As the renovation project continues, it may be difficult to discern which paradores underwent a carefully considered redesign, and which merely got new curtains and carpeting. How do you find the gems?
Do your homework online
At parador.es, the official site, search by style (monastery, castle, historical site) and/or services (pool, playground, tennis). "Modern" style means the building isn't old--therefore, no palaces or castles. To find a recently renovated centuries-old building, cross-search something like "convent" with a modern amenity, such as a pool. Each property has a gallery of photos. Skip them at your peril.
Go to the source
"Contact the paradores' main office and ask when the hotel was redesigned," says designer Pascua Ortega. Make inquiries with the reservation center, either by e-mail (email@example.com) or phone (011-34/91-516-6666).
Designer Jaime Beriestain also renovated the Parador de la Seu d'Urgell, and Ortega had a hand in the more modern ski chalet Parador de Vielha. (Both are in the Pyrenees.)
Call in help
Marketing Ahead, the U.S. marketing firm that works with the parador system, can make your reservations and plan itineraries for no additional fee (marketingahead.com, 800/223-1356).
Shop for discounts
Many paradores have rates as low as $109. (The ones in this story start at $133.) You can do even better. At parador.es, click on Special Promotions for discounts such as the five-night card: You pay $515 for five nights at any of the 89 participating hotels, whether it's a five-night stay at one parador or consecutive one-night stays at five different ones.