Spain’s World Heritage Cities
– and their Paradors –
There are certain cities and places in the world that are so special, so emblematic of a particular kind of cultural wealth and uniqueness – that they have been declared as part of the ‘Heritage of Mankind’ by UNESCO. These places contain an "invaluable and irreplaceable heritage of not only each country, but of Mankind as a whole."
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Spain holds an esteemed position in this regard – as it possesses one of the longest lists of these World Heritage sites of any of the world’s countries.
This list (and the names roll sweet off the tongue – for these are truly special places) include the cities of; Avila, Caceres, Cordoba, Cuenca, Salamanca, Santiago de Compostela, Segovia, and Toledo.
By visiting any of these extraordinary cities, travelers will be immersing themselves in the culture, art , and traditions of ancient peoples and civilizations which continue to flourish today.
Each of these World Hertage Cities contains one of the Spanish Parador system’s fine hotels. These hotels take unusual pride in participating in, and promoting the unique cultural heritage and traditions of these cities. You’ll find no better place to stay during your visit.
This is perhaps the the most ‘Castillian of the cities in this heartland area of Spain – Castilla Y Leon. It is located at the highest altitude of any Spanish capital (and so experiences very cold winters), and also completely surrounded by splendid and perfectly preserved 11th century stone walls. For these reasons perhaps, Avila has an introspective nature, somewhat reserved, somber and medieval.
Two of Spain’s, and Catholicism’s, most famous saints made Avila their home; Santa Teresa (a 16th century mystic nun), and Saint John of the Cross. Avila has many monasteries, convents, and churches – as well as a grand cathedral – and these maintain a feeling of piety and peacefulness that has been many centuries in the making.
The Parador Avila (official name is Parador Raimundo De Borgoñas) presents a wonderful opportunity to literally walk in the footsteps of history.
There still stands an ancient mulberry tree in the gardens of the Avila Parador that was climbed by Saint Teresa when she was a child! This building was a palace known as Piedras Albas in the 16th century. The Parador has floors of solid granite, beautiful decorative elements throughout, antique Castillian furniture in the public rooms, and very pleasant and spacious bedrooms decorated in a rustic style.
Visiting Avila and staying at the wonderful Parador of Avila there gives the traveler a great chance to feel an older era – to get a sense of what a major city in Castillian Spain was like during those ancient times.
This incredibly well preserved "city of stone" got its name during the Moorish control wehn it was know as the place of many citadels – "alcazares" in Arabic.
This city is a jewel of medieval stone architecture. It has one of the most complete and well-preserved Medieval and Renaissance quarters in the world. The Romans founded the city in the 1st century B.C. as Norba Caesarina. The old part of Caceres is encircled by an ancient stone wall. This old section of the city – the "barrio antiguo" – is definitely for walking. A car would only inhibit your explorations.
This is the area of Spain perhaps most reminiscent of the era of the conquistadores and the Golden Age of Spain. Stay for awhile – experience the history and ambience of one of Spain’s finest cities and most interesting hotels.
And there is no better place to stay than the Parador de Caceres. This Parador incorporates the extended area of a former palace, and four ancestral mansions; the Palace of Torreorgaz, and the Casas de Ovando, Mogollon, Pareo y Paredes. It contains labyrinthine passages, quaint ‘hidden’ courtyards, and patios. The Palaces were originally Gothic in architectural style.
The Caceres Parador is located on a very quiet street and provides the traveler with modern accommodations that still blend harmoniously with the medieval city beyond its walls.
This city, along with Granada and Sevilla, embodies the haunting spirit and mystery of the epoch of the Caliphs and the enlightened rule of the Moors which lasted for many centuries. The Mezquita mosque is one of the modern architectural wonders of the world. Only one descriptive word does it justice – "awesome."
Cordoba is more than 2,000 years old – having been founded in the earliest times of Roman rule. The old quarter here is a wonder of winding, white-washed lanes justifiably famous for their many beautifully decorated patios.
Cordoba is Andalucia at it best, and the best place to stay is the wonderful Parador De La Arruzafa which sits in the cooler foothills just outside of, and looking back down over the city.
The Pardor has a distinct feeling of ‘freshness’ and ‘well-being’ that is enhanced by the swimming pool and the surrounding grounds featuring a garden known as ‘Los Naranjos’ (‘The Orange Trees’), where the first palm trees planted in Europe are found. The inner rooms are elegant and very bright, with large living rooms and spacious bedrooms.
This is the city of the famous "hanging houses." These are buildings (originally constructed in the 16th century) that literally cling to the edge of the Huecar river canyon walls – as if ready to take flight out across the river far below.
Cueca is a city of the arts. There are three fascinating art museums here – one of which is installed in one of the famous "hanging houses." Cuenca has an amiable feel. Night time strolling through the city’s old quarter – the so-called "high quarter" (as opposed to the commercial and newer "low quarter") – has a special appeal – as does hiking along the river below the city and gazing back up at the soaring, venerable "skyscrapers" of Cuenca.
The elegant Parador Cuenca is a converted 16th century convent, San Pablo. The Parador is spectacularly located on its own ‘mesa’ rising up from the middle of the Huecar gorge. Many
of the rooms have breathtaking direct views across to the famous "hanging houses." Just a few yards from the Parador, there is a pedestrian only, walking bridge that spans the gorge and crosses over to the center of the old quarter across the canyon gorge.
Frescos and ornate plasterwork are everywhere, and a soothing garden now fills the original cloister. This 4 star hotel assures a remarkable experience, and is, by far, the best choice for lodging while visiting Cuenca.
Salamanca is a visually luscious city. Ever changing hues of color – golden, honey and copper – reflect off the sandstone walls of the scores monumental structures made of the native stone. The Plaza Mayor, the Casa de las Conchas (house of conch shells), and the Plaza de Anaya – among many others – all gather and return the wondrous play of light in this splendid city.
Salamanca is an amber gem. The congruency and perfect "fit" of its stone architecture creates a beauty unsurpassed in any other city in Spain. The Plaza Mayor here is perhaps the grandest in all of Spain. It is the heart – from which the evening paseo radiates out in to the vibrant streets that surround it.
There is a wonderful mix here of the old, and the new – the profound magic of its ancient and proud history counterbalanced by the vitality of the thousands of students that are enrolled at its two great universities.
Staying at the wonderful Parador of Salamanca while visiting this World Heritage City will assure a memorable stay. This classy Parador sits just across the river form the old quarter, and has unmatched views back to the Cathedrals and other monuments.
Santiago de Compostela –
This wondrous city, and its cathedral were at one time the main pilgrimage destination of Europe. Through the centuries, millions of the faithful have faced tremendous hardship to make the long trek here – just to worship in the great Gothic Cathedral that is said to contain the bones of Saint James.
This city is the heart and soul of Galicia. It’s streets take the traveler on an altogether pleasant meander back through time. The city is at once venerable and dynamic. The Plaza Obradoiro is spectacularly grand, and the place to begin your wanderings of this most fascinating city.
The Parador Santiago De Compostela (official name is Parador Hostal Dos Reis Catolicos) is one of the world’s finest hotels – and its oldest! This building has been operating as a hostelery since 1499. The building was originally dedicated as a hostelry and hospital for pilgrims. It became a place for weary pilgrims to sleep and get medical attention after their long ordeal of traversing the Camino de Santiago – The Way of St. James – also called "The Route of Forgiveness."
The Parador Santiago has all the fine touches and attention to detail that distinguish world-class hotels. Your quarters will have marble bathrooms, and heated towel racks add to the elegant feel. The public areas of the hotel include four cloisters of immense beauty and a dining room that can be described in no other way than regal. The ‘signature’ of the building is the intricate Plateresque entry which was added in 1678.
This city has been a melting pot, and retains some of each of the cultures that have contributed to its present form.
Legend has it that the city was founded by Hercules – originally named "Briga." The Romans came over 2000 years ago. It is said they adopted the strong, fast horses used by those original descendants of Hercules, and used them in conquering most of the rest of Europe. The Visigoths and Moors followed the Roman occupation – then came the Christian re-conquest. They’ve all left their marks and helped create a fascinating city in a stunning setting.
Segovia is one of the most interesting and visually pleasing of cities for the visitor. Standing and gazing out from its world-renown castle, one is transported as if to some vaguely-recalled fairytale. Everything about Segovia is mesmerizing and photogenic.
The fine Parador of Segovia is the perfect place to stay for visitors while they are discovering the enchantments of this historically fascinating area of Spain. The Parador building is set on a high hill just outside the city, and has tremendous views back down to the old city below, as well as across to the mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama – appearing to be so close you could seemingly reach out and touch their snowy peaks.
This is a city of great beauty and harmony. Toledo – the Imperial city – was once the capital of Spain. For many, Toledo mesmerizes – it exudes a strangely powerful attraction – dark, claustrophobic and profound. It was the seat of the Spanish Inquisition, the home of the brilliantly disturbed El Greco, and the scene of both vicious and heroic events during the Spanish civil war.
Dignified Toledo is full of splendor and endless surprises for the traveler. It is architecturally and culturally fascinating like few other cities could be. To gaze at Toledo from afar, is to be beguiled and astonished.
For sheer number of important sites for the visitor to visit, Toledo has perhaps no other rival in Spain.
The Parador of Toledo (official name is Parador Conde De Orgaz) is set on a remarkable site, the "Hill of the Emperor," that has unmatched views out over the city below. From the Parador’s terrace restaurant and from many of the rooms, there can be had a panoramic view of the city spread out below. One can see how the grand old city of Toledo is like an island – almost completely encircled by the Tajo river. This has restricted its growth, and for this reason, there is a high concentration of fascinating, centuries-old buildings all within walking distance of one another.
The Toledo Parador building was originally built by the Count of Toledo in the 14th century and is completely Toledan in character. The restaurant serves as a school for the chefs of the other Paradors, and the meals are nothing short of spectacular.
The official name of the Toledo Parador is the "Parador Conde de Orgaz" comes from the famous painting by El Greco – an adopted son of Toledo – titled "The Burial of the Count of Orgaz."
Many travelers make it a point to visit all the these captivating cities during one grand tour around Spain. Few travel itineraries inside one single country – could possibly match it. Whether you can "do them all," or are able to visit only a few of them – you will be richly rewarded.
Spain’s grand World heritage Cities have an ever-lasting allure for travelers, and especially for lovers of Spanish culture. The Paradors as well attract a devoted group of aficionados who would never think of staying anywhere else while traveling through this most historically and culturally fascinating land.
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