Paradores: the historic luxury hotels of Spain

Spain, spain, extremadura, Extremadura
Spain is known for its rich history, fine art, and excellent cuisine. By staying at a government-owned Parador, you can get all three right in your hotel.

Just look at this shot by Michael Stallbaum . This castle in Zafra, Extremadura, dates to 1437 and was once home to a duke. It’s the sort of place where you’d expect to pay a few euros, get your ticket stamped, and line up for the guided tour. Actually it’s a hotel with luxurious rooms, a restaurant, a garden, and a pool! It stands in the center of a beautiful and old town and right next to a sumptuous Renaissance church.

The Paradores of Spain offer luxury accommodation in some of Spain’s most historic and popular cities, many of which, like Cáceres and Mérida, are World Heritage Sites. In Extremadura, Spain’s historic southwest, there are seven. Besides Zafra, there are Paradores in Guadalupe (in a 15th century hospital), Jarandilla (15th century castle), Plasencia (15th century convent), and Trujillo (16th century convent), Mérida and Cáceres.

When I visited Mérida with my family, we stayed at a Parador housed in an 18th century convent. A lofty chapel is now a lounge and activities room, and an interior courtyard has columns from Roman times. I’m not sure what conditions were like for the nuns two hundred years ago, but our room had comfortable beds and all the usual amenities. The staff were very friendly and helpful. Don’t worry if your Spanish isn’t up to snuff; Paradores always have people on staff who can speak English and other languages.

The popular destination Cáceres has one of Spain’s older Paradores, a 14th century palace built atop Arab foundations. Much of the interior is original, including the grand mantelpiece in the lounge. It’s currently being refurbished and will reopen April 15.

While I’ve concentrated on the Paradores of Extremadura here, you can find more all over the country. Probably the best and certainly the most popular is the one in Granada, housed in a 15th century convent on the site of the famous Alhambra. This Moorish palace is one of the architectural wonders of the world with its quiet gardens, burbling fountains, and intricately carved marble. The best time to go is on the full moon, when the marble glows with an ethereal light. Book WAY in advance for this one.

Another plus with staying in a Parador is that most have excellent restaurants. There’s usually a formal restaurant and a bar that serves light meals and tapas. They tend to attract a lot of the local population, which is always a good sign.

Guys, a word of warning. My girlfriend took me to the Parador in Sigüenza. Now anybody who follows my work knows I’m a sucker for castles, and the combination of staying in a 12th century castle and a bottle of fine Spanish wine made me pop the question. I think it was a plot.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Exploring Extremadura, Spain’s historic southwest

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The Oberoi Mumbai reopens tomorrow

Luxury digs are coming back to Mumbai. The Oberoi is set to reopen tomorrow, following a substantial renovation and restoration. The atrium lobby stretches 14 storeys high, features white Thassos marble and serves as the gateway to 287 guestrooms and suites. Ziya is the hotel’s new Indian specialty restaurant and offers the creations of Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia. Other dining options include Fenix (world cuisine) and Vetro, which has Italian dishes. If you’re looking for wine, this is the place to go, with more than 1,200 bottles from which to choose.

Mr. P.R.S. Oberoi, Chairman, The Oberoi Group said, “We are pleased to re-open The Oberoi, Mumbai. We look forward to welcoming guests to the hotel which has been completely renovated to offer the highest standards of facilities as expected at all hotels of The Oberoi Group; this will be complemented by personalized and gracious service extended by our well-trained and dedicated staff.”

Now, be ready to write a big check. Rates start at $700 a night for a luxury room, but you’re worth it … right?

Daily Pampering: Spend Valentine’s Day at Turtle Island in Fiji

There’s only one way to go to Fiji: Turtle Island. The Valentine’s Day deal from this luxury resort is nothing short of incredible. Book five nights in paradise, and you’ll get two more nights free … in beachfront accommodations in a two-room “bure.” And, all meals are covered, including any romantic lunches you want to enjoy on the beach — they’ll be packed to order! The other activities are covered, as well, including sport fishing and SCUBA diving, and once you’re finished exerting yourself, you can relax with two one-hour lomi-lomi (that’s four-handed) massages.

The Turtle Island resort has 14 private beaches, five-star gourmet dining … and those lomi-lomi massages, along with other spa treatments. Personal “bure mamas” will attend to all your needs as you sip top-shelf liquors and champagnes. Only 14 couples are allowed in Turtle Island at a time … one for each private beach!

Here’s where it gets really interesting: if you book by March 31, 2010, you can travel any time by Valentine’s Day in 2011.

Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Seven new hotels around the world from Fairmont in 2010

This year promises to be exciting for fans of the Fairmont. New properties are set to open in London, China and many other cities, each with a distinct style. There’s no question that the Fairmont has the art and science of hospitality mastered, so these new properties are going to be exciting to watch.

1. The Savoy
With a design nodding toward Edwardian and Art Deco, the hotel reopens after a restoration program costing more than GBP100 million. The property has 268 guestrooms and a new luxurious Royal Suite. The Savoy Grill is going to come back … under the management of Gordon Ramsay Holdings. Look for the doors to swing open in the second or third quarter of this year.

2. Fairmont Peace Hotel
This Shanghai landmark will reopen in the second quarter of this year, with 269 guestrooms over 12 floors. The hotel faces the Pudong area over the Hangpu River, making it a great spot.

3. Makkah Clock Royal Tower
The Makkah will open in Saudia Arabia in the third quarter, where it will be the focal point of the Abraj Al Bait Complex. With 858 rooms, there will be plenty of space near Masjid al Haram, the Islamic holy site. The hotel stretches 76 stories high and will be the world’s tallest upon completion. The Makkah opens in the third quarter.4. Fairmont Pacific Rim
The 377-room luxury property will open this quarter in Vancouver and will include 175 residential condos. The property will be near the ocean, with great views, and the Willow Stream Spa and Fitness Center will make a commitment wellness easy to maintain. The Pacific Rim is scheduled for a first quarter opening.

5. Fairmont Pittsburgh
The new hotel, with 185 rooms, is intended for LEED certification, demonstrating Fairmont’s commitment to corporate social responsibility. Look for a mix of environmental concern and palpable luxury … and easy access to theater, entertainment and financial districts. Look for this property to open in the first quarter of this year.

6. Fairmont Beijing
Located close to The Forbidden City, the 222-room Fairmont Beijing is a solid location for visitors who worry about being intimidated by the scope of the city. After you’ve experienced the excitement of China’s capital, head back to the Willow Stream spa to have your muscles rubbed back to normal. The Fairmont Beijing is going through a soft opening already.

7. Fairmont Zimbali Resort
Enjoy views of the Indian Ocean from this South African resort, which is tucked between a forest reserve and the sea. The 154-room hotel is intimate and infused with luxury. Look for it to open in the first quarter. This property is scheduled to open in the second quarter.

[Photo courtesy of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts]

Five new Los Cabos hotels: some open, some coming soon

Last year was a busy one for the tourism business in Los Cabos, Mexico. Despite the unmistakable impact of the H1N1 swine flu virus on the region’s action in the spring and summer, there were plenty of exciting developments, including the opening of five new hotels. You now have plenty of choices when you head out to Los Cabos, which just happens to be a great place to unwind.

1. Barcelo Los Cabos Palace Deluxe
The Barcelo’s doors opened in December 2009, and San Jose del Cabo will never be the same. The resort has 626 luxurious suites, ranging in size from 1,125 square feet to 2,168 square feet … but this just doesn’t compare to the 34 swim-up suites. There are three pools on the property, covering more than 50,000 square feet, and a water park specifically for children. The spa has 16 private treatment cabins and a hydrotherapy room. So, the all-inclusive, all-suite resort is designed to impress.

2. Zoëtry Casa del Mar
There are only 42 suites at the hacienda-style beachfront boutique … and the hotel is designed to make sure the spectacular Pacific sunset is in full view from across the resort. The resort has been open since the first day of December, and it’s main draw might have something to do with the exceptionally large suites with Jacuzzis, Rivolta bedding and private balconies. Access to the Cabo Real Golf Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., probably doesn’t hurt.

3. Capella Pedregal
Open since July, the Capella Pedregal has 66 rooms and residences in its Cabo San Lucas Marina location. Enjoy amazing views of the Sea of Cortes and the Pacific Ocean from this resort, which occupies 24 acres of mountainside and oceanfront property. If there’s a view you want, chances are you’ll find it at the Capella.

4. Sirena del Mar (coming in 2010)
This Welk Resort property consists of seven acres of luxury, high on the cliffs above Cabo San Lucas. Every villa has an oceanfront view, and you’ll be able to see whales from December through March. Located in the middle of downtown Cabo San Lucas, you’ll have easy access to the city and nightlife, but it won’t be hard to beat a retreat back to unparalleled comfort and seclusion.

5. Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa (coming in 2011)
The latest venture from Solmar Hotels & Resorts, the Grand Solmar Land’s End Resort & Spa is planning to fuse old world architecture with modern style.