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Spanish Secrets: Access All Areas

Craig Briggs and his wife Melanie visit the former monastery at Santo Estavo, now a Paradore, a state-funded hotel, and are duly thankful for the decision to preserve old and beautiful buildings by converting them for modern use.

Last weekend Melanie and I decided to visit the monastery at Santo Estovo which is one of the latest additions to the ever growing group of Paradores.

For the uninitiated, Paradores are state-owned and state-funded hotels. The institution, now known as the Paradores of Spain, started in 1910. The government of the time commissioned the Marquis de la Vega Inclán to begin the creation of a national network of hotels for travellers.

Since the opening of the first Parador at Gredos the organisation has flourished. The formation of a Board of Paradores brought with it a commitment to preserving buildings of historic and national interest.

Palaces, castles, convents and monasteries are sympathetically and luxuriously restored. These once derelict, decaying and empty buildings are again bustling with activity. Not as museums, but as living, breathing, working environments, to be a part of, not parted from, everyday life.

Imagine if you can an overnight stay at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the Taj Mahal or even The White House, with unrestricted access to all areas. The Paradores offer that privilege to visitors throughout the whole of Spain, the Canary Isles and certain Spanish cities in North Africa.

One of the many benefits of the Parador hotel system is that most are situated in areas deemed unprofitable to private owners. Invariably these are in remote places, magnificent locations of outstanding natural beauty.

This certainly applies to the converted Benedictine monastery of Santo Estovo in the town of Nogueira de Ramuin.
It is situated in an area know as the Ribeira Sacra, (Sacred Riverbank) where the river Sil flows into the river Mino forming the northern border of Portugal with Spain.

The monastery is first mentioned in documents of the 10th Century, but it is believed to have been founded in the 6th or 7th century. It consists of three different architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance, and was declared a monument of historical and artistic significance in 1923.

This was our second visit to the monastery, the first being last November when we were disappointed to find it closed for the winter.

The journey from our home takes about 40 minutes along narrow winding lanes, up hill and down dale. We drove through a vast panorama of rolling, forested hills. Distant mountain ranges overlap in a collage of fading blue. We travelled through steep sided river valleys rising vertically skyward. Stone house built from local pale-grey granite, are dotted in and amongst an autumn backdrop of copper and gold. Occasional, tantalizing glimpses of the red terracotta roof of the newly restored monastery can be viewed along the route.

Upon arrival, we were surprised, yet pleased ,to find the car park almost full. Entry to the monastery is through a decorative stone archway. Two huge wooden doors, four meters tall, which guard this right of way, are secured open.
Inside is an enclosed, lawned courtyard, 40 meters square, surrounded by cloisters. Granite arches suspended on columns are three storeys high.

We strolled around the courtyard to the busy bar and took a seat. A glass panelled gallery allows the bar's clientele an unencumbered view of the courtyard whilst sheltering from Natures elements.

We sat for a while, enjoying the scenery and a refreshing cup of coffee, watching the comings and goings of Sunday afternoon explorers.

Having wandered around this living historic monument we returned home, thankful to the Spanish government for its foresight nearly a century ago.

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