“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things,” wrote Niccolo Machiavelli. But dammit, Nick, I’m going to give it a try.
Now… let us see. How does sleeping in a majestic, historic and beautifully restored building sound for a “new thing”?
Adventure motorcycling, and especially long-distance riding, is associated in practically everyone’s mind with camping or staying in the cheapest available accommodation. Believe me, I’ve been there. Cheap does not always mean grim and grubby, but that is the way the wind blows.
Organised motorcycle tours are usually a generous step up from that. You get three- and four-star hotels, quite often very pleasant ones with all the comforts of home. But what about the comforts not of home? What about something exotic, historic and even luxurious? Under normal circumstances that is ruled out by price. But perhaps not always – at least in Spain and Portugal.
Not long ago (the time before the Plague) I took a tour of northern Spain with IMTBike Motorcycle Tours, who run excellent tours but also offer something extra, namely accommodation in Spain’s Paradores Hotels.
Most if not all countries in Europe have majestic palaces, castles and monasteries which, for one reason or another, are no longer inhabited or kept up by their original owners. These buildings will occasionally be transformed into youth hostels, which unfortunately tends to mean that they lose the furnishings and atmosphere of their heydays, replaced by bunkrooms and those gloomy kitchens filled with the decomposing remnants of a thousand backpackers’ dinners. Otherwise, they often become museums for tourists, and a drain on the State purse. It costs money to keep up these places.
Spain and Portugal decided to ignore Machiavelli and give many of these buildings a spectacular rebirth. They turned them into hotels. This way, the buildings could retain their glory and pay their own way at the same time. The secret is that despite the often magnificent buildings and furnishings, prices were kept at an affordable level so the Paradores (in Spain) and Pousadas (in Portugal) were not resorts for the rich but accessible to a much larger group of people – including travelling motorcyclists.
From what I have seen, the introduction of this particular new order of things has been a success. Here is a quick look at the different types you will encounter – not least if you go on one of those IMTBIKE tours as I did* but also if you travel alone.
Paradores are mostly historic buildings such as medieval castles, monasteries, convents, or fortresses. There are also some purpose-built venues like the Parador de Cádiz. They are divided into three categories: Paradores Esentia, which are monumental and historic hotels considered authentic art pieces; Paradores Civia, or urban hotels which are close to everything you may want to visit in a city, such as museums and pubs; and Paradores Naturia, immersed in nature. These last offer the chance to relax and enjoy the environment.
This is Spain we’re talking about, so it is not just a matter of sleeping in high-ceilinged, luxuriously appointed rooms that once hosted princes or princesses. It is also a matter of what is sometimes called “gastronomic tourism” with the best traditional and original cuisines prepared from quality products of the regions you are in. I just call it “eating well”. Very well.
Spain’s Pousadas offer three different types of restaurants: Especia, classic style restaurants with traditional menus with a gourmet touch; Tamizia, offering the latest trends in Spanish gastronomy; and Marmitia, serving the best local products and traditional dishes.
You don’t have to go on an IMTbike tour to enjoy staying in Paradores or Pousadas. But it’s a good way to get an idea of just what is out there – using their local knowledge. Which brings me to Portugal.
I have not had an opportunity to try Pousadas de Portugal, although with a bit of luck I will in May of 2022 when I have been invited on another tour by Scott.
Pousadas are divided into different types in much the same way as the Paradores are in Spain. Pousadas Históricas, located in well preserved yet unspoiled national monuments such as convents, monasteries, castles or fortresses; Pousadas Históricas Design, also in castles, convents, fortresses and palaces that were renovated, offering artistic and contemporary decoration; Pousadas Natureza, in natural countryside locations; and Pousadas Charme, in areas with a romantic, unique atmosphere.
In 2005, the first Pousada de Portugal outside Portugal opened in Brazil, in a historic building and fort built by the Portuguese. The operators of the Pousada chain are expanding into all the places that the Portuguese once ruled: Asia (Goa, Macau and even East Timor), Africa (Cap Verde, Mozambique and Angola) and more places in Brazil.
I know that this is a somewhat unusual post for ADVrider but I thought I would “take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things,” as Machiavelli had it. And maybe I’ll meet some of you when I sample Portugal’s Pousadas in May.
*Scott at IMTbike was interested in attracting riders from Australia and invited me to go on a tour.
(Photos The Bear)