(By Pauline Webber).- It’s the 1920s and your country wants to kick off a tourism industry. Your economy is not the best and you have very few hotels anywhere in your vast land, but you do have lots of castles, monasteries, citadels and palaces.
This is your light-bulb moment – why not buy up the historical buildings, restore them and open them as accommodation for visitors? The government and the king got behind the project and, after a few years of procrastinating, the first parador, or “resting place”, came into operation.
The combination of history, luxury and affordability is irresistible so, as part of a walking holiday in Catalonia, a pal and I have scheduled a night at the Parador de Cardona, where rates start at 90 euros a night. These days Cardona, about 80 kilometres north-west of Barcelona, is a sleepy regional town. But the fortress castle, rising seemingly organically from the top of the only hill for miles, hints at a more illustrious past.
The first stone block for Castell de Cardona was hewn in the ninth century, when the enticingly named Wilfred the Hairy, count of Barcelona, chose this site for his home base. Over the next 900 years, the dukes of Cardona rose in influence and wealth until they rivalled Spain’s royal rulers. As a result, over centuries this great castle has become a symbol of Catalan independence and identity, possibly the most significant in the region. And woo-hoo, our parador is right there inside it!