It’s seven o’clock in the morning as I board with my travel companions in the bus that will take us from the frisky Seville, to the Moorish city : Granada.
We’ve started the road trip around Andalusia 3 days ago, when we decided we will leave our hometown of Paris, France, to travel around a region we’ve always wanted to explore. We’ve drawn an itinerary on a map : Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Monachil, Malaga, Nerja, Ronda. Granada had my heart.
As far as I can remember, I always dreamt of this city. I discovered it when I was 11, in history class. Granada was reconquered by the Catholic Kings in 1492, announcing the end of the Muslims kingdoms of Spain. The wealth they gained from this victory allowed them to pay for the sadly famous expedition of Cristobal Colon, who « discovered » America the same year. Granada didn’t lose its Moorish soul after the Reconquista and is now world famous for the Albayzin, Sacromonte’s mountains, el Realejo San Matias, who are respectively the Muslim, Gypsy, and Jewish corners.
We stayed only four tiny days in Granada (and around), and I wished I have stayed longer for so many reasons. Here are five, among thousands.
1. The Alhambra
The Alhambra is one of the most famous monuments in the whole country. It is composed of the Palaces Nazaries, the Alcazaba, and Generalife. I visited the Alcazaba and Generalife under the shiny afternoon sun, and the Palaces under the moonlight. The first two mix a European and an Arabic feel, and offer impressive views of the region.
- Generalife is all about gardens, trees, luxurious terraces, and stone bridges. It looks and smells like Eden on earth. It tooks us around an hour to get lost and found again in the mazes. Lover of fountains, silence, wooden benches under tortuous old trees, beware : You might want to never get out. And in this case, I have bad news : The tickets come with a time window. You have around 4 hours to pretend you’re a prince/princess in the summer castle.
- Alcazaba is a red stone fortress. You climb up the (few) stairs and you get to overlook the whole region. The mountains in front, the city below, and further away (actually I might have mistook the sky for the sea, I definitely have to come back to be sure), the blue Mediterranean sea.
- I loved these two sites. But the gem of the Alhambra was the Palaces. They would have probably be more magnificent under the sun, but tickets run fast. The details of the architecture were exquisite. There is absolutely no words to describe a castle that seems to be cut from fragile lace and ancient dreams. If you get a chance, pick the days tickets though. I’m pretty sure you can focus more on the details when it’s bright outside and the security isn’t rushing you to get out after midnight.
2. Sacromonte Hike
We arrived in Granada around 12, met a Polish expat at our hostel at 12.30 and he proceeded to show us around. We hiked our way up to Sacromonte. It was a steep and tiring hike but there is no better feeling than to stroll around stone caves, wave at the gypsy people, share a sangria with them, fall on a cactus, survive, and enjoy the panoramic view.
The hike was quite strenuous but very scenic (if you are a couch potato and fork lifter like me, that is). You’ll also get a good luck at Granada’s finest street art on the way, and you can stop at one of the many bars open (if it’s not siesta time that is) and pretend like you’re really immersing yourself on the spot. Well, you actually would be.
3. Los Cahorros
Technically, Los Cahorros aren’t in the city of Granada, but they are in the region (next to Monachil) and it only takes a 40mn bus ride to get there. We proceeded to do so on our last day in Granada.
Los Cahorros is a easy/intermediate hike in La Sierra Nevada with a handful of suspended wooden bridges, green hills, cold caves (you better have good knees and a firm grasp !) and spectacular mountains. The hike map is available online and because it’s a complete circle, it’s very unlikely to get lost. The river water is clean and fresh (it comes straight from the mountains peak). Save up the whole afternoon and have a picnic there ! You certainly won’t regret it. We met some of the locals on our way back and I must say, the inhabitants of Monachil were also very warm and friendly!
4. Free Tapas Bar
How could I talk about Granada and not mention the free Tapas coming for every drink you order at a bar ? Not only do you end up having dinner for very little money, but this Andalusian tradition really makes Granada a unique destination. The only way to tell if someone is a local is a tourist is to ask them where they eat. If they answer a restaurant’s name, you’ll know. The best way to meet Spanish people or long time expats is to eat at a bar (even better if you are at the counter!) Our favorite bar was Poe, and had the most incredible tapas you can expect from a Spanish/British/African inspired Bar located in downtown Granada (even though it can be quite a hassle to find it).
5. The atmosphere
Okay, this one is broad. As I was making the list, I realized there is something that makes Granada whole. It’s the starry night sky (how rare is it to see the stars in a big city?), the street musicians, the street flamenco dancers, the Albayzin and its arabic merchants, the loud laughters in the patios, the afternoon naps in the sun, the friendly people and the originals, the tattoo parlors in front of old mosques. It’s the flamenco, the sangria, the sea food and the mountain’s shadow. Granada is a city of multitudes. I have yet to uncover a thousands aspects of this incredible city.
And this is why, I plan to go back.