On New Year's Day, we bid farewell to Seville, and headed toward Catalán in the north east corner of Spain. The night train we took from Seville to Barcelona sucked. We couldn't get couchettes and were forced to spend it in a 2nd class car with two strangers. No one got a good night's sleep, but Michelle and June were able to pull the seats together and snuggled up to find some rest.
Once in Barcelona, we tried to figure out what to do. After some research and debate, we decided to spend a night in a Spanish castle! The Parador Nacional Duques de Cardona was our destination. Paradors are government-run hostels, often in converted historical landmarks. The one in Cardona was a four-star hotel, absolutely gorgeous and very luxurious (read expensive)! It was worth it though.
We found our way toward the tiny town of Cardona through another small town Manresa via train and taxi, one of the more challenging trips on our adventure. Cardona is near the Pyrennes mountains and turned out to be very cold as we found out the hard way!
The arduous trip was made worthwhile as we approached the castle on top of the hill. It was all lit up by floodlights and looked very ominous and beautiful at the same time. The castle used to be the most important stronghold in Catalonia in its day, dating back to the 9th century, and housed colorful characters such as Ludovici Pio (Louis the Pious), Guifré el Pilós (Wilfred the Hairy), and Don Ramón Folch (the nephew of Charlemagne). Sant Vicenç de Cardona, a canonical church inside the castle walls consecrated in 1040, is the most important site in the small town of Cardona. The castle itself was restored and converted into a 4-star hotel in 1976, and they did a great job! Our room is the ultimate. Words just can't describe it.
We went to the hotel bar, previously the dungeon of the castle, and had some snacks. Simply the best grilled squid I've ever had! There were also some tasty little sausages. Two bottles of wine and a strong rum and Coke later, we were satisfied with the evening's events.
We got the "knock" at 9:30 pm as our neighbors complained about our buzzed conversation. So we decided to go outside and explore the castle. The castle grounds were well kept and impressive in the dark. We climbed on top of the tallest battlement and took a group photo. The reason we were kneeling and huddled together was because it was really COLD!
The next morning, we awoke to be rewarded with awesome panoramic views from our bedroom window. This is a picture of the surrounding area lying below the castle and the Pyrennes in the distance.
Through the other bedroom window, we were treated with a nice view of the hills in the morning mist! This place was beautiful.
Here I am on top of the look-out from the night before, only this time you can actually see the town below. It was a crisp and chilly morning in the hills.
The castle had its own Gothic chapel at one time. Here's what's left of it. You can still see the well-preserved Gothic arches, and you can just make out the stone altar in the center. This must be part of the Sant Vicenç de Cardona, although we never got a chance to confirm it.
Regretting not taking a picture of the castle from a distance the night before when it was all lit up, I had to scan a post card to show you what it looks like.