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?

 

Travel Highlights from the First Six Months of 2012

It really hit me when I was saying goodbye to my students last week – time really does fly when you’re having fun. I’ve been so busy with everything that I never even stopped to take it all in, and what I’ve done the most in these last six months is travel. Menudo vida, ¿no?

January

On the tail end of my trip to the American Southwest with Kike in tow, I spent three weekends in a row out of town. First up was a trip to visit Hayley in Antequera and celebrate her birthday. Amongst other things, we went to Málaga to have a seafood cumple lunch at the famous El Tintero, where there’s no menu, just a live auction for your food! I don’t know what was better - fresh espetos or Hayley’s red velvet cake!

The following weekend, I got a cheap trip to Alicante to visit my dear friend, Julie. I’d never been before, so Julie showed me her sleepy seaside town – the tapas scene, the dominating Castillo Santa Bárbara and I even snuck a night in Valencia in!

February

One of my favorite places in Spain is Kike’s village of San Nicolás del Puerto. Nestled between the hills of the Sierra Norte de Sevilla and the acorn trees that feed the pigs, this pueblito of 700 people has become a treasured weekend getaway. This time, we took Susana, Alfonso and Luna, who loved the horses and piglets at Finca Los Leones.

March

I was thrilled that Kike would be spending time during a three-month training course in Galicia which has become like a second home to me in Spain. Our trip took us to Santiago, La Coruña and El Ferrol and included stunning weather, surprise run-ins and even a broken car. It’s all cake when you’re with the one you love, though!

Following that, I finally realized my dream of traveling to Turkey. Though we didn’t get to explore anything outside of Istanbul, I was taken by the warmness of its people, the monstrous monuments and the sumptuous food. I’d love to go back one day and see parts of the interior and coast.

April

After arriving from Turkey, I took a train out to Zaragosa, capital of Aragón and one of Spain’s largest cities. The weather did everything but let the sun come through, so we spent a lot of time relaxing and cooking while we stayed with Gonzalo, a friend of Kike’s from the military. Am I willing to go back? Sure, but not anytime THAT soon.

May

In 2012, I wanted to change up my travel routine a bit, so I went along with Audrey’s idea to do a giant obstacle course. She had exaggerated on obstacle course, but inversely: I signed up for the Tough Mudder, a 10-mile run with 25 obstacles somewhere along the way in the fields outside of the Boughton House. My body ached for days afterwards, but it was worth it. We got to see Oxford, too.

The weekend before, we’d gone to Murcia, a little forgotten corner of Spain where nothing happened but a wine tasting and a fight on the beach, all wrapped up into a lot of time in the car.

June

June has been quiet, comparatively. Between ending my current job and starting a new one, I’ve only made it to Marid for a weekend for a conference and a few goodbyes.

So, what’s next? The only big trips we’ve got on the horizon are this summer and at Christmas, but I’ll have three-day weekends to enjoy from September on. I’m heading to La Coruña Monday to work for the same summer camps I’ve been at the last three Julys (my apologies for the lack of posts), then making my yearly trip to America for the month of August. While I’m there, I’ll visit NYC and Boston for the first time in my life before heading back to Spain in early September. I’m also heading to the Travel Bloggers Unit conference in Porto with Lauren of Spanish Sabores.

So what’s been your travel highlight of these first few months of 2012, and what’s up next for you? Leave me a message in the comments so I know where to expect a postcard from!

Murcia via Instagram

Lorca Castle

Liz of Young Adventuress recently tweeted, Am I the only one who doesn’t used what’s app or instagram? In short, yes. Social media has been taking its toll on my love life recently, as my boyfriend walks away from me any time I whip out my little htc hot mess of a phone (since my nice one was stolen in January). I squealed with delight when instagram became available for Androids just before Feria last month, and used the looooooong car ride from Sevilla to Murcia – last weekend’s destination – as a way to test it out. In short – I’m in love. While I preferred Pudding Camera for its crazy settings, Instagram’s ease with social media make it a bit more of a winner in my humble, html-challenged mind.

Nearing our final destination…

The Novio’s job takes him this week to Murcia, a strange, moon-like crater that anchors down the southeast corner of the peninsula. While I’d had little desire to ever travel there, I had a (nearly) free ride and a place to stay, so I jumped at the chance. We pulled up to Cartagena, a town rich in military history (and home to the first self-propelled submarine, who knew!) shortly after 9pm. The journey had been long, with bouts of natural beauty through the Sierra de Huétor and the green, green plains that run along its backside towards the coast.

Cartagena’s port stood quiet and still on a Friday evening, and even the Calle Mayor was lifeless. Our quick dinner of beer and ensaladilla was met with a good night’s sleep before we headed out the following day for Jumilla.

Souvenir shop in Cartagena, right off the dock

Murcia has few claims to Spain, apart from a few big cities, a bunch of expat enclaves and wine. Jumilla, a sleepy town that nearly reaches the border of Valencia, is home to several wineries, and I was dying to tour one. I had gotten in contact with Bodegas Silvano García, who graciously offered us a tour of their small, family-run bodega and a full cata de vino for only 5€. Even Mr. Grumpy, who wasn’t keen on making the drive, enjoyed himself and pumped some (grape-flavored) fuel back into the economy.

wine tasting at Bodegas Silvano García

Later that day, we headed down the coast to Águilas, where his Aunt Laura and her family live. The day was cool and drizzly, but the sound of the waves and the smell of salt somehow always makes me feel like Spain was a good, good choice. The day was far less than perfect, which made me eager to get on to Murcia.

Águilas beach

Finally, a sunny day. After a quick trip to the ER and our Sunday churros routine, The Novio and I wandered the central heart of Murcia. It was Mother’s Day, so people were overflowing the terraces in the square at the foot of the cathedral.

“Let’s go in,” I told The Novio, Camarón finally unglued from my face. The salmon and cobalt hues of the building were inviting, and I had a feeling of who I might find in the cathedral: St. Lucy, the eyeless one I chose for my confirmation name. Little known fact about me: I always add to the donation box when I find her in churches by surprise.

of course it’s sunny the day I have a seve´-hour bus ride to look forward to

We met Paco and Inma, two of his coworkers, in Plaza de Santa Catalina. Paco is from Murcia and invited us to have lunch with him and his brother, so we squeezed into the corner of El Pulpito, awash with cool grey tones and smelling of seafood. Carmen’s mother had told me to try pulpo al horno, an octopus that’s been baked, and I was not disappointed. The caldera de arroz, stuffed clams, ensaladilla and cold beer did not disappoint, either.

murcia’s finest: pulpo al horno

I was the bus a few hours later, crammed into a window seat. I watched the craters of Murcia eventually return to the flatness of the plain where Seville sits. I can’t say Murcia is my favorite part of Spain, or that I’d ever be willing to make the seven-hour bus ride happen again. Yet, somehow, I don’t feel like I got to see all it really has to offer. My Instagram photos reveal little more than the day’s main events (I let Camarón have all of the glory, afterall), but I’m anxious to see more – and, let’s face it – eat more octopus.

Have you ever been to Murcia? What were your impressions of it? Any place in Spain you’ve never been that you’d be willing to go if you had a free ride out there? And if you’re on instagram, let’s follow! I’m found at sunshinesiestas.

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