Sleeping in Spain: A Guide to Accommodation (and 30€ Voucher Giveaway!)

If there’s one thing that’s weathering the Spanish economic downturn (no doubt tied to the weather itself), it’s the tourism industry. Accounting for nearly 11% of 2012’2 GDP, Spain constantly pushes the envelope within the tourism industry and has grown to be the second-largest in the world!

Where will you be pillow hugging tonight?

One aspect that sets Spain apart is its ample offering of accommodation and luxury brands. Iberostar, Melià and Bareclò hotels are considered some of the best brands in the world, and backpackers can find a haven nestled on cobblestone streets or just steps from a private beach. Still, in an ever-changing industry, there’s quite a bit of confusion as to each type of accommodation, and sometimes where to find it at an affordable price (don’t worry, there’s an entrance to a voucher at the end of this explanation!).

The view from the rooftop bar at Seville’s Hotel EME.

Hotels, like in any country of the world, are plentiful and of varying quality. There’s also been a recent surge of new hotels offering boutique accommodation, quirky decor and plenty of character. Spain’s tourism board has instituted a nationwide ranking, using the Q of quality and between 1 and 5 stars. Hotels are marker with a white H and the ranking below. High season is during the summer months, local festivals and Christmas time, so expected steeper prices and less availability.

The Spanish government now controls a network of historic buildings converted into luxury hotels, called paradores. From castles to convents, a night in the sumptuous lodging will typically run you more than an average hotel, but booking during the low season can ensure a one-of-a-kind experience in a historically important building.

Tiles on the outdoor terrace of the parador in Carmona, Andalusia.

Hostels and Albergues  are often considered a common type of backpacker accommodation, they are as varied as one could imagine. Typically, they can be found in city centers and offer beds in shared or private accommodation, shared bathrooms and common areas such as living rooms, rooftop terraces or kitchens. Most beds in a shared dorm are less than 20€ a night, making it an ideal place to meet other travelers through free events and walking tours.

A typical dorm room in hostels. This one is Grand Luxe in Seville.

Slightly nicer than hostels, pensions (pensiones) are more budget-friendly than hotels and are typically smaller, too. Most similar to boarding houses, one can expect loads of hospitality and often meals!

Thanks to Spain’s varied landscape, rural accommodations are becoming popular, particularly for families wishing to escape city life.

A bed at Almohalla 51, a luxury rural house in Archidona, Spain

Apartment Stays are also becoming a popular way to live like a local in larger cities. Available for days, weeks or months, a piso turístico will allow travelers the privacy of their own space while having access to amenities. Typical rates for a month can be between 500 – 800€, depending on the season.

Camping remains a cheap and popular option for staying in Spain, particularly on the coast. Rates are low, even during the summer season, and most offer on-site food and washing facilities.

No joke, I spent a night here in the Islas Cies.

I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in a tent on the pristine Playa de Rodas in Galicia, an ancient piso in front of the Basilica Santa María del Mar in Barcelona and a friendly pensión within earshot of the tingling churchbells of Santa María la Blanca in Seville. My head has rested in sumptuous hotels from Toledo to Valladolid, as well as old fortresses, which is why I’m excited to present you all with my newest giveaway.

I’m teaming up with Your Spain Hostel to offer a giveaway of a 30€ voucher to be used on Your Spain Hostel on any property in any city you’re interested in visiting in Spain. Simply enter by leaving your email address and telling me in the comments where you’d like to travel to in Spain should you win the voucher (extra points if you send a postcard!), or otherwise!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

From a bungalow on the beaches of Ibiza to a casa rural in Cangas de Onís, Your Spain Hostel is your one-stop destination for unique and quality accommodation around Spain. The site also provides discounts on tours, entrance to sites, food and even taxi pick-up! You can win extra entries by following both Your Spain Hostel and Sunshine and Siestas on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy travels for 2013! Where are you headed, and where do you like to rest your head at the end of a long day of tourism and tapas? Got any great recs?

 

How a misguided GPS lead us to a good find, but bad luck

“BUT I CAN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET OUT OF THE PARKING LOT!” I wailed, confused at how to even put the rental car into reverse.

“Dude, let’s ask PSY,” T suggested, and the site of a Gangnam-style doppleganger set me into a fit of giggles. Today was going to be a good day. After loads of back luck during 2012, I finally felt blessed, and that our trip would be as lucky as playing partypoker.es at the end of a bad streak.

I asked the car rental guy the easiest way to get out of Madrid, and he asked our destination.

Burgos, I said, as H responded with Logroño, our final destination.

The GPS navigated us out of Madrid and out towards Burgos. Being together outside of camp felt almost strange, but we chattered away to make the kilometres pass by as quickly as they got racked up on the dashboard.

Just past the border of Madrid and Segovia, the GPS spoke again to tell us to turn off the main road and onto a secondary highway.

“It’s probably just avoiding the toll roads or something,” H suggested when I told her that the Internet had suggested driving up past Burgos and veering off on the highway that stretches across the North, following the Ebro river that feeds the grapevines of La Rioja.

The mountain range that separates the two comunidades rolled out on the right side of the window as the vegas turned into golden-leafed forests. As we snaked into Soria – the most sparsely populated region of Spain – my eyes and brain begged for a coffee.

The GPS sounded, as if it read my brain. It directed us into a town on the banks of the Duero, San Esteban de Gormáz. I saw the town’s castle spires on our way in, and we drove as high as the rental car would take us into the town’s midget bodegas with cracked, wooden doors. The place felt a bit like Guadix with the homes carved into the walls, the creaky stairs and catwalks leading acriss the sides of the mountain. The ancient stones of the small town had lead the namesake to write El Cid Campeador, the famous novel of Spain’s chivalrous knights of the middle ages.

After a quick stop for coffee, we set out towards Soria, passing small towns not big enough for even a church. Coming around a bend in a small aldea, we came across a truck and a guardia civil car. The young office signaled us over to the shoulder and I gulped hard, stone silent in my fear.

Here’s the thing: I knew that the crime for driving without a license could be a 500€ fine and up to six months in prison. 

“Play STUPID!” T hissed as I rolled down the window and uttered hola with my best guiri accent. The cop asked for the car’s registration and my driver’s license. Kike had warned me something like this could happen not two days before, and to be extremely careful. I wasn’t breaking the law, but had been pulled over by a routine check on small country roads.

Using his iPhone as a translator, the cop told me I needed an international driver’s license to be able to rent a car and that we would be fined 100€ on the spot and get a “get out of jail” card until we made it to Logroño. I felt waves of nausea as I forked over two fifties and tried hard not to let onto the fact that I understood, even stifling a small shudder when his partner said, “Wasn’t it 500€ for driving without a license?”

As we drove away after a hurried buenos dias at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I felt my heart stop racing as we laughed nervously. Luckily, wine country was our destination, and it wasn’t long before I was taking the edge off with a glass of Rioja and cheap tapas. My friends were glad I was driving and that my guiri-speaking-Spanish impression was spot-on.

The rest of our weekend included me losing a cell phone, breaking a few wine glasses and having the worst wine hangovers of our lives, but there are few things I appreciate more than a good glass of tinto, my friends and new places.

Seville Snapshot: Bodega Marqués de Riscal in Eltziego (País Vasco)

As a traveler, I should take pride in really getting to know a city, to meeting and talking with its people and to finding its heart.

Travel Confession: I love kitschy sites, kitschy souvenirs and don’t always stay off the beaten path.

When it  came down to deciding what to do while in Spain’s Wine Country, La Rioja, we all agreed that wine was at the top of the list, while a sub category to wine was visiting a bodega. I called around, sent emails and was delighted when we got a last-minute booking for Marqués de Riscal, one of Spain’s most famous exports.

Elciego, or Eltziego in Basque, is a beautiful city in its own right. Nestled amongst vineyards, its burnt fall colors provide a dramatic backdrop to a stone medieval city whose claim to fame is the wine and the hotel commissioned by Marqués de Riscal, which was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The colors chosen – metallic silver, pink and bordeaux – are representative of the wine bottle, whereas the wavy steel plates and pale stone pillars are meant to represent a vine before harvest. Built as a millennial addition to the winery founded during the mid 19th century, it seems to blend in with the history while looking forward to the future.

We signed up for a 90-minute tour of the bodega, which took us first to the newest installations, then past their ancient fountain – outfitted with a digital clock and weather reader – and into their oldest cellar. The damp, musty smell and little light protects their oldest editions, which mustn’t be uncorked. A small butane stove is used to heat a metal ring, then cold water is applied, breaking the glass and allowing the wine to be poured. As someone who loves the craft of writing and is a geek about it, I think I could geek out about wine if I got to learn more about it. Sadly, we were tired after the previous night’s antics and in search of a bed. After our two glass of wine, we dipped out and back to Logroño.

If you go: Marques de Riscal bodegas are located in Eltziego, just 15 kilometres from Logroño. It’s actually in the Basque region, and not La Rioja! To take a tour, which are available every day of the year, making a reservation through email or over the phone is a must. the tour included a tasting of two young wines and runs 10,25. More information and contacts can be found on Marques de Riscal’s webpage. Tours can be done in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and even Russian.

Tapa Thursdays: Eating (and drinking) La Rioja

When it came to the last region of Spain left to visit, I didn’t have to do much planning: I was in La Rioja, Spain’s wine country, and I was going to drink as much vinate as possible.

But, as any adult knows, moderation is key, as well as stuffing your face to minimize the effects of the garnacha grape that’s been fermented.

One of Logroño’s most famous sites is Calle Laurel. This pedestrian stretch of street in the historic quarter is home to the city’s pintxos – the northern version of a tapa – bars. Being in Logroño on the weekend meant we had plenty to see, do and stuff our faces with, as the average pintxo and glass of house wine ran under 2,50€. As a lover of eating and drinking on the cheap, I felt almost too much at home in Logroño!

Stop One: Pintxo of Tortilla with a Spicy Sauce and glass of tinto: 2,20€

Parada 1: Pintxo de tortilla y tinto at Bar Sebas: 2,20€

Stop Two: Pintxo de Chorizo and a glass of tinto at Bar Villa Rita, 2,10€

Stop Three: Pintxo of Champi with shrimp and a glass of tinto at Bar Antonio: 2,80€

Stop Four: A Pintxo of Queso de Cabra con confitura de Mermelada, a pintxo of Pimiento Relleno de Setas y Gambas and a glass of tinto: 4,30€

I really just wanted Tana’s morcilla, though…

Stop Five: Meat on a Stick! Pintxo Moruno and glass of red at Páganos: 2,10€

self-timer portrait, yikes!

Stop Six: Pintxo of Piruletas de Solomillo con beicon and a beer (noooo more wine!), while my friends snagged the last three mini hamburgers: 3,50€

I’d say we made out like bandits, but we really made out like fatties. We would return to Calle Laurel just once more, instead choosing to try Calle San Juan, where the pintxos were even cheaper and the bars less crowded.

How do you eat while on a trip? Have you ever been to La Rioja?

Tapa Thursdays: Where’s Cat?

Studying abroad in Valladolid changed many things about me, from the way I spoke Spanish to the direction my life way to take. It also made me appreciated wine. Sitting just south of the Ribera del Duero region, Pucela, as it’s called locally, had vineyards producing some of Spain’s most famous brands. Dinner was often paired with a robust vino tinto, turning me into a wine aficionado at the tender age of 19. Hey, when in Rome…

Today is not about tapas, it’s about wine because I’m visiting Spain’s foremost wine region today for the first time. Tucked into the smallest autonomous community is acre upon acre of vineyards producing tempranillo and garnacha grape, home to Marques de Riscal and Campo Viejo brands, crumbling castle and monasteries, and a pintxos culture second to none.

Last weekend, my girlfriends and I did a cata de vino at a small wine shop in the center of Seville, Flor de Sal. With each of us busy with our lives, partners and jobs, our monthly dates are often full of chatter and wine, so having Andre explain his handpicked choices from lesser-known bodegas brought out the best in us wine-loving guiris. If it was any indication as to what lies ahead this weekend for me and my friends, we’re in trouble!

Have you been to La Rioja? Have any recommendations for me, particularly food and wine? What’s your favorite DO in Spain?

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