We travelled from Córdoba to Granada on Tuesday 25 April, first by train to Antiquera and then by bus for the rest of the journey as the new rail link is still under construction. (We hear the delay is due to a dispute between the Granada and Seville authorities – sounds like a local council dispute with which we are quite familiar!). Quite a quick trip – we were in Granada by around 4pm.
Our hotel is Hotel Posada del Toro. Which means Inn of the Bull – referring to a beautiful fountain in the courtyard with a bull as chief feature – reproduced in stained glass in the foyer by an artist friend of the owner. The hotel is superb – the best we have had in Spain. It in a great position at Calle del Elvira, 26, close to everything we want to do, in old Granada. Breakfast is provided and is a really good one and in a lovely dining room. They call it a continental brekkie but it offers a lot.
Our actual room is just gorgeous and a mixture of styles. Rather art nouveau, nothing is regular about it – it has all sorts of angles to it and is painted lots of colours – mostly a dark apricot and blue. A couple of faux columns which they have painted to highlight them. A moorish looking frieze just under the ceiling and lovely art nouveau light fittings. The bathroom is equally groovy. We have a basin each decorated with a pattern of the pottery of the area. Strangest of all we have a spar shower in a circular container with little sprays all up the wall. It even has a built in seat and a mirror believe it or not! We haven’t used those facilities yet largely because we are waking so late that if we spend time in the shower we will miss breakfast!
Anyway, if you ever come to Granada, stay here and ask for a double room on the 6th floor, number 603 if possible. We have peeped in others and reckon ours is the best. Having said all that, I have to add here that on night 3 we experienced a great deal of noise in the street below. A drunken group of women sat under our room at 5am with a bottle and yelled at the top of their voices while another group belted metal rubbish bins with thick sticks of wood. We ended up closing our windows but the noise was dreadful. So, an extra option if this would worry you is to ask for a room facing onto the courtyard.
From paintings in the breakfast room, we can see that this hotel was a dump until it was renovated in 2002. They have done a marvellous job and it must have been huge. Another stained glass feature they have added on the way to the dining room is this modernist impression of the Lion Fountain in the Alhambra, which you will see later in the blog. The couple who own it also used to run a restaurant in the now breakfast area and attached courtyard, which apparently got very good reviews. They are now older and have decided it is too much, so the restaurant is closed. Pity – although restaurants are not lacking in this town.
Anyway, after settling in we had a walk in the area, getting the feeling of Granada. It is so different from Córdoba. Córdoba is very pretty, organised and very clean. As you will have read we loved it. But coming to a very different city, was unsettling for a few hours. Granada is about the same size, but much more multi cultural. Many more Muslims, and people of a variety of races, and because they come from such a range of countries it makes for real differences. There are many middle eastern restaurants, a huge number of little shops in narrow streets – reminds us most of Istanbul. The streets are very narrow and mostly cobble stones so you have to be very careful not to step off the very narrow footpaths and into the path of a car. It is altogether much more noisy and active.
First night we had dinner sitting outside at a recommendation of staff at the hotel. We asked a woman who was alone if we could share her table and ended up having a very sociable 4-some. She was Claire, a French woman on a business trip from Paris to do with marketing. In fact we were all so involved in getting to know each other that we did not notice Andy’s bag being stolen! Not a clue. He had put it on the back of his chair – and when he turned to get out his sweater – not there. Fortunately apart from the shock this always causes, he had nothing in it of value – the sweater and the light-weight bag itself was the greatest loss. He had his wallet in his pockets and was not carrying his passport. The first thought is always gypsies – there are a lot wandering around the streets. Anyway after we acknowledged the value of this lesson and had recovered we had a lovely meal for our first night.
A bit of Granada history in case you are as ignorant as we are – with thanks to the Lonely Planet. This city became significant when Arabian (Muslim) forces took over from the Visigoths in 711, assisted by the Jewish community who lived at the foot of the Alhambra at Garnata al Jahud – which gave Granada its name. (Granada also is Spanish for pomegranate – which is on the coat of arms of the city.) After Córdoba and Seville fell to the Christians in the first half of the 13th century, Muslims took shelter in Granada where an independent Nasrid emirate had been set up. This was the emirate which then ruled from the Alhambra for 250 years during which Granada became a very rich city.
Factions developed in the emirate in the 15th century and they fought with each other. Christian armies took advantage of this and set siege to the Alhambra, finally taking Granada in 1491. The Christian Catholic monarchs Fernando and Isabel – who we have come across a lot in southern Spain – came to Granada and lived in the Alhambra for several years. Jews and Muslims were persecuted and expelled by the 17th century. Granada then declined until during the 1830s when interest grew in the city’s Islamic heritage and tourism took off. Further political issues arose for Granada during the Spanish civil war when residents with left leanings were persecuted, and many killed. There are plaques and sculptures around remembering these people.
We spent today, the 26th, entirely at the Alhambra. There is a bus which could take you right there but we decided to walk. It’s steep but worth doing as it is a lovely bush walk among really tall trees. We got there around 11.30am, and found ourselves still there at 7.30pm. It is a wonderful place. We had bought tickets on line which is really essential – 10,000 visit everyday! Our ticket enabled visits to closed areas. The rest of the place is free and visitors can walk in many of the gardens for as long as they like from 8.30am to 8.30pm. We picked up an audio each and from then until late afternoon we visited the closed areas. We then spent longer at various other parts which interested us – including a flamenco photo exhibition which was great, and a little museum which is doing a very good job in filling out what you see at the sites.
The Alhambra is part palace, part fort, and largely beautiful gardens. It is absolutely enchanting. It is a world heritage sight for good reason. It takes its name from the Arabic al-qala’a al-hamra (the Red Castle). The first palace was built on the site by the Jewish grand vizier of one of Granada’s 11th century sultans. Then in the 13th and 14th centuries the Nasrid emirs turned the area into a fortress and palace. After the Christian conquest in the late 15th century the mosque was replaced with a church. Charles V also built a large palace. During the Napoleonic occupation the Alhambra was a barracks, and was nearly destroyed. What we see today is heavily restored.
Alhambra – Generalife
We first spent a couple of hours in Generalife – pronounced ‘generaleaf’ – which is from an Arabic word meaning the overseer’s gardens. It is a very extensive set of paths, hedges, flower beds, trees, pools and fountains. We are not usually ‘open garden goers’, but this one really got us in. You see the beauty, you smell the flowers, and you hear the birds and the water flowing all the time. It was Spring so the flowers – bulbs and roses in particular, were at their peak. And it was a lovely sunny day. The emir’s summer palace and courtyards are part of this complex, all fitting comfortably among the natural beauty.
Alhambra – the Alcazar and Charles V Palace
We then toured the Alcazar – the fort – which is mainly ramparts and several towers which give fabulous views over Granada. Lots of stairs to climb so it probably took us over an hour. We then did a quick visit to the palace of Charles V. It is very different from the rest of the site in that it is heavy and lacking in subtlety. It fits more with the military towers than with the other palaces.
Alhambra – the Nasrine Palace – Palacios Nazaries
The palace is a very large area, on a number of levels, with rooms for specific uses. It has been beautifully restored and the visit is an absolute pleasure and often breath taking. We can only summarise and say what we particularly enjoyed: the geometrically carved wooden ceilings and also some beautiful ceilings inlaid with gold; many ancient carved doors; the beautiful glazed tiles; pools with stunning fountains often surrounded by myrtle hedges.
Here special mention must be made of the fountain in the Courtyard of the Lions. The fountain dates from the 11th century and channeled water through the mouths of 12 marble lions. Then there is the honeycomb vaulting in the side niches of a number of rooms, some still with cobalt colouring showing; the very fine stucco work in room after room, leaving you marvelling at just how it could have been done. It often looked more like fine embroidery than plaster stucco.
We decided at the end of the day to walk down the other side of the hill top complex, just to experience a different route. It was quite different with great views of the Alhambra as we walked. Unfortunately it had clouded over by then so we missed the view of the Alhambra with the sun shining on it. At the bottom we sat and drank Sangria to which we have become quite addicted. We look forward to trying it at home in the summer.
Finally another very good meal in one of the middle eastern restaurants close by.