It’s hard to know what to expect from Granada at first, aside from the main draw being the Alhambra. Andalusia is a fascinating corner of Spain once known as Al-Andalus in Arabic when it was under the rule of the north African sultans. Granada was the last stronghold of this Islamic empire that spanned across the Iberian peninsula and this is where you will see a fascinating mélange of both Christian and Islamic architecture. Charming, beautiful, mysterious and melancholy, Granada tempers a little bit of all these qualities, making it easy to gently feel entwined in its aura.
A Moorish marvel filled with beautiful Islamic architecture dating back to the 13th century Nasrid Dynasty. The Alhambra grounds are unique in all of Europe and that’s why millions come to see it yearly. You will want to set aside atleast three hours to really explore. Buy tickets well in advance. Even if the dates you want are booked on the calendar, keep checking since new tickets usually become available last minute. You will be asked to select a time to visit the Nasrid Palace which is adorned with intricate tiled patterns, Arabic verses and detailed arches. We suggest that you pick the earliest to avoid the crowds and be sure to arrive on time. There’s a bus to take up to the top of the hill where the UNESCO World Heritage Site sits like a jewel on a crown, but we prefer the leg burn involved in achieving the steep climb. The sweeping views above are absolutely worth it. Feel like a queen as you rest your feet in the perfectly manicured gardens with reflective pools, soaring palms and bubbling fountains and take in the vista of the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains, forested valleys, the cathedral and the old fort.
As I wandered through these halls, for a brief moment, I felt like a princess. How many queens had passed through these detailed chambers as their families ruled over this spellbinding land that emerged with a beautiful fusion of Arab, Spanish and Gitano influences.
Mirador de San Nicolas
Make your way through the maze of slender cobblestone lanes in the medieval Arabic Albayzin neighbourhood that wind their way higher in between white washed homes, convents and churches, some that now stand on spots where there were once mosques. It’s easy to see why the Moors chose Granada as their home base. In the winter months, the area is quiet and nearly empty, leaving you to quietly soak in all of the history. Each little cranny reveals the Alhambra, but the best spot to see the exquisite palace-fortress complex is from this plaza where Gitano musicians strum on guitars, their raspy, passionate songs wafting into the chilly air. On a smoky grey day, the brooding clouds linger over the Alhambra, casting a moody magic over Granada. Spain cast its spell on us and we are totally enthralled.
This area is tucked away in a corner of Granada that dates back to the 15th century when gypsies, known as Gitanos, came to Granada from India. White caves line the main street, Camino del Sacromonte that climbs into this historic and fascinating neighbourhood. At night take a romantic walk for a special sight of the lit-up Alhambra sparkling in the crisp air with the moon shimmering above. Tourist numbers are fewer in the cooler months and the empty streets make it easy to imagine Gitano life here long ago.
The small caves may seem calm on the outside, but if you listen closely, you will hear the sounds of lively music drifting into the dark night, beckoning you to come and take a closer look at what’s going on within their walls.
Sacramonte is the motherland of flamenco and so it’s only fitting to experience it here with a charismatic cast of performers. Book tickets online for one of the zambra flamenco shows, which re-enact songs and dances from traditional weddings. We suggest Cueva de la Rocio, a series of caves glittering with hanging brass pots, pans and spoons, serving as a reminder that this was once someone’s home.
Guests are lined up on chairs against the sides of the narrow cave and dancers move along its length which means everyone has a front row seat. If flamenco is what comes to mind when you think of Spain, then a show in Sacromonte cannot be missed.
Live musicians play guitar, bang on drums and sing and dancers with firm and fancy footwork overtake the space with the clicking sound of their heels. Dark, flowing hair is pinned up with roses and shimmering combs. The alluring ladies’ and gentlemen’s moves are firm, their stomping feet electric. Their frilly skirts and tops swirl in a blur of colour. The atmosphere is charged with powerful and raw energy and it is infectious. At the end of the performance, the dancers invite guest to join them for a little spin and it is impossible not to say yes. The passion and pure energy flows through the Gitanos’ veins and it is simply contagious.
Fiery flamenco fills ancient caves with the sound of clacking feet. Beautiful dancers’ frilled skirts turn into a blur of colour as they spin, dark hair pinned up with decorative combs and fans. Passionate songs of love waft into the chilly air hanging above the city. What pain, pleasure and fortunes had the people of this city experienced? Granada cast its spell on me and I was completely taken.
Where to Eat
Puerta de los Tristes
Paseo de los tristes, 5
A long outdoor patio offers the perfect position to admire the Alhambra looming directly above while you sip on a sangria.
Work up an appetite by making your way under the Puerto de Elvira, a massive 11th century horseshoe arch, one of the last remaining remnants of the old Moorish walls surrounding the city, to get to this deliciously vegan restaurant. The meal starts off with a tasty tapas of small potatoes topped with a flavour-packed chimichurri sauce. Order the Asian Wok, full of slurp worthy noodles, loaded with fresh veggies and chewy tofu.
Where to Stay
Tucked away on a cobblestone lane not far from the Alhambra sits this cozy, quiet and incredibly charming 16th century property. Rooms are small, but beautifully decorated with intricate gold headboards, mirrored wooden armoirs and wood beam ceilings, while the en-suites are sleek and modern. Dip into the inner courtyard for afternoon tea before carrying on exploring Granada.
How Long to Stay
Zardozi suggests atleast two days in Granada to really get a chance to explore its history and charm.