Castillo del Buen Amor

The family bought the castle back in the 1950s but were able to transform it into a hotel only in 2003.

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@Castles_and_palaces talks to Pilar Fernandez de Trocóniz Tapia who owns the medieval Buen Amor Castle in Spain's Salamanca. The first thing which grabs your attention is the unconventional name of the castle – Buen Amor which translates as Good Love. What does Good Love have to do with the now eco-friendly fortress which was originally built in the 11th century during the Reconquista, when Christians were busy with driving the Moors away from these lands.

Pilar Fernandez de Trocóniz Tapia

FROM A CASTLE TO A WAREHOUSE AND BACK

Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Pilar, obviously my first question is about the name. Why Good Love?
Pilar Fernandez (PF): The castle owes its name to the love of Catholic Bishop, Alonso de Fonseca to his let's call her "wife" in the 15th century. Actually she was his mistress. This powerful man bought the castle and remade the fortress into a residential palace full of unique architectural details. So that's where he lived with his mistress Dona Teresa de las Cuevas. It was their love nest - away from the gossip of the nearby villas. Still, words travel fast and people learned about his forbidden love, then a popular legend appeared that named the castle Buen Amor or "Good Love" in English.

CnP: So it is a legend based on history. A naughty priest he was.
PF: Speaking about the priests - there are Latin prayers to Virgin Mary in the main lounge and it is believed that thanks to them the fire that once isolated the first floor stopped and didn't touch the ground floor.
CnP: Still the prayers did not prevent the castle from gradually falling apart with the passage of time. Tell me please what was the state of the castle when your family acquired it in the 1950s?
PF: The castle was used as a warehouse. The interiors were quite well conserved but outside many stones had fallen down. We do not really know for how long it was a warehouse - there is nothing written about it, but probably for centuries. It was used as a palace from the 15th to probably the 17th century. And then it was abandoned and neglected. Its towers started crumbling and the defensive wall fell apart too. The locals of course made use of the situation and were happy to reuse castle stones to build and mend their houses. We had to restore the towers and bring the castle to life again. We had to bring in the furniture, electricity and water supply. It was my grandparents who restored the castle and restored its original image. I can only remember happy moments in the castle. You know it's a member of the family. We take care of HIM, because the maintenance must be an everyday job.
Inner yard of Castillo del Buen Amor
CnP: Could you please tell me a bit about your family.
PF: We are from Salamanca (originally from the north of Castille). My family bought the castle in 1958. They owned a hotel in Salamanca and wanted to make a hotel in the castle, but in the end this was only possible in 2003.
The castle owes its name to the forbidden love of Catholic Bishop, Alonso de Fonseca, to her mistress in the 15th century. Buen Amor translates as Good Love!
CnP: What did it feel like back then to realize that you have now a castle for yourself?
PF: We never had this sentiment of ownership. We have normalized the fact that we own a castle, because it has been a member of our family. At the same time we don't feel the castle is ours. We really think everybody is part of it and everybody must be able to enjoy it. Our aim is to take care of the building so future generations have the same privilege as we do, that is to enjoy the castle.
CnP: I can imagine how difficult it was to restore it. Still, what was the most difficult thing?
PF: Restoring the castle in the 1950s was surely very difficult. We have a romantic view of life and this is why all our family member have put their dreams and their savings into bringing the castle back to life. Now, the challenge is to make the hotel a profitable business to continue our job: keeping the castle alive and also putting the value in the rural Spain which has a deep problem of depopulation. The restoration in 2003 was very careful with the building, so its originality was respected. We introduced heating and air conditioning to the bedrooms, as well as all current amenities. All the cables and pipes are hidden so the guests won't notice them. The experience to sleep within the castle walls is as perfect as it can be.

CnP: You mentioned savings… But it looks like the savings were not enough to conduct large scale restoration works. Was it hard to find money?
PF: The building must adapt to the changing present if it wants to survive. Of course, like everybody else we needed the financial support in form of mortgages and loans. They were needed not only to convert the castle into a hotel, but also to continue its maintenance. The hard thing is to repay the loans. We have always enjoyed the understanding of the banks. And it was very important that we got the European Union subsidy, but not for being a castle but for being a company in the middle of the countryside!
CnP: The castle is 1000+ years old – obviously it is a national treasure. Did you receive any help from the state (financial or in terms of resources like skilled restorers, historians or architects)?
PF: The castle is a Cultural Interest Building since 1931. However, there are so many monuments in Spain, that are not subsidized for just being a monument. Well maybe they are if they are publicly owned, but not if they are privately owned. This was one of the main reasons to transform it into an inn, so the castle is self-sufficient.
CnP: Did you follow old documents when you were restoring the castle?
PF: A historian was hired to look up the story and we have documented it in a small book. We also have a copy of an old notary document from the 15th century.
We have a romantic view of life and this is why all our family member have put their dreams and their savings into bringing the castle back to life.
CnP: I've read that you occasionally carry out some works to repair this or that. Sometimes you do bigger interventions. But how long did it take your family to restore most of the castle?
PF: The biggest intervention was in 2002, to convert the castle into a hotel. It took 18 months. Other big interventions occurred in 1995 when we restored one of the towers that fell down suddenly; also in 2015 we repaired a corridor that connects the Tribute tower with the others; and in 2019 we introduced our geothermal energy system. But smaller interventions are done everyday.

A HOTEL TO GET A DIGITAL DETOX

CnP: Which epoch does the castle represent nowadays?
PF: The castle is originally from the 11th century but has a part dating back to the 15th century. So during all subsequent restoration efforts we had respect to those parts. Look, the courtyard is Gothic Renaissance; and wooden ceilings and fireplace are mudejar architecture.

CnP: Why did your grand parents choose to buy this very castle?
PF: As I said, my family has a very romantic view of life. They bought the estate because there was a castle in it, but at that time, it had no economic value at all. The most important for us in the estate was the agricultural possibilities and farming!
CnP: Some 60 years have passed since you got the castle - which unusual or interesting artifacts have you found on its territory or during the restoration works? Any treasures maybe?
PF: We surely looked for them, but unfortunately found nothing. We do have interesting things from past epochs but they were not inside the castle. A chastity belt, a birthing chair, armors… things normally found in antique shops. Also we used to have some secret passages when I was little. But they are gone now.

CnP: These artifacts could make a small exhibition. Do you have a museum?
PF: We don't have one. You know one can live in every part of the castle. The living rooms and lounges are still being used. We do have a showcase though with ancient pictures and the history of the family's hotels dating back to 1901.
CnP: What's the oldest part of the castle? What's there?
PF: The oldest parts are the Pass Guard Rooms, located outside the castle with windows facing the moat and we have a restaurant which was previously the castle's stables.

CnP: Do you live in the castle?
PF: At the beginning, we used the castle as a country house to spend summer (there was no heating inside) and it could also be rented for events. I spent my childhood here. Later, my parents decided to convert the castle into an inn. This was the perfect use for the building because it allows everybody to live inside it, to be part of the history. But we don't live in the castle anymore, all the rooms are now used for the lodgment of our guests. But we reside close to the castle, because taking care of it is a 24-hour-job!

CnP: Which modern amenities do you have in your castle hotel?
PF: The most recent reform has been to change our source of energy to renewables. We totally abandoned the use of fossil fuels and we have now geothermal and solar energy systems, which provide heating and air conditioning to the castle. Of course, you will never notice if you look at the castle, because everything is hidden to respect the building.

But there's one thing which is sort of a challenge. It is Wifi. Rural areas have very limited access to internet facilities, broadband was only available few years ago and is very slow, fiber is only a dream to us, and we are continuously searching for a better access and higher quality and speed. At the moment the best way is through 4G and within our 3-meter-walls we distribute internet through TV cables.
CnP: But maybe it is what most of us need today – the Internet detox!
PF: People are used to having good Internet and many don't understand it. A car is needed to get here and a 2-hour drive from Madrid is considered too far by many.

CnP: It all depends. Some people spend 2 hours to get to work from home and here it is a price to pay for a beautiful medieval castle with a mind-blowing garden!
PF: Our garden is fantastic indeed! We planted the maze in 2000. It was half burnt in 2017, but now replanted. We planted the vineyard in 2012 and built the winery in 2019. Little by little we continue to improve our garden every year.

CnP: You produce wine. Has the vineyards always been part of the estate or was it your family who started doing it?
PF: I am the first generation of winemakers!! I produce 4 different kinds of varietal wines, which express the characteristics of this Land of Wine. The varieties are of course Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.
CnP: And one can enjoy a glass of your wine at the restaurant, tell me about your craziest dish?
PF: A traditional dish from Salamanca. It sound very crazy but it is delicious: lemon, orange, fish and chorizo! It is called Limón Serrano! Of course we are first of all focused on traditional cuisine. The food is always fresh because it is local. Most of our suppliers are from the same area. It is good for local producers and of course for us too.

CnP: What's the most difficult thing in running your castle?
PF: It's a good question – the hardest is to gain popularity, get the castle known, it is also a challenge to keep it in a good shape.
We totally abandoned the use of fossil fuels and we have now geothermal and solar energy systems, which provide heating and air conditioning to the castle!
CnP: Is there something special about the castle you want to highlight?
PF: The building is a gem. It is unique and you can feel its soul inside the walls. It is absolutely breathtaking!!! You know what I like most of all – its courtyard! I love the peace it transmits. You only hear the sound of birds in the midst of its grandeur and beauty. The castle is not a conventional hotel. You must come definitely if you are a castle lover, but also if you want to live through different experience. You won't find two rooms alike, all of them are different. If you want to enjoy the peace of the countryside, the building, the history - staying here is a must!
CnP: Tell me about an interesting and little known fact about the castle.
PF: You know Fernando, one of the Catholic kings, he slept in the castle.

CnP: You've said sleeping here is great. How many people can enjoy the peace and quiet of the castle at the same time?
PF: We have 40 double rooms. Some of them with vaulted ceilings, private terraces, access to the towers, wooden 15th century ceilings, stone walls, you know… We do have some extra little beds for kids. Not available for adults as they won't be comfortable for them. We don't have an elevator and access to some rooms is difficult especially if you think about carrying an extra bed.

CnP: What activities do you normally offer here?
PF: Lots of them, falconry, wine tasting, castle tours, picnic in the gardens, bike tours, archery, cooking courses, bird or stars gazing. There are medieval towns nearby like Salamanca or Zamora, Iberian delights workshop, you can visit a cheese factory, do some horse riding. Some groups come here disguised as medieval knights and monks – so going medieval comes naturally.
CnP: Is it profitable to run a castle hotel?
PF: We can pay everything which is quite enough.

CnP: What would you tell those who are dreaming about buying a ruined castle?
PF: It is the craziest thing one can do.

CnP: By the way do you have ghosts?
PF: Hahaha some mediums have come here to look for them. They say we have many ghost!!! But the most important one is the Lady in white. Remember I told you about the Bishop's love when we talked about the name 'Good Love' – it's her spirit that's is wandering the halls of Buen Amor!
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Pilar Fernandez de Trocóniz Tapia!

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