Echoes of a Moorish past: GRANADA

I have been nursing a Spanish hangover for the past 2 months, I’ve been day dreaming, taking far too many siestas during the week, eating at a sloth’s pace & drinking far too much wine. It’s hard to believe that around 3 months ago, I was exploring sunny little towns in Andalusia, blissfully unaware of time: Andalusia is exactly what guide books tell you about, only you need to keep pinching yourself to remind yourself that you’re not dreaming!

Spain had a far reaching impact on us than we initially expected. A week into our arrival back to India we couldn’t stop peppering our speech with tiny bits of Spanish, with the enthusiasm of school children “Hola! Senor/ Senora!”  Our attempt at scouring the liquor stores ( on our first weekend back in India) in search of Sherry was futile- there wasn’t any to be found, a rude reminder that in a country so accustomed to (read: hard) spirits, there is very little room for wine let alone sherry!

Visualize the following: Majestic snow capped (Sierra Nevada) mountains, the irresistible scent of jasmine drooping over the boundary walls of homes, trees bursting with blood red pomegranates, the distant sounds of a gypsy entertainer strumming his guitar, steeply curved  streets lined with whitewashed homes- rendering you breathless at every corner, cats sunning themselves on terraces, a spectacular Moorish castle towering over the town- this is Granada.

Granada is the fabled town nestled on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where memories of the great Moorish civilization and gypsies (now long gone) haunt the streets. Easily explorable by foot, Granada is unfortunately often overshadowed by Seville. I’d like to share with you some of Granada’s top 5 attractions. We based ourselves at the modest Hotel Navas on the Calle Navas street ( famous  for the lively Tapas bars lining the streets, giving you the chance to try a zillion Andalusian or Alpujarran delicacies) Our convenient location meant that we were a mere 5 minute walk away from the town center- Plaza Nuevo & the Cathedral

The Al Hambra lit up in the evening

Above: the Magical Al Hambra leaves us spellbound in sunset. Picture taken from Mirador de San Nicolas

1) AL HAMBRA: a masterpiece that is a true testament to the greatness of the Moorish civilization  Built in the 8th century by the rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty, they created a magnificent castle  with modest materials and maximized its greatness through use of  water, light, space & greenery. Given the sheer size of the castle and its exquisite gardens, I would recommend spending a whole day soaking in all the artistry and history at a leisurely pace.( Note: please buy tickets well in advance at the Al Hambra webpage, so you don’t get disappointed. There is a quota system restricting the number of visitors into the main fort at any given time)

Inside the Al Hambra

Patio de los Leones- the famous lion fountain Inside the Al Hambra

 Exquisite gardens  Al Hambra at day

2) ALBAICIN has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and its easy to see why. The labyrinth of  streets, offer an insight into the unique Andalusian homes called Carmens- opening up to a square of exquisite garden bursting with scented jasmine creepers, pomegranates & oranges. The houses have a very Moorish touch ( given the fact that this town was the seat of the Nasrid empire)

A typical entrance to a Andalusian home called "Carmen"

One of the many streets of  One of the many narrow streets in the Albaicin   Sunny terraces and streets

3) CARRERA DEL DARRO: This is a picturesque road or ancient street running along the Darro river leading past crumbling bridges and ancient buildings at the foot of the Al Hambra fort hill. Most of the buildings have thankfully been restored or in the process of restoration. At the start of this street, do stop to admire the stately Renaissance facade of the Real Chancelleria and the Church of Santa Ana built in the 16th century

One of the many restored building in Carrera del Darro

4) SACRAMONTE: the old gypsy quarters lined with steep streets, pathways and viewpoints. Many many decades ago, travellers would come here to witness the Flamenco performances by gypsies. The gypsies are now mostly gone but there are still some authentic bars that give you the true Flamenco feel

Whitewashed houses in Gypsy quarters- Sacramonte

5) MIRADOR SAN NICOLAS: the unrelenting walk uphill to Mirador San Nicolas will not leave you disappointed,for it is from here that you can get a panoramic view of the Al Hambra, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and town( one of the best viewing points) I would recommend going there closer to sunset, simply because it is less hot & the views will leave you spellbound for years to come. The walk by itself takes you past the Albaicin and Sacramonte quarters and you can take many “fueling” stops on the way at bars serving a glass of cold sherry!

Cats sunning themselves on a terrace in Mirador San Nicolas  A street gypsy performer

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