January 14, 2019
Parador de Gredos: a Luxury Hotel in the Spanish Mountains

Parador de Gredos: a Luxury Hotel in the Spanish Mountains

January 14, 2019
sierra parador gredos travel outfit winter spain luxury hotel
Parador de Gredos is a luxury hotel in Sierra de Gredos mountain range. It's located near the town of Navarredonda de Gredos. This is the first Parador ever created and opened its doors in 1928. This former hunting lodge and inn established by king Alfonso XIII, is the perfect starting point for hikes and excursions to unique spots such as Puerto del Pico -one of the best preserved Roman roads in Spain-, Laguna Grande de Gredos -a mountain pool- or Cinco Lagunas- a beautiful cirque. It's also close to historic towns like Arenas de San Pedro.

We chose this Parador to spend the first days of 2019 and today I'm going to tell you all about our trip. Let's find out what you can do, see and eat in Sierra de Gredos. It surely is one of the best experiences you can have in Spain.
parador gredos sierra decor luxury hotel spain
parador gredos sierra room habitacion luxury hotel spain
parador gredos sierra room habitacion luxury hotel spain
DAY 1
Breakfast in Paradores is by far our favorite compared to any other hotel we've ever been to. There's a wide variety of products and the quality is excellent. Home made cakes baked daily, fresh fruit, a vast array of cheese and cold meat... Plus, they always include a few things that are typical of the area. A copious breakfast is very much needed when you spend a day in the mountains.

Our plan for the day was to visit Arenas de San Pedro. The only way to get there is a winding road so be prepared if you suffer from car sickness. The 39 km will take you 43 minutes but the landscape is totally worth it. We stopped several times to take photos from vantage points. The town of Arenas de San Pedro is known for its cultural and historical heritage, and for Cuevas del Aguila, one of the marvels of El Tietar Valley where you can see stalactites and stalagmites.
valle tietar puerto pico sierra gredos avila
The first thing we did was taking a tour of the Medieval Castle. Oddly enough, the castle is in the middle of the town instead of being isolated on top of a mountain. Then, we saw the very well preserved medieval bridge and finally we reached the highest point in town from which you get lovely views of it, Palacio del Infante Don Luis de Borbon. The palace is neglected which made me feel really sad because the building is a lovely neoclassic building which could be beautiful if they took good care of it. At 1pm we started hearing Christmas carols, they are heard all around town for one hour every day. It was a wonderful moment: breath-taking views of the town in front of us, the sun keeping us warm and listening to Christmas songs...
arenas san pedro bridge puente medieval avila valle tietar sierra gredos
palacio infante arenas san pedro valle tietar sierra gredos avila
We had lunch at El Marquesito. We had taken a quick look at TripAdvisor and it came up as the #1 restaurant in Arenas de San Pedro. The sign on the door says "cooking with love feeds the soul", just with that first impression we knew we had chosen wisely. The place is like a life-size doll house with floral wall-papers in pastel colors. The ambiance makes you feel as if you were at your grandma's house eating a good old home-cooked meal. The staff was kind enough to find us a table even though the restaurant was full and we didn't have a reservation. The food was good, traditional and tasty. We had the 15€ menu which was well worth the price.
marquesito restaurant arenas de san pedro avila sierra gredos
Our next stop was Candeleda. The place is famous for typical houses with wood beams on their facade, similar to Tudor houses. Unfortunately, the town was a disappointment. We could only find one spectacular house. A few years ago we visited La Alberca and Mogarraz in Sierra de Francia which are far more beautiful and have many of those houses.
candeleda avila spain flower pot house wood beams casa macetas sierra gredos
It's worth stopping at Rio Pelayos on the (winding) road between Arenas de San Pedro and Candeleda. Picture this: trees covered in moss, a stone bridge, water flowing..., the landscape is stunning.
rio pelayos sierra gredos valle tietar avila
On our way back we stopped at one of Arenas de San Pedro's landmarks, Saint Peter's Sanctuary (Santuario de San Pedro) where they had an exhibition of nativity scenes from all around the world. The exhibition won't be back till next Christmas but it's totally worth it. The nativity scenes are influenced by the culture of the country which makes them so special. The ones from South America have bold colors like traditional Andean clothing. Others were made with chestnuts or pine cones. It's one of the most original things we've seen in a while. Just looking at the photos again I'm already feeling nostalgic about the Christmas holidays!
santuario arenas san pedro belen exposicion navidad
DAY 2
When we got back to the hotel after Day 1, we realized we hadn't enjoyed all the Parador had to offer so our plan on Day 2 was to do exactly that. After breakfast, the first rays of lights came through the windows, it was freezing outside but it was glorious inside. Because of the cold we were reluctant to take advantage of the sunny terrace, so we got our books and read in one of their beautiful living rooms. One of my favorite things about Paradores are their common areas. The decor is beautiful and you feel at home. While we were reading, we heard a little kid crying and saying he doesn't want to leave this hotel ever. Who can blame him?
sierra parador gredos common areas salones luxury hotel spain
sierra parador gredos common areas salones luxury hotel spain
From the Parador garden, you can walk through the spectacular pine wood at Navarredonda de Gredos. Breathing fresh air, hearing the sounds of the forest and seeing beautiful horses, we wonder if living in Madrid is such a great idea... Maybe we should start a new life in the countryside?

It's 14:30, time to go back to El Parador for lunch. Artisan cheese, patatas revolconas (potatoes with chorizo) and cochinillo (grilled piglet) are the delicacies you must try in this region.
sierra parador gredos menu gastronomia comida food typical
sierra parador gredos menu gastronomia comida food typical
Our evening consisted of taking photos around the hotel and playing board games. A game of Parchisi (I hadn't played since I was a kid!) feeling cozy by the chimney followed by a chocolate con churros never felt so good.


One of the main attractions of Parador de Gredos is the rooftop terrace from which you can see the stars. In summer, they organize an event where you can see the jewel of the crown, the Milky Way. Too bad it can't be seen in winter. Even if it was cold, we lay on a sunbed each and gazed at the stars for a while. The perfect final touch to a magnificent stay at Parador de Gredos.
sierra parador gredos stars night astronomy estrellas astronomia
GETTING THERE
From Avila: 65 km (52 minutes by car).
Parador de Gredos is north of Sierra the Gredos and Parador de Oropesa is on the south of the mountain range so if you want to do the whole tour I recommend you see both of them on the same trip. Only 85 km (1 hour and 15 minutes by car) separate them.

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sierra gredos avila mountain range spain hike nature historic town
parador gredos sierra avila luxury hotel spain navarredonda nature mountain hike unique

January 6, 2019
Oropesa, a Hidden Gem Near Toledo, Spain

Oropesa, a Hidden Gem Near Toledo, Spain

January 6, 2019
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
Toledo is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain due to its impressive amount of heritage sites. If that wasn't enough, the region has even more to offer like the charming town of Oropesa.

Oropesa is one of the oldest inhabited sites in Spain, dating back to 1761 BC when the legend says that Hercules founded the town. For centuries, Oropesa has served as refuge for monks, nobility and travelers. The main tourist attraction is its 14th century castle now part of El Parador de Oropesa, a luxury four-star hotel. This Parador was once the home of the Alvarez de Toledo family, counts of Oropesa. The count, Francisco de Toledo, served as the viceroy of Peru from 1569 to 1581. In 1930, it was converted into the first historic Parador of this government-owned hotel chain. Apart from a walk through history, from the Parador you get spectacular views of the Sierra de Gredos mountain range.

Read more about castles in Spain you can stay in here

We arrived in Oropesa on the morning of December 26. We had spent Christmas in Don Quixote's land and the weather was spectacular: not a single cloud in the sky and surprisingly mild temperatures even for the Spanish winter.

Read more about Don Quixote's trail here
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
We started by exploring Oropesa. The region is famous for its craftsmanship, embroidery, ceramics and tiles in particular. The latter is present in many facades around town. You can also find many instances of Catholic heritage including churches and monasteries or convents.
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
We had lunch at the Parador. We often chose this type of hotel to eat because we know the quality is going to be excellent and they always have typical dishes of the region. They offer a 32€ menu which includes a starter, a main dish and dessert. Typical dishes here have pastoral origins like migas (bread crumbs), lamb, stewed partridge or artisan cheese.
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel food
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel food
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel food
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel food
Before the sun went down we visited the castle and learnt a bit more about the history of Oropesa.
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel

After a busy day exploring the town, an inviting door leads you back to the Parador. All that's left to do is read or relax in one of the Parador's common areas or go back to your room for a good night's sleep on a hand-painted canopy bed. We'll never be royals but thanks to Paradores can get a feeling of what it would be like...
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
parador oropesa toledo spain history castle luxury hotel
GETTING THERE
Madrid - Oropesa: 156 km (1h 40min by car), highway A-5
Toledo - Oropesa: 118 km (1h 8 min by car), highway A-5
December 31, 2018
Family Traditions in Spain

Family Traditions in Spain

December 31, 2018
In a few hours we'll be welcoming 2019, I can't believe how fast time flies! My husband and I are joining our families to celebrate with a traditional Spanish holiday dinner at home. We are very family oriented, like the vast majority of people in Spain. Spanish families have strong ties, much stronger than in most countries, I believe. Since it's still holiday season, which is our favorite time of the year, I want to tell you about family traditions and customs in Spain.

Most young people don’t leave home until their late twenties. Mainly because of the lack of job opportunities and extremely high rent prices. But staying at home this long also shows how important family life is for us. Many families gather together nearly every weekend and most of us talk on the phone daily with our mothers or fathers. Family comes first.

Many people are reluctant to move somewhere else across the country even though many people our age have had to move to a big city like Madrid to find good jobs. Those of us who are "far" from our families, visit them once or twice a month.
So, what are some examples of family traditions and customs in Spain?

Copious meals during the holidays
We have a big dinner on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve and big lunch on Christmas Day and January 1. Apart from the holidays, our moms make sure they stuff us with delicious food every single weekend we visit.
spain family traditions holidays customs baked brie dry fruit nuts
Chocolate con churros
An extremely popular winter activity is having chocolate con churros with family or friends, either at home or outside. If you are in Madrid you must try it at Chocolateria San Gines, it's a must for locals and tourists alike.
chocolateria san gines madrid spain family traditions holidays customs chocolate churros
Twelve grapes
On on New Year's Eve we cook a dinner that's pretty similar to the one on Christmas Eve. After the NYE dinner, we eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight. It is believed that whoever eats their 12 grapes as the bells chime (one for each of the twelve chimes) will have a lucky and prosperous year. And let me tell you something, this is not an easy task!
spain family traditions holidays customs twelve grapes nye new years eve
Children wait for The Three Wise Men
Nowadays things have changed and many children get present from Santa too, but traditionally it was The Three Wise Men who left gifts by the Christmas tree. On every Spanish city and many towns there is a "Three Wise Men Parade" happening on the evening of January 5. Kids leave their shoes, sweets and glasses of water for the Kings and their camels before going to bed. The following morning they open presents if they have been good or they get charcoal if they have been naughty.
spain family traditions holidays customs three wise men
Games
We have a specific deck of cards, known as Baraja española (Spanish deck), which is different from the deck used for poker. It was designed and published by Heraclio Fournier in 1889. Some examples of popular games are mus, chinchon, brisca or escoba.

Domino is also a popular game to play with your grandparents.

Meal times & food
Food is extremely important for us, it's part of our culture.
Spanish families have a big lunch around 2-3 pm. Unless you live in a big city, you go back home to have lunch and then go back to work. Dinner is light and happens around 9 pm.
If you go out to have dinner with friends, you will meet between 9-10 pm and come back home around 12 pm or 1 am. If you go partying, nobody will expect you to be home before 4 am. If you are having a blast, you will get home at 7 am and maybe you've even had breakfast.

Read about how you can host a tapas feast here

What are some examples of family traditions in your country?

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spain family traditions holidays customs

December 24, 2018
Christmas Lights in Madrid

Christmas Lights in Madrid

December 24, 2018
madrid christmas lights alcala metropolis gran via luces navidad
It's the most magical time of the year and Madrid is spreading that Christmas cheer with warming Nativity scenes, beautiful decor and jaw-dropping illumination. Last night I set off to find the best Madrid Christmas lights equipped with my camera, tripod and an extremely patient husband. Madrid may not be famous for its Christmas markets like other European capitals but still has a lot to offer. Join us on our tour to see the capital of Spain shine like you have never seen before!
madrid christmas lights puerta alcala luces navidad
The Christmas lights switch-on happens every year on the last Friday of November, in 2018 it was on the 23rd. The major activates the switch and the magic invades the streets of Madrid. From then until January 6, the lights are on every day at 6 pm.

The times for the Christmas lights are:

  • Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday: 6 pm to 11 pm
  • Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and the night before national holidays: 6 pm until midnight
  • Dec 25, Jan 1 & 6: 6 pm until midnight
  • Dec 24, Jan 5: 6 pm to 3 am
  • Dec 31: 6 pm to 6 am

madrid christmas lights puerta alcala luces navidad
There's a bus called Naviluz that tours the most emblematic streets in Madrid to see their Christmas illuminations. Tickets are quickly sold out so you have to book them as early as you can next year.

This year all that's left to do is walk and this is the tour I recommend:
Start in Calle Serrano. You can get there via metro (line 4 or line 9 stopping at Nuñez de Baloboa or Principe de Vergara) or cercanias (stop at Recoletos). Serrano and nearby streets like Jorge Juan are full of luxury stores, restaurants and cafes which are also beautifully decorated this time of the year.

Puerta de Alcala (pictured above), one of the most important monuments in Madrid, is at the beginning of Serrano. You will always see people taking pictures in front of it. With its spectacular decorations, it’s one of the walk’s highlights.

Follow the lights on calle Alcala (the longest street in Madrid) to the City Hall and Cibeles fountain. Right here you can also see the jabreath-taking lightning of Banco de España and Casa de America.

Continue straight on and you'll get to the iconic Metropolis building at the start of Gran Via. Worth mentioning is the beautiful Circulo de Bellas Artes, an impressive building with beautiful painted walls inside (think of a mini-Sistine Chapel) and a rooftop that offers jaw-dropping views of Madrid.

Final stop is Puerta del Sol, the heart of Madrid and Spain because it’s the center of the Spanish road network. This bustling square is all always full of people ans especially during Christmas time. Every year, there is a huge metallic Christmas tree. This is also the place where many Madrileños welcome the new year. The strikes of the clock in Puerta del Sol mark the traditional eating of the 12 grapes that give way to a new year.

You can also end your tour with the Christmas market in Plaza Mayor or have chocolate con churros in Chocolateria San Gines but bear in mind that these places are overcrowded during the holidays.

Read more about how we celebrate the holidays in Spain here.
Find more ideas of what to do in Madrid this holiday season here.
madrid christmas lights alcala luces navidad
madrid christmas lights alcala cibeles city hall ayuntamiento luces navidad
madrid christmas lights alcala casa america ayuntamiento city hall cibeles luces navidad
madrid christmas lights puerta del sol luces navidad

Have you been to Madrid during the holiday season? What your favorite place in the world to see Christmas lights?

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madrid christmas lights alcala