Stay among Granada's fashion boutiques and broad Spanish avenues, or turn a corner and be suddenly amidst unfamiliar scents, winding, labyrinthine alleys and the hustle and bustle of North Africa.
A trip to Granada is a trip to two different times, two different places.
Stay among the fashion boutiques and the broad Spanish avenues, or turn a corner and be suddenly amidst a foreign scene with unfamiliar scents, winding, labyrinthine alleys and the hustle and bustle of North Africa.
Granada was the last great stronghold of the Islamic civilisation that controlled Andalucia from the 8th century until 1492, when the marriage of catholic Spanish monarchs Isabel and Fernando united Spain under Christianity.
The great legacy of the Moors is the magnificent Alhambra, perched and sprawling with rising towers and lush gardens, over the hill known as La Sabika.
The former palace of the Sultans is richly woven with history, literature and breathtaking artistry and the neighbourhood of Albayzin, which faces the Alhambra across the Darro valley, has reflected its influence on the city as it exists today.
A good choice of hotel in Granada is Las Nieves, at around £30 a night.
Situated on the narrow fashion street, Calle Alhondiga, Las Nieves is clean, comfortable and welcoming – close to Albayzin but far enough away to provide contrast and cool sanctuary.
In fact, most of 21st Century Granada is similar to many other Spanish cities, fabulous shopping districts and public buildings, wide streets, beautiful people, sunshine and traffic.
The centrepiece of the Christian civilisation, which grew in the shadow of the ruins of the Alhambra, is the Capilla Real, Granada’s enormous cathedral.
From the outside it dominates, and inside, its cavernous belly is filled with macabre representations of the toils of saints. Which makes it all the stranger to step back out into the sunshine, cross the Gran Via de Colon and walk a few hundred metres to Plaza Neuva and the rising alleys of Albayzin.
Gone are the gilt-edged, mannequin-strewn boutique windows of the Spanish city, in their place deep, narrow shops bulging and spilling out into the allies with fabrics, jewellery, incense, silver tea sets, lamps, tables and chairs. You can dive straight into the winding hillside lanes or choose your spot of entry with a gentle stroll along the banks of the Rio Darro, Albayzin rising to your left and the Alhambra towering on your right. Dotted among the traders’ wares are little, North African style tea shops, providing laid back sanctuary from the busy allies, as well as an opportunity to taste Baghdad, Lebanon or Syria.
But the real treat of Granada is the Alhambra, on the opposite side of the Darro valley. Take the bus to the entrance or walk up through the woods of cypress and elm to one of the world’s finest examples of Islamic architecture.
Routinely making it onto lists of things to see before you die, the Alhambra is a seemingly endless string of magnificent courtyards and halls, all graced with mind-blowing stonemasonry, while the scent of roses and the gentle tinkling of water from the many fountains is a constant companion as you stroll through the mystical pile.
Perhaps Washington Irving, the American writer and adventurer who added so much to the palace’s mythology with his 1832 collection, Tales of the Alhambra, described it best: “Such is the Alhambra - a Muslim pile in the midst of a Christian land, an Oriental palace amidst the Gothic edifices of the West, an elegant memento of a brave, intelligent, and graceful people who conquered, ruled and passed away.”