Granada is located in southern Spain at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains and only an hour by car from the Mediterranean. With a population of around 250,000 it has the feel of a large country town, yet seems to always have something going on. In the five nights and four days we were there we stumbled across three parades, and a student rally.
The people of Granada know how to enjoy life. Every evening they walk, arm-in-arm, young and old, to one of the many squares dotted throughout the city. They stop along the way to talk to friends, to have a drink and some tapas at a bar, or to shop. Children dash about the square, playing under the watchful eye of a parent or grandparent. Unlike the larger cities of Madrid and Barcelona, Granada is still quite traditional with most shops closing between 2 and 5pm, and then opening again until 9.
We quickly fell into the same rhythm – taking in the sights in the morning and early afternoon before heading home for a rest. We’d then go out again in the evening for a wander and a meal. The food and wine were very good and inexpensive. Bars provide free tapas if you buy a drink and at the end of a meal we’d often receive a free liqueur, such as an icy cold limoncello. Most nights we’d enjoy a meal and two or three drinks for less than 20 euro ($30) each.
Granada is the home of The Alhambra, a huge palace that sits on a hill above the city, surrounded by magnificent gardens, called generalife. It was originally built as a small fortress in 889 and then turned into a palace in the mid-1300s by the Moor rulers of the day. Following the Christian conquests, it became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella and is famous for being the site where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition to the Americas.
The Alhambra, now a UNESCO world-heritage site, is a must-see for visitors. Pedro, our AirBNB host, was shocked when we told him we’d been unable to purchase tickets online, as they are difficult to get otherwise. Thankfully my very resourceful sister managed to find us some the day after we’d arrived. Pedro was very relieved – clearly you can’t visit Granada and not see The Alhambra. After an exhausting five hours wandering about the four palaces and gardens we all agreed it was well worth the effort.
The Albaicin section of the city sits beside The Alhambra where may houses are also good examples of Moorish architecture. We spent a very enjoyable few hours meandering through its narrow, cobblestoned streets, stopping along the way to have a drink at the cafes dotted among the houses. The walk finishes at the bottom of the hill near the city at a very popular Moroccan-style market.
Granada is understated, yet interesting, and one of those places that grows on you over time. It is so very easy to fall into the day-to-day rhythm of the city that the locals enjoy so much, and for me, it provided a mostly relaxing respite following a busy few weeks in Paris and Iceland.