Rural retreats

The notion of ‘rural tourism’ has really taken off in Spain over the last decade. Casas Rurales are farmhouse accommodation that usually offer bed-and-breakfast with optional evening meals. Some also offer use of the kitchen for a small extra charge.

The Vall de Lavansa is one of the most beautiful and unspiloed valleys of the Catalan Pyrenees. Rural tourism helps farmers in mountan areas maintain a threatened way of life - all the better for us to enjoy too!
With no hotels for miles the Vall de Lavansa is one of the most beautiful and unspoilt valleys of the Catalan Pyrenees. Rural tourism helps farmers in mountain areas support a threatened way of life and offers accommodation at very reasonable cost.

Most Casas Rurales are also working farms with subsidies that are tied in with this. But the sector is open to all types of accommodation, converted fish farms for example or medieval merchant’s houses in small towns as well as former ‘posadas’ and ‘fondas’ – traditional Spanish inns – that don’t have to fit in with the conventional hotels and hostals classifications. As a result price and quality vary enormously so research is the key to getting the best out of Turismo Rural. Some general guidelines are possible, however:

  • most are restricted to the number of rooms that they can offer and get ‘under the radar’ of building regulations, etc. This is perfectly legitimate but some stretch the point by having three or four beds per room – a useful feature to keep the costs down but may make the rest of the accommodation somewhat crowded
  • the system is run by the seventeen regional governments independently of each other (see Routes/geography/the ‘Autonomous Regions’) so there’s no national standard ‘star’ system. But most regions do grade with numbers of feather, leaves, acorns, etc. which are some sort of guide. One reliable national guide, however, is the ‘Q’ Calidad Turistica or ‘Tourism Seal of Quality’  – which applies to the entire tourism industry, from convention centres to picnic sites, and is based on professional audits
  • the sector is very much based on the local market, so few owners will speak English and your fellow guests are most likely to be Spanish tourists. This is part of the charm, of course, and a great way of really getting to know the country – but it is hard work!
  • even in quite large businesses it can be surprising how ‘unplugged’ some Spanish entrepreneurs can be. So it’s worth following up an email enquiry with a phone call or, better perhaps, an SMS*. If you don’t have any Spanish use this model: Hola, he enviado un mensaje por Internet en respeto de alojamiento. Mi nombre es [add your name here] . Por favor, se puede responder-lo mas adelante posible. Gracias.

Good Casas Rurales will be booked well in advance over weekends and the Spanish holidays and owners are committed to their ‘day jobs’ during the week – so advance booking is best. Some only accept two nights minimum stay – bearing out the part-time nature of the business. This shouldn’t put you off, however, as in a real working farm you’ll get real farmhouse fare! Here are three sites to help find and book Rural Tourism accommodation:

  • Iberianature is an encyclopedic, mostly English language guide to Spain, with special emphasis on wildlife and the environment. It has a section devoted to Rural Tourism, listing by region. Although there’s no search facility many of these owners are ex-pats so booking is easy
  • Turismorural is in English and has a good search facility. Start with an interactive map of the regions (not named!) which drills down to a map of the provinces (with names) and a search menu that includes houses with the ‘Q’ quality seal. This gives you the property details in English but leaves it to you to contact the owners – good luck!
  • Inforural is in Spanish but has an advance search facility based on an interactive map of the provinces. It also offers searches for all types of accommodation, including campings and hostales  – plus on-line booking forms

* all Spanish land-line phones are prefixed with number beginning with  ‘9’ – otherwise they’re mobiles