Many years ago, as a poor student studying in Sevilla, a friend from nearby Carmona took me through its narrow, winding streets and whitewashed houses. He led me to the very tallest hill and inside the old Moorish fortress perched there, overlooking vast plains backed by an abrupt sierra.
Gone were the caliphs; the sumptuous interiors and tranquil courtyard fountains now calmed the souls of modern-day travelers. It had been converted into one of Spain’s famous paradores, government-run hotels that occupy the country’s most sensational castles and fortresses.
For the rest of my life I dreamed of staying at the Parador de Carmona, until last April when Ben made it possible. And now I just dream of returning.
The wow factor
The view. The interiors. The historic setting.
While each alone would qualify as the principal wow at another property, it’s the cumulative effect of the three that raises the Parador de Carmona to the level of sublime. A holy trinity of hotel attributes, if you will, which are best described visually:
There is one other location where the beauty of the landscape was so arresting that it made it difficult to fall asleep: the Geiranger-Trollstigen National Tourist Route of Norway. I call it “visual gluttony,” and Carmona is the same.
The vastness of the plains is as mesmerizing as any seascape, and the access to that view – a series of tall halls separated by pierced-wood dividers that lead you successively closer until you finally burst out onto the precariously high terrace – is a walk that will remain in your memory long after you depart.
Location, location, location
Few people just happen to drive through Carmona. Most travelers to the region are seduced by nearby Sevilla. If this were a retail shop, it would be highly challenged.
But if you’re willing to venture off the beaten track (Carmona is about half an hour from Sevilla), you’ll be highly rewarded. This is one of the pueblos blancos – or white towns – of the southern Spanish province of Andalucia, whose narrow cobbled streets, gleaming white walls and tiled roofs epitomize the stereotype of Spanish villages that so many foreigners hold dear.
The small-town environment is also a draw: old men playing bacci, families strolling in the afternoon. As a bonus, the townspeople regularly use the gardens as a photo backdrop during special occasions, so you’re almost guaranteed to see children in catechism dress and newlyweds in wedding finery.
Almost everyone was friendly, though some of the waitstaff, while not unfriendly, didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about their mission. This is the first hotel we recommend that didn’t meet the high level of warmth or personal commitment by the staff that we so appreciate. Professional and courteous, yes, but certainly not a superlative experience. The superlative setting, however, more than makes up for it.
Except for the restaurant and some guest rooms, the parador maintains a historical look commensurate with its background. A large Mudejar central fountain, massive wood ornamentation, Moroccan copper tables, medieval-style chairs, thick tapestries, coats of armor and other antiques, and beautiful tile work are a few pieces of the eye candy that sweeten your stay.
At the foreground of the hotel view, the pool is a particularly striking design element. Its wide expanse of blue (framed by blue tile on the lounge-area rooftops) contrasts with the seasonal greens or golds of the surrounding plains, making them appear more richly hued. The view from the pool is also breathtaking, providing the imposing perspective of the looming citadel that once upon a time would have intimidated prospective invaders.
Resting Your Head (Rooms)
Our junior suite overlooked the plains and pool and sat right below the restaurant and terrace area, providing a 5-star view.
Though it was one of the modern rather than medieval-style rooms, some of the furniture felt in need of some loving refurbishment. However, it was extremely spacious and perfectly silent (except for loud noises from breakfast preparation beginning at about 6:00 a.m.). Most of our time was spent in the hotel grounds, not in our room.
*Tip: If you secure a room in the center of the hotel, request a floor which is not directly underneath the breakfast activity.
A recurring problem for me with travel in Spain, Italy and Greece is the – mildly put – extra firm beds. This was the case here, as well. Additional pillows placed under the mattress pad help relieve discomfort in those situations. Meanwhile, the bathroom was newly remodeled and extremely comfortable.
We left too early to enjoy breakfast, but dinner was a culinary highlight of the trip. The dining room occupies the former rectory, and the high ceilings keep the noise level low even when the room is full. Although positioned for an amazing view, the Spanish eat too late for diners to enjoy it except in the high summer months. (The 8:30 p.m. opening frustrated some of our fellow hotel guests. For us it was ideal because it allowed time for a glass of cava, Spanish sparkling wine, on the terrace.)
Each meal begins with a glass of fino – a dry, regional sherry. The menu focuses heavily on local cuisine and regional specialties, of which I sampled a couple. While delicious, the Ribera del Duero wine suggested by the sommelier was my favorite part of the meal. Meanwhile, Ben indulged in a six-course tasting menu for only 38€, and to this day remembers it as the best meal he has ever enjoyed in Spain. In fact, he declared the steak the best in Europe. Lest you doubt the enormity of this compliment, let me remind you that Ben is a Texan. This man knows his beef, and is not easily impressed.
Key amenities include:
- Room service. (Snack service is available throughout the day in the bar, as well).
- Gift store
- Satellite TV
- Pool (open in summer only)
- Wifi is included, as it should be. Due to the thick stone walls, it is currently only available in public areas.
The hotel can arrange sightseeing trips in town or to nearby Sevilla as well as drives through the pueblos blancos. The most famous, Ronda, is about two hours away.
When we visited in April, the guests were mainly Spanish and English. Except for a small group of boisterous English pensioners, it was a subdued, refined group. Most people appeared to be sitting quietly, reflecting on the beauty of the surrounding and reveling in an extreme, almost surreal tranquility, just like two locals we saw on a nearby hill. There they sat, talking and surveying the plains for hours, seemingly with no pressing matters to distract them.
Regardless of whether you plan to stay for the night, make time to come here when you’re in Sevilla. One glass of cava on the terrace and you’ll be hooked, dreaming about your return – as I did – even if it takes many years.
*Tip: You can also elect to stay at a string of paradores for a special price, charting your preferred route through Spain).
41410 Carmona, Sevilla
Phone +34 954141010
Fax +34 954141712
*We will always disclose sponsorships when applicable in any of our reviews (though opinions are candid, regardless). In this case, we stayed at the Parador de Carmona anonymously and received no sponsorship.