Imagine sitting under a vast 20-metre high vaulted ceiling, huge fireplaces on opposing walls, thick hefty doors, high arrow-slit windows having coffee on an enormous ´how on earth will I get out of here´ sofa.
A feeling of insignificance sweeps over me and yet I feel protected, cocooned in this immense room of a centuries old design, so big, so bold. A suit of armour greeted me, narrow dark corridor seduced me and I find myself again, whispering in this place.
But where am I? I´m not on holiday just on a coffee stop or sometimes a beer break at my favourite local. This is The 4*Parador de Santa Catalina in Jaén, one of the most northerly provinces in Andalucia, Spain. It´s been in the top ten Castle-Hotel´s in Europe list for several years.
Not that I´ve visited all The Paradors in Spain, it is a dream, but I´ve have been to the majority of them in Andalucia and it is still my favourite, not just because it´s familiar but because it´s in the most incredible setting with almost 360ºC views across plains, mountains, olive groves and the small provincial city of Jaén with its huge Renaissance cathedral.
As I approach the city and begin to wind up the side of the hill, pine trees and squirrels smother one side and the other falls away behind the houses to the city to reveal, glimpse by glimpse the most spectacular cathedral and a little-known, waiting to be discovered city.
Bars spill onto pavements in the wider streets, in the quaint Jewish quarter there´s only room for people passing, not sitting around. One bar boasts it´s been in existence since 1888, I don´t think the hanging jamons are the same though.
It´s rare thing to hear any language but Spanish spoken here in Jaén. Tapas are still free, a substantial nibble of anything from crisps or olives to quail eggs on toast or pork in a tomato sauce. Having several drinks means enough food not to need a meal, what a way to live.
The heat of the summer can be unpleasant during the hours of 12 - 6 but the evenings are wonderful, sitting out until 3am without needing extra warmth is surreal, even after so many years of living here.
Inland Paradise is the tourist board's slogan for Jaén province - I can only agree that it is so for me.