October 13 2011
Staying at Santiago de Compostela’s illustrious Parador de los Reyes Católicos (the state-owned hotel “of the Catholic Monarchs”) meant that I was bang next to the cathedral, with its towering Baroque façade and Romanesque interior. What came with it, though, were tolling bells, luckily melodic. It seemed as if they rang throughout the night, every quarter of an hour. But when I opened my window in the morning, I could barely see the bell-tower for the swirling Galician mists that enveloped it. This was somehow symbolic of Santiago de Compostela’s role on the ancient pilgrimage route, an elusive yet poignant goal for more than a thousand years and who knows how many millions of pilgrims.
Wherever I went in the Parador, I found myself in a stirring time capsule, caught in some distant past where hefty oak beams, granite-framed windows, trickling fountains, quirky gargoyles, huge gilt-framed paintings, monasterial wooden chests and carved statues of saints were the order of the day – and night. The length of the corridors almost beat Heathrow airport, as they wound their way around four huge patios, two of which dated from the early 16th century when the parador was built as a pilgrims’ hospital. On the way to my room, I passed unexpected perspectives, once over rooftops to distant hills through a knee-high window, another through a défilé of arches. After dinner I even managed to sneak on to the balcony overlooking the immense, magically lit Praza do Obradoiro.
My fourth-floor room was certainly not the biggest I have been in, nor the most luxuriously-appointed, yet it had a quaint, understated style that felt comfortable. Here I drifted in that same timeless and virtually soundless vacuum (punctuated by those bells, as well as gentler sounds of flowing water) before I was forced to hang out of the window with my iPad to try and capture Wi-Fi.
Then I realised that I was looking down across the tiled eaves into the sublime Renaissance patio of San Marcos, past the ornate fountain to the grand staircase that led to the royal dining room. It was strangely deserted, yet another perfect perspective in this sprawling, deeply elegant hotel, said to be the oldest in the world.
€196 per night for a standard double room with breakfast.