I awoke at 7am in Fuente de Cantos, rolled up the sleeping bag, rammed all my unnecessary and odorous clothing into my backpack and made myself ready for the hospitalera who stipulated, very certainly, that I need to be ready for breakfast at 8am. The blisters were very painful this morning so I made a pact with myself, half guessing the outcome, that if she wasn’t there for 8am for breakfast I’d give her a few minutes, then, instead of walking today and resting tomorrow, I’d bus to Zafra (there was an 8.30am bus) and rest today instead.
The hospitalera had form. She told me yesterday to meet her at 6pm to process my arrival at the albergue and rolled in at 6.30pm. This is Spain, this is Extremadura, there was no way she was going to be there at 8.00am! And so it proved. So, with a shrug, I headed off to the bus station. However, I’d read the departure time on Google Maps incorrectly, the bus left at 8.25 and so, blisters burning, I hobbled to the opposite end of the town to catch the bus arriving at the station at 8.35am! This is Spain, this is Extremadura, the bus was 10 minutes late and I could embark for the princely sum of 1.94€ for a one way ticket to Zafra. (If an official from the Junta is reading, I think you can round that ticket price up and avoid protest!).
Today I’m billeted in the historic Parador de Zafra, palace of the dukes of Feria, where construction began in 1437. The convent I stayed in at Fuente de Cantos last night was built in 1415 making the parador younger and, boy, it shows! All mod cons are available at the Parador, central heating (madre mia!), WiFi and, if you were particularly brave, an outdoor swimming pool. It’s luxurious, it’s also x7 the price and worth every penny!
I’m a fan of the paradors. They played a pivotal role in my life and so I try to stay in them as frequently as I can as a kind of homage (not because they’re plush – not JUST). This is the historic chain of hotels that inspired me into the travel business. Despite studying history at the time, it was while surfing the web and planning a trip across Spain (back when people actually said ‘surfing the web’ in 2000) at university that I first came across their website.
These were the awkward teenage years of the Internet, where a trust symbol was a plinky plonky tune (typically Rodrigo if a Spanish website) that stuttered along on your dial up connection before the images finally loaded. There was no booking.com, Expedia was crap, but the website of the Paradors was fabulous! They had these bubble 360 degree draggable photos and offered ‘Amigo points’ with your stay! I wanted to create a website with the quality of this one for hotels around Europe. With so many domain names still available I bought ‘eurohotelsearch.com’! (#sigh) and a career as a history teacher went for a burton.
With this one fatal move started an 18 year (so far!) career in the travel business that has taken me around the world granted and introduced me to some of the most talented (and ruthless!) ‘business people’ you’d ever want to know. These were back in the days when I’d plan a trip across Spain but instead opted to work whereas now I seldom work and just plan trips across Spain – some things DO change!
Quite apart from the flashy website and the part the chain played in launching my first business my real love for these hotels stems from their historical importance in the story of Spain. All the hotels are of some historic, cultural, architectural or religious importance. Many are old royal residences as this one, some are old pilgrim hospitals as the one I stayed at two years ago in Leon and the fabulous (and expensive) Parador de Santiago which I’ve never sprung for! Built throughout the previous ten centuries, they tell the cultural and political history of Spain and give you a chance to experience history for yourself.
The rest of the day was spent hobbling around Zafra and exploring the back alleys and churches. This evening I’ll see if they do a pilgrim menu here at the Parador and if not, Zafra has a good restaurant scene with several recommended restaurants in the Michelin guide, fairly impressive for a town with half the population of Scarborough!
Did you know that Catherine of Aragon was buried at Peterborough Cathedral? I should have known that and feel that perhaps I did and subsequently forgot, but it took a trip to Zafra, whose Fiera dukes are connected to the wedding on Henry VIII and Catherine to remind me! That and other secrets of Extremadura can be found in the hotel coffee table book that will be my companion for the evening above. Tomorrow’s destination is Villafranca de los Barros. I’m surprised to find a Villafranca so far south (the two Villafrancas on the Frances are originally French settlements). Perhaps this book will tell me how they got here!