If I had to choose one city to revisit from this trip across Andalusia, it would have to be Granada. Yes, Ronda is beautiful. Yes, Cádiz has some great beaches. Yes, Córdoba has the whole cathedral-in-a-mosque thing going on. Yes, Seville has the oranges. And yes, the roads between these cities link many fascinating towns and villages, too. But my vote would definitely go to Granada.
Alhambra Palace, Granada
Granada was only on our list because himself want to see the Alhambra palace. Truth be told, I was churched-out by this stage and finding the heat difficult to deal with. I’d had just about enough of lugging suitcases in and out of hotels that proved difficult to access as Google Maps is lagging behind the one-way systems in many of Spain’s old town centres. I hadn’t done any research at all. I couldn’t even situate the Alhambra in history. We had a 6 pm booking (be sure to book well in advance (weeks) if you want to see inside) and didn’t get there with much time to spare. Inside the Palacious Nazaries (access time is noted on your ticket) I saw a father with this two sons in their early teens. In a stern British accent, he was telling the two boys that this was an amazing place, with stunning architecture, built hundreds of years ago, and that they should be grateful to be able to get inside to see it all. The two boys, half-dead with the coupling of heat and boredom, just couldn’t seem to muster any interest. I felt their pain.
What began life as a small fortress back in 899 is now the most visited tourist attraction in Spain with a couple of million and more dropping by each year. The Moorish king of Grenada thought it a fixer-upper and renovated it in the eleventh century. And if we fast forward a few hundred years to 1333, we see that Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada, turned it into a royal palace. Originally white, its walls have been backed to a red in the heat of the Andalusian sun. The detail is spectacular and the gardens something else. But had I a do-over, I’d have gone in the early morning to avoid the heat and to be sure of getting a charged audio guide.
The hills above the city are lined with caves. Sacromonte, the neighbourhood known locally as the gypsy quarter, is where all things Flamenco happen. This would be the place to go at night – to see the dramatic shows and hear the soul-filled music. By daylight, the views over the city worth the uphill hike to the Camino de Sacromonte. If you have time, or are fleeing the midday sun, the Sacromonte Caves Museum showcases this rock houses while Sacromonte Abbey takes care of the religious relics.
Lower down on the hillside, across the Darro River from the Alhambra, is the former Arabic barrio of Albaicín. This maze of narrow cobbled streets winds between whitewashed houses suspended in jasmine-scented air. The views of the Sierra Nevada and of the palace itself from Mirador San Nicolás are definitely worth the wheezy climb, but both Sacromonte and Albaicín are also accessible by local bus – if you can figure out the loop-like system. We failed. Twice. But, like the streets of Venice, this neighbourhood is somewhere to get lost in. Treat yourself to time off the tourist track and wander. Of course, if you don’t go early in the morning off-season, you’ll be wandering with hordes of other tourists, but it’s worth the effort.
Eating in Granada
Had we had time, I’d have gone back to El Molino (Calle Molinos, 8, 18009 Granada, Spain) again and again and again. It is the perfect stress-reliever with delicious tapas included with every drink. Complicated ones, too, not just some thrown-together affair designed to appease the tourist. These are the genuine article. And they keep coming, even when you’ve ordered other things to eat. The chap who was there didn’t speak English but couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. The TV was showing footage of some old Flamenco shows which, judging by the reaction of the local regulars, was good stuff. A delightful place that you can catch on your walk downhill from the Alhambra.
And yes, of course, the Cathedral is spectacular – from the outside at least. The street bazaar seems to offer everything you might possibly want to take home with you. And a walk along the riverside on Carrera del Darro is a must, stopping for a coffee and some delicious chorizo.
Yes, had I to pick one city I’d go back to, it would be Granada. Off-season. In cooler weather. Just under 2 hours from Malaga, it’s definitely doable.
That’s it for Andalusia. It was quite the trip, clocking up about 2200 km. Next destination is Warsaw … by train. If you’d like to receive similar posts directly to your inbox, sign up on www.anyexcusetotravel.com