Accommodation in Spain
Hotels, self-catering and youth hostels
Spain - Housing & Rentals
Many types of accommodation are available in Spain, catering to all tastes and pockets, from sumptuous, grand luxury ( gran lujo) to humble. If you want to rub shoulders with the real Spanish, start at the bottom rather than the top of the accommodation chain.
Note, however, that it can be difficult to find good (or any) hotels in small villages and towns or on main roads in many areas, and Spain doesn’t have the tradition of charming country hotels that you can find throughout the UK and France, although this is changing. Hotels (and other accommodation in Spain) are regulated by the government and all legally registered establishments must display a blue plaque showing their category and class in white letters, as listed below:
Residential hotels are generally cheaper than standard hotels and offer fewer services and public lounges. Residential hotels and hostels don’t provide a restaurant service, but may offer breakfast or a cafeteria service. Hostels often provide better accommodation than inexpensive hotels and better value for money (a three-star hostel is roughly equivalent to a one-star hotel).
There’s a variety of budget accommodation in Spain, including the following:
- Casas de Huéspedes – a kind of guesthouse that offer basic accommodation. Food isn’t usually served. Long-stay guests ( estables) are usually preferred.
- Fondas – generally village inns with basic facilities and rooms, usually located over the bar. Food may be served (some may not offer rooms without full board), although this isn’t always the case.
- Hospedajes – basic accommodation consisting of rooms/lodgings, not very different from the two types of guesthouse (see above). Long-stay guests are usually preferred.
- Hostals – hostels offering similar accommodation to hotels. They’re the most upmarket type of budget accommodation with wash basins in all rooms, but they don’t usually offer full board.
- Pensiones – a kind of guesthouse that offer basic accommodation. Food may be served (some may not offer rooms without full board), although this isn’t always the case. Long-stay guests ( estables) are usually preferred.
Spain doesn’t have bed and breakfast accommodation to the same extent as, for example, the UK or France, although some private homes ( casas particulares) offer bed and breakfast off the beaten tourist track, and there are ‘bed and breakfast’ organisations in cities and large towns. Beds ( camas) and rooms ( habitaciones) are advertised in the windows of private houses, and above bars and roadside restaurants such as ventas, perhaps with the phrase camas y comidas (beds and meals). They often provide the cheapest of all accommodation and are usually spotlessly clean.
In country areas, there are rural cottages and farmhouses ( casas rurales, casas rústicas and casas de labranza), officially referred to as turismo rural, providing the opportunity to experience the Spanish country way of life and possibly make contact with Spanish families. Rural tourism is currently experiencing a boom in Spain, with Spaniards and foreign visitors, and you can rent a room in a house (meals are usually provided) or rent the whole house with self-catering facilities.
Accommodation is usually in traditional houses, some of which may be centuries old. Several books are published annually on rural tourism, e.g. Guía de Alojamiento de Turismo Rural (Anaya Touring) or Anuario de Turismo Rural (Susaeta) and there are numerous websites (e.g. http://www.azrural.com and http://www.toprural.com), which usually allow you to book accommodation online.
Other budget accommodation includes rooms in university dormitories ( colegios mayores and residencias) during the summer holidays and rooms in monasteries. Monasteries offer basic lodgings in real working monasteries where prayer, silence and seclusion are the order of the day (plus a large helping of beauty, serenity, superb architecture and perhaps even Gregorian chant). They accept guests of both sexes or men only and payment is often in the form of a ‘donation’ rather than a fixed fee. There are set meal times and reservations must usually be made in advance. Many monasteries have hospices or guest quarters ( hospederías). If you’re a fan of Gregorian chant, you may wish to visit the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos (Burgos), although you must book years in advance since the astounding success of their recording of Gregorian chant.
The cost of budget accommodation varies considerably. Half board ( pensión media) may also be offered at a slightly reduced rate. The cheapest accommodation is generally found in casas de huéspedes and hospedajes. If a room doesn’t have a private bathroom, which usually contains a shower rather than a bath, you may be charged an additional fee to use a communal bathroom. As with most accommodation in Spain, large discounts are usually offered for long stays during winter.
When booking budget accommodation you should enquire about the exact location and the facilities provided, as standards vary from clean and homely abodes to ‘fleapits’ unfit for human habitation. Note that budget accommodation is often basic, usually lacks heating and guests are often subject to curfews. There’s usually a wide variation in the standard of accommodation of establishments within the same category. Budget establishments seldom accept credit cards and 7 per cent value added tax (VAT) is added to all bills. A list of budget accommodation can usually be obtained from local tourist offices and rooms to let can also be found by asking at local bars and restaurants. When staying in budget accommodation, it’s advantageous if you speak some Spanish, as your hosts may not speak any foreign languages.
Camping & Caravanning
Spain has over 800 campsites ( campings or campamentos), two-thirds of which are on the coast, with a total capacity of over 400,000 pitches. Many campsites accommodate only 300 to 400 people and some cater exclusively for naturists. Campsites are inspected and approved by the Spanish tourist authority and classified under four categories according to their amenities: L (luxury/ lujo), first class ( primera clase/ 1a), second class ( segunda clase/ 2a) and third class ( tercera clase/ 3a).
Even the most basic camp grounds must have 24-hour surveillance; a fenced area; unlimited drinking water; first aid and fire prevention; toilets and showers (there may be a fee for hot showers); washing and washing-up facilities and rubbish collection. Most camps also provide a range of other services and facilities which may include a post office, playground, currency exchange, cable TV, telephones, safes, launderette, bottled gas, electricity/water hook-ups for caravans and motor caravans, swimming pools, tennis courts and other sports facilities, shops, supermarket, hairdresser, disco, restaurants and bars.
All campsites post their daily fees (usually from noon until noon the following day) at the entrance, which are calculated per car or caravan, per person and per tent. There are reductions of around 20 per cent a day for children, e.g. aged from three to ten years. VAT at 7 per cent must be added to all fees.
Some sites charge extra for hot showers, sports (such as tennis courts) and the use of ironing facilities or a freezer. Most campsites offer special rates outside the high season of June to August, although many are open only during the ‘summer’ season, e.g. April or June to September. It’s advisable to book during the high season, particularly for campsites situated in coastal areas in July and August. Note that many campsites don’t accept dogs.
An international camping carnet isn’t necessary in Spain when camping at registered sites, although it’s required when camping ‘wild’. However, it’s advisable to have one, as it’s accepted as proof of identification by campsites. Before camping in open country you should check that wild camping is permitted and obtain permission from the owner of private land. Wild camping is often prohibited during the dry season due to the danger of fires or when there’s an official campsite in the immediate vicinity (you aren’t permitted to camp within one kilometre of an official campsite). Camping is forbidden on beaches, river banks and in mountains, and you can be fined for camping illegally.
The Spanish Federation of Camping Sites387 (Federación Española de Empresarios de Camping, C/Valderribas, 48, 3, 1ºC, 28007 Madrid, 914-481 234, http://www.fedcamping.com) publishes an annual guide ( Guía de Campings) listing sites (by region), with illustrations and plans. Another useful guide is the Guía Ibérica de Campings y Bungalows (Ocitur), which includes campsites in Portugal. Reservations can be made directly with campsites and through the Spanish Federation of Camping Sites.
TurEspaña publish a free camping map ( Mapa de Campings) showing all official campsites and free regional and provincial maps are available from local tourist offices, as well as an annual official guide Guía Oficial de Campings. If you’re a newcomer to camping and caravanning, it’s advantageous to join a camping or caravan club which provide useful information (e.g. the best guides to campsites), approved sites, caravan and travel insurance, travel services, rallies, holidays, reservations and a range of other benefits.
Hotels are officially classified with one to five stars ( estrellas) by the Ministry of Economy, depending on the facilities they offer, rather than their price (although they’re priced accordingly). Note that hotels within the same category can vary considerably in quality and comfort, and that ratings depend on the area, as all regions administer star ratings in different ways. A rough guide to room rates is shown below:
The prices quoted above are for a double room with bath for one night (prices in Spain are usually quoted per room and not per person). VAT ( IVA) at 7 per cent is added to all hotel bills. In the Canaries, Ceuta and Melilla, a local tax ( IGIC or ITE, similar to VAT) of 4.5 per cent is added to bills. Prices should be quoted inclusive of tax and service charges.
Hotel room rates don’t normally include breakfast, which usually costs from €8 (for a continental breakfast), although it’s usually cheaper at a local bar or cafe. Hotels are closely regulated by the government. Room prices (including seasonal rates) must be posted in the foyer and in rooms, and it must be stated whether they include tax and service.
Rates vary according to location as well as category, with hotels located in large towns and cities, coastal resorts and spa towns being the most expensive. Hotels are expensive in major cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, where rates are similar to other major European cities. Inexpensive accommodation is mostly found in the old quarter of town centres, often close to the main square or cathedral. Hotel rates vary considerably depending on the region and season, and it’s often worth haggling over rates, particularly if you’re on your own or during the low season. As in most countries, single rooms are rare and only marginally cheaper than doubles (they usually cost around 20 per cent less).
A double room usually contains two single beds, rather than a double bed ( cama matrimonial), which should be requested if required. Many hotels have ‘family’ rooms for three or four guests at greatly reduced rates, or provide extra beds ( camas) for children in a double room free of charge. An extra bed for an adult normally costs around 35 per cent of the double room rate or 60 per cent of the cost of a single room. Half and full board is common at hotels with restaurants, although it’s usually restricted to guests staying three or more days.
Minimum and maximum rates are fixed according to the facilities and the season, although there’s no season in major cities. In the Canaries and winter resorts, low season may be in summer (there’s usually not much difference in rates). Rates are considerably higher in tourist areas during the high season ( temporada alta) of July and August (and Easter), when rooms at any price are hard to find. On the other hand, outside the main season, particularly in winter, many hotels offer low half or full board rates, when a double room with bath, including dinner (buffet). Many hotels have lower rates at weekends and special rates for groups, and some chains provide discount cards for regular clients reducing rates by 15 to 25 per cent.
It’s advisable to make a reservation ( reserva) during the high season months of July and August, on public holiday weekends, and during international trade fairs, conventions, festivals and fiestas. At most other times, it’s usually unnecessary to book, particularly in rural areas and small towns. It’s advisable to book at least two to three months in advance for summer in major cities (such as Madrid and Barcelona), and around two weeks in advance at other times.
A hotel is required to retain a booked room only until around 6pm, after which it can be let to someone else (unless you’ve paid in advance). If you plan to arrive later than this, you should advise a hotel of your estimated arrival time. Note that staff and owners of small rural hotels don’t usually speak English or other foreign languages. Children and animals are usually welcome, although you should check when booking. Numerous websites, including http://www.onlydog.com and http://www.perros.com provide information about hotels accepting dogs and other animals.
You’re required by law to show your passport or identity card and complete a registration form when registering at a hotel. If you’re staying in a small hotel and wish to leave early in the morning, it’s best to pay your bill ( cuenta) the evening before and tell the proprietor when you plan to leave. Otherwise you may find the hotel locked up like Fort Knox and no-one around to let you out. Check out time is usually noon at the latest and if you stay any later you may be charged for an extra day. If required, hotels will usually store your luggage free of charge until later in the day.
You should be shown a room. No Spaniard would dream of accepting a room without inspecting it first, especially the beds, which are often hard or lumpy and too short for anyone above average height. Beds usually have long, hard, sausage-shaped bolsters ( cabezales) serving as pillows and running across a double bed, with the bottom sheet running around them and substituting for pillow cases. Many foreigners find bolsters uncomfortable (they can be very hard), although they’re quite happily used by most Spanish guests. There may be pillows ( almohadas) in the wardrobe, which, like bolsters, usually have no slips and are placed under the bottom sheet. Duvets aren’t common in Spain, even in winter, when sheets ( sábanas) and blankets ( mantas) are normally used.
Most hotels are centrally heated in winter, although cheaper hotels are often miserly with the heating and hostels often lack heating altogether. Air-conditioning is generally found only in 3 to 5-star hotels (and is a blessing in summer). If you’re staying in a city, it’s advisable to ask for a quiet room, i.e. nowhere near a discotheque, bar or restaurant. With the exception of modern and luxury hotels, hotels rooms in Spain aren’t always equipped with a radio or TV, irrespective of the price.
Satellite TV is provided in top class hotels. All top class hotels provide tea and coffee-making facilities; a radio and colour TV; bath ( baño) and shower ( ducha) with a bidet; telephone; room service and a mini-bar or refrigerator. Drinks from a hotel mini-bar are expensive, but they’re handy for storing your own food and drinks. Many top class hotels also provide sports facilities such as tennis, squash, swimming pools (mandatory in summer), gymnasium (there may be a fee), billiards/pool, sauna and solarium, plus bars, restaurants, discos, cabaret and a TV/video room with big-screen video. In many mid-range ‘tourist’ hotels, all meals are served buffet-style. Luxury hotels often have excellent convention facilities.
Most guide books contain a selection of hotels and there are numerous Spanish hotel guides. The most comprehensive hotel (and restaurant) guides are the Michelin Red Guide España y Portugal and Hoteles y Restaurantes de España (El País Aguilar), which include the humblest and ‘poshest’ of establishments, and lists weekly closing days and seasonal opening. Both books are published annually. Lists of hotels and other accommodation are published by local municipalities, and provinces and regions also publish hotel guides. TurEspaña publish the Guía de Hoteles, containing every classified hotel and hostel in Spain (available from local book shops).
Note that all official establishments offering accommodation must maintain a complaints book and you can also make a complaint to the local tourist office, who may intercede on your behalf to resolve a dispute.
Spain has many exceptional hotels, which are often referred to as ‘charming’ hotels ( hoteles con encanto), including paradores (see below). Over 130 exceptional hotels, in all parts of Spain, are handled by Rusticae and offer luxury accommodation in exquisite settings, often rural, at a reasonable price – a double room starting at around €120. A brochure is available direct from Rusticae (902-103 892) or from the website (http://www.rusticae.es), which includes online booking facilities.
Exceptional hotels in rural settings are listed in Alastair Sawday’s Special Places to Stay: Spain (Alastair Sawday Publishing), Karen Brown’s Spain (Karen Brown Guides) and Small Hotels and Inns of Andalusia: Charming Places to Stay in Southern Spain by G. Hunter-Watts (Santana Books).
Paradores: One chain of hotels rating an individual mention is the state-owned Paradores Nacionales de Turismo (usually referred to simply as paradores). These are housed in historic buildings such as castles, palaces, convents and monasteries, plus a few modern buildings with swimming pools and sports facilities. There are some 85 paradores, most in the three- and four-star categories, providing comfortable (even luxurious) rooms and excellent regional cuisine and wines.
Paradores are expensive by Spanish standards, with rates between €90 and €250, although prices are lower outside the high season, when they offer a 35 per cent discount for those aged over 60 staying half-board, a 20 per cent discount for stays of a minimum of two nights half-board , five nights’ accommodation for €425 and a one-off price of €45 per person per night for guests aged between 20 and 30. Note, however, that paradores can offer excellent value and a double room in a luxury four-star parador may only cost some €20 more than a basic two-star tourist hotel around the corner!
Bookings can be made through agents in many countries. For a free brochure contact Paradores Nacionales de Turismo, Central de Reservas, C/Requena, 3, 28013 Madrid (902-547 979 – open from 8am to 8pm Mondays to Fridays and from 9am to 2.30pm on Saturdays, http://www.parador.es). The website includes information and photographs of all the paradores and online booking facilities. You can become a ‘friend of paradores’ ( amigo de paradores) and receive a complementary drink on arrival, free garaging for your car and one point for every €3 you spend (which can be exchanged for accommodation). A comprehensive book Paradores de Turismo by José Maria Iñigo (Everest) is available from bookshops.
There’s a wealth of self-catering accommodation in Spain which is extremely popular, particularly with Spanish families. It includes apartments, townhouses, villas, farmhouses and country houses ( fincas). Note that standards vary considerably, from dilapidated, ill-equipped apartments to luxury villas with every modern convenience. You don’t always get what you pay for and some properties bear little resemblance to their descriptions. Unless a company or property has been highly recommended, it’s best to book through a reputable organisation such as Interhome or a tourist agency. TurEspaña publish a guide to self-catering accommodation entitled Apartamentos Turísticos. Tourist apartments ( apartamentos turísticos) in Spain are graded by one to four keys as shown below:
- Luxury (four keys) – a top-quality building in a good location with air-conditioning, heating, 24-hour hot water, parking, reception and information desk, private telephone, bar service, and a restaurant or cafeteria. Lifts are provided if the building is higher than two floors.
- First class (three keys) – a quality building with heating and hot water, reception and information desk, telephone to reception, and lifts if the building is higher than three floors;
- Second class (two keys) – a well built structure with heating, hot water, a telephone at the reception desk and on each floor, and lifts if the building is higher than three floors;
- Third class (one key) – hot water, at least a shower in all apartments and a lift if the building is higher than three floors.
Most accommodation is let for a minimum of seven nights (except for public holiday weekends such as Easter). The cost per night usually ranges from €30 for a studio (sleeping two people) in low season, to €60 per night in high season (July-August). A two-bedroom apartment or townhouse (sleeping four to six) costs from around €60 per night in low season to €100 per night in high season, although rates depend on the location and the quality of the accommodation. Rates usually include linen, gas and electricity, although heating in winter, e.g. gas or electric heaters, is usually charged extra. It’s illegal to install electricity coin meters in rental accommodation in Spain. Beware of gas heaters with faulty ventilation ducts, as they’ve been responsible for a number of deaths in self-catering accommodation due to gas poisoning. Extra beds and cots can usually be rented.
In Madrid and other cities, there are luxury serviced apartments costing around €50 to €150 a night (€300 to €900 a week) for a studio or one bedroom apartment sleeping two and €150 to €250 a night (€900 to €1,500 a week) for a two or three-bedroom apartment sleeping four to six. VAT at 7 per cent is added to bills and may be included in quoted rates. Note that pets are usually prohibited. During the low season, which may extend from October to May, rates may drop to as little as €300 to €450 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, although there’s usually a minimum let of two months. Naturally, you can rent a wide variety of villas and luxury properties throughout Spain, the cost of which can be astronomical.
Properties in resort areas always have a swimming pool (shared for apartments and townhouses), in use from around May to October, and most are also located close to a beach. Some properties have an indoor heated swimming pool and other facilities such as tennis courts. Most holiday apartments are fairly basic, often with tiny kitchens and bathrooms (there may only be a shower), and have a combined lounge/dining room, a patio or balcony. If you need special items such as a cot or high chair, you should mention them when booking.
Properties are generally well-stocked with cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery, although you should check before shopping. Some things that may come in handy are a decent cook’s knife, a teapot, egg cups, a pepper mill, a filter coffee machine and a few of your favourite foods such as tea, instant coffee, and relishes and condiments you cannot live without. Most people take a few essential foods and supplies with them and buy fresh food on arrival, although many self-catering properties provide a ‘welcome pack’ with essentials for when you first arrive.
It’s essential to book during the high season and over holiday weekends (e.g. at Easter). There’s usually a 25 per cent deposit, with the balance payable on arrival. Normally, you must arrive by 5pm on your first day and vacate the property by noon on your day of departure. Outside the high season of July and August, self-catering accommodation can usually be found on the spot by asking around in bars and restaurants or by obtaining a list from the local tourist office.
There are more than 200 youth hostels ( albergues juveniles) in Spain, some 100 of which are open all year round and 65 in summer only. They’re operated by the Spanish youth hostel association (Red Española de Albergues Juveniles/REAJ) and provide the cheapest accommodation in Spain. International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF) membership is usually necessary and is available from REAJ offices, offices of Viajes TIVE and other travel agencies. Cards can also be issued at some hostels.
Most hostels are housed in old buildings without modern plumbing or air-conditioning, and possibly no heating in winter in the south of the country. They’re usually situated out of town, packed with schoolchildren, and residents are subject to curfews which exclude guests from making the most of Spain’s extensive nightlife. If you don’t have a booking, you should arrive early (e.g. between 8 and 9am) at some hostels, particularly those in Madrid, and you should book for the peak months of July and August. Most hostels allow a maximum stay of around three days.
However, unless you’re dedicated to staying in youth hostels you may find they aren’t worth bothering with as there’s a wealth of budget accommodation throughout Spain and hostels can work out more expensive for couples and groups than other types of accommodation. Costs vary depending on the actual hostel, although typical costs per person are as follows:
For further information contact Red Española de Albergues Juveniles (REAJ), C/Castello, 24 6º dcha, 28001 Madrid (915-227 007, http://www.reaj.com). The website includes downloadable brochures in Spanish and English with prices and lists of hostels. REAJ also publish an annual magazine Albergues with useful information about youth hostels in Spain. In mountain areas, the Spanish Mountain Sports Federation (Federación Española de Deportes de Montaña y Escalada/
FEDME), C/Floridablanca, 84, 08015 Barcelona (934-264 267, http://www.fedme.es) maintains over 200 alpine huts ( refugios). These are simple, inexpensive, dormitory huts for climbers and hikers, and they’re usually equipped only with bunks and a basic kitchen. The Spain Mountains website (http://www.spainmountains.com) includes useful information on alpine huts, as well as a wealth of other information in English, French and German about travelling in Spain’s many mountainous areas.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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