Tips from our Clients
“The Alhambra is an obvious must. I would also recommend visits to the Cathedral, Capilla Real and Arabic Baths. Churros y chocalate in one of the cafes in Plaza de Trinidad is a great treat. El Huerto de Juan Ranas just in front of the Inglesia de San Nicholas is a lovely restaurant/cafe. Its terrace is a great place to enjoy a Tinto de Verano and admire the magnificent view of the Alhambra.”
“See the Alhambra, of course!!”
“Almost next door to Casa Aljarife is cafe Cuatro Gatos. Excellent coffee, fresh orange juice and delicious home made whole grain toast, a relief from the ubiquitous white bread we found everywhere else. One day had fantastic moussaka for lunch.
Taberna de Los Besos just down the street has excellent home made food prepared by the Algerian owner's wife.
El Tabanco, also a few doors down from Casa Aljarife, is a tiny music club with some top quality performances.
The Hammam al-Andalus are a dreamy experience. Candle lit grotto- like pools of hot, warm, cold water to relax in with sweet mint tea to sip. Try the massage for an extra treat after hiking all those tourist miles on cobblestone steep streets.”
“We had a short stay but even though we were tired from traveling the Alhambra was absolutly fantatic. Always suggest getting tickets on line prior to arriving.”
“A wonderful city with many sites - Alhambra, Cathedral etc.
The Frederico Garcia Lorca summer residence in the F.G.L.park was well worth a visit”
“Buy tickets for the Alhambra online.”
“The Flamenco show which the hotel booked/recommended was exceptional. It was in the Sacramonte area in a cava and seemed quite authentic. The tapas restaurant, Bodega Casteneda was great with wonderful cheese and pates at a reasonable price...not touristy at all.”
“Definitely go the Arab baths for a hamman and massage and go to the Alhambra in the late afternoon then walk back down under the Alhambra walls to the Calle Triste for dinner.”
“We enjoyed all the sights of the Alahambra. We were disappointed the archeology museum was closed. Particularly enjoyed the the restaurant,Antiqua Bodega Castaneda! Loved the green olives that were always served, loved the wine, sunset at Plaza St. Nicholas. Great bus service to the city parts!”
“I would suggest a mini bar in the room.”
“Absolutely loved Granada. It was my favorite city out of 4 others I visited in Spain.”
“killer tapas at Lost Manueles and at Bodegas Esparador”
“The Alhambra was amazing but the old town is full of surprises and dining out is a must. The Cathedral is a must see but I reccommend venturing into the smaller churches as well.”
“We had the most wonderful breakfasts of our entire stay in Spain in a small very busy traditional cafe called Cafeteria Agustin on the corner of the nearest square - great coffee, traditional toast, freshly squeezed orange juice & the most friendly and professional service imaginable.It was open early in the morning and through the day.”
“just wander around to get the feel of the place.Plenty of places to eat and drink.
this was my error as I did not know ahead of time,my bus ticket from Nerja was an open return.Even though I was at the bus staion an hour before my departure time,I did not go to the information desk to have the bus time put onto my ticket.When the bus arrived ,the driver told me I had to have the time of the bus on my ticket.By the time I got this done my bus had left so my early start was wasted!This also happened to another traveller.I guess if I was staying longer I would prefer to stay in an apartment which gives little more freedom in terms of eating and making drinks.”
“Definitely see Alhambra - afterwards take the walk - rather than the bus -back to the old town down the hill and along the stream. recommend the Arab quarter at night for dinner. More for atmosphere than cuisine.”
“Just around the corner, a lovely square where we had fantastic fish dinner”
“Make sure you book alhambra tickets in advance, we saw many people disapointed which you would not expect in October. our guide book said the cathedral was hardly worth a visit which we did not agree with at all. If you have grandchildren there are beautiful childrens shops, at a price.”
“absolutely see the Alhambra; and the many fun wine & tapas bars - very friendly town”
“All of it is amazing. It would be helpful to emphasize a need to book tickets over the internet to the Alhambra ahead of time. We did but definitely saw many people who did not.”
“We found it easy to walk everywhere, even up to the Alhambra. Do not try to drive a car!!! The shopping is fun, lots of stall-like stores selling a great variety of things.”
“Seek and take the advice of staff on what to see and where to go...including restaurants.”
Recommended Guides for Granada
Maribel’s Guide to Granada © Updated April 09
About this Guide
This guide is written by Maribel of Iberian Traveler (iberiantraveler.com). Iberian Traveler is American based company offering travel planning and guided and self-guided small group tours in Spain, Portugal and southwest France. Specializing in custom designed wine and gastronomy packages in the Rioja, Navarra and the Basque Country in addition to the Fiesta de San Fermín and the encierro, the running of the bulls, in Pamplona. If you like our style of hotel, then you won't find a better guide/tour!
This capital of Eastern Andalusia, with a population of 300,000, is blessed with both a stunning setting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and a fascinating history, straddling eastern and western civilizations - a city caught between oriental and occidental sensibilities. Its crown jewel, the Alhambra, moored above the city like a ship, is the greatest relic of Islamic Spain, the last stronghold of the Moorish empire and one of the world’s most magical landmarks.
When to Visit?
Almost anytime. Granada is a destination suitable, really, for all four seasons. In winter, you’ll find fewer crowds, yet the temperatures are still warm enough for pleasant touring; spring brings the heavenly scents of jasmine and myrtle, making a tour of the Generalife gardens an absolute delight; fall is pleasantly cool with fewer crowds; late June - early July brings the added attraction of the prestigious International Festival of Music and Dance, while mid-July through August are the least pleasant months to visit due to the soaring heat and the almost unbearable tourist hordes.
El Día de la Toma - Festival commemorating the anniversary of the capture of the city by the Catholic Monarchs and subsequent expulsion of the Moors - January 2. San Cecilio - City’s patron saint’s day – Pilgrimage to Sacromonte, first Sunday of February.
Las Cruces de Mayo - on and around May 3. Some 30 + enormous crosses made of flowers are installed in the city’s squares by various brotherhoods that compete to win a prize for the best-decorated and most elaborate cross. In each square a temporary bar is also set up for drinks and tapas and of course, spontaneous music and flamenco dancing at night.
Corpus Christi – End of May, early June, depending on when Easter falls in the calendar - a moveable feast, is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Although Corpus Christi is celebrated everywhere in Andalucía, it is celebrated most exuberantly in Granada with religious parades, concerts, bullfights and flamenco, and a fairground, El Ferial, set up at the edge of the city, which comes alive each night for an entire week. The seven-day bullfighting Feria del Corpus coincides with the celebration of Corpus Christi and were the most prestigious matadors in Spain perform in the Plaza de Toros (bullring) at the western end of the city.
International Muséo and Dance Festival - third week of June through first week of July (www.granadafestival.org). Note for would be festival-attendees: Due to the festival’s enormous prestige throughout Europe, tickets for most performances are extremely difficult to obtain. They are put on sale (online) on a date in mid-April, (in ’09 this magic date was April 18), and tickets to the high-status events can sell out by the end of the day! If you do have your heart set on attending an event, note the date and time on your calendar and be prepared to attempt a purchase at the hour in Granada when the box office opens! The two major venues are the Generalife gardens (for dance) and the circular courtyard of the Palace of Charles V (for orchestra-soloists). But included in each year’s program are free concerts in the Hospital Real at 12:30 pm and in the patio of El Corral del Carbón at 8:30 pm. Since seating is limited be sure to arrive quite early.
How to Reach Granada
By Air -
From the UK - There are flights to the Granada-Jaén Federico García Lorca airport from Liverpool, London Gatwick and Stansted, Nottingham and East Midlands.
From the US - Fly from your home airport in the US to Madrid or Barcelona.
From Canada - Fly from Vancouver, Calgary, or Toronto to Madrid.
From within Spain -
• Madrid: Iberia or Spanair flight (40 minutes) to Granada.
• Barcelona: Vueling, Iberia, Click Air and Spanair fly direct.
• Girona: Ryanair direct
• Palma de Mallorca: Air Europe direct
By Train -
From Madrid - The National Railway of Spain, Renfe (www.renfe.es), currently offers only two daily Altaria trains, taking 4 hrs. 30 minutes. Deeply discounted Web (60% off) and Estrella (40% off) are available if ticket is purchased a minimum of 15 days (Web) or 7 days (Estrella) prior to departure. Non-refundable. The comfortable Altaria trains offer two classes of service, turista (tourist class) and preferente or business class with meal served along with wines and cordials plus access to the VIP lounge in Madrid’s Atocha station. Web fares are not available in preferente class.
From Seville - Renfe offers 4 Regional trains; the ride takes 3 hours.
From Barcelona - Renfe has only 2 daily trains to Granada, either an 11 hr. 10 min. long ride on the ARCO, which departs in the morning, or the overnight Trenhotel. From Barcelona it is much better (and quite cheap) to fly!
Granada’s train station is located on Avenida Andalucía, 1.5 km west of the city center, right off Avenida de la Constitución. From there you can take a public bus (4,6,7,9 or 11) from Avda. Constitución to the center, or take a taxi for about €5.
By Bus -
From Seville - The best, most economical and comfortable mode of transport to Granada is via the Alsina Graells bus, a division of Alsa (www.alsa.es), which departs from Seville’s Prado-San Sebastian bus station. There are eight daily departures, seven are non-stop and one makes an intermediary stop in Antequera. Buses arrive at Granada’s main bus station on the Carretera de Jaén, 3 km northwest of the city center. The same company offers bus service to Granada from Córdoba and Málaga.
City bus #3 runs from the station to the city center. Taxi fare from the station to a downtown hotel is approximately €7.
From Madrid – Enatcar, another division of Alsa, plies this route with regular and Supra (express; non-stop) service daily from the Estación Sur de Autobuses. Morning buses currently depart at 7:30, 8:00 (Supra), 8:30, 10:30 and 11:30. The one-way fare is €15.66 for normal service and €30.55 for non-stop. A normal trip takes 5 hours, while non-stop service shaves 45 minutes from the ride.
Transportation -Granada Airport to Downtown
By Bus -
Autocares José González operates the service between the airport, which is located 17 km outside the city, and downtown Granada, and its blue (unlike the city’s red) buses are timed to meet all flights.
After collecting your luggage, exit the double doors and take a right, walk to the end of the hall and out a second set of double doors and look to your left. You’ll see the bus waiting (well beyond the taxi stand). Stash your luggage in the underbelly, board and buy your €3 ticket from the bus driver. Buses will wait for all delayed flights. The airport bus makes five intermediary stops before reaching the end of its route at the Palace of Congresses. The entire trip takes between 40 - 45 minutes. If you are staying at a downtown hotel, you can get off at stop 4, on the Gran Vía de Colón (best). If your hotel is located in the Albaicín, or up on the Alhambra hill, just hail a taxi from the stop on the Gran Vía.
To return to the airport for your flight home, the bus departs from the Paseo del Violón daily at 5:45, 6:30, 7:40, 8:40, 9:45, 10:45, 11:45, 12:45, 13:45, 14:45, 16:00, 17:00,18:00, 18:45, 19:45 and 20:30. Be sure to check the current schedule at www.autocaresjosegonzalez.com.
By Taxi -
Estimated taxi fares (’08) are as follows: to downtown, €25; to the Alhambra, €28; to the Albaicín, €28; to the Sierra Nevada, €60.
By Rental Car -
The major players, Avis, Europcar, Hertz and Atesa have counters at the airport, but I strongly advise you not to keep a car in Granada. Negotiating the city traffic and poor signage can be a nightmare, even for veteran Spain travelers. A car in the city will be an albatross for you, a genuine handicap. If you must arrive by car, I urge you to choose a hotel on the Alhambra hill for its ease of access and your driver’s peace of mind. To reach the Alhambra area hotels, one avoids all city traffic completely, by taking the Carretera de Circunvalación or Ronda Sur, which circumvents the downtown and brings traffic through a tunnel and directly up to the Alhambra. Just follow the purple Alhambra signs. You’ll find downtown parking garages few and far between, cost from €15-20 per day, there is no parking for most Albaicín hotels and only a few downtown hotels, such as the large convention-type hotels, offer their own on-site garages. But again, finding ones way to a downtown hotel is a vexing, stress-inducing chore for most tourists, and motorcycle traffic adds to the frustration and confusion. If you’ve already chosen a downtown hotel that does not have an on-site garage, the simplest way to reach downtown is to take the “Centro-Recogidas” exit. Along Calle Recogidas you’ll find an underground garage on your left. At the top of Calle Recogidas turn right on to Acera del Darro, where you’ll see the central post office. There will be an underground garage on your left after the post office (Correos).
Navigating the City by Public Transportation
Please don't try to navigate the city by car!
Since downtown Granada is extremely congested, many streets are blocked off to vehicular traffic other than taxis and buses, and the layout is labyrinthine in nature, I strongly suggest that you avail yourself of the excellent and easy to use bus system. The red city buses, run by Transportes Rober, are inexpensive and compact enough to handle the narrow streets. A single ride costs €1.10 or a booklet of 7 bus tickets, which can be shared, costs €5. Buy your single ticket or booklet from the driver, who accepts bills. (transportesrober.es) For the short-term visitor, the red minibuses with only about ten seats, designated Alhambrabús, are the most efficient way of seeing the city’s major attractions. These minibuses provide service to the Alhambra hill from 7:15 am until 11:00 pm. Buses 30 and 32 run from downtown to the Alhambra (the 32 bus making a swing through the Albaicín) and the bus 31 runs from the Plaza Nueva to the Albaicín only. Bus 34 detours east to Sacromonte. The fare for the minibuses is one euro. City bus 8 runs to the Monasterio de la Cartuja. City bus 3 and 33 go to the bus station. Buses 3 and 9 run from the train station, down the Avenida de la Constitución to the cathedral. A taxi fare within the city should cost between €5 - €8.
Granada Tourist Office - on Plaza de Mariana Pineda, 10, is open Monday - Friday 9:30 – 7:00 and Saturday from 10:00 – 2:00. This is the regional tourist office for the city and Granada province as well. (www.turismodegranada.org)
Andalucía Tourist Office - is found on Calle Santa Ana, 4, near the Plaza Nueva. Open from 9:00 - 7:30 on Monday - Friday, on Saturday from 10:00 - 7:30 and on Sunday from 10:00 – 2:00.
ALHAMBRA (from the Arabic “Al Qal’a al-Hamra” - Red Fort)
This guide will not attempt to relate the history or to give a detailed room-to-room description of all the wonders of this astonishing World Heritage Site, Spain’s most visited tourist attraction. For a detailed description of each portion of the Alhambra, I highly recommend the Alhambra portion of the Cadogan Guide to Andalucía, which, in my opinion, gives the most informative, accurate and complete explanation of this truly magnificent Nasrid Dynasty complex.
The complex is divided into four main components: the original 13th century fortress, or Alcazaba, the Royal Nasrid Palace or Palacios Nazaríes - also called the Casa Real, the Generalife, the sultans’ summer palace and gardens (all part of your ticket) and “the imperial intrusion” to the Moorish complex, the 16th century Renaissance Palace of Charles V, which is free-no ticket required. To visit the first three components, one needs to purchase a combined ticket, and it is imperative that one purchases this ticket well in advance during the summer months and school holidays.
As noted above, with more than 2 million visitors each year, the Alhambra is the most popular tourist attraction in Spain. Because entrance to the complex is limited to only 7,250 visitors (6,050 in winter) each day, with 300 visitors per half-hour time slot, and with only 400 admitted for the night visit, I strongly recommend that you purchase your Alhambra tickets online, and well ahead of your visit-for the summer high season and for all school holidays, up to 3 months or 90 days in advance.
Only 1,800 tickets are sold daily at the box office, and during the high season, one must be in line by 7 am for even a chance to secure a ticket for that day; therefore, advanced booking is preferable, even essential. And during the summer months, because of the intense heat, I also urge you to choose the very first entrance slot, at 8:30 am, for your timed ticket, as the bus tour crowds arrive at around 10 am, and the mid-day heat can make for exhausting touring.
In the winter months, an afternoon visit can be pleasant, with fewer crowds, but be sure to choose a timed slot for the Nasrid Palace entrance no later than 4:00 - 4:30 pm, because the complex closes at 6:00 pm November - February.
If you choose this time slot, while waiting your timed entrance to the Nasrid Palaces between 2:00 – 4:00 pm, you can visit the Alcazaba military fortress, the Generalife summer palace and gardens, or Charles V’s Palace (and the two museums lying within) and the remainder of the complex. You will need at least 3 ½ to 4 hours to do justice to the entire site.
Also there are no public dining facilities (café’s and restaurants) within the complex itself, only vending machines for water, soft drinks and sandwiches at the Entrance Pavilion and a bar/café kiosk for the same near the Alcazaba, adjacent to the Puerta del Vino (Wine Gate). Therefore, I also suggest that visitors arm themselves with bottled water in the scorching summer months.
Visitors must deposit backpacks and bags larger than 35 cm. in the checkroom at the Entrance Pavilion.
Types of Visits -
The Alhambra offers both day and evening visits. Day visits, when the entire complex is open to visitors, are self-guided and divided into morning and afternoon sessions. The morning sessions are for visits between 8:30 am – 2:00 pm. Afternoon sessions allow visits from 2:00 – 6:00 pm from November – March, and 2:00 – 8:00 pm from April - October. These designated sessions refer to the hours in which timed tickets are sold for entrance into the Palacios Nazaríes.
You will need to present your ticket to the guards who will scan its bar code at three separate checkpoints – at the entrance to the Alcazaba military fortress, to enter the Generalife gardens and to at the Nasrid Palace, for which a specific timed slot is required with only a 30 minute window, for example, 10:00 - 10:30h means that you can only enter the Nasrid Palaces rooms during that time frame. For conservation reasons, admission is strictly controlled through these 30-minute time slots, with no more than 300 visitors allowed inside during each half-hour period. However, once inside, you may stay as long as you like.
If your ticket is designated “morning”, you may enter the complex as early as 8:30 and stay until the complex closes, if you like. However, if you purchase an “afternoon” visit, you may not enter the complex itself before 2:00 pm. You can enter the grounds earlier, but must wait until 2:00 pm to visit the areas where your ticket is scanned, the Generalife gardens and Alcazaba fortress. You must wait for your timed slot to enter the Nasrid Palace. Again, once inside the complex, you can stay until the buildings close. The guided evening visit, which some describe as a “magical experience”, does not substitute for a visit by day, as the entire complex is not open to evening participantsthese evening visits only allow admission to the Nasrid Palaces for a maximum of ninety minutes, and the use of flash is prohibited. The evening session is held on Friday and Saturday only from November to February, from 8:00 - 9:30.
From March to October, the visit takes place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10:00-11:30 pm.
The Alhambra is open every day of the year except December 25 and January 1.
You can see all the above information, and more, at www.alhambra-patronato.es.
Purchase Alhambra tickets online at www.alhambra-patronato.es
Again, if visiting in the summer I strongly urge you to choose the very earliest time slot you can manage. After 10:00 am the crowds become very, very heavy, reaching their peak at 11:00. While the afternoon slots during the traditional lunchtime and siesta (14:00-18:00 hr) are far less crowded, you will not have optimum light for photographs, and the excellent Museum of the Alhambra, in the Palace of Charles V, is closed in the afternoons. I would also avoid Monday, if possible, when this particular museum is also closed and on Sunday afternoons when the complex is free to residents of Granada.
Purchasing Alhambra tickets at La Caixa machines throughout Spain
If you arrive in Spain without previously reserving tickets online, and you have no computer access to do so, you can go to any La Caixa bank in Spain and purchase tickets from their terminals located inside the bank. La Caixa banking hours are Monday - Friday from 8:15 - 2:30. Insert your credit card into the machine, there will be instructions on how to buy Alhambra tickets. If you insert an American credit card, the machine will read it as such, and English instructions will appear. There is a La Caixa bank office in downtown Granada on Acera del Darro, 34. You can attempt your purchase upon arrival in Granada (during regular banking hours), if you don’t wish to try your luck and join the long lines at the Alhambra Ticket Pavilion.
Night visits - Visitas nocturnas
You can also purchase tickets for the guided evening tours of the Alhambra on the www.alhambra-patronato.es site. From March through October these visits take place from 10:00-11:30 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (during the summer this time period falls within the late Spanish dinner hour), and from Nov. to Feb. they run from 8:00-9:30 pm on Fri./Sat. only. Book ahead online using the same procedure as detailed above.
Garden visit - Visita a los jardines
The Alhambra also offers garden visits (with the same morning or afternoon sessions), but this ticket provides access only to the main gardens of the monument during the daytime visit. This ticket is useful only to those who have not been able to secure a ticket to the Nasrid Palaces.
With the €7 euro garden ticket, visitors may access the following gardens:
• Walk of the Cypresses (Paseo de los Cipreses)
• Un-irrigated Land (Secano)
• Saint Francis´ Gardens (Jardines de San Francisco)
• Garden of the Ramparts (Jardines de los Adarves)
• The Partal: Portico of the Palace, Gardens and Walks, Rauda, Palace of Yusuff III, Tower Walk.
• Lower Gardens of the Generalife.
Private or Group Guided Tours of the Alhambra
After purchasing your tickets online, if you decide that you would like to secure the services of a private guide for your visit rather than depend on the official audio guide, see www.ciceronegranada.com. Send the company an email, advising them of the date of your ticket and time band for entrance to the Nasrid Palace. Cicerone will respond with a price quote for their private guided tour services of the complex. Approximate cost: weekdays, €162.40 (including 16% vat); Sat./Sun./holidays, €197.20 (with vat) for groups of 1-10.
Picking up Alhambra tickets purchased online and entry to the complex
When you arrive at the ticket office of the Alhambra, located at the Pabellón de Acceso, do not stand in line there but go instead to the separate small glass enclosed building to your right. There you’ll find a half dozen yellow Servi Caixa machines with touch screens. Swipe your credit card, the same one that you used for purchasing the tickets and wait for the machine to print them out. Your ticket will indicate the date (backwards to Americans: February 5 will be 05/02), and next to the bar code you’ll see “horario de visita” which indicates either the morning session, 8:30-14:00h, or the afternoon session, 14:00 – 18:00h in the winter and 14:00 – 20:00h during the summer. Underneath you’ll see “horario Palacios Nazaríes” and your appointed half-hour time slot within which you must enter the Royal Palace rooms (example: de 10 a 10:30 h).
You must be at the door of the Nasrid Palace within the 30-minute slot printed on your ticket. If you are late, you will not be allowed entry. The guides are uniformly strict in enforcing this rule. And if you are early, you must wait. Remember that you may visit the Alcazaba fortress and climb its Vela Tower, visit the Palace of Charles 5th (free without ticket) and the Generalife gardens at your leisure during your morning or afternoon sessions. And once you enter the Nasrid Palace rooms, you may stay there as long as you wish.
Before leaving the entrance complex, if you wish a €3 audio guide which is available in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian, go to the dedicated audio guide counter inside the ticket office. You will be required to leave some sort of identification (driver’s license or passport) as a security deposit.
If you decide to pick up your Alhambra tickets the day before your visit (the Servi Caixa machines are available in the afternoon/evening for you to secure your tickets) and you don’t want to trek back to the ticket pavilion on the morning of your visit, you may enter the complex with ticket in hand through the Puerta de la Justicia (Gate of Justice) which is located closer to the monuments.
Once inside, you’ll see a Service Pavilion next to the Puerta del Vino (Wine Door) where you can rent your audio guide. Also at the Service Pavilion you’ll find vending machines, an ATM and toilets. And remember that since you’ll need to leave a form of I.D. such as passport or driver’s license to secure the audio guide, you must return your audio guide to the same counter where it was rented to retrieve your I.D. Again, your bar coded ticket will be scanned at 3 entrances secured by turnstiles:
• At the door to the Palacios Nazaríes
• At the gate which leads to the Generalife summer palace and gardens
• At the entrance to the Alcazaba fortress.
Entrance to the courtyard of the Palace of Chares V and entrance to the 17th century church, Iglesia de Santa María de la Alhambra, and Mosque baths, Baños de la Mezquita, do not require the Alhambra ticket, nor does strolling the Calle Real de la Alhambra, where you will find the souvenir shops, bookstore, Hotel América and the Parador. Plus you may also wander freely around the Plaza de los Aljibes in front of the Alcazaba and other public squares.
Two museums are housed within the Palace of Charles V, one of which charges an entrance fee (except to EU members).
1. The excellent Museum of the Alhambra on the ground floor contains an impressive collection of Hispano-Muslim art, such as the original tiles and plaster arabesques from the palace, beautiful ceramics and most importantly, one of the twelve lions from the Courtyard of the Lions, which have all been removed for a major cleaning and restoration. I urge you not to miss this fine museum. The restoration of one of the twelve lions has been completed, and he appears much more beautiful, more slender and svelte, and is displayed along with an interesting slide-show explanation of the painstaking restoration process. Open Tuesday - Saturday 9:00 - 2:30. Closed Sunday and Mondays, free on holidays, 2. The Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum), is located on the top floor of the palace and consists of a collection of religious paintings from various Granada churches, including works by Granada native son, Alonso Cano, sometimes referred to as the Spanish Michelangelo (as he was a 17th century painter, sculptor and architect). This museum, for me, is not a “must see”. Open Tuesday from 2:30 – 6:00 (8:00 in the summer), Wednesday - Saturday 9:00 – 6:00 (8:00 in the summer) and Sundays 9:00 - 2:30. Closed Monday. Admission: €1.50 (Free to EU members).
Note: As of late, substantial areas of the Nasrid Palaces are being temporarily closed to visitors due to extensive renovations, particularly during the winter months. On our last visit in February, the Sala del Rey, the Charles V chambers (inhabited by Washington Irving in 1892) and the hammam, Baños Arabes, were all under restoration and closed to the public.
Reaching the Alhambra
• Arriving by car - If you drive to the Alhambra from outside Granada, make sure to follow the Ronda Sur-Carretera de Circunvalación signs that will take you up the hill and lead you directly to the very large parking lots on the Avenida de los Alixares, across from the Hotel Guadalupe and Hotel Alixares, just a short distance uphill from the ticket office.
• Arriving by bus - To reach the Alhambra by bus from downtown, take the #30 or #32 red Alhambra minibus (fare: €1), which runs approximately every 10 min., departing from the Plaza Nueva. It stops just below the ticket office.
• Arriving by taxi - A ride from the taxi stand at the Plaza Nueva to the Entrance Pavilion should cost around €4.
• Arriving on foot - If you plan to walk up to the Alhambra from downtown, allow 30 minutes to reach the complex. The most direct route will take you up the steep Cuesta de Gomérez, which begins at the Plaza Nueva leading up through the woods to the Puerta de las Granadas. Immediately after the Puerta de las Granadas, turn left up the Cuesta Empedrada path to the fountain, Pilar de Carlos V.
If you already have your ticket, there’s no need to continue walking up to the ticket office at the official Entrance Pavilion. After the fountain take a sharp left and enter the Alhambra through the Puerta de la Justicia (Gate of Justice). There’s an Information stand a short distance inside this gate where you can pick up a map of the grounds. If you do need to pick up your tickets (reserved on line) at the Servi Caixa machines, continue outside the Alhambra walls from the Pilar de Carlos V fountain, a distance of about 600 meters, to the Entrance Pavilion, Pabellón de Acceso. Remember that it is a good 15- minute walk from the Entrance Pavilion to the entrance to the Nasrid Palaces. So be sure to arrive at the Entrance Pavilion with ample time to walk down to the palace before your allotted half-hour slot for entry expires.
Walking back to downtown
There is a delightful walk back down into town by way of the Cuesta de los Chinos (“chinos” referring to the splinter stones that pave the way). It is also called Cuesta del Rey Chico (the “rey chico” being Boabdil, the last Nasrid King of Granada). At La Mimbre restaurant look for the sign pointing the way. This pathway will take you back down into town, running along the ramparts of the Alcazaba fortress on your left, but don’t attempt this walk without very sturdy, thick-soled shoes, as you will be walking on large, irregular stones, the path is steep and the going is slow. It will deposit you at the Paseo de los Tristes, which runs along the Darro river, and from there you can either continue your walk up into the ancient Arab quarter of the Albaicín by turning right and walking up the Cuesta Chapiz, or turn left and walk down the Paseo de los Tristes, which will lead you to the Plaza Nueva and monumental downtown Granada.
I usually spend about four hours touring the entire complex, entering the Nasrid Palace rooms first at 8:30, the earliest time slot, and am normally finished with the visit by 12:30, 1:00 pm at the latest, just in time for lunch. If you follow this scenario, I suggest that you follow your visit with lunch up on the Alhambra Hill.
Depending on my budget and/or time constraints, I either choose to have lunch in the interior courtyard of the Hotel América (closed December - February and on Friday and Saturday), which serves soups, salads and sandwiches in a pleasant flower and plant filled atrium (average check: about €20 - €23 pp.), or reserve a table in the formal dining room of the wonderfully atmospheric Parador, the former 15th century convent of San Francisco, which has just undergone a major renovation. Whether I dine here for lunch or for dinner, I prefer the set menu (€30), which includes a starter, main course and dessert along with a complimentary small appetizer. The dining room opens for lunch at 1:00 pm daily. If you wish a lighter meal at the Parador, the courtyard is also open to non-hotel guests for lunch, serving a casual bar menu consisting of sandwiches, cheese or ham platters and salads.
Around and below the Access Pavilion and the Guadalupe Hotel there are other dining options, such as the rather pricey La Mimbre, with outside terrace dining (better, more atmospheric at night than during the day), the but none is quite as pleasant or memorable as the two mentioned above. Another good option for casual fare is the Yedra Real (yedrareal.com), located 50 meters from the parking lot, below the Hotel Guadalupe. It currently offers a menú del día for €12,90.
Other Attractions (In order of importance for first time visitors)
Capilla Real (downtown Granada) -
Adjoining Granada’s cathedral, this is downtown Granada’s most outstanding Christian building (www.capillarealgranada.com). The Catholic Monarchs, Fernando and Isabel commissioned it after the fall of Moorish Granada as their own mausoleum. They had originally planned to be interred in Toledo but after their victory against the Moors they gave orders to Enrique Egas for the construction of this burial chapel, begun in 1506. Egas built the chapel in the elaborate and delicate Isabelline Gothic style, but it wasn’t finished until 1521, several years after their deaths, during the reign of their grandson, Charles V. The Monarchs were temporarily buried in the Convento de San Francisco at the Alhambra, now the Parador, until the completion of the Capilla Real. The King and Queen’s magnificently carved Carrera marble sarcophagi, the work of Bartolomé Ordóñez, are found next to those of their daughter, Joan the Mad (mother of Charles V), and her husband, Philip the Fair. The lower two are those of the King and Queen; those of Felipe and Juana lie higher, some say, perhaps because Felipe was the son of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian. The actual small and simple lead coffins, containing their remains, lie in the crypt below, along with the coffin of Juana and Felipe’s only child. The magnificent central altarpiece of the Chapel depicts the fall of Granada with Boabdil, the last Moorish ruler, handing over the keys to the city.
Note: it’s very much an open question whether the actual remains are still here, as the coffins were opened and desecrated during the Napoleonic invasion in 1812. The sacristy of the Royal Chapel should not be missed. It’s an impressive museum containing, among other gems, Isabel’s crown and scepter, her ornate jewelry chest, mirror, illuminated missal, Fernando’s sword and the Kings’ personal, mostly Hispano- Flemish, art collection including works by van der Weyen and Hans Memling.
The Royal Chapel is open from April to October from 10:30 – 1:00 and from 4:00 – 7:00. From November - March it’s open from 10:30 – 1:00 and 3:30 – 6:00, and on Sundays from 11:00 – 1:00 and 3:30 – 6:00. Closed Good Friday, December 25, January 1. Admission: €3, but free with Bono Turístico.
Cathedral (downtown Granada) -
The cavernous cathedral, built on the site of the demolished Great Mosque, was begun in 1518 in Gothic style, but was not finished until 1563 (www.diocesisgranada.org). The architect, Diego Siloe, who replaced Enrique Egas five years after its start, made changes to the design, introducing the Renaissance style to the building. In the Capilla Mayor, note the praying figures of Fernando and Isabel, works by native son Pedro de Mena. Open Monday - Saturday from 10:45 - 1:30 and 3:30 - 6:30. On Sundays it is only open for visits from 3:30 - 6:30. The main entrance can be found on Gran Vía de Colón.
Monasterio de la Cartuja (downtown Granada) -
This over-the-top, lavishly, wildly, flamboyantly Baroque extravaganza, the “Sistine Chapel of Baroque Art”, lies two km northwest of the city, easily reachable by #8 bus, which runs along the Gran Vía (www.diocesisgranada.org). It’s often been described as the Christian answer to the Alhambra, their attempt to upstage the Moors in grandiosity. A Spanish writer describes the high altar as a “motionless architectural earthquake”. For art lovers, missing the Cartuja in Granada would be akin to visiting Rome and failing to see the Vatican. Open daily from November – March 10:00 – 1:00 and 3:30 – 6:00. From April - October it is open from 10:00 – 1:00 and 4:00 – 8:00. However, on Sundays and holidays it only opens from 10:00 - noon. Admission: € 3,50.
Monasterio de San Jerónimo (downtown Granada) -
Diego de Siloé, who took over the construction of Granada’s cathedral, and who is known for his fine Plateresque work, designed this 16th century monastery, located 500 meters west of the cathedral on Calle Rector López Argüeta. The church contains a beautiful two-tiered cloister and inside the ornately frescoed church, the tomb of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, the Gran Capitán, who won many victories in Italy for the Catholic Monarchs. Open April - October from 10:00 - 1:30 and 4:00 - 7:30. From November – March it’s from 10:00 - 1:30 and from 3:00 - 6:30. Open Sundays from 10:00 - noon only. Admission: €3.
El Albaizín -
This fascinating, labyrinth-like quarter takes its name, some scholars say, from the Arabic “Rabad el-Bayyazin”, which means “gate of the falconers” or it may refer to the “neighborhood of Baeza, as the former inhabitants of the Al Andalus town of Baeza settled here in Granada in 1227 after Baeza was re-conquered by the Christians. A daylight stroll through the city’s ancient Islamic quarter, the oldest section of town, which covers the slope directly facing the Alhambra, is a must for all visitors. Here is where the Moors built their first fortress, numerous mosques, and is the refuge where they retreated after the Christian Re-Conquest until they were finally driven out for good in 1609. This former Arab ghetto is a dense medina-like network of narrow and cramped, steep and winding cobbled streets, dead ends and little squares where getting lost is inevitable. As you walk along its streets and into its many squares, you’ll be rewarded at every turn with stunning vistas of the Alhambra looming across the way on the Al-Sabika hill. The Albaicín area, once scruffy and semi-abandoned, is gradually gentrifying, particularly with the opening of small boutique hotels, restaurants-withviews in typical whitewashed cármenes, Arab teahouses, halal grocers and a “Little Morocco”- a souk-like bazaar of leather and trinket shops in the lower quarter. The lower section is now inhabited by new Spanish Muslims, Moroccan and Algerian immigrants and New Age types.
You can spend a couple of hours soaking up the flavor of this quarter or spend the entire day lost in its innumerable nooks and crannies.
My introductory Albaicín walking tour
I suggest that you start your tour of this evocative quarter from the Plaza Nueva and walk east along the river on the Carrera del Darro. Your first stop could be at Calle Bañuelo, the fourth street on your left, where you’ll find El Bañuelo, the ancient Moorish bath house, which has three bathing rooms with vaulted ceilings which remain intact. Then continue on the Carrera del Darro, which will become the Paseo de los Tristes (its formal name being Paseo del Padre Manjón), where you’ll find several bars with outdoor terraces. Here to the left you will start you climb north up the very steep Cuesta del Chapiz, which leads up into the quarter.
On the Cuesta del Chapiz, to your right you will pass the Casas del Chapiz, now Granada’s School of Arabic Studies. Ring the bell and ask to be buzzed in for a look at the beautiful gardens. On the opposite side of the street you will find the *Carmen de la Victoria, one of the Albaicín’s best-kept secrets. Again, to enter you must ring the bell (open 9:00 – 10:00 daily) and ask to be allowed in. Go up to the lookout tower, the mirador, for spectacular views of the Alhambra, before continue on up the Cuesta del Chapiz past the Iglesia de San Salvador (open 11:00 - 12:30 and 4:30 - 6:30).
*What is a Carmen? A whitewashed villa perched on a hill and hidden behind a tall white wall, surrounded by cypress tress, with murmuring fountains, terraced gardens planted with fruit trees and filled with flowing bougainvillea. There are more cármenes here in the Albaicín than in any other quarter of Granada. The 17th century poet, Pedro Soto de Rojas, wrote of them in his book entitled: “a paradise closed to many, gardens open to few”. The 20th century Granadine poet, Federico García Lorca wrote: “to live on a different plane, in a Carmen - all the rest is a waste of time!”
Now it’s time to stop for a drink and free tapa on the Plaza Aliatar on your right. Look for the bar with the snail sign, Bar Aliatar-Los Caracoles, and either have your aperitif standing at the bar or sit at its outdoor terrace. The house specialty is the irresistible caracoles, snails cooked with garlic, a little portion of which will be served to you with your beer, soft drink or wine. If you arrive on a Sunday at around 1:00 pm the place will be packed to the rafters with the churchgoing locals. After your pause for refreshment it’s time to continue your climb. The Cuesta del Chapiz becomes the Calle Pagés, which you will take until it ends at the Carretera de Murcia. At this intersection, turn left and walk down the Carretera until you reach the Iglesia de San Cristóbal, where you will have a lookout, another mirador, from which you have magnificent views of the entire city and below you, to the south, the remaining section of the ancient Arab walls.
From this top most point, begin your descent, and prepare to get lost at some point in your meandering down. Take the Larga de San Cristóbal down to the Puerta Almona. Here continue down to the Plaza Larga, the heart of the district, named for its oblong shape. Here you’ll find more outdoor terraces and on Saturday, a lively market. From the Plaza Larga, ask a local to point you in the direction of San Camilio, which will lead you down to the Albaicín’s most famous square, the Plaza de San Nicolás with its über-famous Mirador de San Nicolás, where everyone comes to soak up the glorious sunsets (make sure to return here by bus or taxi at the sunset hour for a drink at the Huerto de Juan Ranas below the square).
This view is recognizable from all the Alhambra postcards and is the spot where Bill Clinton waxed rhapsodic about the most beautiful sunset of his life. The church at the square was once a mosque, its fountain, where the faithful performed their ablutions before entering. Next door, a new mosque opened in 2003 for the burgeoning Islamic community - the Mezquita Mayor de Granada, whose gardens can be visited (10:00 – 2:00 and 6:00 - 9:30) and whose muezzin calls to prayer five times a day. The square is also home to the resident hippies who perform street theater for the public. If in need of another liquid pick-me-up here, try the popular and inexpensive Bar Kiki. Please exercise extreme caution on the square as thieves on motorcycles have been known to grab ladies’ purses then zip away. From below the square, go west on the Camino Nuevo de San Nicolás, which will become the Calle Santa Isabel la Real (where you can pick up the red minibus #31 back downtown if needed). The Monastery of Santa Isabel la Real is open only Monday – Wednesday - Friday from 10:00 -1:30 and 4:00 – 6:00, and on Saturday only from 10:00 – 1:00. Continue west to the square, Plaza San Miguel Bajo. It’s now time to make your way back down on any street that goes south from this square, which will eventually lead you to “Little Morocco” and the intersection of the souk-like streets of Calderería Vieja and Calderería Nueva. At either, you can stop for a cooling fruit shake, batido, or an herb, spice or fruit tea at a tetería, or purchase pointed toe leather slippers, a brass tray or even a djellaba in this medina-like environment, if that holds appeal.
Note: If you are pressed for time, or have mobility difficulties, you can take your tour of the Albaicín by minibus. Just catch bus #31 from the Plaza Nueva, which makes a 15 - minute loop through the quarter. Fare is €1. The bus #32 does this same loop, but first goes to the Alhambra.
This desert-like, prickly pear-covered hillside opposite the Generalife gardens is riddled with troglodyte dwellings, once inhabited by gypsy (Gitano) families who were forced out in the floods of 1968 and is now the home largely to hippies with a scattering of gypsies who have returned. These gypsy families perform zambras (flamenco dances) in their cave-homes in the evenings, performances geared solely to tourists. Most of these zambra caves have the reputation of being classic “rip off joints” best to be avoided. I would tour this quarter only during the day. A walk through Sacromonte can be added to the above recommended walking tour of El Albaicín, simply by detouring east at the intersection of the Cuesta del Chapiz and Camino de Sacromonte. Sacromonte has only one road, which curves around the hillside. The visitor leaves the city behind and enters a strange and very arid landscape where the only buildings of note are the caves dug out of the hillside.
If you’d like to see a cave replica, the Center for the Interpretation of Sacromonte- Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte is a type of ethnographic museum with ten caves displaying gypsy crafts (basketry work, pottery, metalwork, weaving) and the cave dwellers’ way of life. To reach the center you’ll need to climb 300 meters up the steep hill, Barranco de los Negros, from the #34 bus stop and Venta El Gallo restaurant at the end of the Camino del Monte (an extension of Camino de Sacromonte - the main drag). The visit takes about an hour. Admission fee: €5. It opens Tuesday through Sunday, from April to October from 10:00 – 2:00 and 5:00 – 9:00. From November through March it is open from 10:00 – 2:00 and 4:00 – 7:00. Closed on Monday. To reach Sacromonte by bus, take the #34 from the Plaza Nueva, which departs every hour from 7:30 am - 8:30 pm. But you will still need to make the 300-meter climb up to visit the Museo Cuevas. (www.sacromontegranada.com)
Museo Arqueológico -
The Casa de Castril, a Renaissance mansion with ornate Plateresque facade on the Carrera del Darro, is the setting for Granada’s archeological museum housing artifacts from the Paleolithic age to the Islamic period. In room No. 4, upstairs, you’ll find a stunning collection of alabaster burial urns. Open 9:00 - 8:30, but on Tuesdays from 2:30 – 8:00 only and on Sunday from 9:00 - 2:30. Closed Monday. Admission: €1.50 (free to EU citizens)
El Bañuelo-Baños Arabes (downtown Granada) -
These brick vaulted 11th century Moorish baths are considered to be the best-preserved in Spain. Note the star-shaped openings in the vaulting. During the Moorish occupation of Granada there was a bath on every street of the Albaicín, the Moors believing that cleanliness was next to godliness. Open Tuesday - Saturday from 10:00 – 2:00. Admission is free. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Fundación Rodríguez-Acosta (Alhambra hill) -
This foundation-museum (www.fundacionrodriguezacosta.com) overlooking the city is a private non-profit organization founded in 1941 after the death of Granadino painter José María Rodríguez-Acosta who established the guidelines to the foundation and left his private collection to it. The foundation is housed in a beautiful Carmen on the Alhambra hill near the Torres Bermejas (just below the Hotel Alhambra Palace) and has spectacular gardens and equally spectacular views of Granada. It was declared a National Monument in 1982. Inside you’ll find the Gómez-Moreno museum with a collection of valuable paintings by Zurbarán, Sorolla, Murillo and Fortuny along with archeological finds. Open only from Wednesday - Sunday from 10:00 – 2:00. Closed Monday, Tuesday, December 24, 25, 31 and January 1, plus other local holidays. Those who present their Alhambra ticket will receive a 50% discount on price of admission. Entrance: €4. You can reach the Foundation on the #30 or #32 red Alhambra microbus, getting off at the stop in front of the Hotel Alhambra Palace and walking down about 50 meters to the entrance to the Carmen. The view of Granada from the Fundación Rodríguez-Acosta from above the Carmen de la Alcubilla del Caracol.
Campo de los Mártires (Alhambra hill) -
This is an expansive and peaceful garden that offers lovely views of the city. During the Re-Conquest it served as a fortress where captured Christian soldiers were held as prisoners in dungeons tunneled within the rocks. Open in winter, Monday - Friday from 10:00 – 2:00, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 - 6:00. Open in the summer, Monday - Friday from 10:00 – 2:00 and 6:00 – 8:00, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 – 8:00. Closed August.
Casa-Museo de Manuel de Falla (Alhambra hill) -
Located on Antequeruela Alta on the Alhambra hill, near the Alhambra Palace Hotel. For Spanish classical music lovers, this is the home of composer Manuel de Falla, who lived in Granada for almost twenty years (www.museomanueldefalla.com). When he left the city for exile in Argentina in 1939, he left behind his personal belongings, including manuscripts, concert programs, press clippings, posters, photographs, correspondence and books. The city opened the composer’s former home as a museum in 1965. Open Tuesday - Sunday from 10:00 – 2:00. In July and Aug it is only open Thursday - Sunday. Admission: €3.
Centro de Arte José Guerrero (downtown Granada) -
For contemporary art lovers, this is a small museum dedicated to the work of native son, abstract expressionist José Guerrero, a contemporary of Pollock and Rothko. It also houses temporary exhibits. It opens Tuesday - Saturday 11:00 – 2:00 and 5:00 – 9:00, and Sunday from 11:00 – 2:00. Closed Monday (www.centroguerrero.org).
Casa de los Tiros (downtown Granada) -
On Calle Pavaneras, 19, the street leading from the Plaza Isabel la Católica to the Realejo neighborhood, this fortress-like 16th century Renaissance palace (“the House of the Shots” - from the musket barrels protruding from the facade), now houses a collection of Royal paintings and lithographs depicting Granada in the 19th century. It opens on Tuesday in the afternoon only from 2:30 - 8:30. From Wednesday – Saturday it is open from 9:00 - 8:30, and on Sunday from 9:00 - 2:30. Closed Monday. Admission: €1.50, but free to EU citizens.
Following the literary footsteps of Federico García Lorca -
Granada’s most illustrious citizen, Federico García Lorca, was one of Spain’s literary giants, a member of the Generation of 1927. Both a renowned poet and playwright, he was brutally assassinated by Franco’s Falangist followers during the opening days of the Spanish Civil War. In July of 1936, García Lorca decided to postpone a planned trip to Mexico and instead spend the summer in Granada. Tragically, this was the moment when the city fell to Franco’s troops, who launched a vendetta to hunt down and exterminate all those who openly sympathized with the Republican cause. The poet sought refuge in the house of friend and fellow poet, Luis Rosales, but was discovered and dragged away on 16 August. Viznar is where García Lorca spent his final hours before facing the firing squad. Close to the town is the Viznar Gorge where it is thought that his remains, along with those of other Civil War victims, were buried. Those who have studied his work may want to make the pilgrimage to these three sites in and around the city that honor his memory - the corners of his childhood, his youth and the place of his death:
1. La Huerta de San Vicente-Casa Museo Federico García Lorca, was the family summer residence between 1926-1936, once outside of town but now found within the burgeoning city limits, having been swallowed up by the city. The city government has transformed this area into a formal park and garden and has opened the home as a museum. Here is where García Lorca produced some of his finest work, including Blood Wedding and Yerma. The family has returned the home to its original state, and half-hour tours are given Tuesday – Sunday. From April - September it is open from 10:00 - 12:30 and from 5:00 - 7:30. From October - March it is open 10:00 - 12:30 and 4:00 - 6:30. It is closed in the afternoons during July and August and on Mondays. Because guided tours are mandatory it’s important to check the calendar at www.huertadesanvicente.com to make sure that a space is available on the tour of your choice. The guided tours are currently given at 10:15, 11:00, 11:45, 12:30, 5:15, 6:00, 6:45 and 7:30 only, Admission: €3, but free on Wednesday.
2. García Lorca shrine lies 17 km. due west of the city in the village of Fuente Vaqueros. The Museo Casa-Natal Federico García Lorca is the writer’s birthplace and where he spent his early years. Tours will show you drawings by the young Federico, school photos, manuscripts and memorabilia from performances of his plays. From October – March it is open from 10:00 – 1:00 and 4:00 – 6:00, and from April - June and in September it’s open from 10:00 – 1:00 and 5:00 – 7:00. During July and August it is only open from 10:00 – 2:00. Closed on Mondays.
3. The final stop on the García Lorca memory trail is found outside the village of Alfacar, north of Granada, where tragically, the artist was executed on 18 August 1936. A memorial park has been created in the place where it is believed the poet was assassinated. A wall with fragments of his poems etched on blue painted ceramic tiles surrounds the main square.
About the “Bono Turístico” or City Pass
I only recommend this rather expensive city tourist pass, a creation of the city’s Tourist Board, for those visiting for more than 3 days, if you plan to make extensive use of the bus system, or if you have not purchased your Alhambra tickets on line ahead of time and now discover that tickets are sold out for your stay. This pass which costs €30, is not in my opinion a real money-saver but if used properly one can break even. It does covers admission to the Alhambra, includes a timed reservation for entrance to the Nasrid Palace and also covers the (small) admission fees to Granada’s other top sights (Capilla Real, Cathedral, Monasterio de San Jerónimo, Museo Arqueológico), a pass for 9 rides on the city bus system, a day on the “hop on-hop off” sightseeing bus and discounts (7%) for bars and restaurants (such as Sevilla, Chikito, la Yedra Real). And it is valid for 7 days. One can purchase the pass at the ticket offices of the Alhambra (which requires standing in long lines) and at the kiosk on the Plaza Nueva, whose opening hours are: April – October from Monday - Saturday 9:00 – 7:00 and Sunday from 9:00 – 2:00 and 4:00 – 7:00. From November – March it is open Monday - Saturday from 10:00 – 6:00 and on Sunday from 10:00 – 2:00 and 4:00 – 8:00. Or purchase the pass at the Caja Granada bank on Plaza Isabel la Católica. You can order it in advance at www.caja-granada.es and pick it up at one of the sales points (www.granadatur.com).
Dining & Restaurants
Compared to other gastronomically renowned Spanish cities, particularly those of the north, San Sebastián, Bilbao, Barcelona, and relative to the other two Andalusian members of the “Golden Triangle”, Seville and Córdoba, Granada has never been highly regarded by gastronomes-in-the-know for its innovative dining. The ironic expression “comer en Granada es poco o nada” pretty much sums it up, according to gourmet critics, when comparing dining here to the culinary fame of the north, although Córdoba is actually considered among the food critics to be the “gourmet capital” of the South. Granada residents love their traditional recipes and as a conservative dining lot, don’t venture much beyond the tried and true. That said, it’s possible to dine well in Granada, but I would choose the “tapas” route over white tablecloth dining, with a few notable exceptions. Granada’s tapas bars are well known for maintaining the tradition of offering a complimentary tapa along with an order of an alcoholic drink (beer, wine) or a soft drink (but not water, juice or coffee). This tradition not only thrives here, but has also developed into an art form. These free tapas can be a little dish of stew, a mini sandwich, a slice of omelet, tortilla, a little dish of Russian salad, all quite filling, which makes a traditional “tapas crawl” imminently affordable. With each round of drinks at the bar, you will be given a different complimentary tapa-the waiters remember what complimentary snacks you have already been served and vary your treats. But remember that this is a gift, so one shouldn’t request a particular tapa, unless you’re a regular, but rather just enjoy what is given. And make sure not to order food immediately along with your drink, but instead, wait and order after finishing your tapa(s) so as not to over-order.
Regional dishes of Granada and/or Andalucía
-Berenjenas con miel - Breaded eggplant with honey.
-Habitas con jamón - Broad beans sautéed with little pieces of Serrano ham
-Jamón de Trevélez - Mountain cured Serrano ham from the Alpujarras - cured in caves in the highest village of the Iberian Peninsula.
-Remojón - A salad of cod, oranges, black olives, onions and tomatoes
-Pescaíto Frito - Lightly battered, fried” little fishes”
-Tortilla Sacromonte - An omelet named after the Abbey of Sacromonte, which in its original version contains lambs’ brains and testicles.
-Choto al ajillo – Kid (goat) braised in white wine and garlic.
-Alboronía - A vegetable medley consisting of eggplant, tomatoes, green peppers and squash.
-Olla de San Antón - A stew of lima beans, blood sausage, pig’s head or ear, bacon, dripping, thistles – whatever comes to hand in the cold weeks of mid- January when villagers gather together to celebrate the fiesta of San Antón. Also acts as a hangover cure after Christmas and the New Year…
-Perdices - The name for baked potatoes in Granada (also partridges).
-Piononos - A dessert from the town of Santa Fe, made with sponge cake, cream, burnt sugar, cinnamon-available in all the city’s pastry shops.
With a View:
On the Alhambra hill
Parador San Francisco -
Without a doubt, the former 15th century convent, now a state run Parador, is the most romantic and serene spot to dine on the Alhambra grounds. A dinner on the terrace of the Parador with a direct view of the Generalife gardens while being serenaded by a classical guitarist, the scent of orange blossoms and jasmine in the air, can be a lovely, romantic experience. However, you will hear mostly English (or German), in the background, as this Parador is extremely popular with and primarily filled up by foreign guests. The dining room does not take reservations for non-hotel guests (or did not prior to the renovation), so your best bet is to arrive a bit before 9:00 pm. (it opens for dinner at 8:00) and wait to be seated on the terrace. There are also terrace tables where one can enjoy a pre-dinner drink, so the wait can be quite pleasant.
I always opt for a regional specialty (menu is divided between regional dishes and standard continental fare) and choose the decently priced, €32.50, three course “menú Parador”, a good value given the magical setting. On the menu there will be seafood options as well as meat dishes. Two of my favorite regional dishes served here are the habitas con jamón (baby limas with ham) and the berenjenas con miel (eggplant with honey). And from the wine list I select the label designated “best wine at the best price”, or the “market discovery”, which has always proved to be a solid bet. These labels are priced below €15.
If ordering a-la-carte, you will be charged €1.87 each for the olives, oil, amuse-bouche and breads placed at your table at the beginning of the meal (these are included in the set menu price). For information and reservations call: 958 221 440.
Carmen de San Miguel -
This Carmen turned restaurant (www.carmensanmiguel.com) is located immediately below the Torres Bermejas and a short stroll up the street from the guesthouse Carmen de la Alcubilla del Caracol, but somewhat hidden down a cobblestone lane near the Alhambra Palace hotel, past the Fundación Rodríguez-Acosta. This is a lovely hillside villa with a large dining room, which boasts picture windows overlooking the city and a summer terrace affording spectacular and romantic views. Tel: 958 226 723.
With a full frontal view of the Alhambra
In the ancient Arab quarter of Albaicín -
Located at San Nicolás, 3, just west of the square of the same name, is one of several restaurants housed in romantic cármenes, with a lovely garden terrace for dining with spectacular frontal views of the Alhambra (www.restaurantesannicolas.com). Of all these restaurants-with-a-view, this one serves arguably the most memorable, truly gourmet cuisine, is the highest rated in the gourmet guides and has the most beautiful interior décor on two floors with stunning marble staircase. It opens for lunch at 1:00 and for dinner at 8:00. Closed Sunday night and Monday. Tel: 958 804 262.
Mirador de Morayma
Calle Pianista Garcia Carrillo, 2, just east of the Mirador of San Nicolás, this romantic spot, a former private mansion, serves an excellent tasting menu (degustación) for €30. Clinton, Aznar and Kohl have all sampled its Arab-inspired delicacies. And the chef Mario Batali recently dined there while filming his PBS culinary road trip series, “Spain…On the Road Again”, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Mark Bittman. Its wine list features Alpujarran (local) wines. The extremely pretty gardens are an added plus. It opens for lunch at 1:30 and for dinner at 8:30. Tel: 958 228 290
El Huerto de Juan Ranas
Located just below the Mirador de San Nicolás at Callejón Atarazana Vieja, 8, this restaurant has a splendid vine covered outdoor terrace where both drinks and lunch are served plus a more formal, elegant and rather expensive restaurant downstairs, said to have been a favorite of King Fahd and the Saudi Royal Family. I would go here at sunset for a pre-dinner drink to soak up the sublime views of the “Red Fortress”. Tel: 958 286 925.
Other options for dining with a view of the Alhambra in the upper Albaicín include Carmen de la Verde Luna at Camino Nuevo de San Nicolás, 16, Las Tomasas at Carril de San Agustín, 4, the Mirador de Aixa, next door at Carril San Agustín, 2, and Carmen de Aben Humeya, adjacent to the Cadima Wall (www.abenhumeya.com). But before booking, ask your hotel concierge, or desk staff, which of the above have had the best recent guest feedback. And remember that when dining at any of the above-mentioned spots in the Albaicín, you’ll be shelling out more for the views than for the fine cuisine. Count on a minimum of €50, or more, per person.
El Claustro *
Located in the AC Palacio de Santa Paula Hotel, this is the most romantic and atmospheric setting for gourmet dining downtown, and my top choice for a special occasion (www.achoteles. com). This dining venue is housed in the former cloister of the 1590 convent section of the beautiful hotel and has a stunning coffered wood ceiling and windows overlooking the courtyard. The avant-garde cuisine is a creation of chef Juan Andrés Rodríguez, who has won several prestigious gastronomic awards. Main courses are priced from €20 - €26 and all desserts at priced at €7. It opens for lunch at 1:30 and at 8:30 for dinner. Tel: 958 805 740.
At Plaza Pescadería, 12, the restaurant is next door to the more famous, and somewhat more expensive, Cunini. On a recent visit, this friendly, welcoming, “we try harder” dining spot provided me my most memorable and relaxing downtown restaurant meal. You’ll find a lively and attractive tapas bar in front, and an interior dining room divided into several cozy and pleasant alcoves with vaulted ceilings and pretty Andalusian décor. At my recent lunch it was packed to the rafters with hungry locals, not a tourist in sight, and service was prompt and polite (www.restauranteoliver.com). The menu focuses on seafood, as does Cunini’s, but with gentler prices. My selection of dorada (porgy) proved delicious. Try their tarta de yogur con frambuesas y trufas, yoghurt cake with raspberries and chocolate truffles, for dessert. Oliver also serves typical Granadino dishes such as habitas con jamón, along with very fairly priced wines. Open Monday. Tel: 958 262 200.
Plaza del Campillo, 9, has been a haunt of Granada’s intellectual elite for years, the meeting place where García Lorca and friends held their tertulias (literary gatherings). Classic Granada dishes include braised oxtail stew, rabo de toro, and baby shrimp, quisquillas, straight from Motril on the coast (www.restaurantechikito.com). Chikito opens up an outdoor terrace on the square in summer and has a lively tapas bar. If you stick to the traditional dishes, you can have a very pleasant meal here at a reasonable cost. It opens for lunch at 1:00 and for dinner at 8:00. Closed Wednesday. Tel: 958 223 364.
Pilar del Toro
Hospital de Santa Ana, 12, across the Carrera del Darro from the Plaza Nueva. This well regarded dining spot consists of an upstairs restaurant and downstairs bar set in the romantic courtyard of a 17th century home, a favorite local couples’ watering hole. Tel: 958 225 470
Can be found at the beginning of the Paseo de los Tristes (at Paseo del Padre Manjón), the continuation of the Carrera del Darro, directly across from the river terraces, this casual-contemporary restaurant serves meals continuously, making it a handy stop for those who explore the Albaicín after a visit to the Alhambra. Try one of their varieties of couscous (lamb with raisins), their loin of pork with yoghurt and saffron sauce or one of their delicious salads. In the summer diners can eat al fresco on the wisteria-covered terrace across the street. Tel: 958 226 882
Puerta del Carmen *
Located across from city hall, on the Plaza del Carmen downtown, this new tapas and small plates “hot spot” has a beautiful Belle Epoque décor, is both elegant and cozy and serves attractively presented plates of charcuterie, smoked fish, carpaccios, sushi-style and tostas or canapés. The well-chosen wines are served in fine stemware, and everything here is presented in a sophisticated style (puertadelcarmenrestaurante.com/). Call ahead for reservations: 958 223 737.
Dining in a Bullring
This is one of two dining venues located inside Granada’s Plaza de Toros, dining below the seats of the bullring (www.grupoermita.com). La Ermita is the more formal, tablecloth dining of the two venues (dining room upstairs, tapas bar below) and specializes in grill meats - carnes al carbón. Phone: 958 290 257. Tendido 1 The one next door serves tapas in a more informal setting of bullfight memorabilia and sherry casks. Opens daily from 11:00 am – 2:00 am (www.tendido1.com). You can have a full meal or just go for a bite, have a tapa or ración, such as a plate of Trevélez ham, or cheese at the bar, or you can sit on the outdoor terrace in the summer. Phone: 958 272 302 / 958 278 769.
Tapas Bars Downtown
Tapas time in Granada begins before lunch, around 1:00 and before dinner, between 8:00 and 9:00. Los Diamantes I and II Two tapas bars, the first on pedestrian Calle Navas, 26, and the newer cousin on Calle Rosario 12, a continuation of Navas, are the places to frequent for those who love pescaíto frito, battered and lightly fried fish tapas such as boquerones and anchovies, plus delicate batter fried eggplant, berenjena, all watered down by the local brew, an Alhambra beer. Both branches are closed on Sunday and Monday.
On Calle Almireceros, 1, is a much-loved classic frequented by locals and students alike who flock here for the unpretentious fare and low prices. As in all the city bars, a free tapa is served along with your drink. Here I would stick to the tried and true-a plate of Trevélez ham and local cheese or one of their 18 varieties of stuffed potatoes.
Also located on Calle Almireceros. Here you can enjoy a nice glass of wine and a montadito, an open-faced sandwich, but I prefer Bodegas Castañeda (above).
On Plaza de las Pasiegas opposite the cathedral is a designer, Basque-style pintxos bar.
On Calle Santa Escolastica, 9, the main drag that leads to the Realejo neighborhood, is a local’s hangout for montaditos, a type of canapé with every type of topping imaginable.
La Taberna de Baco and La Opípara
Can be found on the south side of the Campo del Príncipe, the heart of the residential Realejo neighborhood. The best time to visit this “tapas bar central” is on a sultry summer night, when the terraces are open and packed with locals.
Tapas Bars in the Albaicin
El Rincón del Aurora
Located on Plaza San Miguel Bajo, 7. This tiny bar with outdoor terrace has been recommended in Food and Wine (September ’08) in an article regarding the filming of the PBS series, “Spain…On the Road Again”. It was one the bars frequented by the series’ protagonists, Chef Mario Batali and Mark Bittman during their filming.
Moroccan style tea houses - Teterías
These funky, bohemian, pseudo-Moroccan tea lounges, opened by Moroccan immigrants, are quite in vogue these days among the university students or young at heart. Most are found in the area of the Albaicín now known as Little Morocco, on Calderería Nueva and Calderería Vieja, a souk-like bazaar filled with shops hawking wares imported from Morocco and other areas of the Middle East. These teahouses have an Arab atmosphere of dimly lit rooms, floors covered with carpets, horseshoe arches, marble columns and seating on velvet sofas piled with brightly colored cushions, with low carved wood tables, North African background music. All offer exotic teas - herbal, spice and fruit - plus shakes, batidos, sweet Arab pastries, such as baklava or khadaifi, and a drag on a narghile (hookah). Most are open from noon until midnight. The best of the lot may be El Bañuelo Tetería, which is not on the Calderería Nueva/Vieja, but instead behind the ancient Arab baths on Bañuelo, 5, near the Placeta de la Concepción. It advertises itself as “a little to drink, a little to eat and plenty of space”.
The city’s best ice cream and horchata (a refreshing milk-like drink made of the Valencian chufa root) can be found at the super-popular Los Italianos, Gran Vía, 4. Opens from March to October only.
Regional pastry specialties, such as soplillos, cuajada de Carnaval and tortas mohínas can be found at Calle Reyes Católicos, 39, at the venerable Pastelería López Mezquita, a Granada tradition since 1862, open from 9:00 am until 11:00 pm.
You’ll find numerous bars with outdoor terraces on the Paseo de los Tristes, the continuation of the Carrera del Darro that runs along the river, directly across from the Alhambra hill, one of which, Bar au lait, specializes in crepes and coffees.
Churros & Chocolate
Grandadinos flock to the pretty Plaza Bib-Rambla downtown for their morning or late afternoon churros y chocolate treats at the Gran Café Bib- Rambla and the Cafeteria Alhambra. Fresh churros in the Alhambra.
Wandering the narrow walkways of the Alcaicería (behind the cathedral) and the streets of Calderería Nueva and Calderería Vieja in the lower Albaicín, referred to as “Little Morocco”, you’ll come across several souk-like markets filled with handicrafts, all imported from Morocco or the Middle East, which may or may not appeal. Nothing here is indigenous, but if you’ve never shopped in a medina, this is your chance to pick up some North African leather slippers. The Alcaicería stands at what was once the original Arab silk market, but is now a tourist - trinket - souvenir shop filled bazaar that for me at least, holds little appeal.
Granada is known for two indigenous handicrafts: its pretty Fajalauza ware, the lovely pottery with blue and green designs on a white background, and an ancient craft known as taracea or marquetry. You’ll find marquetry items galore in the shops on Cuesta Gomérez, the steep street leading up to the Alhambra and in the shops on the Alhambra hill as well. The craft consists of materials such as bone, metal, mother of pearl, inlaid in wood in intricate patterns. This craft dates from the 14th - 15th centuries. You’ll find taracea jewelry boxes, picture frames, trays, mirrors, chess sets and backgammon boards, small tables and even writing desks.
On the street leading from the Palace of Charles 5th, up to the Generalife gardens in the Alhambra complex, you’ll pass the studios of Laguna Taracea (www.lagunataracea. com), where all the tour groups stop to see the artisans in action and purchase inexpensive gifts. When you enter the shop, head to the display room on your right and turn to the shelves on your right side for the genuine items inlaid with mahogany, rosewood, walnut and bone. The cheap, plastic touristy trinkets will be on your left.
Artesanía El Suspiro
The shop in town with the best, or widest selection of Granada’s traditional blue, white and green Fajalauza pottery is Artesanía El Suspiro on the Plaza Santa Ana adjacent to the Plaza Nueva. The owners speak English. Also peruse the pottery wares at Ceràmica Fabre on the Plaza Pescadería 10, next to the Plaza Bib-Rambla.
Guitar aficionados will want to stop for a visit to Guitarrería Gil at Plaza del Realejo, 5 (www.granadaguitar.com). Several guitar makers hone their skills on the Cuesta de Gomérez, the street leading directly from the Plaza Nueva up to the Alhambra. Look for Germán Pérez Barranco (www.guitarreria.com), Eduardo Ferrer Castillo at number 26 and Francisco Manuel Díaz at number 29, among others.
For a nice selection of wines, with 300 references from all the Spanish wine producing regions, head to La Carte des Vins, on Calle Navas, 29. It sells one hundred wine labels for less than €10/bottle. Opening hours are Monday – Saturday, 11:00 am until 9:30 pm and Sundays from 11:00 until 5:00. Their “express” wine tasting course takes 45 minutes and costs €8.
For gourmet food items, gastronomes must seek out the small but delightful La Oliva, at Rosario, 9 (www.laolivagourmet.com). The friendly, English speaking owner, Francisco Lillo, is a fountain of knowledge regarding Andalusian (and local) foods and wines and will help you with your selection of a perfect gift to take home.
Granada’s most up-market shopping street is the boutique-lined Angel Ganivet, which runs southeast from the Puerta Real. Here you’ll find a lovely children’s clothing boutique, a Loewe luxury leather emporium and Salvador Bachiller designer shoes.
One Stop Shopping
For everything under the sun, both locals and tourists alike head straight to the large El Corte Inglés department store on Carrera del Genil, 20, which has a very handy and vast basement supermarket for picnic items, snacks, wines and delicatessen products. The most selective gourmet items (such as the best of the Iberian “bellota” hams) are found in the “El Club de Gourmets” section. El Corte Inglés is open Monday - Saturday from 10:00 – 10:00. By law it can only open on eight Sundays during the year. To check the Sunday opening days in ‘08/09, see www.elcorteingles.es; at the bottom right of the home page under centros comerciales, click on horarios y aperturas, then Andalucía.
Offers guided walking tours around the historical city center and the Albaicín that last approximately 2 1/2 hours (www.ciceronegranada.com). From March through October they depart from the meeting point, a kiosk at the Plaza Bib-Rambla at 10:30 am, and from November through February at 11 am. No reservations are needed; just arrive at the meeting point 10 - 15 minutes ahead of time. Cost: €12. Children under 14 can come along for free. A €2 voucher is available on line.
Full day Tours
Something out of the ordinary, especially for “foodies”, is the new Olive Oil Tour, which is offered in English, French, or Spanish, and is a full-day tour to discover the varieties of olives, oils, to visit a traditional working mill and to experience new flavors. The tour departs daily, picking participants up at their hotels between 9:30 – 10:00, returning between 3:30 – 4:00. The first stop is at a 15th century oil mill in Niguelas, where participants learn about the olive oil process and the different varieties and characteristics of olives, then it’s on to an exhibition of more than 300 olive oils at a museum in Vélez de Benaudalla, followed by a tasting and time to purchase in the shop. The visit continues with a drive through the Lecrín Valley countryside and culminates with a paella lunch in a typical Andalusian mesón. Book at www.oliveoiltour.com.
For relaxing, Arab sultan style, in a traditional Moorish bathhouse, a reproduction hammam, there are two bathhouses from which to choose: Aljibe Baños Arabes - San Miguel Alta, 41, at the corner of Obispo Hurtado, is open daily, including holidays with passes at 10:00 am – 12:00 – 2:00 – 4:00 – 6:00 – 8:00 and 10:00 pm. Choose between a session in the hot and cold baths in 7 different pools of varying temperatures, or take the waters followed by a massage and aromatherapy. A simple bathing session costs €17 and the second option, €26, €28 on weekends. The bathhouse is only closed on Christmas Day. For a reservation call 958 522 867 (www.aljibesanmiguel.es)
Hammam - Calle Santa Ana, 16, off the Plaza Nueva, offers the same services as the above, but with an additional late night pass at 11:30. Reserve online at www.granada.hammamspain.com.
Although the city of Granada has produced some of the country’s great flamenco artists, it can no longer be considered the premiere spot, outside of major festivals, for experiencing the most genuine flamenco. The various tablaos or zambras in the caves of Sacromonte, from a flamenco purist point of view, simply don’t put on a highly authentic or inspired show, full of duende (roughly defined as “soul”) because they are geared solely to tourists. If you plan to travel on to Seville or Jerez, I suggest that you save your flamenco experience for those cities. The only flamenco I recommend for authenticity would be the occasional Saturday night performances at the Centro Internacional de Estudios Gitanos La Chumbera on Camino del Monte in the Sacromonte neighborhood. Pick up a performance schedule at the tourist office. A private, members-only flamenco club, or peña, Peña Platería (www.laplateria.org.es), found deep in the heart of the Albaicín, at Placeta de Toqueros, 7, near San Miguel Bajo, opens its doors to non-members for its regular performances on Thursdays, and sometimes on Saturdays if visitors come in a small enough group. Performances begin at 10:30 pm. Inquire at the tourist office. The International Festival of Music and Dance in late June-July includes on its yearly program the most important flamenco figures in Spain, such as Sara Baras, Antonio Canales, Eva Yerbabuena. And during the Festival de Otoño, the first week of December, the brightest stars of the flamenco world come to perform at the Teatro Isabel la Católica, Acera Del Casino. Live music Hidden away on Postigo de la Cuna, a little alleyway off Calle Azacayas (look for the name painted on the white wall), which is off the Gran Vía, you’ll find a dark and smoky little bohemian bar and cavernous performing space, El Eshavira, where live jazz, world music and impromptu flamenco are performed on Thursdays and Sundays. Also you can hear flamenco music at Bar Soniquete on the Carrera del Darro, 51, on Friday and Saturday at 11:00 pm. Cover charge: €10, includes the first drink.
A restored cinema is the venue for Granada, 10, which plays movies and serves drinks during the evening and after midnight; it is transformed into a disco that hops until 6:00 am. Located just off the Gran Via at Calle Cárcel Baja, below Calle Elvira.
|Stanley Moss visits the Andaluducian cities of Seville, Granada, and Ronda in search of some authentic Flamenco and a little rejuvenation. January, 2005. The Seville and Ronda sections of his article are on the Seville and Ronda Pages.
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I looked in the mirror and saw a burnt-out case. I saw a man consumed by a demanding year of business, family and an unrelenting schedule which had taken its toll. I was worn down, worn out, and in need of spiritual renewal. I asked myself if it was possible for a 56-year old executive—who had long nursed an unfulfilled fantasy of trekking in southern Spain—to go there, roam the legendary cultural places by day and seek out the gypsy flamenco by night. Did the authentic and traditional still exist in Andalucia, or had it all disappeared, drowned out by the mobile phones, internet and rap music? Had modern life’s endless intrusions wormed their way into the peñas of Sevilla, and the grounds of the Alhambra? I needed to find out. If that classical world endured, I would use it to soothe my heart and invigorate my mind.
Andalucia holds incredible allure. From afar, flamenco has been dear to my heart, but I wanted the real thing, first-hand, up close, in the land where it originated. I held hopes of seeing Farruquito dance, learning the names of the up-and-coming singers and guitarristas. Ten days is not a long time to fulfil a dream, but it would serve. Locating lodging was the easiest part. A simple email to www.innsofspain.com was soon answered with a list of properties fitting my unique criteria: grown-up accommodation, Sevilla, Granada, Ronda, authentic and traditional. My British Airways round-trip ny-Madrid-ny came to us$466, with a connection through Heathrow. I grabbed a single veteran rolling case, threw in a black suit and two white dress shirts as camouflage for the flamenco performances, added sturdy walking shoes, and looked faraway to my destination.
Granada, population 400,000, a university town with 60,000 students, sits on the banks of the Rio Darro, and at dusk peacocks call along the river. On the terrace of my lodgings, engrossed in conversation with the lady innkeeper about the thousand different water sounds at the Alhambra, I try a glass from a flask on the table and yes, it is sweet and delicious and good. The inn is hidden on a side street of the Albaicín (there are many alternate spellings at play here), and when I invite her to recommend a local restaurant she says she will ‘bring out some food’. I sketch on the terrace as the light changes, and she brings out a silver tray with asparagus, salchicon, pabo ahumando, olives, chicken breast with herbs, sheep cheese and bread and opens a bottle of 1997 Enate, the red Galican wine following me around Spain like an old friend. Around midnight I dine at Carmen Mirador de Aixa (Carril de San Augustín, 2, telephone 34 958 22-36-16) on local cheese served on a cracker with thick gazpacho and olive oil, a scramble of codfish and shrimp, oxtail, and finish it off with orujo, the sweet version of a local digestif. While the food is exceptional, it is the unimpeded view across the valley to the Alhambra, illuminated at night, which demands your attention. Save for the addition of a few strategically placed floodlamps, it is the same view as 500 years ago, another of those time-travelling moments of timeless realization. Later yet my hosts take me to a downtown flamenco bar I will never find again, reached by steep and twisty dirt paths between old buildings, through a low door and into a smoke-filled three-leved basement space which cannot have been renovated for a hundred years, crowded to the walls with people smoking and drinking and talking to a background of recorded flamenco at serious volume.
In the morning I breakfasted at my inn, and walked the easy distance to the minibus which goes up the hill to the Alhambra. I bought my admission ticket keyed to a given hour for entry, and began the hike to the highest point, Generalife, the summer palace of the sultans, through a labyrinth of gardens and terraces, with a profusion of water courses and fountains. It is a surrounding of luxury, design and seclusion unlike any other place I can recall. As the innkeeper promised, water sounds were everywhere, especially memorable on a famous stairway, with burbling streams inset into the banisters—many of the 500-year old hydraulics still function. I imagined the courtiers who once wandered here, but it was too distracting a vision and time was my enemy, so I allowed gravity to reluctantly guide me downwards to the Nasrid Palaces. There one ornate room succeeded another, far too many details to take in, garden followed courtyard followed room filled with mosaics and wood reliefs, ceiling filigree, unimaginable opulence. Finally I stopped, sat, and sketched for an hour in a long courtyard with a reflecting pool. I made a list of tile colours which seemed to repeat from room to room adding an abiding continuity to the changing motifs: light blue, dark blue, green, ochre, Arabic white. I made my way over to the Alcazaba, a complex of battlements and fortifications at the west end of the promontory, where I climbed to the top of the highest tower and viewed the surroundings in the brilliant afternoon sun, looking down on the Albayzin. I had somehow passed five and a half hours in a dream state. I considered that the sultans ruled for 700 years, from the highpoint of their cultural achievement to the eventual decadence and corruption that led to their decline and expulsion. Time is the great equalizer. The Alhambra survives as a celebration of their highest achievement. I had waited 47 years to visit this place and it had been worth the wait.
I prowled the narrow alleyways of the Mercado Morroqui, ducking into tiny shops filled with kitschy flamenco souvenirs, and tatherias for sweet tea, served in thin glasses. I could have been in Rabat or Casablanca.Around midnight I sat down for dinner at Meson Alegria, (4 C/Moras, telephone 34 958 22-67-69) a place where the locals go. There was the traditional plate of roasted green chilis, grilled lamb served on thin cut potatoes French fry style. We drank a wonderful bottle of Rioja called Azpilicueta, a bargain at €16,40. Then we drove up to the windy heights of Camino del Sacromonte yet again, to La Buleria, the club where every flamenco with ambition must perform at least once. It was late, and the place was jammed with young people well beyond inebriated, seated in a tiny room dense with smoke, bellowing songs at each other, pounding on tables. The scene was claustrophobic, deafening, humid, hormone-charged. A woman did a decidedly lewd dance to the applause of those assembled. I was introduced to the owner, and handed a healthy glass of scotch. He looked distastefully at the crowd, displeased at the inauthentic conduct. ‘Gypsies are weird,’ he said simply.
SIDEBAR: If You Go…
NY-Madrid RT airfare $466
Madrid-Segovia one-way busfare €4.85
Ave fast train RT Madrid Seville €67
Seville-Granada rail RT €31.80
Bottle of 2001 Enate €13.00
Good quality flat-brimmed hat in Seville €115
Admission to the Alhambra €10
Inglés – While one can always locate Anglophones, one may as well abandon all hope, leap in and make a valiant attempt at the Spanish tongue, that is if contact with real people in Spain is what you seek. Outside Madrid the number of English speakers plummets, as one would expect. I tried to use English, French and Italian, largely without success. So take the plunge. Spanish can be quite a recreational language to speak, especially badly. However, please do not add the letter ‘o’ to the end of any English word whose Spanish equivalent you do not know, the mark of the arrogant visitor. Nevertheless, a wacky embarrassment of language will always prove entertaining.
Aseos – the restrooms
Ave – the fast train
Fino - sherry
Jamon - ham
Lomo - pork
Puerco – pork
Ruta – the bus you do not want to take
Tinto – the better grade of red wine
Venga – literally “Let’s go,” but used very frequently as “Okay.”
Taking the Bus – In a nutshell, here are the maxims about buses in Spain: there are no maxims. Buses are cheap, and -excluding the fast train- the quickest conveyance between points as long as you do not take a ruta, which stops at every small town along the way. Buses can leave religiously on time, or not on time at all. You can buy a ticket only at the ticket window or at either a window or from the driver on the bus or all of the above or perhaps only one of the above. You can have an assigned and numbered seat, or there will be open seating. You can board early, or not until a moment before departure, or long after. It’s that simple.
Mealtime – One is adrift in a sea of meals, large and small, occasional and infrequent, whenever the mood strikes. No clock is held to the ritual. Only dinner is religiously abided by, with 11pm considered early for this most emphatic of repasts. The ideal dinner reservation is half before midnight, or tastefully later.
Wine - In Granada I enjoyed only red wines: a 1997, 2001 and 2003 Enate, all quite robust and agreeable. At one particularly fine meal a bottle of 2001 Protos was served, also brilliant accompaniment to the bill of fare.
Tipping – Seems less expected than USA. If you tip a cabbie one Euro he appears very happy. If you leave more than 5% for a waiter he feels well acknowledged. I did on occasion translate straight across cultures and leave 15% on a check, and nobody blinked. The general rule should always prevail: tip what makes you feel comfortable.
Smoking permitted, except on buses - If you like to puff, go to Spain now. You have until 2006, when membership in the EU legislates smoke-free environments. People are lighting up everywhere, all the time, relishing the last year of this luxury, and everybody smokes. They don’t mind if you are a nonsmoker. How this will affect the world of flamenco is a mystery, since smoke is such a critical part of flamenco ambience.
How flamenco works – Do not go to anything referred to as ‘flamenco’ which is scheduled for 7:30 at a place where you are made to buy bad sangria and mass production tapas for a 1½ hour performance, surrounded by yammering tourists. Instead, head for the Peñas Flamencas, clubs created by fans and cultural associations. The correct method is: you hear about a place, you show up late. You hang around. On a good night, something eventually happens. Flamenco simply happens.
SIDEBAR: Spain Lodging
Horno de Oro
6 Calle Horno de Oro
Without question my most memorable and traditional experiences in Andalucia occurred during a stay at Horno de Oro, owned and operated by the Lopez-Medina family. Exceptional and extraordinary in every way, I took advantage of the comfort and shelter of their private home nestled on a side street in the Albaicín district, which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The home boasts an incomparable vantage point for viewing the Alhambra, a breathtaking perspective from the canyon below, best enjoyed while basking on the rooftop terrace, watching the light as it constantly changes on the fortifications above. It is about the family as much as it is about the house, and the fine art of hospitality. These kind people love their city, which they know intimately. They know it so well that in their company one witnesses the spirit and tempo by which life is truly lived in Granada, with its intoxicating history, its architectural legacy, and the legends that echo over the centuries from the narrow streets. Horno de Oro’s outstanding accommodation gracefully combines the historic and present day, through details like an original cistern dating back to the Romans, re-creations of classic Moorish tile motifs and rescued architectural elements from forgotten nineteenth century buildings, counterposed with modern Spanish painting. There is no elevator, but a climb up the wide wood staircase in the vaulted entry court proves a worthy expedition. Two upper floors contain 6 rooms and suites resplendent with tasteful décor and luxurious baths. Those who seek quality beyond the conventional hotel will find within these walls a parallel universe where the imagination freely wanders. This is a hidden gem, and not for everyone. Be prepared to surrender your presumptions of the modern world, and open your heart to a more classical lifestyle, one which values the pleasures of conversation, the joy of the table, the celebration of beauty, all taken at a slower and more navigable pace. Here one can rediscover the most elemental and sensory essences of existence. A remarkable place to reflect, a welcome destination, in a fantasy setting.
Casa de Federico
Horno Marina 13
A find, certainly authentic, and a great value. This would be an ideal choice for the youthful savvy traveler, brave enough to stray from hotel chains and into a successful concept lodging built as a tribute to Federico Garcia Lorca. Here the Lopez-Medina family has restored an historic building near Catedral and the Mercado Marroqui, next to the proposed site of the new Lorca Museum, walking distance from Albayzin and Alhambra. Great décor, small rooms but utterly comfortable. Classy baths, every one with a different marble artisan sink. New, modern elevator, Wi-Fi enabled. Some rooms whose walls could not be fully restored were reinforced with exposed steel beams, to which amazing artisanal details of welded metal furnishings have been added. The hotel has two desirable rooftop rooms (14-15), the best deal for the money imaginable. Think: your own comfy nest above the old city, where you can see classical Granada from a platform in the sky. And then tomorrow morning there is the Moroccan breakfast...