Welcome to the first of a series of posts dedicated to my trip to the historic region of Andalucia in Southern Spain. As some of you might remember, I posted a while back about my Top 5 dream destinations of 2015. I’m proud to say that two of these are already on my list of places visited in 2015 so you’ll have a chance to read all about them soon enough.
Anyway, without further ado: behold the glorious town of Granada!Let me rewind just a tiny bit. It was hard to contain our excitement on the way to the airport as both Vera and I are madly in love with Spain (and contrary to what you may think, I am not exaggerating here!). Vera has been a bit luckier than me, in the sense that she got to spend a whole year working in Seville, probably the most beautiful city south of Madrid. At the point of our departure, I had only laid eyes on the unique architecture of Barcelona back in 2010, holidayed in the picturesque little town of Fuengirola in Costa del Sol, and whizzed through scenic Malaga on a day trip as part of the same holiday. This was about to change in view of the upcoming (and very ambitious) 5 day break in three of the southernmost provinces of the country.
Granada was completely different to anything I had seen, however. To begin with, most of the historic buildings boast a striking architecture with a distinct Arabian influence which gives it an indescribably exotic feel. Naturally, to try and maximise the oriental experience we picked a themed hotel with lofty ceilings and beautifully shaped ironwork woven into the furniture, both traditional elements of Arabian architecture.The plan for the morning was to make our way to the Alhambra Palace, the jewel in the crown of Andalucia. A tip for all you optimistic souls out there: getting to the palace from even the closest hotel does not take 10 minutes as it appears on the map. Vera and I had to basically trot up a hill for a good 20 minutes before arriving breathless at the entrance a quarter of an hour late for our booked slot, only to be greeted by a genuinely bewildered woman who said “Tranquilla! You can still go in.” To save yourselves the embarrassment of a red face and a lolling tongue, just make sure you get the bus that runs from the town centre to the palace.
Having finally made it after what felt like a mini marathon, we rewarded ourselves with a picture break in the gardens and courtyards leading up to the palace, which offered some truly breathtaking views.
The Alhambra is nestled amongst the hills neighbouring the Sierra Nevada mountain range so the temperature is quite low, especially inside the buildings. The palace was built as a refuge to escape the almost unbearable heat that takes over Southern Spain in the summer.
For a few centuries Granada was ruled by the Moors, a medieval people of Arab descent, who left their mark on the face of the town. Fortunately, after it was reconquered by the Spanish in 1492, the buildings left by the Nasrid dynasty were preserved, turning Granada into a personification of the unison between the eastern and the western world, a phenomenon of unmatched beauty that is evident across large parts of Andalucia.
The Alhambra is a vivid display of all the traditional features of Arab architecture, such as vaulted gilded ceilings, shaped and decorated to portray the night sky, garden baths lined with orange trees, richly decorated interiors with hand-carved plasterwork covering every inch of the walls, and hand-painted ceramic tiles called azulejos. The lush gilded ceilings make the spacious empty rooms feel more homely by reflecting the soft light flowing through the little windows, but at the same time they remind you how small you are in the face of the universe which they so meticulously portray.As the sun climbed higher up the sky, the day became warmer and we could finally lose the winter attire to really enjoy our relaxed stroll. Loosely following the suggested route, we wove through narrow corridors with tall windows until we found ourselves in the main courtyard with its famous lion fountain. Once we had marvelled at several rooms with high starry ceilings, we made our way to the rear gardens which boasted even prettier baths, fountains and ponds, a cornucopia of orange and palm trees of all shapes and sizes, and bunches of spring flowers.
We took every opportunity to bask in the sun by the pools and enjoy the warmth on our skin after having spent the morning within the chilly halls of the palace. We headed up some stairs etched in the stony path that led us to the next level of the Alhambra, intended as a breezy summer palace.
The final stop on the tour took us to the watch tower which offered some amazing views of the town sprawling at the foot of the hill, the large cathedral to the West, and the still snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the South East.
It was hard to leave this heavenly place but our rumbling tummies made it a tad easier. We headed back down the hill and towards the town centre, only stopping for a peek inside the little shops brimming with local goods. I treated myself to a large bag of an unbelievably aromatic green tea with real pieces of dried pineapple, orange, papaya and flower petals.
We picked a restaurant in the town square for its sunny garden and sat down for a late lunch. We were treated to a passionate display of flamenco which made our meal feel all the more traditional: I had gazpacho (a cold soup made of raw peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes) and grilled calamari (forgive me for the lack of pictures, you’d have to trust me!). We only had a little time left before our train to the next town was due to depart, but we couldn’t resist having a peek inside the majestic Cathedral of Granada, which didn’t disappoint.
After soaking up so much Spanish culture, we were feeling a little bullish (ahem) so we had to make a final stop and invest in souvenirs. Mine will always remind me of the exotic beauty of the Alhambra, and the feeling of being on top of the world, but also of the cosiness of an orange tree canopy above your head.