Water is the fundamental element in nature; the source of life on this blue planet. Understandably therefore it is so often a powerful part of many cultures, including the Al Andalus of Spain, where water was a fundamental feature in all of their gardens.
The Alhambra in Granada, Spain’s most visited site, is home to one of the most recognised of all the Al Andalus medieval gardens, the internationally recognised ‘Generalife’. An intricately designed park of reflection and relaxation for the Nasrid dynasty, these expansive gardens offered a glimpse of potential paradise here on earth, with the healing, calming element of water integral to the design. Today these spaces are a stunning reminder of how gardens can inspire and calm, changing the way we feel.
Water was used in various ways in typical gardens of the period. Within narrow channels that flowed throughout the grounds, as modestly decorated fountains or as large still pools designed to reflect the beauty of the architecture.
Throughout Granada remain hidden gardens. With a little determination one can seek out these extraordinary, beautiful and intimate green spaces.
Less than an hour’s drive from the coast, heading north towards Granada city is the Lecrin Valley; an area of outstanding natural beauty, a verdant land fed by the abundant snow-melt waters that filters down through the Sierra Nevada range, the perfect place for gardens.
Within easy access from the motorway is the tranquil village of Nigüelas, with its ancient ‘Casa de los Zayas’ palace, now the village town hall.
Its surrounding 16th century romantic garden is free to visit, and takes inspiration from the Al Andalus culture, and adds classical fountains, trimmed hedges and shaded seating areas below mature trees. It’s an interesting mix of cultural and historical references that in some way reflect the three historical cultures of this region.
Nearby is the ‘Jardínes Müller’, named after the family that bought the estate in the 1950s. Call ahead to arrange a guided visit, and you will enjoy some of the finest French style gardens in Andalucia.
The manicured box hedges, classical urns, and fountains are typical of the 18th and 19th century taste for a formal interpretation of an Eden retreat, whilst some of the oldest chestnut trees in Spain, dating back hundreds of years, provide welcome summer shade.
A little further south within the heart of the village of Vélez de Benaudalla, is one of Andalucía’s most fascinating and inspirational gardens, the ‘Jardín Nazari’. Recently restored, this ‘garden of the senses’ is a working, evolving example of a Royal mediaeval Al Andalus garden.
Firstly, the garden was regarded as a spiritual place, a taste of ‘paradise promised’. Secondly, it was the source of aesthetic beauty, with cleverly designed terraces and courtyards, architectural plants and fragrant flowers, all combining to stimulate the senses and inspire creativity.
It was also a place for wellbeing and psychological reflection; a peaceful environment of shaded areas, calmed with the sound of trickling water, that encouraged meditation and contemplation. Fourthly the garden was used for botanical and scientific development, a place for experimentation in plant and herb development for health and food. Finally the garden also featured an allotment space, where food could be grown. This small market garden was cultivated for vegetables for meals, aromatic plants for healing, as well as fruits and flowers.
Everywhere in this restored garden is the element of water; narrow channels feeding the different levels, fountains, pools, cascades and even slowly filtering mountain snowmelt water, dripping through the vertical garden, a natural area full of little romantic style fern-covered caves and grottos.
Exploring the Lecrin Valley can make for a relaxing break, and the nearby Alcadima Hotel in the town of Lanjarón is an ideal base. You can also see another entry on the Hotel Alcadima here – the first time I tried their wonderful homemade croquettas!
Andalucía’s city of water, and home to Spain’s biggest annual street water fight festival, Lanjarón is probably one of the best know spa towns in Andalucia, thanks to the internationally-distributed mineral water that is bottled here.
The Alcadima Hotel is a family run property, with beautiful Andalusian gardens, a chill out terrace, large pool and also a spa. The kitchen is well-known locally for its well-priced menus, and you can order meals that have been inspired by the region’s history and local produce. So after a day of exploring gardens, one can relax in a modern day Eden, with the earthly pleasures of good home-cooked food, and refreshing local Granada wines.
How to get there:
By car, taking the ‘Autovia del Mediterráneo’ from the Costa del Sol which directly joins the new A44 motorway north to Lanjarón and the ‘Valle de Lecrin’.
Where to stay:
The family-run Hotel Alcadima offers guest rooms with balconies and views, swimming pool, spa, bar and acclaimed restaurant.