Staying at Santiago de Compostela’s illustrious Parador de los Reyes Catolicos (aka the hotel “of the Catholic Monarchs”) meant I was bang next to the thousand year old Cathedral. So what came with the plush quarters were endlessly tolling bells, luckily melodic – which seemed to ring all through the night, every quarter of an hour. But when I opened my window to the pure Galician air in the morning, I could barely see the bell-tower for the swirling mist that enveloped it. Had I dreamt it? Somehow this symbolised Santiago de Compostela’s role as an elusive yet poignant goal for millions of pilgrims over the centuries
Wherever I went in the parador, I found myself in a stirring time-capsule, caught in a distant past where hefty oak beams, granite-framed windows, trickling fountains, quirky gargoyles, huge gilt-framed paintings, monasterial wooden chests and carved statues of a plethora of saints were the order of the day – and night. The length of the corridors beat Heathrow airport, as they wound their way around four huge patios, two of which dated from the early 16th century when the parador was built as a pilgrim hospital. On the way to my room, I passed unexpected perspectives, once over rooftops to distant hills through a knee-high window, another through a défilé of arches. After dinner I even managed to sneak onto the balcony overlooking the immense, magically lit Praza do Obradoiro.
My fourth-floor room was certainly not the biggest I have been in, nor the most luxuriously-appointed, yet it had a quaint, understated style that felt comfortable. Here I drifted in that same timeless and virtually soundless vacuum (punctuated by those bells as well as gentler sounds of flowing water) before I was forced to hang out the window with my ipad to try and capture wi-fi.
Then I realised that I was looking down across the tiled eaves into the sublime Renaissance patio of San Marcos, past the ornate fountain to the grand staircase that led to the royal dining room. It was all deserted, yet another timeless perspective in this sprawling, deeply elegant hotel, said to be the oldest in the world.