With almost a millennium of Arab occupation, it’s no surprise that Andalucía, or ‘Al-Andaluz’ as it was known, has some of Europe’s finest Moorish inspired architecture. Granada is of course home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of The Alhambra and its beguilingly beautiful Generalife gardens. This citadel is a remarkable place and despite its popularity, it is still possible to visit early morning, or late evening to capture peaceful moments in this extraordinary place.
To view some of my photos of Granada and Sierra Nevada, explore the entries under the Granada Province category, and also click here.
Opposite, clinging to the hillside overlooking the River Darro is the medieval quarter of the Albaicín – a close knit neighbourhood filled with Moorish and Morisco architecture; courtyard palaces, winding streets and distinctive Arab arches. Wandering these steep narrow alleys can be disorientating but so worthwhile. There are cosy North African tea shops and excellent Moroccan restaurants as ideal stop off points. Head up to the famous ‘Plaza de San Nicolas’ for the postcard view of the Alhambra, framed by the striking Sierra Nevada behind; then unwind after a day’s walking with a robust massage at the authentic Arab baths.
It is the high altitude peaks of the Sierra Nevada that attract visitors all year round; for summer hiking and downhill biking; and of course in winter for adventure sports, skiing and boarding. This university city, despite its amazing history, feels young at heart and at the base of the Sierra de Nevada slopes there are plenty of venues to enjoy some rowdy après ski.
Granada is also the home of the tapa. This iconic Andalusian snack was born here. Small morsels started being served on bread or small plates in the thirteenth century. These used to sit on top of clients’ glasses like a lid or ‘tapa’. Now these bite sized treats are a compelling reason to explore the bars of the city. Calle Navas is the hub for the city’s tapas bars, serving a dazzling array of appetisers, from fried fish to gourmet pâtés. As tradition dictates, here tapas are free, an essential accompaniment to each drink and the more drinks one orders, the more sophisticated the tapas become. One can spend a whole evening going from bar to bar, but be sure to visit some of the best including ‘Los Diamantes’ in Calle Navas, as well as the authentically shabby ‘Bodegas Espadafor’ on the main ‘Gran Via de Colon’ street.
Yet there is more to Granada’s culture that just snacks! This province is the birthplace of one of Spain’s greatest poets and dramatists, Federico García Lorca. His former summer home, ‘Huerta de San Vicente’ is now a museum and part of one of the city’s parks, and is well worth a visit.
Contrasting against the humble Andalusian architecture of Lorca’s home is the striking, modern concrete tower of the ‘Centro Cultural’, built by local bank, Caja-Granada.
Called the ‘Memory of Andalucía’ this multi-floor cultural centre offers guests an in-depth insight into the culture, history and natural environment of the region; and what’s more, at the top of the tower is a full service restaurant offering truly breathtaking views across the city and towards the Sierra Nevada. In addition to the high profile museums and the science park, there are also charming galleries hidden away, such as the ‘José Guerrero Arts Centre’ in the Jewish quarter. This bijou gallery, named after a eminent local artist, is close to the cathedral and has a fine collection of early twentieth century art.
Granada has always had a more alternative flavour; the influence probably first came from the large ‘Gitano’ population. These gypsies, originally from India, came to Andalucía from North Africa and occupied caves in the now famous Sacramento district of the city. Although this district remains partially abandoned it is still the centre of Gitano culture in the area. It offers the best venues to experience flamenco, the unique Andalusian dance and music, brought to the area by the Gitanos, with its mixture of Arabic and Western influences.
Some of the caves, like the popular ‘Cuevas La Canastera’ are now commercial performance spaces, but even so, they are a wonderful spots to experience the intensity of flamenco.
The Gitanos are not the only ones with cave homes in Granada; head to the north of the province to the town to Gaudix and one finds that living in caves has been part of the way of live for generations. Now these properties, with their natural insulation and soundproofing are enjoying a renaissance in this era of energy efficiency. Across the dusty red and ochre landscape one catches sight of brilliant white chimneys, betraying the location of these unique dwellings.
Whilst out in the province, visit the tiny villages of the Alpujarras in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada which offer a glimpse of rural life. Once the last refuge of the Moors, who built beautiful gardens filled with medicinal plants and herbs; designed complex irrigation systems; and constructed mountain terraces for crops, the villages are now popular with yoga holidays, and alternative retreats.
The coast of Granada is blessed with a temperate climate, affording it the name ‘Costa Tropical’. One of the many surprises to discover here is the history of the sugar cane industry. Granada was the world leader in sugar production, before canes were ever introduced to the Caribbean. Although the last sugar mill closed a few decades ago, there are still rum and other alcohol producers in the province that reflect Granada’s strategic importance to the sugar and alcohol industries.
Along the tropical coast fruits like mangoes, avocadoes, ‘chirimoya’ and papaya flourish in the fertile, sun drenched valleys. The Arabs recognised the value of these fertile lands and introduced the pomegranate (called ‘granada’ in Spanish) from the East, and it is now the heraldic symbol of the provincial capital.
For additional information and my blog entries on Granada Province click on the category in the list in the blog’s sidebar or click here.
Below I list a few of my favourite hotels in the province. I update this list from time to time. Also, you can read my reviews of some properties on this blog and also on TripAdvisor, where I am a Senior Contributor – (AndyInAndalucia).
Casa Morisca Hote
Palacio de los Patos – Granada
Hotel El Ladron de Agua