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Granada

Andalucia

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Andalucian flair

Normally I recommend the places I write about unreservedly. But, despite so much to see and soak up, Granada comes with certain reservations. 

 

Something about the place just feels a little ... reserved. Like being greeted by a GP receptionist, rather than a good friend. Granada’s reluctance to open itself up is contrary the Andalucian flair you might expect.

 

So, do bear with me, we will get to the good stuff (fitting preparation for Granada, perhaps?!).

 

Wandering the winding streets of the Albaicin neighbourhood, you find yourself questioning whether another distinctly lifeless lane really is worth pursuing. Sharing the narrow cobblestones with intrusive, unsympathetic traffic, you’re forced to execute a hasty late swerve, rather like the proverbial matador.

Then out of nowhere the street turns sharply and deposits you in a charming, buzzy little square. You know the kind of place; benches in dappled shade, two cafés (ostensibly identical, although one clearly more popular), a hardware shop (!), a single stall selling local fruit, and that old guy in the hat who’s lived here all his life and now delights in tutting about the youth who buzz him brazenly on their BMXs. 

A coffee stop here could easily last most of the morning.

 

But you haven’t got all morning, as you’ve got timed entry to the Nasrid Palaces. Making it there for check-in is worse than navigating Heathrow the Friday before Bank Holiday weekend.  Which sums up the Alhambra experience.

 

It’s stunning, of course, and I’d say utterly unmissable. But it’s easy to miss out. Ticketing, regulations, navigation, information, the hike, the queues, the sheer size and possibly the world’s most jobs-worth staff all conspire to make getting in a 50:50 affair. (See practical tips below).

 

But then at some point, you’ll find yourself contemplating a Moorish sahn. Delicate lace-like arches make the monumental walls appear gossamer thin, impossibly ornate carvings frame glimpses of the hill opposite. Columns sprout upwards like tree trunks. All slow-dancing in reflections in the pool before you. It

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Lace-like arches slow-dancing in the reflections

would be utterly perfect were it not for the selfie-stick brigade. Bring your noise cancelling headphones, whip out your sketchbook and take it all in.

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And then, just as you’re in the zone, a tap on the shoulder from ‘security’. Drawing there ‘not possible’.

They don’t mean it’s not possible. Clearly it is (and it’s rather blissful). They mean they just aren’t going to let you. Not unless you get a permit, from the office that’s now closed (at 11.30 am!), costs more than your entry ticket and takes 30 days to accredit. I don’t mean to rant, but you get my drift.

 

Beside that, there are moments in the Alhambra that make the slog and the jobs-worth-ery more than worth it. Usually in some quiet corner, with the tinkle of water, wondering how all that water got up there anyway. At one point a rivulet even flows breezily down through a stone handrail beside the steps snaking up to the Generalife. Now, that’s just plain showing off.

In the Zone 

I raved about the hidden aquatic engineering in Matera. Here the fruits of the Acequia Real are on full public display.  Although the water's for irrigation and cooling too, not just for looking cool.  

One of my coolest moment, was a little outside the main Alhambra entrance, in the not to be missed Carmen de Los Martires. Islamic arches, mirror flat pool, sunlight casting strong diagonals across the carvings, a grotto, tinkling waterfall and twisted vines. Just as I thought my perfect scene had everything it needed, a peacock strolled proudly into view, giving me the full Monty! 

 

Many of my best Granada moments were in fact in gardens, free of charge and free from the late September sun. The Escuela de Estudios Árabes and opposite, the Carmen de la Victoria, stand out. The one for its Islamic formality, the other for its ordered informality. 

 

You’ll see the names 'Carmen' (garden) and 'Mirador' (viewpoint) everywhere and if they’re open to the public, they’re usually worth a nose.  There may well not be an actual garden or a viewing structure, but the names are so evocative.  And those views...

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A Moorish moment

Speaking of views, you’ll no doubt find your way to the Mirador de San Nicholas for sunset. From there the Alhambra will admirably demonstrate why it’s named ‘Red Palace’. But an even more rewarding sunset can be savoured by hiking up behind the Sacromonte district. (Just keep heading up!). You may even get an appropriately rosy glass of Sangria up there from an enterprising local with a cool box.   

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Makes the slog and jobs-worth-ery worthwhile 

Once dusk fades and the Alhambra lights itself up artificially, you can get a perfect view from a number of toppy restaurants on the Albaicin slopes. At Carmen Mirador De Aixa, I took one sip of my generous gin and tonic and one bite of my yielding soft shell crab and immediately booked again for my final night.

 

If your budget and waistband won’t stretch to such gourmet delights, there are plenty of decent bar / tapas / town square options, but best to book, or be prepared to wait for a table.

 

You also get a perfect view from the garden terrace of my Airbnb; The Lovers Boutique. I loved boutiquing there.

 

There’s definitely a reservation theme to this report. Maybe booking is what you have to do to get to the good stuff in this city?

But it’s plenty worth it. And there are certainly plenty more set-piece sites to visit across the city that my wanderings didn’t allow time for.  

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'Skyline'.  Very mixed media.

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'More Steps'.  Very mixed media.

A Few Links and Practicalities

(Just sharing the love. I absolutely don’t get paid for these.)

 

The Lovers’ Boutique

www.airbnb.com/rooms/33636167?source_impression_id=p3_1697182636_VfSs3h0a34Tc8YvI

and The Lovers’ Loft

www.airbnb.com/rooms/28222485?source_impression_id=p3_1697182688_d8WdQFyW8%2BV%2BdDlA

 

The hotel of choice is clearly the Hospes Palacio de Los Patos.  Sadly too many people had already chosen it for my dates this time.

 

Restaurant Carmen Mirador de Aixa; 

www.carmenmiradordeaixa.com/en

I highly commend their website for its rolling background video.  A couple ‘do’ the Mirador de San Nicholas, then nip down the road for the largest tuna steak you’ve ever seen, order Cristal and finish by sharing a chocolate cube. As you do! The restaurant specialises in tuna, and mine was awesome. Both times.

Also, Restaurant Carmen de Aben Humeya.  Similar vibe. Similar awesome view. Here, I ate one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted made entirely with tomato.  Quite some claim; www.abenhumeya.com/

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Tips for visiting the Alhambra

 

Do yourself a favour and book to go more than once.  It’s a marathon otherwise. And not too expensive if you use the official site (below).

 

Book as soon as you buy your flights. It will sell out, slots for the Nasrid Palaces especially.

 

If you can bear it, first slot of the morning is a good option. It’s cooler on the hike up and may be a bit quieter.

 

You can stay as long as you like in the rest of the palaces / gardens, the time-slot is just for the Nasrid Palaces. You can duck out for something to eat and re-enter. (Likewise, if you get ejected for attempting artistic activities!). You can book a day ticket without Nasrid for your second visit.

 

Official tickets here; www.alhambra-patronato.es

The myriad other outlets on the web, including those with much more obvious and authentic looking names, will steer you towards a group tour. Just don’t. 

 

It may, however, be good to have a voice in your ear telling you stories to bring the Nasrid Palaces to life. I hate to say it, but a private guide may really be worth it. Or you can rent audioguides at the Palaces. According to the website above, the audioguide features such delights as ‘didactic illustrations’. In case you don’t encounter enough reprobation!

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