There’s a Spanish castle in Northern Queensland that’s survived a war, flooding, fire and death, and now you can stroll around the grounds and get a castle selfie.
Imagine a Spanish Immigrant in the 1920s telling the cane-cutting locals of Northern Queensland he wanted to build his own castle? The hardy Aussies thought the guy had his head in the clouds, surrounded by a mossy moat. Especially as he was a pastry chef.
But José Paronella was totally serious. He wanted to build a castle that would remind him of the stories his grandmother used to tell him of romantic Spanish castles and the nobleza who lived in them, swirling drama and swords around the turrets and balustrades.
So he resisted gambling, worked hard, bought property, sold it, and eventually got together enough money to buy his own patch of dense green rainforest by Mena Creek Falls. It even came with its own misty waterfall.
Along came a Spanish wife, who liked his idea, and six children who eventually did. He started by building a staircase, as you do. Then a cottage, a house with fancy indoor plumbing came next.
Balustrades were erected, a cafe, picnic tables and then up went the castle tower, with rooftop balconies and external staircases in the style of romantic Catalonian architecture.
The only thing missing was the Spanish nobleza brandishing goblets of Rioja and yelling for more paella. His crowning piece was planting Moorish gardens that those fantasy nobleza could swoon around in, if only they lived in Northern Queensland.
José wanted his grounds to be a ‘Park of Pleasure’ – without the creepy undertones.
By 1935, after building a hydroelectric plant powered by the waterfall (was there no end to this man’s talents?), the park opened. Even the Governor of Queensland, Sir Leslie Orme Wilson, turned up to make it official.
People flocked to Paronella Park. Spanish people danced and dined. And locals enjoyed its non Aussie-ness. Even during World War II, US Troops came to the park with their American dollars and local girlfriends, ate paella, danced, swum and strolled around the grounds.
Then came a flood, and sadly, cancer for José, who died in 1949. More natural disasters hit Paronella Park, a fire in the castle, cyclones and another flood in the early 90’s.
The whole thing slipped away from José’s family.
Until an enthusiastic couple came along, fell in love with the park and José’s story and brought his crazy big Spanish vision back to life. Now it’s one of the most visited parks in Queensland with its range of 7500 tropical plants and trees, waterfall, castle and fountains.
One of the best ways to experience the park is at night, where the castle and waterfall are flood-lit like a great big fiesta of Spanish and Australian excitement.
Paronella Park’s a popular spot for weddings (of course, the romance of a castle!) but it’s also a park where you can squint back into another time in history, and be blown away by what one man with one hell of an idea can pull off.
Paronella Park, on the Old Bruce Highway, has received lots of tourism awards, is a State and National Heritage listed property, privately owned and operated, and Eco accredited. And the kicker – your entry fee gives you a free overnight camping spot next to the park so you can imagine José whispering his mad ideas to Margarita after dark.