Boutique Hotels and Walking? - Try the GR1

I get funny, sometimes critical, looks when I'm on a walk plugged into music or whatever.  It's as if I'm not showing 'respect'.  This is the countryside and you shouldn't mute its sounds with blather from the city.  Maybe. But when I'm on my own (Christine objects to me plugging in when I'm with her) I enjoy having a soundtrack attached to my walk - and the distraction makes the 9-10 hour walks I sometimes inflict on myself a lot easier.

I'm not a 'back to nature' walker - I enjoy my comforts. Call me a southern wuss (and a Spurs supporter) but my style of walking is not exactly hardcore. Yes, I managed to walk from one end of Europe to the other, but apart from one night, and that was an accident, managed to avoid the nocturnal outdoors and found a bed every night.



Compared to some of my walking peers I'm at the 'walking for softies' end of the spectrum - not for me is the 12 euro a day budget which others succeed on. I'm sure I'm missing out on lots (dawn chorus - stiff back) but a shower, bottle of wine, nice meal and comfortable bed seem to me to be pretty good compensations.

On our last trip on the GR1 Christine proposed a new rule - 'wherever we walk, we stay in the best (most expensive) place we can find'.  Now this feels a bit like plugging the earphones in - a sort of wild extravagance that goes against the hair shirt grain of the long-distance walker - and perhaps because of that I think it's brilliant.

It's not as extravagant as it sounds because if you're following a route like the GR1 (or the E4) you don't have any choice on most nights.  It's not a question of staying in the best place - it's more one of finding the only place.  And in Spain, given the current state of the economy, even the best is not expensive by UK standards.

It's still a good rule, and if I had applied it on my GR1 trips last year it would have changed where I stayed a number of times.

The best example would have been Olite.  I've been to Olite twice and stayed in the same hotel both times.  A nice hotel, good food and good location, but it's not the Parador.  In Olite the Parador is located in the old Royal Palace - a gorgeous building, one of the buildings that defines this beautiful town, and I missed staying in it.
Inside the parador in Olite
The rule, which will now be adopted on future trips, got me thinking - would it be possible to find bits of the GR1 where the accommodation was as much the attraction as the walking?  On the basis that you don't ask a question unless you know the answer I can say that there is a 5 day / 4 night section where the answer is a resounding 'yes'.  And at least three of the hotels on this stretch have food of near Michelin quality.
A meaty breakfast at Masia Messanés
On my last trip there was a particular purple patch of brilliant places to stay.  It started with Masia Messanés, not quite boutique but an amazing place.  Located in the middle of nowhere at the eastern end of the Sierra Montsec it's critical to the viability of this part of the route - there is nothing else for miles around. But it certainly doesn't exploit its monopoly status.  The rooms are lovely (we stayed in a luxury cave); the food is seriously home produced; and it's one of a few places on the GR1 where a litre of wine is provided with both dinner and breakfast.  Great room, dinner and breakfast for two comes in at a total of 90 euros.

Can Boix - location location location

Next stop the Can Boix near Peramola.  We were told (warned?) by the local guy who gave us directions to get there that it was one of the best hotels in Spain and had been owned by the same family for four generations. It was clearly a bit of an institution, doing family parties and business dinners, but very welcoming and relaxed for all that.  The food was amazing: modern, delicate, with new and unusual flavour combinations, but distinctly Spanish.  The wine was also excellent and with the help of the sommelier (which usually means spending lots) we were able to experience something excellent and new.  Although one of the best hotels in Spain the total bill (with three meals and a lovely room) was less than 200 euros for 2.
Hotel Monegal
At Sant Llorenc de Morunys we missed out on luxury and stayed instead at the slightly odd Hostal Casa Joan - an experience in its own right but basic.  Unfortunately Hotel Monegal was fully booked. Definitely fitting the 'boutique hotel' description the speciality is locally sourced food and small intimate concerts.  So we'll be staying there next time.
Arriving at the Cal Majoral
We had better luck at the next and final stop, the Cal Majoral about a kilometre to the west of L'Espunyola.  The hotel, like the Can Boix, has a long history and used to be a transhumance hostel where shepherds and their animals took a break on their journey to and from the Pyrenees.  It has since been carefully renovated and restored. The building is beautiful, decorated in a bright and quirky way with many original features - including the rooms where hay was stored for the animals.  The food was again amazing with my main course based on a recipe from El Bulli (70 hour slow cooked beef) - but the best thing was the service and friendliness of the hosts. Again, great value at around 150 euros for two.

The above describes just one of many stretches of the GR1 where you can live like a king for far less than it would cost in the UK, and enjoy beautiful walking. We shall be returning to apply Christine's Rule to other sections.















4 comments:

  1. Hi John, for sure you have a wonderful trip. I have visited Can Boix hotel last year and I have to say that it was one of my best accommodations ever that's why it my favorite hotel in Spain. The best things about this hotel is that it has spacious and relaxing room. It has also a beautiful garden and a pool.

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  2. Hi John.
    Congratulations on your new rule! This is something we have been doing for 20 years and for us it definitely enhances the walking experience.
    We have probably stayed in 30 or 40 different paradors over the years is worth noting that the paradors can be pretty variable and generally the service and comfort don't match up to that which you experienced at Can Boix and Cal Majoral. Food quality can also be pretty variable. On the other hand they make a welcome change during a long walk and have never turned us away when we have turned up looking like tramps!

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  3. The places you stayed at looked great. I now, as you know, travel light and find whatever accommodation I can. Whatever the price one has a wonderful 'local' experience. I remember a trip into the wonderful Picos De Europa and a stay at a farm where the highlight of the meal was a jar of goat's cheese so well matured that there were some sort of maggots living in it!! Brilliant experience without any serious consequences. Paradors in Spain are usually so iconic you cannot resist in staying in them. With regard to money my motto obviously and luckily is YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU!

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  4. I've made a reservation for this wonderful hotel for the end of September and I hope I'll enjoy the place. The only thing I need is some relaxation and as I saw your photos, I was already sure that this is the right hotel. The surrounding nature looks great!

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