I capture the castillo
Within Cardona Castle’s walls history stretches back ever further – the second century tower tells a tale of forlorn love. Adeles, the daughter of the duke, was held captive by her brothers after falling in love with a Moor. Incarcerated for a year, she died of a broken heart. Needless to say, her sobs can be still be heard when the moonlight falls across the ancient tower.
The castle offers its own spiritual space: the 12th century church of San Vicente abuts the ground floor tapas bar. If, on the other hand, you’re more into matters sybaritic, then welcome. Traditional luxury and comfort go hand in hand in this stylish bolt-hole.
The medieval-style restaurant serves hearty Catalan specialities – local sausages, spicy spinach, steak and venison, cider cakes: food fit for a king. Even a particularly cruel one. But then that’s what Paradors are about – combining vernacular cuisine and culture with more than a touch of modern panache. The service here is friendly and free-wheeling. “More wine, señor?” our waiter would say at very regular intervals. As it happens, more wine is one of my very favourite things, so despite Cardona having few similarities to Co Down – it wasn’t long before I felt utterly at home.
Slightly worse for wear the next morning, we piled into the Mercedes. Manu, looking immaculate – even though we’d spotted him downstairs very late on, and we don’t think he was heading for church – informed us that our next destination was in deeply rural Osona.
The Vic-Sau Parador, a converted Catalan farmhouse, combines rustic charm with an extravagant panorama stretching as far as the snow-capped Pyrenees. Behind are the Guillerias Mountains, in front the Sau reservoir. The area is home to dozens of avian A-listers, including black-shouldered kites, Eurasian spoonbills and Griffon vultures.
Nearby are walks that take you ever further along the byways of Spanish history. Not three miles from the Parador is the Monastery of Casserres, built on the teetering edge of a cliff – truly a triumph of stonemasonry over common sense. After touring this Romanesque marvel, you can enjoy a glass of the local Catalan garnacha wine (rich and red) in the tapas bar while taking in the jaw-dropping view across the gorge of Sau. The monastery, founded in 981, was completed in 1006. The abbot in charge passed away peacefully in his bed – back in the days when dying in your bed was no insignificant achievement.