It took about five hours on the bus from Alicante to Granada. We were impressed, every time we took the bus, small or long trips, it was always punctual. The scenery slowly changed as we gained a bit of elevation and went a bit inland. The temperature and the humidity also dropped a little. We thought the landscape looked a little similar to New Mexico.
We decided to rent an apartment in the city center, to make it easy to get around, escape the afternoon heat and go out again at night when we expected the city to come alive again. It was a good choice as our expectations came true.
The must-see sight of Granada is Alhambra. The city has limited the number of visitors per day to the palaces of Alhambra to better manage the crowds. Consequently, it is hard to get tickets for the same day and hence you should plan your visit well in advance. As we were staying several days it was not a problem for us and we began by exploring the city and taking in the view of the Alhambra from different areas of town. AlhambraView from Albayzin
We started with the Albayzin (or Albaicin) neighborhood. It’s just a little north of Plaza Nueva from the city center, up the hill through the small streets. The streets are all tangled, cobble stones, white washed walls and stairs connecting different levels. It was very beautiful to look at as we wandered aimlessly around. We ended up walking a lot so we were happy to have good walking shoes. After Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon took over Grenada in 1492, Albayzin was the only place where the Moors who remained in Granada were allowed to settle. There is an Inquisition museum that displays a large collection of all the brutal ways the Moors and Jews were tortured when accused of practicing their religion at home.
Tea time Let there be lightOne of the many similar tourist shops in Albayzin Albayzin street Neighborhood square in Albayzin On the way to the San Miguel Alto Enjoying the view from San Miguel Alto Sierra Nevada foothills
We continued to hike northeast until we stumbled unto la Ermita de San Miguel Alto. We still had a great view of the Alhambra and a stunning view of the entire city. A little further to the east, we reached Sacramonte. Another traditional neighborhood made of cave houses. Cave houses was a cheap way for people to have a cool hideout in the blazing summer heat. After the Christian conquest in 1492, Sacramonte became the home for the gypsy community. Some say that this is where Flamenco began but no one knows for sure.
After a few days in the city we decided to make a day trip to Monachil. It was a big change of scenery. Monachil is a municipality of Granada with a population of just a little over 7,000 and lies about 12 km from Granada. We enjoyed an 8km (5 mile) loop trail that starts and finishes in the city. The hike Los Cahorros gorge is in the lower hills of the Sierra Nevada. The first half of the trail was along the river (Rio Monachil) with lots of trees, hanging bridges, rocks you have to crawl under, and a fig tree with delicious ripe fruits. In some difficult parts, they installed metal handles to help cross. The second part of the trail as we returned via the mountains had little shade but beautiful view of the whole valley.
On Saturday we had our tickets to the Alhambra. Built over several centuries, it’s an enclosed town with palaces, a summer retreat, courtyard and gardens. Our guide told us that during the sultan ruling, the population of the palace was about 2,000 people 1,200 soldiers about 80 from the royal family and the rest workers and servants. Alhambra means “red” in Arabic, called so because of its red walls. The detailed mosaic, carvings, frescos and architecture in the Nazaries Palace is mind blowing. We spend some time trying to figure out the repetitive patterns of the different mosaic. The Albacaza fortress was the first to be built and was used as the military barracks. The Generalife Palace was their summer retreat. They were smart in how they designed the space so that it would create an “air conditioning” during the hot Andalucía summers. Iglesia de San Gil y Santa Ana Water was everywhere at Alhambra Passage to the Alhambra gardensUnfortunately the gates were closed and locked. Cuesta de Gomerez Visitors entrance to the SultanIn the Nazaries palace Big and Small Archway to the Sultans audience roomNazaries Palaces Lions courtyardThey are hiding behind the little orange tree Lions courtyard Sultans of SwingOne of the two medieval paintings in the hall of the kings. Stained glass ceilingThe last one remaining Charles V palaceNow houses the museums Room in the summer residence Generalife Renaissance garden in the Generalife
The same night, we went for a walk and came to a market selling fresh and dried fruits, but what caught our attention the most was the many stalls selling a flat looking cake.
After some research we found out they were “Tortas de la Virgin” and sold for the celebration of Granada’s Patron Saint, Nuestra Señora de las Angustias, which occurs the last Sunday of September. The main street in Granada is closed, and people from Granada and neighboring towns walk in a procession holding flowers and candles. After about 2 hours from the start time, a sculpture of the Virgin Mary is carried from the cathedral looping the city and back to the cathedral. It was incredible to see how the entire city came together to walk or watch. There were several marching bands and people dressed in their best Sunday clothes.
As much as we enjoyed the tapas, we had a learning experience. When we were in the city center and it was a bit touristy, the servers assumed we were having dinner and did not bring the tapas. A few times we actually had to ask if we got tapas with our drinks. One place put down a table cloth and when we asked for the tapas, he removed the table cloth and then brought the tapas. Once we stepped away from the touristy city center, the tapas followed the drinks instantly. Our favorite bar is around the corner from Café Pub La Tertulia, Tuesday night milonga (tango dance event).
We considered making daytrips to both Córdoba (Cordova in English) and Sevilla (Seville). But in the end we decided to just make the one day trip to Monachil. There are plenty of things to explore in and around Granada. It’s a beautiful city by night and day. The buildings and its architecture were appealing to the eyes and well-lit at night.
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