Have you every visited a place that immediately felt like home when you got there? You had no explanation for why but you just knew you could settle in and stay for a long time? This is Granada Spain for me. It completely took me by surprise since I picked it on a last minute whim when a friend recommended we visit. Since we were leaving Morocco early I decided to spend the extra 4 days in Granada.
With 4 days extra on our journey, after leaving Morocco early, we headed to Granada, by boat, train and bus. It is one of the best decisions we made on our trip.
As the taxi pulled into the town, from the bus station, immediately I felt all of the stress of Morocco leave me. The gorgeous buildings, piazzas, churches and people sitting in cafe’s eating, drinking and laughing made me feel instantly at home. There were a lot of ooh’s and aaah’s as we rode through the city, pulled in by the huge cathedral, and stately Alhambra beckoning from the hill. I didn’t have a lot of time to research Granada so the architecture and landscape completely blew me away.
All through the historic area of town there are Piazza’s filled with people, restaurants, bars, concerts, and art exhibits. It was easy to walk through the whole historic area, as well as the sites that surround the city, perfection. Walking and exploring felt like a freedom to me now, after being in a country where I couldn’t do that easily. So, for the next four days I walked as much as possible, all in short skirts, shorts, tank tops and sundresses. It felt good to be myself again.
The city of Granada, with a population of about 240,000 people, feels like a small town. We stayed in the historic downtown area, surrounded by beautiful old buildings, fountains, brick & cobblestone sidewalks, and narrow streets.
Our first day we explored the Granada Cathedral. This glorious cathedral commands your attention as it stands majestically in the middle of modern life in Granada. Nustled into a Piazza it is just as stunning from the inside as it is from the outside. The cathedral is surrounded by local artisans, people selling spices, tourists and restaurants, and yet the moment you approach it you hear and see nothing else. Construction of this church began in 1523. Nothing was spared when creating this church full of gold ornaments, amazing matching organs, artwork, artfully decorated domed ceilings, and astounding stained glass windows. The cathedral is one of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture in the country. There is also a great deal of gothic architecture to be found here, making the church an even rarer piece of architectural history.
I have seen a lot of churches in my time but this one really did take my breath away. It was so grand, and elegant. The paintings each so incredible, the doors and wood work were magnificent. Then there are the two matching organs which sent in the center of the cathedral. They were grandly designed and built to call attention to the beautiful music they must have created.
I wanted to see the city of Sacramonte, which is tucked into the hills of Granada. With map in hand we headed up the Carrera del Darro not realizing we were embarking on one of the most romantic walks in Spain. The quaint road runs along the river, gradually leading you up the hill to the quaint little town of Sacramonte. The street is lined with cafes, old stone walls, and views of amazing stone houses. It is a peaceful street, away from the bustling life of Granada. As we walked along we picked out houses we would easily live in or rehab to bring back to life.
At the top of the hill we were met with Sacramonte. This little town first started with the gypsies who settled there in the 1800’s first living in caves in the hills. While there are still gypsies living in caves in Sacramonte there are also adorable white houses and restaurants which overlook the Valparaiso Valley, the River Darro, the Alhmabra and the city of Granada. We walked the small streets taking in the white homes decorated with ceramics and beautiful flower boxes. From there it was my goal to make it to the Albayzin, however after hopping on the wrong bus we ended up down the hill in downtown Granada. A quick regroup, and taxi ride and we were in the Albayzin.
The Albayzin is an ancient Arab quarter situated between the Sacramonte and the Alhambra. It was built like a Moroccan medina with tiny alleys, winding around the hilltop. The views of the city were stunning from the top. We walked through the narrow streets, checking out the cute little homes, the gernaium filled flower boxes, the stone walkways, the Mosque and the squares with restaurants. While there wasn’t a lot to see here it was worth the trip up the hill for the views and the experience of ancient medina life. From here we walked down the Alcaiceria area where it felt like stepping back into a Moroccan souk, without the high pressure sales.
I was celebrating my birthday this week and was so pleased to be here. We went from square to square listening to live music, whether it was groups of students, opera singers, or an amazing Tina Turner cover band. It was so much fun to drink Sangria and watch people dancing in the squares and the streets. The perfect way to start my birthday.
I wanted to spend my birthday in the Alhambra and Generalife. I had no idea how hard it was to get tickets, so I consider us very lucky to have found a tour group with two tickets left. The Alhambra & Generalife is an amazing tour. On the top of the hill overlooking Granada is the ancient palace from the Arab rule of Granada. The palace is an Arabic archictectural delight with beautiful details, gardens and stories. Luckily it was beautifully preserved by the Spanish King & Queen when they took it over. The peace and history here, with intact architecture displaying the culture and lifestyle of the time is absolutely gorgeous and enlightening. The forward thinking architecture of the King and his son created some of the most beautiful design we have seen yet. As we stood in the Generalife (the gardens) looking out over Granada, watching the heavy rain clouds roll in, we couldn’t help but imagine ourselves there at the time it was built.
Every night we had so much fun stopping at the bars, ordering Sangria and watching the world go by. (When you order a drink you are served a free tapa to enjoy, while they were mostly meat several places brought me a veggie option-so awesome!). The locals stay out late, usually bustling about while we headed to bed at midnight. They rise late with most of the city not starting to stir until 10 or 11. Everything closes for several hours in the afternoon which we used to rest and get ready for another night of fun.
While wandering the streets during the day (what J. calls A&W-ing, aimless walking) we found great little treasures within the historic part of the city. Our favorite was the Saint Jerome Monastery. It was so elegant and quaint with beautiful craftsmanship, orange tree walkways and an elegant courtyard with gravestones and beautiful carvings.
As a vegetarian Granada is a little tough. I ate a lot of cheese, and have to confess deeply enjoyed the churros with chocolate which should not be missed! Most of the tapas are meat based but I did find some places that offered a few things (grilled cheese, spanish omelette or an occasional salad).
It was a sad day when we had to say good-bye to Granada. It felt like home to us and we hope to return one day for a much longer stay. The Spanish people are so friendly, talkative and helpful. They create a warm and welcoming environment you probably won’t want to leave either.