I AM in Spain and as a Scotsman I am deeply jealous.

I have just spent a week being whisked through Castilla-La Mancha’s plains at more than 300 km/ph on a high-speed train service that opened up a brace of superb cities where I stayed in two beguilingly historic paradors. We could so do with both paradors and high-speed rail in Scotland.

Iryo is the new kid on the impressive Spanish high-speed rail block, run by Trenitalia. The online-only tickets are stupidly cheap, in my experience undercutting the state operator massively – my first Alicante-Albacete leg was €10 instead of €50 with RENFE.

It was a smooth electric experience that whisked me there then on to Cuenca and finally Madrid. All three legs came in well under £50. Even cheaper for kids.

The National: The view from Cuenca's paradorThe view from Cuenca's parador (Image: Robin McKelvie)

On to those paradors. The parador network was inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII back in 1928 with the twin aim of preserving historically and/or architecturally significant buildings – such as old monasteries – for future generations, and also to provide quality, authentic accommodation in areas that did not always have enough such accommodation.

I’m lucky to have stayed at more than a dozen paradors and have not come across a duffer yet.

My first here was the Parador de Albacete. This heritage gem oozed old-world class with wide corridors, terracotta-tiled floors, solid hardwood furniture and high wooden ceilings. And then there were the cooling pine-shrouded grounds where the large swimming pool tempts on hot days, with a nine-hole pitch and putt course, plus a putting green, for Scots missing the game we invented too much.

Albacete proved an unsung joy. I kicked off my explorations of the largest city on the plains of Castilla-La Mancha at one of its many green lungs – the Abelardo Sanchez Park with its tree-shrouded walkways and cooling fountains. 

I then tapas-hopped my way up Calle Tejares, home to graceful old buildings and a flurry of cafes and bars. Prices were noticeably cheaper than in Spain’s most visited cities.

At the northern end of Calle Tejares I popped a block north to take in the Pasaje de Lodares. This elegant covered shopping arcade dates back to 1925. It’s home to more than one shop solely selling knives – Albacete is famous throughout Spain for the quality of the local knives. 

The National: Cuenca doesn't put all its eggs in one basketCuenca doesn't put all its eggs in one basket (Image: Robin McKelvie)

After more idle wandering around streets alive with locals relaxing in the evening warmth, I found Albacete’s cathedral, which took a remarkable four centuries to complete. The effort was worth it for a vaulting, eye-catching edifice that dates back to the 1500s.

I was reluctant to leave Albacete the next afternoon, but that soon dissipated after a half-hour whoosh on Iryo across dusty Castilla-La Mancha. Cuenca proved an utter joy. This Unesco World Heritage listed oasis is pure postcard, the sort of Spain that you feared might not really exist. 

My Cuenca base was another parador, perhaps the most spectacular I have ever stayed at, gloriously housed in an old monastery peering out over one of the city’s tumbling gorges.  Cuenca is insanely located, spreading its old core across craggy gorges with steep drops all around.

I peered out at rock and medieval buildings from every window in my room; views came as standard at breakfast too. The parador is easily the best located place to stay in Cuenca too.

Prising myself out of the parador, I eked across the sinewy old footbridge that spans the gorge into the old town. Medieval architecture soared all around, the highlight the 12th-century cathedral. Its epic Gothic facade echoed Notre Dame in Paris, with a sprinkling of cafes on hand where you could just peer up and admire its grandeur on Plaza Mayor.

Sometimes in Scotland tourist hubs can suffer from losing a lot of “real life” in the process of setting themselves up for the needs of tourism.  Cuenca has ensured that doesn’t happen by forging a remarkable avant garde modern art scene.  Art galleries sprout from many of the grand medieval buildings, wee studios pop up in narrow lanes and vestiges of culture swoon all around. Glorious.

Cuenca is an example of a tourist city that doesn’t put all its eggs in its own vanity basket. There is superb hiking too, making the most of those gorges.

I spotted myriad hiking signs tempting off into the clearly unspoilt local countryside – a fantastic web of tree-shrouded gorge, hill and river. I spied birds of prey  too from the viewpoints gazing out to the wilder land. 

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A reminder of the city’s joyously split personality are the Los Ojos de la Mora, two giant eyes, an artwork staring back from the cliffs across the gorge that ties into local legend.  Cuenca is a city that came as a complete surprise, as did Albacete. These city breaks were made possible both by the new budget high-speed rail operator and the glorious parador hotels.  What a joy it would be in Scotland to have our own equivalents.

easyJet fly to Alicante from Edinburgh and Glasgow, and to Madrid from Edinburgh. Both Albacete and Cuenca lie on the same Iryo  line between Alicante and Madrid