in the city of León, which is a tourist attraction in itself. Two are built in monasteries - the San Pedro de Villanueva Monastery in Cangas de Onís and the San Juan Bautista Monastery in Corias, Asturias – plus a handful in palaces, and even one in a church. The Jesús Nazareno Order building in Mérida, Extremadura, started life as a convent in the early 18th century, but later became a parish church – until the State was forced to sell off huge swathes of its Holy assets to pay its debts in the grim 19th-century economic crisis known as the Desamortización.
And if you stay there, your check-out receipt upon leaving will literally be your get-out-of-jail card: after the church was sold off, it served as the local prison until 1933 when it took in its first paying 'inmates'.
Living in a bubble
Slap-bang in the centre of a field of wheat in the Bardenas nature reserve near Tudela in the northern region of Navarra, the Hotel Aire de Bardenas lets you spend your holiday on the moon. Literally. The lunar landscape of the reserve provides the perfect backdrop, the stoney patio adds authenticity, and you can choose between a box or a bubble as your 'space station'.
Here, you can actually stay in a self-contained, ball-shaped room with a glass roof that gives you the illusion of sleeping under the stars and which, by night from the outside, could easily be a spaceship on the moon. They're pretty large, too – you'd be amazed at how much 'space' a bubble's interior can provide you with.
Be there or be square
The Aire de Bardenas has cube-shaped rooms, or you could head to southern Aragón and one of Spain's most beautiful and most rural provinces and claim your Consolación prize. Scattered throughout the pine-covered mountains, complete with ornate molten-iron fireplaces, elegant slate flooring and splendid bathrooms, the 10 'cubes' with their glass fronts for a full view and flood of sunshine at the Hotel Consolación in Monroyo, Teruel open out onto giant hanging covered patios.
When you're ready to cave in
You don't have to go as far as the exotic rock formations of Capadoccia in Turkey to sleep in a cave on your holidays. Just pop down to Guadix, Granada province and find your perfect hole in the wall from as little as €16 per person per night. Inside, they're comfortable and modern, but with oodles of character, and the caves for rent in this sleepy village on the north face of the Sierra Nevada are built right into the mountain with grass growing over their roofs. They're warmer and cosier than you think – and lots of locals live in them, too.
Barking up the right tree
Bring out your inner seven-year-old with a getaway in a tree-house. Four wooden cabins nestled up high between the branches, swathed in leaves – so no danger of being watched – are perfect for big kids and little ones alike. Each has its own running water and basin, and – now you've really heard everything – a biodegradable bathroom that can be recycled as compost. Three of the cabins have their own patios up in the trees where you're guaranteed a splendid view of the stunning countryside in Zeanuri, in the Basque province of Bizkaia, the capital of which is Bilbao. Two of the cabins hold the honour of being the highest hotel rooms in Europe, at 17 metres (55'10”) above ground.
Despite this, room service certainly isn't lacking: once the birdsong has awoken you, breakfast will be delivered to your door in a basket via a pulley system.
The name? Exactly what it says on the tin – Hotel Cabañas en los Árboles ('Cabins in the Trees Hotel').
But they may not be ideal for vertigo sufferers: the tree-houses are reached via a spiral staircase wrapped around the trunk. Hold on tight and don't look down.
Bivouaks and rope-and-canvas affairs are so 20th-century. Get with the programme and go 'glamping' instead – all the luxury of a smart hotel, but in a tent. Already a regular option at many music festivals, especially in the UK, 'glamping' (that's a witty combination of 'glamorous' and 'camping', for the uninitiated) is spreading to Spain at last. And the great news is, the location couldn't be more picturesque. Deep in the heart of the pine-coated Sierra de Bèrnia mountains near Jalón (Alicante province), a landscape made up of giant 'steps' in the hillside for olive and almond trees to grow on (think of the 'rice steps' in China and northern Vietnam, but with Mediterranean foliage), way off-grid but, in practice, barely a 20-minute drive to civilisation and to some of Spain's most stunning, sun-drenched beaches, the Refugio Marnes, in the tiny hamlet of the same name, is a glorious retreat where you'll be (and feel) far from the madding crowd, but can join it again very quickly if all that silence starts to get to you. As well as 'glamping', you can stay in a renovated stable, in a 'ruined' house (ruined on the outside, very comfortable on the inside), or in an old farm building. If it's winter sun you're after, January and February are idyllic in the Sierra de Bèrnia and nearby Vall de Pop, often referred to as the 'Jalón Valley' – this is when the almonds are in bloom, and the landscape becomes a sea of strawberry-milkshake-coloured flowers which smell simply delicious.
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