All Ways Spain – Alhambra Sierra Nevada Granada

Spain’s Moorish swansong

Give him alms, woman, for there is noth­ing like the grief of being blind in Grana­da”, so says the city’s mot­to, from the verse of Fran­cis­co de Icaza. Despite being rather over-the-top and melo­dra­mat­ic, to say that Grana­da is a delight to the eyes is no idle boast. Built on hills which afford stun­ning views to snow-capped moun­tains and across broad plains, there can be few cities so well favoured by their nat­ur­al sur­round­ings. It is not hard to under­stand its appeal to the suc­ces­sive peo­ples who have giv­en Grana­da its rich his­to­ry, from the Romans through to the Catholic Mon­archs, con­querors of the city from the Moors in the late 15th cen­tu­ry. Each has left its mark upon the city in count­less ways, but Grana­da is known above all for its Moor­ish her­itage, a domin­ion of sev­en cen­turies which last­ed longest here, and which is epit­o­mised by the dream-like Alham­bra palaces.
This com­plex of fortress­es, palaces and gar­dens, built large­ly in the 13th and 14th cen­turies by the Nas­rid sul­tans, is the focus of everyone’s gaze when they vis­it Grana­da and right­ly so. It is hard to envis­age a more beau­ti­ful set­ting, on the wood-cov­ered Sabi­ka hill, seem­ing­ly float­ing between the city and the Sier­ra Neva­da. Your first sight of one of the world’s most beau­ti­ful mon­u­ments is like­ly to remain long in the mem­o­ry, but the Alham­bra also rewards with new plea­sures on every reac­quain­tance. The intri­cate plas­ter­work engrav­ings from the Koran in the sump­tu­ous court­yards, the play of water in the pools of the Gen­er­al­ife gar­dens, the views across to the Albaicín (Moor­ish quar­ter) from the ram­parts of the Alcaz­a­ba fortress – all can be appre­ci­at­ed in so many dif­fer­ent ways.

Although the Alham­bra has nat­u­ral­ly come to per­son­i­fy Grana­da, the city has many fas­ci­na­tions and charms beyond its walls. The his­toric dis­tricts of the Albaicín, Reale­jo and Sacromonte, each with a dis­tinct char­ac­ter, hold a wealth of inter­est. The Albaicín is one of the finest exam­ples in Europe of a medieval town, being still based on the lay­out of the Moors – all crooked, cob­bled streets and tight­ly packed hous­es. The Reale­jo is per­haps the best place to see con­tem­po­rary granadi­no life, in what is still a very tra­di­tion­al neigh­bour­hood. Sacromonte is a beguil­ing eccen­tric­i­ty: full of folk­lore and leg­ends. For­mer­ly home to a size­able gyp­sy pop­u­la­tion, it still attracts vis­i­tors to night-time fla­men­co per­for­mances in its cave hous­es but also those who appre­ci­ate its semi-rur­al tran­quil­i­ty and the fab­u­lous views back to the Alham­bra and the city.

The his­toric heart of Grana­da is the square of Bib-Ram­bla, the pave­ment cafés and sou­venir stalls of today telling lit­tle of a tumul­tuous past of mass burn­ings of Arab books, Inqui­si­tion tri­als, joust­ings and bull fights. The Cathe­dral and Roy­al Chapel are near­by, one a vast Renais­sance struc­ture with an impos­ing main Baroque façade, the oth­er del­i­cate, on a far more human scale. The chapel hous­es the mor­tal remains of Chris­t­ian Spain’s great immor­tals: Fer­di­nand of Aragón and Isabel­la of Castil­la, the “Catholic Mon­archs”.

The Moor­ish stamp is still vis­i­ble not just in the Albaicín but also in the cen­tre, where the Grand Mosque, the Madraza (uni­ver­si­ty) and the Alcaicería (mar­ket for silks, jew­el­ry, spices) were once the focal point of the city. The Mosque was destroyed to make way for the Cathe­dral but the last two still stand – although only the beau­ti­ful ora­to­ry of the Madraza remains and the alley­ways of the Alcaicería are a repli­ca of the orig­i­nal mar­ket which was destroyed by fire in 1843. A fur­ther flavour of the past is pro­vid­ed by two streets known col­lo­qui­al­ly as “las teterías” (“the Arab tea shop streets”) where North African traders sell fur­ni­ture, clothes, teas, spices, lamps, rugs and the like.

Var­i­ous of our Sam­ple Itin­er­aries fea­ture the city, be it for Cul­ture or Gourmet, and the sur­round­ing coun­try­side offers many Out­doors options too. In the words of The Rough Guide “If you only see one city in Spain, it should be Grana­da”.