There’s a great variety of accommodation in Spain, ranging from humble family-run pensions to five-star luxury hotels, often in dramatic historic buildings. The mainstay of the coastal resort is the typical beachfront holiday hotel, though renting an apartment or a villa gives you more freedom, while farm stays, village B&Bs, rural guesthouses and mountain inns are all increasingly popular possibilities.
Compared with other European countries, accommodation in Spain is still pretty good value. In almost any town, you’ll be able to get a no-frills double room in a pensión or small hotel for around €50, sometimes even less, especially out in the sticks. As a rule, you can expect to pay from €100 for something with a bit of boutique styling, and from €150–200 for five-star hotels, historic paradores and luxury beachfront resorts. However, the trend is bucked by Madrid and Barcelona, in particular, and some fashionable coastal and resort areas, where rooms are often appreciably more expensive in all categories.
Advance reservations are essential in major cities and resort areas at peak holiday, festival or convention times. Local festivals and annual events also tend to fill all available accommodation weeks in advance. That said, as a general rule, if you haven’t booked, all you have to do is head for the cathedral or main square of any town, which is invariably surrounded by an old quarter full of pensiones and hotels. You don’t always pay more for a central location; indeed, the newer three- and four-star properties tend to be located more on the outskirts. Families will find that most places have rooms with three or even four beds at not a great deal more than the double-room price; however, single travellers often get a comparatively bad deal, and can end up paying sixty to eighty percent of the price of a double room.
Accommodation prices are seasonal, but minimum and maximum rates should be displayed at reception. In high season on the costas, many hotels only take bookings for a minimum of a week, while some also require at least a half-board stay. However, it’s worth noting that high season isn’t always summer, in ski resorts for example, while inland cities such as Madrid tend to have cheaper prices in August, when everyone heads for the coast.
Where possible, website bookings nearly always offer the best deals, especially with the larger hotel groups that have made big inroads into Spain – it’s always worth checking NH Hoteles (nh-hotels.com), Accor (accorhotels.com) and Sol Meliá (solmelia.com) for current deals. Organizations like Bancotel (bancotel.es; deals available online or through vouchers available in Spain from travel agents and other outlets) also offer good discounted rates on accommodation.
The cheapest beds are usually in private rooms, in someone’s house or above a bar or restaurant. The signs to look for are habitaciones (rooms) or camas (beds), or they might be touted at resort bus and train stations in summer as you arrive. The rooms should be clean, but might well be very simple and timeworn; you’ll probably share a communal bathroom.
The number of private “bed-and-breakfast” establishments (advertised as such) is on the increase, and while some are simply the traditional room in someone’s house, others – especially in the major cities – are very stylish and pricey home-from-homes.
Guesthouses and hotels in Spain go under various anachronistic names – pensión, fonda, residencia, hostal, etc – though only hotels and pensiones are recognized as official categories. These are all star-rated (hotels, one- to five-star; pensiones, one- or two-star), but the rating is not necessarily a guide to cost or ambience. Some smaller, boutique-style pensiones and hotels have services and facilities that belie their star rating; some four- and five-star hotels have disappointingly small rooms and an impersonal feel.
At the budget end of the scale are pensiones (marked P), fondas (F) – which traditionally had a restaurant or dining room attached – and casas de huéspedes (CH), literally an old-fashioned “guesthouse”. In all such places you can expect straightforward rooms, often with shared bathroom facilities (there’s usually a washbasin in the room), while occasionally things like heating, furniture (other than bed, chair and desk) and even external windows might be too much to hope for. On the other hand, some old-fashioned pensiones are lovingly cared for and very good value, while others have gone for a contemporary, boutique style.
Next step up, and far more common, are hostales (Hs) and hostal-residencias (HsR), which are not hostels, in any sense, but budget hotels, generally offering good, if functional, rooms, usually with private bathrooms and – in the better places – probably heating and air-conditioning. Many also have cheaper rooms available without private bathrooms. Some hostales really are excellent, with good service and up-to-date furnishings and facilities.
Fully-fledged hotels (H), meanwhile, have a star-rating dependent on things like room size and staffing levels rather than any intrinsic attraction. There’s often not much difference in price between a one-star hotel and a decent hostal, for example, and the hostal might be nicer. At three and four stars, hotel prices start to increase and you can expect soundproofing, an elevator, an English-language channel on the TV and a buffet breakfast spread. At five stars, you’re in the luxury class, with pools, gyms, jacuzzis, and prices to match, and some hotels differentiate themselves again as five-star “deluxe” or “gran classe” (GL).
You can pick up lists of local accommodation from any Spanish tourist office, and there are countless websites to look at, too, including the excellent Rusticae (rusticae.es), which highlights scores of stylish rural and urban hotels across the country.
Spain has over ninety superior hotels in a class of their own, called paradores (parador.es), which are often spectacular lodgings converted from castles, monasteries and other Spanish monuments (although some are purpose-built). They can be really special places to stay, sited in the most beautiful parts of the country, or in some of the most historic cities, and prices are very good when compared with the five-star hotels with which they compete. Overnight rates depend on location and popularity, and start at around €110 a night, though €150–180 is more typical. That said, a whole host of special offers and web deals (through the official website) offer discounted rates for the over 60s, the 20s to 30s, or for multi-night stays.
A popular approach is to take a fly-drive holiday based around the paradores. There is no end of routes you could choose, but good options include the area around Madrid and through the Sierra de Gredos; along the Cantabrian coast, past the Picos de Europa; or along the French–Spanish border and through the foothills of the Pyrenees. Another popular route takes you through Galicia, and on to one of the most sumptuous paradores of all in Santiago de Compostela. Three-night packages, where you stay in a different parador every night, start at €159 per person (based on two sharing, car rental not included). All the details are on the website, or contact the official parador agents, Keytel in the UK (keytel.co.uk) or Petrabax in the US (petrabax.com).
Most UK and European tour operators can find you a self-catering villa or apartment, usually on one of the costas or in the Balearics. They are rented by the week, and range from simple town-centre apartments to luxury coastal villas with private pools. Prices, of course, vary wildly, but the best deals are often packages, including flights and car rental, with endless villa agencies including First Choice (firstchoice.co.uk/villas) or Iglu Villas (igluvillas.com).
Casas rurales (rural houses), or casas de pagès in Catalunya, are where many Spanish holidaymakers stay. It’s a wide-ranging concept, from boutique cave dwellings to restored manor houses, many with pools and gardens. You can rent by the room, or by the property, either on a B&B basis or self-catering, depending on the accommodation. Many places also offer outdoor activities such as horseriding, walking, fishing and cycling. They are generally excellent value for money, starting at around €30 per person, even cheaper if you’re in a group or staying for longer than a night or two.
ASETUR (ecoturismorural.com), the association for rural tourism in Spain, has an excellent website where you can search thousands of properties by region, while many Spanish tourist-office websites also carry information on casas rurales. Holiday companies in your own country may also have Spanish rural properties available, or contact Spain-based agencies like Ruralia (Cantabria and Asturias; ruralia.com), Rustic Blue (Andalucía; rusticblue.com), Agroturisme (Catalunya; agroturisme.org), Casas de Gredos (casasgredos.com; Ávila and Gredos area), and Top Rural (Spain-wide; toprural.com).
There are around 250 youth hostels (albergues juveniles) in Spain under the umbrella of the Red Española de Albergues Juveniles (REAJ; reaj.com), the Spanish youth hostel association that is affiliated to the international organization, Hostelling International (HI; hihostels.com). There are full details of each hostel on the REAJ website (English-language version available), and we’ve included some of the best in the Guide.
However, many hostels are only open in the spring and summer, or tend to be inconveniently located in some cities; they also can be block-booked by school/youth groups. You’ll also need an HI membership card, though you can buy one at most hostels on your first night. And at €16–25 a night in high season (less for under-26s, and out of season) for a bunk bed with shared facilities, they’re no cheaper than a basic double room in a hostal or pensión. That said, hostels are good places to meet other travellers, and there are some really gorgeously located ones, especially in Andalucía and in the hiking regions of northern Spain.
Some cities and resort areas also have a wide range of independent backpacker hostels. Prices are similar, they tend to be far less institutional, and open all year round, and you won’t need a membership card. Also, many are brand-new, often with private rooms as well as dorms, and with excellent facilities (en-suite rooms, cafés, wi-fi, bike rental, tours, etc).
In mountain areas and some of the national parks, climbers and trekkers can stay in refugios, simple dormitory huts, generally equipped only with bunks and a very basic kitchen. They are run by local mountaineering organizations, mostly on a first-come-first-served basis, which means they fill up quickly in high summer, though you can book in advance at some (or bring a tent and camp outside). Overnight prices start around €15 per person (or €30–40 with a meal included).
It is sometimes possible to stay at Spanish monasterios or conventos, which may let empty cells for a small charge. You can just turn up and ask – many will take visitors regardless of sex – but if you want to be sure of a reception, it’s best to approach the local turismo first, or phone ahead. There are some particularly wonderful monastic locations in Galicia, Castilla y León, Catalunya and Mallorca. If you’re following the Camino de Santiago, you can take full advantage of monastic accommodation specifically reserved for pilgrims along the route.
There are literally hundreds of authorized campsites in Spain, mostly on the coast and in holiday areas. They work out at about €5 or €6 per person plus the same again for a tent, and a similar amount for each car or caravan. The best-located sites, or the ones with top-range facilities (restaurant, swimming pool, bar, supermarket), are significantly more expensive. If you plan to camp extensively, buy the annual Guía de Campings, which you can find in large bookshops, or visit vayacamping.net.
In most cases, camping outside campsites is legal – but there are certain restrictions. You’re not allowed to camp “in urban areas, areas prohibited for military or touristic reasons, or within 1km of an official campsite”. What this means in practice is that you can’t camp on the beach, while in national parks camping is only allowed in officially designated areas. Aside from these restrictions, however, and with a little sensitivity, you can set up a tent for a short period almost anywhere in the countryside. Whenever possible, ask locally first.
Nearly all Spain’s paradores have a quirky history, a story to tell or a magnificent location – here’s our choice of the best, from former palaces to pilgrims’ hospitals.
Hostal dos Reis Católicos, Santiago de Compostela Apparently the oldest hotel in the world, impressively set in a fifteenth-century hospital at the end of the Camino de Santiago.
Parador Carlos V, Jarandilla Majestic former imperial palace, set in the verdant Vera valley.
Parador Castillo de Santa Catalina, Jaén Occupying a stunning, crag-bound thirteenth-century Moorish fortress, this is one of the most spectacular locations in Spain.
Parador Condes de Alba y Aliste, Zamora Occupying a grand palace in the middle of a quiet town, Zamora’s parador is gentility defined.
Parador Hostal San Marcos, León One of León’s major historic buildings, once a pilgrims’ hostel, later a very grand sixteenth-century monastery.
Parador de Lerma, Lerma A remarkable ducal palace facing a broad plaza of elegant beauty.
Parador Marqués de Villena, Alarcón Just fourteen rooms in this characterful Arabic castle perched on the rocky promontory above the Río Júcar.
Parador Nacional Castell de la Suda, Tortosa Tortosa’s highest point, the splendid Castillo de la Suda, looms majestically over the lush Ebre valley.
Take ancient buildings, magnificent locations, historic charms, designer flair and sheer Spanish style – and the result is enough unusual places to rest your head for a whole lifetime’s worth of holidays.