Parador de Cardona, about 55 miles from Barcelona
[all photos kindly provided by Paradores de Turismo de España]
My Barcelona ebook, a VintageShort, has been published! It's officially entitled 'Barcelona From A to Z' but there are some letters of the alphabet included that are devoted to Catalunya. It's only 99 cents so take the plunge and buy it if you're thinking of going (or even if you just want to read about it).
I like to remind people visiting Barcelona how easy it is to make day trips (and overnight jaunts) from the city, even without a car, and in only a short distance away you can really feel like you're far from the city and you can see a fair amount of the region, which is quite diverse. One really nice place in the foothills of the Pyrenees is Cardona -- the photos in this post are all of the Castell de Cardona, which is today one of the lodgings in Spain's paradores chain. I'm a big fan of the paradores, and the Cardona castle is one of the best. You can reach Cardona by bus but it's better to have a car if only so you can stop along the way -- the drive is pretty and there are some good opportunities for taking photos. As the road climbs in elevation, the site of the 9th century castle perched high on a hill is magnificent. Catalunya has a string of fortifications and monasteries within the region (the most popular one is Montserrat, which is even closer to Barcelona), but the castle in Cardona is a Spanish national monument and represents several eras of Catalan heritage. Cardona’s name derives from quer, rock or steep mountain, and the town became wealthy from its Roman-era salt mines, the Montaña de Sal Gema (Rock Salt Mountain; parador guests receive a 10% discount off the admission price). The town of Cardona is very pleasant, with some good restaurants and shops catering to locals, but the parador is really the highlight. The castle was built to secure territory that was reconquered from the Moors (and it also protected the salt mines) and the town charter of around 986 dictated that the men of Cardona had to devote one day a week on the construction of the castle, and all law-abiding citizens were granted personal use of the salt every Thursday. After making it through the War of the Spanish Succession and the Peninsular War, the castle was damaged during the Spanish Civil War, but was repaired and opened as a parador in 1976.
Exploring the exterior of the castle buildings (which are Romanesque and Gothic) is fun as there are wooden walkways all around it, with great views of the town, the salt mine, and the forests along the Cardoner River. The interior public rooms feature lots of stone walls (some painted a pretty shade of red), arches, tapestries, wrought iron torch holders, and dark wooden beams. Guestrooms are quite nice, most larger than standard European rooms, and are filled with Catalan antiques; many have four-poster beds. The main dining room (which serves Catalan dishes) is beautiful with stone arches running the length of the entire room and walls painted a great shade of yellow. It’s a grand room in which to eat anything, and happily the food is equal to the setting. Also within the castle is the second century Torre de la Minyona (where Adalés, daughter of Viscount and Viscountess Ramón Folch and Enguncia, was imprisoned by her brothers for falling in love with a Moorish jailer); the San Vicente Collegiate Church (whose crypt once held relics of Saints Sebastian, Ursula, and Inés); and the Chapel of San Ramón Nonato, a monk related to the Cardona family (the Cardonas were of the Catalan and Aragonese nobility and the prestigious name was second only to that of the royal family).
Rates are moderately expensive and there are a number of special offers throughout the year. In addition to Cardona, there are 7 other paradores in the region: Lleida, Vic-Sau, Aiguablava, La Seu d'Urgell, Arties, Tortosa, and Vielha, each representative of a particular corner of Catalunya.