Granada, the great city of the Moors where the centuries have fashioned the architecture and culture with Romanesque, Moorish, Jewish, Gypsy and, following the reconquest of Spain, Iberian flavours.
The place where Queen Isabella gave Christopher Columbus the green light to boldly go where no person had gone before stirs thoughts of a dark eyed chica swirling like a dervish, one hand with perfectly manicured nails held high whilst a moody looking gypsy king with a silky ponytail beats a hypnotic rhythm on his golden guitar.
Granada; the word positively purrs as it rolls off the tongue. We’d wanted to visit forever and now that we had actually managed to touchdown in the place, we only a few hours to dance a frantic flamenco with it. Luckily we had an insider, David Illsley from Las Chimeneas in Las Alpujarras, to direct us to some of the best bits.
Streets, Plazas and Odd Looking Fountains
The winding street from the car park at the Alhambra (a convenient but pricey place to dump the car for the day) stoked the fires of anticipation with little guitar makers setting off the hand clapping in my head whilst the pastel tones of Plaza Nueva (good place for a cerveza) fitted the bill of a classically Spanish square. More atmospheric lanes link plazas, each with a flourishing fountain; my favourite being Los Gigantones on Plaza Bib-Rambla (a good place for another cerveza). The giants might be more dwarf than gargantuan but they’re a quirky addition to the cafés and bars around the square.
Also worth looking out for is the Homenaje a Los Aguadores in Plaza de la Romanilla near the Cathedral. Not so long ago these guys used to bring fresh pure water from the hills to sell in the city as the local water was pretty rank. As well as being a reminder of recent social history, there’s something bizarrely The Dark Crystal about the water carrier.
Swordfish and a fez; Shopping in Granada
Granada’s Alcaicería really messes with the head as it’s more Morocco than Spain. Linking the area around the Cathedral with Plaza Bib-Rambla, this network of pull-in-your-shoulders narrow lanes could have been lifted straight from the medina in Marrakech… except there’s a lot less hassle when you stroll wide-eyed through Granada’s souk.
Like most Spanish markets, the Mercado San Agustín is a treasure trove for foodies and a good place to play ‘who can spot the ugliest fish?’ (monkfish usually wins) or to ponder whether the fishmonger uses the swordfish head to fillet his fish. Casa Carmina is a stylish charcutería where you can pick up local goodies like smoked tuna or excellent jamón serrano (€5 gets a decent amount of top quality serrano). For anyone who fancies trying something a bit different, the stall opposite Casa Carmina has horse meat.
Tapas Treats – Lunch in Granada
Being with David also meant we didn’t have to play eenie, meenie with the overdose of inviting tapas bars tucked away up Granada’s side streets. Bodegas Castañeda (Calle Almireceros, 1) is known as one of Granada’s best tapas bars and looks exactly like you’d expect a tapas bar in Granada to look; nicotine coloured (possibly stained) walls and ceiling, a cornice of hanging jamóns, chunky barrel tables and packed to the sepia rafters with locals putting Spain to rights whilst sipping cervezas and picking at their tapas. Our complimentary tapas consisted of a tuna and anchovy salad as well as a meaty stew. These were appetisers that preceded the ‘paid for’ tapas – a huge fried platter of tortilla, bacon & blue cheese and port and tomato serranitos, melted blue cheese and jamón, croquettes and a couple of other dishes. It was hearty fare and the generous quantity looked on the overwhelming side but there wasn’t much of it left by the end of lunch. Unfortunately I only found out afterwards (and so didn’t get to partake of a glass) that Bodegas Castañeda specialises in an intriguing drink called calicasas which is a mix of wine and vermouth. It is a top tapas bar and only a hop, skip and a stagger from Plaza Nueva.
Dead Monarchs – Things to See in Granada
Both Granada Cathedral and the Capilla Real (entrance €4) are within a Gothic stone throw of each other. As time was on the Tom Cruise side (short), we opted for the last resting place of Queen Isabella I of Castile and hubbie, King Ferdinand V of Aragon who liked Granada so much, they chose to stay there for eternity. One of the most interesting parts of Capilla Real is El Gran Retablo Mayor (the main altarpiece) which is a gruesome work from 1522 by Felipe Bigarny. The things they did to poor St John the Evangelist and St John the Baptist would come with an 18 certificate if they were in a movie.
Oh, and there was something else really worth seeing. What was it now? Ah, yes, that place on the hill.
You can’t visit Granada without a pilgrimage to the reason that everyone and their dog knows of the place – the Alhambra. But the Alhambra has far too much personality to squeeze into a couple of lines so it deserves a blog post all to itself.
Buzz Trips visited Granada and ate too much hearty tapas as part of Inntravel’s Moorish Flavours of Las Alpujarras week.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites plus lots of other things. Follow Jack on Google+