Granada – A heady concoction of mystery, magic, culture, scents, music and unexpected discoveries… Granada will hold your heart and swirl you around until you are dizzy and yet wanting more… That’s the magic of Granada!
I really hadn’t done my read up of Granada before heading there …. so I was more excited to get there because of the place we had booked to stay. We stayed in a Cave… yes a real cave! Cuevas (Caves in Spanish) modified for living are a regular feature in Granada’s old town (Sacromonte). Our cave was managed by a very friendly Roberto who took the time to explain Granada to us. Roberto is a photographer and his eye for detail shows not only in the magic he captures through his lens but also in the way he maintains his Cueva. Cuvea de la Muralla was a lucky find on AirBnB. The cave is designed by a famous designer who has converted a dark hole into a white fantasy! We loved it so much we stayed a day more than originally planned!
If you stay at this cave make sure you keep aside time for a soak in its pristine white tub with a glass of wine and some music…. It will be a welcome time out after all the trekking!
So be warned… If you plan to stay in Sacromonte you better be ready for some treks up and down cobbled streets. The good part about that is that you would probably not realise how much you have walked because of the beauty that it beholds at every turn…
Another beautiful thing about Sacromonte is the game of hide and seek it plays with the magnificent Al Hambra! The Al Hambra fortress is visible from every little peek into town from the streets of old town. When you find it it’ll hold you in a trance for a second until you will yourself to move forward… Only to find it again around the next bend…
The most important thing you should do when you plan to visit Granada is book tickets online to see the Al Hambra. It is close to impossible to get a ticket as they are booked months in advance. Only a limited number of tickets are available every day as part of an exercise to not overcrowd the monument and in an attempt to preserve its very delicate architecture and art. If you visit on a whim like we did and find yourself out of options to get a ticket- you’ll have to brave the early morning queue. When I say early morning, I mean at 4am! That’s when the queue starts for the ticket counter that opens at 9am! If you are anywhere within the 200 that reach the ticket counter before it closes you may get lucky! I was very lucky to travel with Kiron, who besides being the perfect travel partner, was also chivalrous enough to wake up at 4am…stand in the queue at 3 degrees Celsius and get us tickets on our last day there!!
There is a lot to see at the Al Hambra so make sure you keep a day aside just for that or do it in parts over two days like we did… The whole architecture, history and scale of the Al Hambra is awe-inspiring… But what I took away was the detailing in every inch of every structure! The sheer sweat and blood of the craftsmen that went into making every inch of the Al Hambra an artwork to live in… the view of the city from the Palace brings back stories of Kings and Queens looking down at the empire that they rule…. and what a beautiful view at that!
The Generalife is the country house of the palace. It was home to many famous writers and poets who were guests of the royalty. The vegetable garden, as it is more popularly known in Spanish, is a beautiful walk through tall well manicured bushes, promenade of oleanders, water ponds and cypress trees … and because we went just after autumn… beds of autumn leaves in yellow, orange and burnt amber!
When your senses have had a fill of the magnificence of the Al Hambra, walk downtown to the new parts of Granada. I spent a whole day walking through little plazas- some displayed artworks, others had make-shift shops- all of them had eateries that served the best gin and food dotted around its periphery. My favourite was the art street with its eateries and the view of the bell tower. I sat there for a few many hours, inspired by all the art, architecture and Gin!
Make your way to the Granada cathedral and you will find that most of the plazas are around this magnetic monument- Plaza Mayor, Plaza Nueva and many others. Pick one… you cant go wrong!
Granada is a fine example of how the Christian community and the Muslim community live in harmony. Both influences are strong and envelope the town with a sense of togetherness- the Al Hambra and the Cathedral of Granada. And exactly like that…. so do the streets of Granada. The new town is stylish and a great place to go out for the night if you are in a party kind of mood… and then there is Albaicin, the Moroccan mystery of Granada.
Albaicin was the surprise that my friend Kiron was saving up for me… He said, “I”ll show you something that will make you smile”…. and after an hour of following him up and down slopes and wondering to myself , is this guy just getting a kick out of making me walk…. there it was… a burst of color, energy, smells… like an Arabian fairytale had just opened its pages in the middle of a very Spanish folktale… and yes it made me smile… for a few days!
The best things about Albaicin besides its amazing street shopping experience are its Teterias – treat yourself to a hot glass of Moroccan tea and some hubbly bubbly (sheesha)- I recommend the apple grape flavour! Also highly recommended is to grab a meal here – make sure you dig into a hot pot of tagine and some light but flavoursome couscous salad at the Teteria Kasbah or any other that suits your fancy on that street. If you are with the right people, I promise you lots of laughs and a stuffed tummy!
No trip to Granada is complete without a trip to the Cathedral of Granada. I was especially intrigued to learn that it was built on top of a mosque after the moors were driven out. The prominent dome gives it away from the outside, from the inside though it is a very grand architecture of everything Christian. The piano with the thousands of wind pipes and the golden altar are a tribute to many a craftsmen and artists that brought this monument to life. I was so taken up by the structure that I forgot to listen to all the history on my rented electronic guide!
Evenings in Sacromento are magically romantic! Head to one of the plazas that have the view of the Al Hambra….. It’s quite a different feel seeing it lit up. Kiron and I sat on the ledge with our legs hanging off onto the street below and stared at it for hours while a couple of musicians played the Spanish guitar and the violin for the crowd there… we believe it was just for us… On cue!
And to snap you out of that… are the fingers of the flamenco dancers! Walk upto the little, almost home grown flamenco cafes and book a seat for a free glass of wine and some foot tapping fierce flamenco and Spanish music. I would recommend that you book in advance because they are all tiny cafes with limited seating. Los tarantos, Venta el Gallo are some you could explore in Sacromonte.
Although we spent four fully loaded amazing days in Granada, we left wanting more… and I plan to keep that promise!