Discover an older, more exotic Granada in the narrow streets around the historic Albaycín. Scented teas, scented baths and splashing fountains offer you a short break fit for a sultan
It is often said that the city of Granada has two distinct faces. There is the modern EU Granada of el Centro, with its department stores, funky gay bars and minimally-decorated restaurants, and, hovering above and behind it, the older Granada that was the setting for the Moorish golden age. This dated from the 13th century, when the Alhambra’s lovely palace began to flower, until the final victories of the Christian Reconquista in 1492.
Where to stay
If you want to wallow in this older, more mysterious city, then spend a weekend in one of its exquisite boutique hotels. Recreated in the style of gracious Moorish mini-palaces, several are set deep and steep in the Albaycín.
The hallmark of a Moorish-style hotel is a classic arrangement of rooms tiered around a central tiled courtyard that soothes with the splash of water and dappled shade. Try these for Moorish magic: Hotel Carmen de Santa Inés, where you can have breakfast in a garden dripping with fruit trees and scented flowers, and Casa Morisca, converted from a late 15th-century Moorish mansion, complete with a reflecting pool and delicately carved wooden galleries. These sultan-style surroundings come at a price but are not outrageously expensive - between €100 and €200 per night, depending on season.
No Moorish weekend would be complete without a visit to a traditional Arab teahouse, or teteria, and there are several to visit. Though they reflect an ancient Arab tradition, nearly all the teterias in Granada today were opened in the past 30 years or so by homesick Moroccan immigrants working in the city, who wanted familiar - and alcohol-free - venues to meet their friends or rest after a hard day.
They are frequented by a mixture of newspaper-reading locals, tranquillity-seeking tourists and serious-looking students juggling textbooks and notepads. The teteria is an oasis of quiet in a noisy city. Modern North African background music provides soothing drum and guitar rhythms, a continent away from the normal Spanish bar soundtrack of popular flamenco, coffee-maker and fruit machines.
Though each teteria is subtly different, the décor tends to be definitively oriental, with long benches cushioned in rich fabrics and often draped with rugs, facing low carved stools and tables. Restfully gloomy interiors are lit by many candle lamps of pierced and coloured metal. Some, like the teashop in the Hammam, or Arab baths, even feature gently burbling marble fountains in the centre of the room.
Taste of Morocco
Even reading the menu in a teteria seems to have a cooling effect: “The Last Sigh of the Moor”, “Kasbah” and “Flor de Sherezade” are listed next to Egyptian rose-mint-cinnamon, violet and bergamot teas. Most of the teterias serve a range of herb, spice and fruit teas, as well as batidos, delicious blends of milk with fruit, less cloyingly sweet than many commercial shakes. Avocado, banana and coconut or almond, date and honey are just two of the unusual flavours on offer at Kasbah (c/Caldereria Nueva 4).
Cloyingly sweet indeed, but heavenly in small doses, are the typical Arab pastries such as baklava and khadaifi that seem made to accompany the liquid refreshment. For a more substantial snack, try pastela, the rich filo pastry filled with spicy chicken and egg. And if you’ve really got into the middle Eastern spirit, you can end your meal by puffing away at a narguile, the Arab smoking apparatus, filled with fruit-flavoured tobacco.
The teteria trail
Nearly all the teterias in Granada are concentrated in just two bustling streets at the heart of the Albaycín: Caldereria Vieja and Caldereria Nueva. Opening times vary considerably, from 12 noon to 3pm or even later. Kasbah makes poetry even from its opening hours: “from three in the afternoon until the candles burn out.”
Wallow in history
Complete your Moorish experience with a visit to the Hammam, or Arab baths. Granada has two: Aljibe Baños Arabes (Calle San Miguel Alta 41; 958 52 28 67) and the older, smaller Hammam Baños Arabes (Calle Santa Ana 16, near the Tourist Office; 958 22 99 78). For around €20, you can bathe and have an aromatherapy massage. Do call and reserve places in advance.