Forts, palaces, centuries-old cathedrals, intriguing alleys, beats of flamenco…live life king-size in this Moorish town
Granada is a city of many moods. On a clear winter morning, it was abuzz with activity with families out in one of its many squares, couples hand-in-hand moving and mingling effortlessly with its historical past. But I fell in love with this Moorish town after nightfall. It is the best of all time, to walk, wonder and explore. Strolling along the lamp-lit alleyway of the gypsy neighbourhood of Sacromonte, with Alhambra as a companion, one starts to fathom the simple charms of Granada.
Embracing the best of Moorish and European traditions, the 14th Century fortress palace of Alhambra is the star of the Andalusia region. Set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Alhambra towers above the town of Granada like an ageing guardian.
But there is a lot more to Granada than Alhambra, I spend many mornings and evenings slipping in and out of the Albaicin quarters. With whitewashed carmens (large-walled villas) tiled patios and discreetly-placed cafes, it is easy to be drawn to its splendour. Granada makes one sigh and dream with the bluest of skies all year round, scented orange trees and Alhambra watching one at every bend of the street.
Start a walk from the square of Plaza Nueva, moving north towards a large esplanade of Paseo del Padre Manjon and then towards Albaicin, wandering through tiny alleys, make your way to Plaza San Nicholas, with the 16th Century church perched right in the centre. The square is always crowded as it offers the most commanding view of Alhambra and surrounding mountains of Sierra Nevada. Best for sunsets over Alhambra.
To visit Alhambra and Nasrid Palace, a bit of a planning comes handy, as the number of visitors allowed per day is strictly restricted to 6600 for Alhambra and only 300 for Nasrid Palace.
Once inside, start with Generallife, the summer palace of the sultans, surrounded by beautiful and well-tended gardens. Then enter through Torre del Agua the main Alhambra complex, in the heart of which is Nasrid Palace. Built around 14th Century by the Nasrid kings, the last sultans of Spain, it is the epitome of architectural grandeur.
There are three sections in Nasrid Palace, of which Palacio de Comares, the official residence of the kings reflects their opulent lifestyle with gold gilded domes, glazed tile work and intricate geometric patterned walls. Not to miss is the Fountain of the Lions in Palacio de los Leones.
Visit the cathedral to understand the diversity of the city, with more than 700 years of co-existence of Jews, Arabs and Muslims, which lends Granada a special character and feel. Opposite the cathedral is Alcaiceria, wander around the streets lined with shops selling lamps, rugs, aromatic tea and leather bags. Even if shopping is not up your alley, it is a great place to walk around and take pictures.
One of the highlights of my trip was eating tapas, Granada is a great place to do so, as there are still a handful of bars serving tapas on the house with drinks. Over a glass of Sangria or a chilled sherry, dig into fried shrimps, mango with goat cheese and traditional roast ham. The best place to sample tapas in Granada would be Bar Sevilla close to the cathedral and Bodega la Antigualla. The most fun way to do it would be to bar crawl around Casa de Elvira, Plaza Nueva, Plaza Bib-Rambla and then head towards the Darro river to listen to some live music.
As dusk gave way to night, I could hear the faint strings of clapping, loud thuds against the wooden floor and then the climax ‘Ole’ from one of the many flamenco artistes performing around the gypsy caves of Sacromonte. Granada is famous for the Zambra form of flamenco and Pena la Plateria is the best club to watch this highly-emotive dance form. On my last evening in Granada, I walked as there was no better way to feel the vibe of the town than on foot, taking in as much as I could.