Where to Stay
by Nick Inman ([email protected])

In 1990 I was commissioned to contribute to a guide to the charming small hotels of Spain. The brief was to find around 200 hotels of thirty rooms or less which worth driving out of your way to stay in. They had to be special in some way as well as being intimate, usually family-run places where as much attention was given to the décor as the service. Even though we stretched the definition to include many paradors (certainly not family-run and often impersonal), larger hotels and hotels which had novelty value but were not really "charming" we struggled to fill the guide.

If I was given the same task today the problem would not be where to look for suitable hotels but which ones to leave out. There are attractive little hotels almost everywhere in Spain and I reckon I could fill three books the size of the original Charming Small Hotels (which, incidentally, is being completely revised this year, 2003).

The quality hotel sector in Spain has exploded; whole new categories of charmingness have emerged and whereas the book shop shelves had barely a decent hotel guide on them (the Guia Oficial de Hoteles is good for telephone numbers, a useful guide to prices but hopeless for finding out how comfortable or welcoming a place is going to be).

When I am looking for somewhere worth staying my starting point is still be the Charming Small Hotels guide. Alastair Sawday’s Special Places to Stay in Spain, created in the wake of Charming Small Hotels, is preferred by some people but I have heard that hoteliers are expected to pay for their entries or be excluded which, if true, would reduce its objectivity.

You don’t need to be a fluent speaker to make sense of the many hotel guides now published in Spanish. These tend to include many more hotels. The equivalent to Charming Small Hotels is the Guia de Pequeños Hoteles con Encanto is independently produced by El País-Aguilar, who now peddle a whole con encanto (charming) series. I also like the annual Campsa guide which also tells you about restaurants. I’ve never been a fan of Michelin because it takes so much effort to decipher the symbols it uses.

Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing too much research and I have come to rely on a relatively new organisation called Rusticae (www.rusticae.es) that represents and promotes selected hotels of outstanding cuteness and quality. Not all exquisite hotels are handled by Rusticae and there are inevitably geographical gaps in its network but all their hotels are worth driving out of your way for.

Spanish cities are generally lacking in charming hotels and where there are good places to stay they tend to be expensive. Not so the countryside. Over the last decade or so there has been a big drive to promote "green tourism" which has fostered a whole new accommodation industry, that of casas rurales. A casa rural is usually a self-catering village house but the term also can also refer to a bed and breakfast or guesthouse. Casas rurales are organised and promoted regionally (within each comunidad autonoma) rather than nationally and if you know roughly where you want to stay you can start your search by looking at the region’s website. Or else, go to www.allrural.com.

Other websites worth looking at for nice places to stay are www.parador.es (some paradors would still be among my list of top places to stay in Spain), www.estancias.com, www.lugaresdivinos.com and www.hosteriasreales.com (these last three being up-market hotels).

Copyright © 2003 Nick Inman


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