Set on the corner of the main Obradoira Square next to Santiago de Compostela’s famous cathedral, the magnificent Parador de Santiago Compostela (aka Hostal dos Reis Catolicos) was originally built as a hospital and respite in 1499 for the sick and weary pilgrims visiting this Galician capital city. As such, it claims to be the oldest hotel in the world.
Today, its exclusive location and profound past make it one of the most highly regarded of Spain’s network of Paradores (Paradores are Spain’s government -run hotels –often located in restored historical sites). Whenever I’m in Spain, I have to admit these are my favorite places to stay.
At this particular 5-star Parador, guests enter through one of the most beautiful doorways I’ve ever had the pleasure to wheel my suitcase through.
Inside, the check-in desk is more unassuming. Service was polite and professional. After I was checked in and left the busy entrance (many tourists who are not staying here apparently like to take a peek inside—but are not allowed beyond the front desk and lobby area), the Parador’s architectural splendor unfolded. The place is almost like a museum, with many corridors, sitting areas and four cloistered courtyards like lovely secret gardens set within.
Along with an ancient chapel, there are sculptures and artwork throughout; and many wall plaques (in English and Spanish) helpfully explain the history of some of the construction and objects.
Converted to the hotel/Parador in l958, all of the 6 suites and some 120 rooms are air conditioned, with satellite t.v., free wi-fi, and modern bathrooms. Wood floors, heavy and well-constructed dark wood antique furniture, and understated (some might say sparse) décor in the rooms seem to match the historic mood and vibe of this hotel. My room was not huge, nor was it what I would call cozy; but I liked it—with its desk and comfortable bed with a half canopy atop.
Depending on the season, rates can start as low as $102 and go upwards to $358 plus. However, Paradores also always offer discounts for seniors: Golden Days (+55) and the under 30s– Young Getaway; be sure to ask.
Breakfast is included in the rate and it’s a nicely abundant Spanish inspired buffet, served in a sun-filled room. But later in the afternoon, sitting on the hotel terrace with a glass of the refreshing local Albarino wine, was the time I most enjoyed. From this vantage point, there’s a great view over the Praza do Obradoiro and onto the famous cathedral where pilgrims still journey. It’s not uncommon to hear bagpipes wafting over the square either—I heard the lovely sounds often while visiting; they’re one of the most audible manifestations of Galicia’s Celtic roots I was told.
As with all Paradores, the food served in the dining room is the cuisine that is related to the region—and the Parador de Santiago is no different. There are two restaurants here; I dined at Dos Reis, which some say is the finest dining room in Santiago. Located in an amazingly arched and medieval stone-walled cellar (I later learned it was originally the hospital morgue!) Galician-style fish and meat dishes are the regional specialty. I would highly recommend sampling the area’s popular octopus or fish stew.
But do know that Santiago is filled with wonderful food in all sorts of cozy, friendly restaurants, has a superb market that’s fun to explore even if you’re not buying anything, and also sports a vibrant nightlife. One of Spain’s oldest medical schools is located here as well as a university—so it’s definitely not a sleepy, tourist-only filled city.
Obviously, one of the top advantages of staying at the Parador is that you’re not only surrounded by history–and next door to the city’s most stunning Romanesque cathedral–but it also means you’re smack dab in the best location for walking to a majority of these popular spots.
Finally, with no disrespect to St. James—whose remains are what the big hubbub is all about in Santiago de Compostela –-this religion-rich city in northwestern Spain is worth a visit for so much more. Besides its delicious food, there are romantic cobblestoned streets to wander, museums, music and art to admire—and of course, plenty of pastry shops to sample the city’s signature sweet: Tarta de Santiago (“cake of St. James”)—a delicious almond cake with the cross of St. James stenciled in powder sugar atop.
Review by Donna Tabbert Long who was a guest of Paradores de Turismo, S.A. Photos courtesy of Paradores de Turismo, S.A., except where noted.