Today I’m going to tell you about an extraordinary place to stay overnight; it will cost you a pretty penny, but just remember how much you spent for a couple of rounds in a gondola along the Grand Canal in Venice, when SHE said she want it so much. So if it’s a matter of two nights, it won’t be that expensive. If you want to impress your beauty – go ahead!
There are not so many tourists in here. Although Spain is visited by millions of visitors annually, there are only a few who know about the whole chain of the historic hotels, which are called the paradors here. It was a hard choice. There were two big paradors in Catalonia, suitable for our route: Parador De Cardona and Parador De Tortosa. The website Parador.es proposed the hundreds of the historic hotels, adoring the map of Spain.
The castle and town of Cardona are located in the very centre of Catalonia, in 85 km from the city of Barcelona. You have an opportunity to hold yourself out as Catalan aristocrat and to live in a rich medieval dwelling. At the same time the castle is a great fortification construction, perfectly served to Dukes of Cardona for many centuries.
Cardona Castle stands on a conical mountain 585 metres high – there it is, a beauty wich can be reached by a narrow serpentine-road with quite sharp curves.
This is the castle of IX-X centuries and unassailable fortress that had never been conquered by the enemies throughout its existence. It became a hotel from the middle of the last century. The Parador Hotel in the Castle of Cardona officially opened in February 1976, and nowadays according to the version of tripadvisor.com Parador Duques De Cardona Hotel is one of the ten best castles-hotels of the Europe.
Who knows, maybe one day you will park your car under these inaccessible walls, further – and it’s quite far away – you can walk only by foot. Your parking is the Bastion ramparts of XVII century, and you’re going to live at the Lord’s Palace of 11-15 century. Our modern suitcases rattled with their wheels along the historic stones, and now we are at the reception. Seems we are going to like it – no, we will definitely like it. There was a good reason we were so scrupulous, choosing a place to stay for our last two days in Spain.
It is already a worked-out and very convenient variant for us: we arrive, rent a car, examine a country, reach its depth if possible and try to spend the last couple of days at some magnificent place, where we could give a rest to our souls and exhausted feet – but not far from the airport. Imagine a surprise you could give to your beloved? As for me, I knew for sure that ma chere is obsessed with baldachin; and her dream came true.
The service is at the highest level. We’ve checked-in after 5 minutes, our desires announced during the reservation were considered, and finally we received the long-awaited room at the highest floor – as for me I am very pleased with a bird’s eye panorama, providing the view of the valley. We lived in a usual “standard”, but personalized lux-rooms in Parador de Cardona are worth kings. I am not sure that every single room is equipped with baldachin, but our room number 706 had one.
Living in a romantic castle with powerful bastions, rising on an arduous hill – it is something. It was not only beautiful here – even splendid for 4 stars. It was so nice to spend an evening with a glass of twenty-year old brandy Lepanto or Gran Duque d’Alba sitting in the chairs more looking like the thrones.
The parador’s dining room is worth separate mentioning – Dukes of Cardona were not ashamed to take guests! The breakfasts are so big, that it seems you won’t be able to move, and of course with Spanish cava. What about the main menu? High prices and the cuisine cannot be compared to my favourite Italian.
We still failed to spend two days lying under the baldachin; the window view disposed for the active rest.
Let’s start from the fact that the Church of St. Vincent is rising above the walls. This harmonic cathedral is mentioned in many of the prestige catalogues, dedicated to the Early Middle Ages art, as a masterpiece of the medieval and early Catalan Romanesque art in the architecture. For me it’s hard to judge such nuances of architectural works, but it’s calm and peaceful inside of the St. Vincent. A couple of times we watched the arrival of the tourist busses – a quick excursion and people were driven away. The church is being open for the guests of the parador hotel upon their desire – we walked all alone there, fully enjoying its atmosphere. You can easily notice the funeral memorials to several generations of Dukes of Cardona in here.
There is another sightseeing hidden inside. Huge and high Church of St. Vincent keeps the tiny crypt or chapel of relics of the early Christian period inside of it. You can climb down to the miraculous crypt using a narrow stair.
But we did not stop there! The castle’s walls provided the great views of the surrounding valleys; the only European Salt Mountain could be seen from there, and the half-round arches of an old bridge. The bridge seems to be at the walking distance from us, but it was impossible to climb on it, as its ruins stay in the middle of the shoaled river – so close and unreachable!
Later, we found that the bridge is unfinished, rather than ruined, and has a very vivid name – the Devil’s bridge. The construction started in the far XV century and as the legend says, the local seniors had a deal with the Dark Lord in order to speed up the works. But the Devil suddenly found out that the bridge was intended for the pilgrims to ease their way to the holy places: the mountain of Montserrat near Cardona, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar in the city of Zaragoza, and the relics of St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The aggrieved Satan not only stopped the works, but also put a hex on the bridge which remains unfinished till the modern days.
Satisfied with another photo-catch and hungry to death, we went to the city to get some food. Cardona is a provincial, even in the cafes they do not speak English, but you can always use gestures and smile. It is completely another world with its own rhythm of life. After a snack we stocked up for vital provisions and returned back to our castle. It took a long time, we had to climb the mountain all the time.
Cardona is an inaccessible fortress with mighty bastions. It just happened that instead of lying under the baldachin after the hearty breakfast like everybody or lounging on a sunny terrace overseeing the valley, drinking coffee, cava or wine, we climbed all over the place for two days – both kept and ruined fortification constructions of the castle-hotel.
No one could envy those who tried to conquer the Castell de Cardona: you climb higher and higher under the burning Spanish sun, attacking at an inconceivable angle, while arrows and ball bullets keep pouring over every single bend. It seems absolutely impossible to overcome the two lines of these walls, but if you were so lucky to conquer the first gates, you can consider yourself already in hell, because all the gates of the first perimeter are open for shooting from the second chain of walls.
The last illustrative example of the siege of the Castle of Cardona happened during the French War 1808-1814. On 21 October 1810, the forces of General MacDonald surrounded the castle with 5000 of soldiers and a plenty of cavalry. The battle began at 8 am and continued till the sunset. There were over 400 French deaths against only 12 of the defending forces. The assailants left further attempts to seize the fortress.
The first mentions of this castle refers to the VIII century. It was the time when Cardona received the status of a city, and the castle became a home for seniors, who soon received the title Viscounts of Cardona. The fifteenth century brought the highest prosperity to this family, and viscounts had become the dukes. Since that moment they were called the Duques De Cardona, kings without a crown; thanks to the dynastic marriages, the family of the dukes became relatives of the Royal houses of Barcelona-Aragon, Portugal, Sicily and Naples.
There are many legends of this notable family. A special gift of Cardona seniors, actively participating in the palace intrigues almost for 700 years, always to “get off with a whole skin” and to stay on velvet at the same time, passed into a proverb in Spain. In Catalonia people say, «He is even more cunning than Cardona».
All it was like two nights from the childish fantasy about castles and knights. By the way, the naturalness of the castle attracted the movie-makers as well. The famous Hollywood film director Orson Welles used this place to shoot several scenes from the movie «Campanadas a medianoche» adapted from the plays “Richard II”, “Henry IV”, “Henry V” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by William Shakespeare and “Chronicles of England” by Raphael Holinshed. What can be said – a perfect place.
As a summary, two days set apart for the rest under the baldachin turned into a maximally active archaeological expedition. If you are also fond of historical places, save at least two days for Parador de Cardona, and if you want to visit the Salt Mountain, save three days. The Salina of Cardona is located only 3 km away from the city, the height of this mountain is more than 160 meters; it is considered to be a geological phenomenon, aging up to 40 million years. It used to be a source of the prosperity of the city for quite a long time. That’s why the seniors of Cardona were also called “The Salt Lords”.
The exploitations were stopped quite recently, in 1990, and the mountain pierced with underground caves and galleries, where the saline crystals rearrange into amazing transparent-white or soft-yellow coloured stalactites and stalagmites, has turned into the extraordinary tourist attraction “The Salt Mountain cultural Park”.
What else is worth visiting around? There is the mountain group Montserrat soars only forty kilometres away from the parador hotel, halfway between Barcelona and Cardona. It is a religious centre of Catalonia, which accommodates the ancient Benedictine Monastery among the weird mountain peaks, where the most famous Catalan relic – the miracle-working Black Madonna of Montserrat (IX century) – is being kept.
How to reach
By car: 100 km from Barcelona; 28 km from Manresa; 18 km from Solsona.
By train: FGC (Ferrocarrils de Generalitat de Catalunya) to Manresa – nearly every hour; RENFE: every 30 minutes and nearly every hour on the weekends. Further by bus.