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The Route of the Nazrids - three very different Paradors

The Route of the Nazrids - three very different Paradors

Nov 22nd, 2012, 02:50 AM
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Join Date: May 2004
Posts: 7,291
The Route of the Nazrids - three very different Paradors

This was a trip to celebrate, albeit belatedly, our 15th wedding anniversary. After struggling to book via the official Parador website, www.paradors.es for some time without success, I gave up and booked through their appointed representative in London, www.keytel.com. A world of difference! After five minutes chatting to a very knowledgeable chap who had stayed in some of the Paradors on the route, I had booked the 3 night route through Cazorla, Ubeda and Jaen at a price a little below that quoted on the official website. Within, an hour, I had an email confirming the reservation with the voucher for the first nights stay. So easy and refreshingly efficient!

The Route of the Nazrids is loosely based on the route taken by these Moorish princes during their long occupation of the Iberian peninsula. We drove for some 3 hours from our temporary home in Villanueva del Trabuco in Malaga province mostly along deserted autovias to the most distant point of the route, Cazorla. Unfortunately, most of the time we drove in the pouring rain. Not exactly an auspicious start to our trip! It was a pleasure to drive on these virtually empty roads which were in great condition with some incredible views of the Sierra Nevada and other mountain ranges along the way.

We reached Cazorla town in the mid afternoon. Driving down the valley we got our first glimpses of the town which is improbably situated atop a hill with a castle towering above on an even higher hill. The town itself is comprised of some very narrow and extremely steep streets which we attempted to navigate but soon gave up and pressed on tho our Parador for the night which was some 25 kms further on into the national park along some steep and winding mountain roads. Our views of the surrounding mountains were somewhat hampered by the weather although it was clearing a little, providing us with some hope for the next day! We were still impressed though with te limited glimpses we did get of the surrounding landscape.

Eventually we arrived at our Parador for the night, an ex hunting lodge, built in Franco's time. Indeed he reportedly stayed there on a few occasions. At first sight, or indeed at a second viewing, it is not a pretty building. More functional, probably built with the fantastic outlook in mind. The welcome at reception was warm and friendly and we were directed to our room on the first floor. We had not stayed in a Parador before and so were unsure what to expect, although research had indicated that many Paradors are a little frayed around the edges. Our room however, was spacious, clean, warm with some great views. Admittedly, it could do with bait of a sauce up but this did not detract Ian anyway from our enjoyment.

Adjourning to the lounge for pre-dinner drinks, we discovered a roaring log fire, stags heads and suffer animals aplenty, just how a hunting lodge should be! A great place to sit down and relax awhile.

We had booked a half board deal so dinner was included, the menu was varied and included a lot of "cocina regionale" promoting the locally sourced produce, which in the case of this parador, included a lot of game.

Our drive through the Sierra from Cazorla to the pardor took us past a huge herds of goats and sheep crossing the road, a large wild deer, some rabbits and a very strange donkey sized dog with a foxes tail attached to his rear?? Which we were intent on sampling ( apart from the dog!) . We sked for recommendations from the extremely friendly and helpful waiter and virtually went with his suggestions. Our first courses consisted of a rabbit stew and artichoke hearts with Jambon, both were delicious and served in hearty portions. Our main courses were pretty good too, a casserole of wild boar in red wine accompanied by roast potatoes and sweet potatoes was both rich and filling. Carolyn's main of grilled venison fillet was more delicate but equally delicious.

To round off the meal we opted for the staples of ice cream and cheesecake. Nothing outstanding, but perfectly acceptable. All this was washed down with a bottle of the house red which was pretty good for the price ( I only wish I had made a note of the name!)

After a good nights sleep, we awoke to the sunrise blazing in through our bedroom window. A welcome sight after yesterdays rain and clouds. Breakfast was a great array of hot and cold dishes, including the usual Iberico hams, chorizo, morcilla as well as fresh fruit and much more. A great way to start the day.

After all this food we feel the need for some exercise and head off into the hills on one of the trails leading directly from the hotel. We choose the Puerto del Tejo trail, which, according to the signpost is an hours walk there and and an hour back. The walk this morning was an assault on the senses. In the forest along the pathways, the wild thyme, lavender and pines were just so aromatic. We were alone on the trail and, as it was a bit boggy from the previous day, it was easy to spot the hoof prints of a deer which must have followed us or at least at have been pretty close by behind us on the same path without us noticing. We had spotted a few deer on the drive up to the hotel so it is easy to see why venison feature highly on the menu!

It would be great to spend a few days walking the pathways here, spring would be amazing with everything bursting into life again.

The trail takes us up some steep tracks, still a bit muddy in places from yesterdays rain, through the pine forest to the top of the ridge above the Parador. It is. Bit of slog to begin with as we haven't been walking for a while, but we soon get into our stride. As we reach the top of the ridge, the views are simply incredible, all the way across the valley, we could literally see for maybe 30 to 40 kms. At the top, there are several trails which converge with signposts to Cazorla and a few other places which are tempting us back for some more serious walking!

After enjoying the spectacular views for a while, we head back down the trail to the hotel to collect our car and head off to our next destination, the renaissance town of Ubeda. Along the way we get to savour the landscapes and views we missed on the way up because of the weather. This is definitely a beautiful part of Spain and one I am sure we will return to.

The walk loosened up the muscles and seeing so many miles upon miles of olives on the drive here and from the view at the top made us want to learn a lot more about olives, olive oil and the whole processing method. Hopefully, we will be able to find some sort of olive museum or educational facility on our travels.

The scenery is wonderful and this Parador has proved a wonderful experience. So much of interest to see, hear about and experience we loved the 1930's hunting paraphernalia and trivia dotted around the 1960s(?) building and the open fire in the lounge just set the scene off perfectly. We hope to return for a longer stay...
crellston is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2012, 03:33 AM
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Lovely....I have my seatbelt on for the rest of the ride.
ekscrunchy is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2012, 06:17 AM
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Fabulous report, I fasten my seatbelts as well.
kimhe is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2012, 06:47 AM
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Thanks.. Sounds like more awe and wonder to come!!!
amer_can is offline  
Nov 22nd, 2012, 03:36 PM
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Hi crellston
What a trip down memory lane for me! We were at Carzola, Ubeda and Juan (along with Cordoba, Granada and Javea) doing a Parador Tour. We had a wonderful time and enjoyed every minute. Juan was our first Parador and loved the idea of staying in a castle. We also had the half-board and the dining room in that Parador was amazing. Once we arrived there for the night, we didn't leave the castle. Looking forward to more of your report. Thanks.
Colleen is offline  
Nov 24th, 2012, 11:15 AM
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me too, me too.

crellston, i've only ever stayed in one parador, the one in Leon, which is a converted monastery. At the time, cost of the equivalent of £100 was the most we'd ever spent on a night's lodging, and although this was about 25 years ago, I still remember the bliss of sinking into the linen sheets and the very attentive service in the dining room. we were VERY sorry to leave.

i don't know why we haven't stayed in more paradors, over the years.
annhig is offline  
Nov 24th, 2012, 12:17 PM
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Paradors are wonderful experiences and often there are remarkable deals..Santiago de Campestelo was one such..120 Euros for DD and I in Oct,2011..Cardona 135Euros for 3,Oct 2010.. Avila, Cava,,no bed stay as we were going back to Salamanca where the parador is a newer one but good for dinner. Pousadas in Portugal are equally as wonderful if you are in the neighborhood. It is a wonder more people do not take advantage of these accom.
amer_can is offline  
Nov 24th, 2012, 04:33 PM
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Looking forward to the rest . . .


PS Also a Parador lover - we've have stayed at the paradors in Almagro, Granada & Jaen . . . so far . . .
Ian is offline  
Nov 25th, 2012, 12:18 AM
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Many thanks for your kind comments.

As far as costs are concerned, I don't think costs have increased much from annhig's £ 100 of 25 years ago. We paid £400 (€500) for one of the fixed routes. Three nights starting on a Sunday, dinner, bed and breakfast included, seems like excellent value given the quality of the food, and the locations concerned and a big saving on the rack rate.

The next installment:
Ubeda Parador

Leaving the spectacular scenery of the Cazorla National Park we head off to our next stop, the renaissance town of Ubeda. We retrace our route back to Cazorla town, stopping along the way at various points to take in the views. Once over the ridge of the mountains, the natural wilderness of the national park gives way to the staple crop of Andulucia, olives, olives and more olives! As far as the eye can see and, indeed a lot further, the hills are covered with olive groves. As we will later find out there is a great deal of friendly rivalry in this area as to who produces the best. Having been here a while we are now able to determine the difference between the oils of each area, the various qualities etc. and can now begin to understand why certain Spanish gourmets treat these oils like fine wines (although it is harder to comprehend the price differential between the oils here and back home in the UK - I can only assume that the importers must fly each bottle back in Business Class, such is the mark up!)

Reaching Cazorla town, we decide to take a detour up through the town to take a look at the castle perched high on the hill overlooking the town. Big mistake! These roads were clearly not designed for the car. A donkey would struggle in some places. Having had a few near misses with parked cars and walls around the steep and very narrow, cobbled streets we decide that the exterior view of the castle from the hills outside of town are probably the most impressive after all and we carry on our journey to Ubeda.

The roads here are pretty good but the stretch between Cazorla and Ubeda is still in the process of being upgraded to a two lane highway/ autovia. As a consequence we will be driving along very nice straight roads one minute and then, without warning we happen across some traffic cones and switch onto the old roads for maybe 200m and then back to autovia this is repeated time and again for around 30 km - apparently, all roads development has ceased as a result of the economic crisis here. All very concerning.

Arriving in Ubeda, at first sight, it is not a pretty town, but to be fair, it has grown a lot since the 8th century when it was occupied by the moors for several centuries. Driving thought the outlying areas, we soon pick up signs for the Parador ( thankfully, always well marked!). Once into the old town, we are immediately impressed, surely this must be one of the most well preserved renaissance towns in Spain and possible Europe. Our Parador is set in a former palace in a square, in the heart of the old town right next to a beautiful church. The facade is mellow, honey coloured stone is impressive to say the least. We enter through the main doors into a cloistered courtyard, now covered with a glass roof and which now forms the lounge area of this parador. Around the walls there are various displays outlining the history of the palace, a sort of living museum. This is one of the most impressive public areas in an older hotel that I have encountered anywhere. It really is like stepping back in time.

We found the reception area tucked away in a room in one corner of the courtyard/ lounge. We checked in but unfortunately the welcome we received was not the warm hospitable one we had received in Cazorla the day before. I was almost as though we had disturbed the siesta of the two guys behind reception. It seemed that everything was just a little too much trouble. I had read comments about this sort of service standard at some Paradors on TA but really had not placed to much credence in them. It seems I was wrong!

We were shown to our room on the first floor just off the main balcony area overlooking a smaller courtyard internally and the church externally. The room itself could have done with a little TLC but was basically OK. Quite spacious with very high ceilings and a spacious bathroom. We had a small balcony which overlooked the church next door. Standing on the balcony we were greeted by a peal of bells to mark the quarter hour ( we were right next to the bell tower!) fingers crossed that the bells don't ring all through the night! Essentially, the room was much what we would have imagined it to be like staying in a renaissance palace, albeit not the most honoured guests! Worthy of note was the floor which seemed to be, if not original, then a very old and quite intricate tiled pattern. Indeed, the whole parador seems to have been restored in such a way as to retain as many of the original features as possible.

Having settle into our room we decide to head out into the town the explore, take a few photographs and maybe browse some of the many artisan shops we had read about. Unfortunately, we had not noticed that it was still siesta time and everything was closed! Never mind, it was quiet and a great time to take a few photos without the people around.

After wandering around for an hour or so we head back to the hotel before venturing out in the early evening in search of some pre prandial drinks. This time, the few shops around were open but search as we might, we could not find a single bar open. There were plenty of bars around the old town a but their doors were firmly closed with no indication of being about to open. It seems that we had arrived in Ubeda and it was closed for the season! Eventually we arrive back at our hotel and head down to the bar in the basement for a drink in the bar. A nice area, we immediately wished we hadn't bothered leaving the building! A unique feature of the bar is the " working well" in the bar. Aparently, in days gone by some bright spark diverted a nearby stream to run through the cellar so the palace could have fresh water.

The barman was really friendly and a refreshing change from his colleagues in reception. We order a couple of beers which are delivered with a smile, a chat and some peanuts, shortly followed by some unexpected tapas of morcilla "burgers" - delicious.

Dinner was served in the dining room, an extension built, i think in the 1970s which was not exactly in keeping with the rest of the hotel. We decided upon their tapas menu which included 5 hot, 5 cold tapas and a main course and postre. The tapas were generally good, some really good, one or two not really to my taste, but that Was clear from the menu descriptions. What was really not to my taste was the main course of pork fillet in a sweet wine sauce. I had missed the "sweet" part of the description and, as I really do not have a sweet tooth, this was a big mistake as this was the sweetest sauce I had ever tasted! I am sure other may have enjoyed it but to me it was just like eating meat with chocolate sauce.

I did, however enjoy the dessert with the chocolate just where it should be, in the cheesecake.. The service in the restaurant was exemplary, but then it was delivered by the two barmen rather than the reception staff!

We had a good nights sleep and thankfully our regarding the bells were ill founded as they did not ring until 8.00am and as alarm clocks go, this one was pretty special.

We checked out at reception and encountered much the same attitude as we did on check in. Shame really but there you go. I wofuld return to Ubeda as it is an exceptionally pretty town, at least in the old part, but next time I think I might try one of the other hotels in the old town. Onwards now to the parador in a castle atop a hill in Jaen...
crellston is offline  
Nov 25th, 2012, 10:24 PM
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We stayed at Ubeda and Jaen 2 years ago. Also, Granada. The parador experience is fun.
travelgirl2 is offline  
Nov 26th, 2012, 02:19 AM
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A reminder to all to become friends of the Paradors" as you will receive free parking and also a welcome drink every time you stay.
lincasanova is offline  
Nov 26th, 2012, 09:22 AM
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lincasanova..Good point but there are many more benefits to being a friend as new friends will find out and old friends enjoy!!! This dimension of Spinish travel (and Portugal Pousadas) is well worth the computer clink to join!!!
amer_can is offline  
Nov 28th, 2012, 02:11 AM
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Jaen Parador

Leaving Ubeda, we head off to Jaen, the capital of the province. Jaen is quite a big city and the centre of industry and commerce in the region. It is yet another city set in a spectacular location on the edge of a valley up against a range of mountains. On the top of one, overlooking the town is our Parador for the night right next door to the 8th century moorish castle, surely one of the most spectacular locations for a hotel anywhere in Spain? Our main problem will be finding it! Unfortunately,, whilst the parador website has lots of information, it is mostly about food and history and a bit light on the practical stuff like directions.

After a few wrong turns, we eventually find ourselves following the signs on the right road to to the castle along, as you would expect, some steep and winding roads rising out of the town into parkland and, eventually, the castle and hotel grounds. We get out of the car and marvel at the views of the mountains and the town below.

Again, there is another impressive hotel entrance. I am not sure when this parador was built, but it seems to be a new addition to the castle. A relatively small reception area this time leads through to a dual level lounge area and then to a corridor, along which is our room. Not quite so impressive as the two previous rooms, our is still nice and spacious with a balcony overlooking the mountains. Time enough for the room later so we wander off to explore the hotel, it's grounds and the castle. The hotel itself is very impressive. Although, I imagine, a relatively new addition, it is exactly how I would imaging a castle to be. We head a long corridor with a very highly polished floor around 50-70 metres long, which is impressive in itself. This leads into a small bar area which, in turn, leads on to another spectacular lounge/ function area. This is a huge square room with a huge brick high arched ceiling with giant fireplaces at either end - really impressive.

Outside, we walk through the car park directly into the castle grounds. We decide to leave the castle itself for later and walk along the castle walls to the end where there is a large white cross on a viewing platform offering spectacular views of the town below and across the valley for many miles to, I imagine, Ubeda. It is around 1.30 by now and we are surprised by the noise this far up coming up from the city below. Gradually the noise subsides ( it is now coming up to siesta time!) until it become really quiet. We walk back to the entrance to the castle to have a look around, forgetting one important factor, it's siesta time! It is of course closed! Nothing for it but to go back to the room for a siesta (if you can't beat them....). Unfortunately, the castle does not reopen until the following day.

That night we take our pre dinner drinks in the impressive lounge area adjoining the bar before moving into the, very castle like, restaurant. Great service from the waiters and even better food.

I started with goat, one of my favourites since living in Sierra Leone where it is a staple, Carolyn had scrambled eggs (huevos revueltos) with Jambon, salt cod and lots of other good stuff. As it was our last night we elected to go off the table d'hôte menu and chose the roast suckling pig. Possibly not for the squeamish as it is probably too much like the real thing for some, but this was really the best pork I have tasted in a very long time! The last time I had suckling pig was in Le Gavroche, Michel Roux Jnr's 2 michelin star restaurant in London and this was certainly on a par with that. This was lot of food so I opted for a dessert of green apple and mandarin sorbet which too, was excellent.

After dinner we took a walk back along the castle walls for a night-time view of the city, possibly even more impressive at night. Also the castle is lit up at night which must be some sight from the town below.

Breakfast was back in the dining room which was lit by some of the biggest chandeliers I have ever seen. Just the sort of place you could imagine a medieval banquet taking place. We notice some flyers advertising a New Year's Eve event here. I can hardly imagine a more memorable location to see in the new year.

After breakfast we hit the castle, unfortunately just at the same time as two big tour groups. It is not as big as expected but thankfully has not been restored to some sort of theme park. We manage to dodge the tour groups and have look around and it is very interesting to imagine how life must have been back in the days when it was actually used as a fortress.

Jaen Parador is undoubtedly in one of the most spectacular settings of any hotel anywhere. Unfortunately, that location tends to discourage one from venturing out to explore the rest of town and most people seemed to stay in the hotel once there.

Apart from a negative experience with the reception staff at Ubeda our Overall impressions of our Parador trip are that it was an excellent experience and good value for money, particularly opting for one of the 3 day "routes" starting on a Sunday. These operate year round with certain exceptions for public holidays etc. and offer really good discounts from the rack rate. The half board option seems a good deal given the quality of the food. OK , a slight negative is that some of the places we stayed at we at are a little worn around the edges and could do with some TLC in places but in some respects, this just adds to the charm. Apart from the experience mentioned above Service standards are generally good, the waiting and bar staff were friendly, helpful and efficient. As always, the ultimate test is" would we do it again?" In this case the answer is a resounding yes!
crellston is offline  
Nov 28th, 2012, 02:15 AM
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crellston - thanks for reminding me how much I enjoy spain. [to be fair, Ira and marigross have been doing the same thing as well, in their recent threads].

just too many lovely places to visit, and not enough time!
annhig is offline  
Nov 28th, 2012, 02:55 AM
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De nada annhig! Off to Sevilla next week..
crellston is offline  

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