Castles holidays in Spain

By Sergio González | 11:04

When a Frenchman brags about something he wished he had, his fellow countrymen will say that he has châteaux en Espagne, “castles in Spain”. Coming from a country with the Loire Valley and its gorgeous castles, not to mention Versailles, it kind of makes you wonder, what is going on in Spain.

To begin with, there are more than 3,000 castles and palaces in Spain. The reason being is not that Spanish stonemasons foresee the touristic potential of castles, but rather Spain’s turbulent history.

In 711 AD, Moorish armies from North Africa took over the country reducing the former Visigoth kingdom to a few villages hidden in the northern mountains. For the following 800 years they would try to recover their lands but the Moors had grown fond of them and were reluctant to leave.

Besides, during these times the Moors were the most advanced society of the region and while proud of their work, some sturdy Spartan castles began to pop up in Northern Spain. UNESCO World Heritage wonders like The Alhambra were coming to life in the new southern kingdom of Al-Andalus.

A secret marriage between a 17 year-old boy and an 18 year-old girl who was tired of her mother parading and disliking candidates took place in a little chapel in 1469. It was not a very well kept secret if we are talking about it to this day but the truth is it wasn’t meant to be a secret in the first place. She was Isabella of Castile and he was Fernando of Aragon, both heirs to the largest kingdoms in the region.

Isabella was crowned Queen of Castile in the Alcazar of Segovia, a 12th century palace that inspired Disney’s Cinderella Castle. About a half an hour drive  from Segovia, you will see the Castle of Coca, a stunning red keep that beautifully meshes Muslim and Christian architecture. If you want to see the best city walls ever, Avila, Spain, is your destination.

To tour around all these historical cities and castles in the Castile region and live a truly medieval experience, you won’t want to miss the best ones in Salamaca. An impressive medieval city in itself, it’s known worldwide for its 13th century university and traditional yellow-stone buildings that look magical at sunset. Just a walk around the centre will make you fall for the city; but to enjoy it to the fullest, you can stay in an actual palace from the 16th century, the NH Palacio de Castellanos.

Isabella and Fernando’s dynastic union paved the way for Spain to become a united kingdom and also ended the Reconquista (reconquest) of the country in 1492, just a few months before Columbus sailed off to what he believed was India.

Once conquered, many former Muslim fortresses and palaces were suited to Christian likings such as The Alhambra itself or the Alcazar of Seville, with such overwhelmingly beautiful and quiet gardens, it’s hard to believe it was once a fortress. However, the Alcazar of Toledo roots deeper into history; it was built over a Roman palace from the 3rd century. It’s most remembered as the palace chosen by Charles I to receive Hernán Cortés after the conquest of the Aztecs and for its siege during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

There was a tiny kingdom in northern Spain, Navarre, which thrived during the Reconquista but was absorbed as soon as Fernando could count on Isabella’s army. The Kingdom of Navarre was the entranceway for St. James’ Way and there are many Templar churches, Romanic strongholds and medieval villages which are worth visiting but Castle of Olite is the one you cannot miss. One of the most beautiful castles in Spain, it was built in the 14th century in the historical village of Olite; a beautiful slow-motion town set among traditional vineyards that yield the famous Navarra rosé wines.

The last castle on our list is a very special one and also the last to be built. In 1885 the genius architect Antoni Gaudí finished the works of El Capricho, a fantasy castle that was built because the son in-law of the Marquis of Comillas had a craving for “something oriental”. If you want to visit Gaudí’s El Capricho, you can stay in your own palace at nearby NH Palacio de Oriol, a 19th century historical manor with astounding views over Bilbao’s Biscay Bay.

If you want to find out everything about castles, fortresses and city walls in Spain, there is a complete database on this website (in Spanish) to help you plan your visits.

Photo credit: Nick McPhee

Photo credit: Carthesian

 

 
  • By Discover Madrid's winter | NH Hotels Blogs on 11 February, 2014 at 16:24

    […] was the place of several emperors during Spanish height of power and if you are into castles, palaces and arts, this is where Spaniards keep most of them. You can follow several tours across Madrid visiting […]

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