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?

 

Seville Snapshot: The Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos

Not too many years ago, I asked my high school students what the Reyes Magos had brought them. In the midst of a financial crisis, I was shocked to hear they received computers, souped up cell phones and other goodies.

After all, Santa Claus and his team of reindeer don’t have any Spanish children on their list because Spaniards have the tradition of the Reyes Magos, or the Three Wise Men of the Orient. They roll into town on big floats, called carrozas, and Melchor, Gaspar and Balthasar pelt everyone from the little kiddies to the abuelitas who elbow you out of the way with hard candy and small gifts.

I usually watch the floats on Calle San Jacinto from the refuge of Java Cafe, occassionally venturing into the crowd-choked streets for a better view or a few pieces of candy that have fallen between hands, bags and upturned umbrellas and onto the ground.

This year, as the Novio is still away, I watched the city parade and its 30 floats from the front row with some friends. Grabbing candy off the sides of floats, I nearly got my head taken off by the parade of horses, brass bands and floats as my shoes became sticking from the crushed candy under them.

I took loads of great pictured from right in the front, but I can’t seem to get them off of my camera! No worries, I’ve got fistfuls of caramelos!

Got a photo of Seville or Southern Spain to share? I’d love to see it! Send me the photo, along with a short description of where you took it and links to any pages you’d like included, to sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] come. Look for a new photos every Monday, or join me at my Facebook page for more scoop on El Sur! What’s your favorite Spanish holiday tradition?

Seville Snapshots: Merry Christmas from Sunshine and Siestas

Christmas used to mean bickering in my family. The chores, the frantic house cleaning and cooking, the rush of kisses from the in-laws after finally deciding who would be hosting. The constant car trips, the Christmas Mass standing up, the incessant carols blasting from every car radio – I could have done without it.

Then I moved to Spain.

I escape not only the bickering, but also the Christmas carols (I swear I know just the chorus of a handful of Spanish villancicos), the tree hunt looking for Nancy’s perfect Douglas Fir, the snow in Chicago. And somehow along the way, Christmas has become one of the best opportunities I have to see my family. Over the last six navidades that I’ve found myself in Spain, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around Andalusia and Ireland, to Morocco, to The American Southwest. Gone are the holiday traditions we’ve had since forever, as my family and I create world travel as our Christmas treat to one another. I miss watching Morgan step gingerly into the snow when it’s higher than her head and treating Aunt Pat to lunch at the Walnut Room after seeing the windows at Field’s, but helping my family make travel as important to them as it is to me is what fuels the magic for me during the season.

To you and yours, Merry Christmas from me. I am forever grateful for my readers who seem like family more and more each day. Estés donde estés, enjoy this wonderful season, and don’t worry so much about your waistline (dude, Spain has lard cookies as its holiday indulgence, so you can’t be any worse off than me!). Wishing you all the very, very best for 2013 from Spain!

Besos, Cat

LUXE: Seville’s Luxury Hostel

When  I first moved to La Hispalense, I was in touch with Shawn, the woman behind Seville Tapas Tours, about an apartment. The balcony overlooked the bustling Mateos Gago Street and was within earshot of the Giralda’s massive church bells. I could image the smell of orange blossoms wafting into my bedroom window at night as the sounds below lulled me to sleep, but the apartment was not meant to be. Living right in the middle of the historic quarter would have been lovely, but perhaps a bit noisy.

When visiting, my friends who prefer to stay in the city center always look for a place near the Cathedral for its proximity to tapas bars and attractions. Tucked into a side street just steps off of the Plaza de la Virgen de los Reyes is Grand Luxe Hostel, a hostel concept offering premium accomodation in the middle of Spain’s most vibrant city.

The cobblestoned alleyway leads you to the heavy wooden door of Grand Luxe Hostel. The building, restored in the late 19th Century, is modern and fully-quipped, featuring in-suite bathrooms and rooms especially for families. Grand Luze features 64 for beds in a mix of private double, mixed dorms, girls-only dorms and private twin, all at afforable prices right in the heart of Seville’s quaint Santa Cruz neighborhood.

The building has several ammenities – such as an elevator, free wi-fi, a kitchen with complmentary breakfast, and even free gym access at nearby Cuesta Sport in the morning. What’s more, the open areas are comfy and condusive for mingling.

Owner Kate’s eye for design makes the space modern, bright and fun, while the building still retains its charm. In each room, guests enjoy free reading lamps, personal cubbies and private lockers.

The hostel’s best kept secret? The terrace views of the Cathedral and Giralda, which can be enjoyed with a complimentary glass of wine at dusk. The hostel is a prefect jumping off point for Seville’s famous nightlife – great tapas bars, flamenco peñas and cocktail bars are only a stone’s throw away from Grand Luxe, and it’s also within walking distance of the bus station for a quick getaway.

Owners José Luis and Kate

Rooms and bed are available from December 16th, 2012. You can find LUXE on Hostelworld, Hostelbookers or their personal website. They’ve also got a Facebook page, or you can look them up on twitter at @grandluxehostel.

I was not compensated in any way for this article. All views and opinions are my own.

Seville Snapshot: Christmas Lights at Town Hall

When it comes to Christmas, I’m typically a Scrooge. My ears bleed when I hear Christmas Carols or their Spanish counterpart, and the only redeeming part of the season are peppermint flavored ice cream, coffee and candy canes.

But Seville’s Christmas lights make the city look even better, I’ve always loved Christmas markets. Typically lit at dusk on the Día de la Constitución, December 6th, I was amazed to see them go on while waiting for some friends in Plaza Nueva on November 30th. Like watching the portada of the Feria light up in the Real, my childlike wonder of Christmas lights returned for a brief moment on a rainy evening, the rain splattering my face the way snowflakes used to in Chicago. I was suddenly thaknful that my parents had gotten cheap flights to Europe to be able to share the season with me. On the municipal Christmas tree, the reflection of the ayuntamiento, town hall, shone on a Christmas ball, dressed up for the season.

Got a photo of Seville or Southern Spain to share? I’d love to see it! Send me the photo, along with a short description of where you took it and links to any pages you’d like included, to sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] come. Look for a new photos every Monday, or join me at my Facebook page for more scoop on El Sur! What’s your favorite Spanish holiday tradition?

Seville Snapshot: The Feria de Belén

One of my favorite Christmas traditions in Spain is the nativity scene, called a belén. It also happens to be my favorite Spanish name for a girl, though I wouldn’t name my daughter after the Little Town of Bethlehem.

Again, at the risk of sounding un-American, I don’t like Christmas, either.

But the belenes, a household nativity scene, fascinate me. Tiny villages  are constructed out of figurines taking the form of primitive buildings, the Holy Family and even working mills, crops and animals. My own family has the same nativity scene under our tree that we’ve had every year – plastic Holy Family with two faceless sheep, an ox, a plastic angel that balances on a nail up top. I once told my mother I’d do the Spanish tradition of buying one new piece each year, much like I did with my American Girl Doll years back.

Seville holds an annual Feria del Belén, a month-long set-up of small, artisan stands that sell all of these tiny cattle, baskets and shepherds.

Over the years, I’ve marveled at the small effigies and menagerie of barnyard animals, but my long-distance lens caught something quite by accident just last week: the Virgen Mary nursing.

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