The Moorish delights of a holiday in Granada

by Rob Parker

Granada offers a taste of the real Spain and a glimpse of the old Andalucia with its world famous tapas and incredible Moorish architecture

You could come up with a whole host of theories why Granada invariably drags you back for a bit more. But the bottom line is it is very Moorish.

Bad puns aside, the towering figure of the Alhambra over the city dominates the picture postcards and your first impressions of Granada, and rightly so. Some writers have described the city as a Moroccan theme park, but Granada (and the rest of Andalucia) has earned the right to show off, and indeed profit from, its Moorish heritage.

This is no plastic Arab culture. The architecture is real, and nowhere more so than at the city’s star attraction. The impressive Alhambra palace and its surrounding gardens are not to be missed by the first-time visitor.

If you feel at home in these regal surroundings then the Parador de Granada could be the right accommodation for you. The converted building has been a palace, mosque and monastery in its time, and sits within the grounds of the Alhambra. Part of the luxury appeal of the hotel is that despite its impressive setting and architecture, it does not have many rooms. Booking well in advance is recommended.

From the Alhambra there are views across the city to the Albaicín district, which sits on the hillside opposite the palace. Aside from the Alhambra itself, this area is the most visible reminder of the mark left on Granada by the Moors.

Arab teahouses and souk-like shops cling tightly to the edge of narrow cobbled streets. It is this small slice of Marrakech which is met with disdain by some more hardened travellers, but they do provide an interesting cultural diversion which is not entirely fake.

The uphill climb is hardly noticeable given all the distractions on offer and before too long the narrow passageways open out into the large plaza of Mirador de San Nicolas and glorious views of the Alhambra, and the Sierra Nevada beyond it.

Further on is the Sacromonte area, once home to Granada’s gypsy population and now beloved by New Age travellers and the locals who choose to make their homes in one of the hillside’s many converted caves. Despite the gypsies no longer living in Sacromonte, it is still one of the city’s flamenco hotspots. A number of well-publicised shows very much aimed at the tourist Euro take place in the area.

Indeed, if the life of a cave-dweller sounds like the one for you, there are options to stay in Sacromonte. The Cuevas El Abanico is built (as its name would suggest) into caves and offers caves for holiday rental. It is out of the city centre, but in return you are provided with a peaceful setting and stunning views of the Alhambra.

Eating out in Granada is ridiculously inexpensive. There are restaurants around if you want a proper sit-down meal, but as Granada is the home of tapas many visitors prefer to explore this option. The vast majority of the city’s bars will provide you with a small portion of food every time you order a drink.

So for every beer you buy, you can expect a small potato dish, ham bocadillo, squid or another delicacy on the house. There are tapas bars across the city, but for a succession of options in close proximity head to Calle Navas, near to the town hall.

The street is also home to a couple of decent hotels for those travelling on a budget. Hostal Penelope and Hotel Navas both offer basic rooms at a decent price and in an atmospheric location.

At the far end of Calle Navas on Calle San Matías is one of my favourite bars in Granada. Loop brings together the city’s traditional fondness for giving away free food with an eclectic soundtrack of alternative music. There is usually a sizeable crowd packed within the bar’s architecture LP-clad walls. Most of the vinyl decorations are also for sale as Loop doubles up as a record shop.

There are, of course, a lot of other nightlife options in the city, but Loop is a nice microcosm of the things I love about Granada. It is a bit out of the ordinary, unassuming, feeds you for free and hosts an interesting convergence of different cultures.