Nick Inman offers some hints on where to stay in Spain.
Finding a hotel in Spain is no problem, but finding somewhere you'd want to stay can be. Spain has never been known for the sort of ubiquitous, charming, inexpensive, family-run hotel that you find in France and Italy. Many cities and the coastal resorts are still dominated by 60s and 70s high rise hotels, familiar to package-holidaymakers.
However, dramatic changes over the last decade have left Spain with a range of good accommodation which few foreign visitors ever become aware of. Apart from mountain refuges - spartan huts for climbers in remote areas - youth hostels provide the cheapest lodging. Some of them, however, are only open during the summer. A more unusual place to experience communal life is in a monastery or convent. Some of these are run as fully-fledged hotels but a few still ask only for la voluntad - what you wish to pay.
An exciting development in recent years has been the proliferation of rural bed-and-breakfasts. These go by different names in different regions - casa rural (Andalucia, Navarre), casa de labranza (Cantabria), casa de pages (Catalonia) and so on. The best of them are deep in the countryside, far from the famous sights. Finding out about them can be difficult as they are organized regionally rather than nationally, and most information is published only in Spanish.
Meanwhile, the small hotel section is booming. Once, the only small hotels in Spain were roadside pensiones with threadbare rooms, thin walls and a noisy bar on the ground floor. Now there are all sorts of unique hotels in places of great natural beauty, or historic towns which have been protected as sites of national heritage. Invariably these are decorated with flair and run as if the guests mattered. Prices range enormously from the easily affordable to the ultraluxurious. At the top of the hotel scale are the usual international brand hotels but also a handful of old-fashioned classic hotels which trade on their history and associations with the rich and famous, as much as on their comfort and service.
In a category apart are Spain's famous paradores, much written about and familiar to any independent visitor to Spain not traveling on a shoestring. They come in two types: restored castles and convents, or modern buildings placed in privileged locations.
Getting descriptive information on places to stay in Spain is not easy. Forget the official classification system which which unhelpfully defines hotels according to such things as room size or number of lifts rather than quality. There are a few good hotel guides in Spanish, but the range in English is limited and most do not cover enough hotels, do not update regularly enough to make them reliable, or, worse, charge hoteliers for inclusion, compromising their criteria.
Nick Inman is editor of Charming Small Hotel Guides Spain.
Photograph by J D Dallet
See also: "Where to Stay" by Nick Inman.
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