Last Updated on June 13, 2023

Roman temples, Moorish architecture, and ornate Catholic cathedrals are among the sights to discover along the Spanish Iberian Peninsula. The backroads that meander past flourishing olive groves and sunflower fields lead visitors to small towns with vibrant squares. Carmona, Ronda, and Úbeda all have centuries-old stories mixed with Islamic, Christian, and Jewish history.

In 1910, the Spanish Government created a system of Paradores – state owned hotels essentially – for preserving heritage monuments and properties for travelers. Imagine staying at castles, palaces, fortresses, convents, or monasteries surrounded by ancient architecture.

There are over 90 Paradores across Spain in perfect locations to explore this diverse country.

Parador de Carmona

The Parador De Carmona perches atop a craggy hillside overlooking the Andalusian countryside. Walking into the modernized 14th-century Islamic fortress feels a world apart from Carmona’s white-washed homes. Moorish architecture is evident walking through the double arches onto the property. You’re greeted with azure tiles and decadent furnishings once inside.

Sitting areas feel pulled from Arabian nights with touches of window coverings featuring geometric patterns and ornate lanterns dangling from vaulted ceilings. A terrace overlooking fields resembling patchwork quilts and an inviting swimming pool make the perfect place for an evening cocktail (or two).

Alternatively, you can unwind from the day’s adventures in the tranquil courtyard with a bubbling fountain.

Although the original stonework exists in the parador, the bedrooms are large and filled with modern creature comforts. The carved wood latticework windows in the mashrabiya style open to the outdoors while keeping the room cool.

White and cobalt tiles decorated the stylish bathroom containing a tub-shower combination.

Seville Day Trip

Seville, Spain city skyline at dusk.
Seville, Spain city skyline at dusk. Photo by Deposit Photos.

Carmona is one of Spain’s oldest cities with buildings dating back to the 5th century. It’s easily walkable, and the surrounding region has over 500 archeological sites. Many guests journey to Seville, about 30 km away.

Seville’s beauty never ceases to amaze.

Elegant gardens filled with bougainvillea, towering palms, and the purple blooms from jacaranda trees encompass narrow cobblestone walkways winding past 2000-year-old plazas. Seville is also home to one of the largest cathedrals in the world and architectural gems such as the Plaza de Espana from the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929.

Parador de Ronda

Sunset view from Parador de Ronda.
Sunset view from Parador de Ronda. Photo by Julie Suman

A dramatic 350-feet-deep gorge divides the city of Ronda into the medieval old town, La Cuidad, and the “newer,” 15th century El Mercadillo quarter. The graceful 18th-century Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) spans the Guadalevín River below, joining the city’s two sides.

The Parador de Ronda is perfectly positioned for panoramic views of these magnificent cliff faces.

Ronda’s Town Hall was converted into the sunny Parador de Ronda. The spacious and contemporary bedrooms incorporate patios or balconies complete with lounge chairs. Imagine sipping your summer wine and watching the sunset on stunning vistas.

With its covered patio, the first-floor bar invites guests to gather and enjoy Ronda’s scenery.

The parador’s flare for gastronomy shows in the dining room with Andalusian flavors like bull’s tail stew (oxtail stew). Breakfast includes a generous buffet with fresh squeezed orange juice, Spanish ham, cheeses, fresh fruit, and yogurts. Custom omelets and breakfast churros rounded out the morning’s meal.

Exploring Ronda

The largest bullfighting area, Plaza de Toros de Ronda, is near Parador de Ronda. Bullfighting originated in 18th century Ronda and inspired Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon.”

Beyond the arena, take a walking tour through La Cuidad past Moorish homes with wrought-iron balconies covered with billowing flowers.

Be sure to spend an evening at the Guitar House for a rousing concert with Spanish guitar.

Parador de Úbeda

Renaissance buildings abound in Úbeda. The Parador de Úbeda, a 16th-century palace, is located in the heart of this UNESCO World Heritage City. Hernando Ortego, dean of Malaga Cathedral and head chaplain of the Holy Chapel of El Salvador, commissioned the palace as his private residence next to the chapel.

The 36-room parador revolves around a two-story columned courtyard. A stone staircase flanked with handcrafted wrought iron and knight’s armor leads guests to the second floor. A glass lamp formed into a two-headed eagle representing imperial Spain’s emblem guides the way.

Renaissance décor in the guest rooms creates the feeling of living in a medieval castle. Soft drapes with dragon-shaped finials balance the cozy bed’s opulent wooden headboards.

Sinagoga Del Agua

Spring Synagogue of Water.
Spring Synagogue of Water. Photo by Julie Suman

The Sinagoga Del Agua (Synagogue of Water) is a must see in Úbeda. This 14th-century synagogue remained hidden until 2007. During the construction of new apartments, arches and the Women’s Gallery indicated the presence of a Jewish synagogue. A mezuzah was found in the basement debris.

The original beamed ceilings have been preserved on the upper level. As you go deeper into the building, you’ll find fresh spring wells and the Mikveh, a bath ritual for purification. The purification bath located deep in the basement existed for 6,000 years during the Neolithic period.

The synagogue’s discovery was a surprise as there was no indication of a presence for the Jewish faith here after the Sephardic Jews were forced into Catholicism or expelled from Spain in 1492. A building bearing the symbol of a Spanish Inquisitor was located right next to the synagogue.

The hidden space continued as a secret place of worship for those who remained, but were forced into a new religion.

The backroads of Iberia lead to many enlightening discoveries. The ancient buildings and interplay of religion open one’s mind to the history of the world. The Spanish Paradores enrich this experience.

Author

  • Julie Suman

    Julie Dee Suman is a Maryland-based freelance travel writer and photographer. She has traveled extensively including over 43 countries across 5 continents. In addition to featuring the Mid-Atlantic Region, Julie enjoys destination travel with a focus on nature and wildlife excursions. She is a member of the Travel Writers Café, International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and TravMedia. Julie is also a pharmaceutical scientist and co-editor of Respiratory Drug Delivery. Her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals and trade magazines.

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