Being an early riser has great advantages when holidaying in a famous city. I’d picked up a leaflet yesterday about visiting six historic buildings in the Albaicin and discovered that entry was free on Sunday (other days there’s a €5 charge). So after an early breakfast I set off in time to be at El Banuelo for the 10am opening. These are 11th century Arabic baths and are thought to be among the oldest and most complete baths in Spain. There’s a small courtyard and just three small rooms to see. Interesting but sadly no traditional tiling left. I moved on to visit a couple of traditional houses from the Moorish period. Again, there were no decorations or furnishings so only of moderate interest, especially if like me you’ve been lucky enough to stay in beautiful riads in Morocco.
Still, entry had been free and it was quite a nice thing to do as I made my way up Carrera del Darro and into Paseo del Padre Manjon with the Alhambra, as always, within close sight.
From here it’s then a steep climb to continue on to Sacromonte where gypsies settled after the Christian conquest of the city in 1492. This was a distinct area of the city where the gypsies kept very separate from the rest of Granada’s inhabitants. At one time they lived in caves, produced craft works like ceramics and woven rugs and the area was alive with dancing and music. This is where you’ll find the best flamenco even today – if you know where to go!
Before I came to Granada, friends told me stories of visiting many years ago when Sacromonte was still a wild area and perhaps even dangerous to visit at night, especially alone. Today, rather inevitably, it has become a major tourist attraction where you can pay a lot to see flamenco (€25 at one place I asked) and some of the caves have been turned into a museum. However, I was still delighted by it for the walk (described on a notice at the bottom as ‘very difficult’) offered such magnificent views.
The buildings were painted white and shone brightly in the morning sun, some doors entrances to caves, shown by their names (cueva) and there was little sign of activity so early.
As I made my way along the steep and winding road, I began to wonder how much further to go. There were no signs and just as I was thinking I was coming to the end of the district, I rounded another bend and saw this.
Clearly this was the centre and no doubt a hive of activity come evening. Then I saw a sign pointing the way to the cave museum and thought it would be good to take a look. So, onward I climbed. Again, with no indication of how far I had to climb, after an exhausting while, I almost gave up. I pondered that if you came to Granada unfit, you’d most certainly go home a lot fitter! Then I saw I sign that said the museum was just 25m further on, so I kept going. And I’m so pleased I did for it was worth the effort to get there.
I had to pay (I think) €5 to get in. One man seemed to be in charge of it all and pointed to the caves and told me if I followed them round, I’d get to ‘the view’. Each cave was clearly marked and demonstrated some form of living or activity – kitchen, pottery, weaving, etc. It was fascinating to see – but be warned, the ceilings are very low so watch your head!
Outside there was a small vegetable garden and lots of herbs growing with labels giving information about their medicinal use. As elsewhere in Granada, pomegranates were growing, a symbol of the city: pomegranate.
Then I walked round to the promised view – and oh my word, what a view!
Each day in this beautiful city I’m awed by glorious views. Many of them may require steep, difficult climbs, but it’s always worth the effort. At this one an empty bench sat in the shade of two small trees looking out across to the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada mountains beyond. I sat for a while and enjoyed it, only a couple of other people nearby, so a moment of utter peace. What a splendid thing.
If climbing up the steep slopes surrounding Granada is a bit challenging, going back down them can be even more so. Sometimes there are rails to hold on to, often not, and the large cobbles are very slippery. It’s wise to take it slowly and cautiously!
Back down in the centre, the crowds had arrived. It was lunchtime and I decided to go back to Bar Los Diamantes, a wonderful fish restaurant, where I ate last night. This is a racione place – all small plates but bigger than tapas. Last night I asked for arroz, a kind of ‘wet’ paella, and perhaps my favourite Spanish dish. But – and a sign of their non-touristy authenticity – they don’t serve rice dishes in the evening; the Spanish think it’s not good for your health to eat rice at night. So I decided to return for it today for lunch. I arrived before 1pm but had to join a queue.
It was heaving with people. I didn’t have to wait too long though and soon I had a plate of gorgeous arroz before me, some complimentary fried mushrooms and a small beer.
A wonderful end to my morning.
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