Like many people, my main reason for coming to Granada was to see the Alhambra, the famous Moorish palace that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally built as a small fortress in the 1st century, it was taken over by the Moors in the 13th century as they fled south. Mohammed ben Alhamar, the first of the Nasrid Dynasty, decided to make Granada the grandest city of Andalusia. The magnificent hilltop palace of Alhambra was built and the Moors ruled until the Catholics overcame them in 1492. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella made the palace their royal court. Christopher Columbus received their endorsement for his expedition here. In time Christian and Renaissance influences were incorporated into the buildings but the Moorish influence remains strong. Laurie Lee in his wonderful book A Rose For Winter says of Granada that it ‘is probably the most beautiful and haunting of all Spanish cities; an African paradise set under the Sierras like a rose preserved in snow.’
For a few centuries the Alhambra fell into disrepair and some of the site was destroyed by Napoleon. Fortunately it was later rediscovered and restored and is now one of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions, with over 6,000 visitors each day. This means that it is essential you buy a ticket well in advance of a proposed visit. I bought my ticket 4 months ago after reading you should do so at least 90 days in advance. I decided to book a tour. It’s not something I do usually, except recently some food tours, but it gave me the chance to get into the Alhambra early (at 8.00am) to make a head start on the crowds but also, because it is so large, I knew I’d learn and see so much more with an expert leading me. I booked with Viator, which was bought by TripAdvisor in 2014. They arranged the tour with locals Amigo Tours. It turned out to be a reasonable size group of 27 very nice people (especially an Australian couple Di and Andrew I got talking to along the way) and our young guide Juan was fantastic – full of knowledge and with a nice sense of humour.
It was still dark when I arrived, sunrise almost the same time as the start of the tour, which would last 3 hours. You need to be reasonably fit as we walked most of the time and much of it was uphill and along cobbled paths – sturdy walking shoes are a must.
One of the first things Juan told us was that while we tend to think of La Alhambra as a palace, it is in fact a fortified town, and about 2,000 people used to live there. I was immediately awed; the buildings and views were magnificent.
Below, zooming in, you can see the cathedral in the centre of the city below.
Water in the Alhambra came from the river Darro below and, apart from being a necessity for drinking, water is an important part of Muslim ritual with the need to wash before praying. Thus fountains and streams are found throughout.
The mosque became a church but there are still obvious Muslim buildings and decorations.
We made our way over to the summer palace, Generalife, which could be seen in the distance – painted white to reflect the sun.
It was noticeably greener and we had to cross a bridge to reach it.
Juan had promised us that the most beautiful part of the tour would be at the end and it was indeed both spectacular and very beautiful. There were wonderful views back to the Alhambra palace and across to the Sierra Nevada, the highest mountain range in Andalusia.
The tour ended at 11am. It had been fantastic and brilliantly led. I’d wanted to see the Alhambra for so long and it didn’t disappoint. It truly is one of the wonders of Europe if not the world. Juan told us we could stay on if we wanted as our tickets would last until 8pm, but most of us were tired after a 3-hour walk and opted to return to the town. It was quite a steep climb down but there were taxis and even a bus (a very small one to fit along the narrow roads!) if you wanted transport. I walked.
For lunch I headed to a little bar in a narrow passageway near Plaza Nueva that I passed last night. It had been so busy I knew it would probably be good. It turned out to be fantastic.
I hadn’t planned it that way, but going to a Moorish bar straight after the Alhambra was perfect. Bar Casa Julio is small but I was there just as it opened at 1pm so got a space at the bar inside. Outside there were a few tall bar-type tables.
Raciones aree small plates – bigger than tapas. They’re really for sharing but the helpful and friendly woman behind the bar said she’d probably only have one for lunch but as I wanted some veg too, she did a special half portion of tomato salad for me to go with my fried prawns. I had a glass of sparkling wine (€2.70) and was surprised and delighted that a small complimentary tapas of fried cazon (dog fish) came with it. The woman also brought bread as she said I’d need it to mop up the tomato salad.
It’s hard to explain to you how amazing such a simple lunch as fried prawns and a tomato salad was. It was stunningly good. The total bill was €12.70. I shall definitely go back before I leave Granada. Meanwhile as it was a standing only bar and I’d been on my feet all morning, I decided to find somewhere to sit down for a coffee. Right near my hotel was a bakery-cafe, Casa Ysla, which proclaimed to sell piononos, a speciality of Granada. These little cakes were perfect for me – just a couple of bites and an espresso coffee to finish my lunch on a sweet, but not too sweet, note.
The woman who served me described them as a kind of pastry with egg, cream, syrup and cinnamon. It reminded me of a creamy bread and butter pudding flavoured with cinnamon. Whatever it was – I’m not certain and I think there are variations on the recipe – it was very delicious. And after that, it was time for a siesta. Well, I am in Spain!
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