Travel: Three days in Granada, Spain

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The fragrances of Granada are what I´ll remember best – sweet musk roses in the Alhambra and sizzling stewy platefuls of food in the Plaza Nueva. Granada is one of the jewels of Andalusia, the southernmost province of Spain famous for its bullfighting, its beauty and its flamenco dancing. But Granada is more than merely beautiful: it´s easy but not boring, bustling but never close or chaotic. It´s no wonder that the place teems with foreigners who came for a visit and stay on for weeks or months, hopelessly in love with the place.

The fame of Granada is the Alhambra, a sprawling complex of palaces, gardens and walled fortresses. Built in the 14th century, it is a splendid monument to an age where Muslims ruled over much of modern Spain, and Granada was one of the capitals of the world. A visit to the main Palace, Palacios Nazaries, costs 14 Euros (19 CAD), but one can gain entry to the magnificent grounds and Generalife Gardens, as well as the Alcazaba fort with its stunning panoramic views, and the unfinished Charles V Palace, for a mere 6 Euros (8.27 CAD).

The complex sits high in the Granada hills and is so well preserved that one can almost see the Alhambra for what it once was – a royal city of 2,000 inhabitants, with mysterious women cloistered behind exquisite wooden screens and the Al Andalus Sultan cooling himself by a blue-tiled hexagonal pool with a mug of sherbet. The interior is decorated in high Islamic style, with coloured tiles patterned in intricate geometries and exquisite scalloped arches covered in Arabic carvings, the likes of which you won´t find anywhere else in Europe. The Generalife gardens are extravagant and lush. It´s like walking in perfume, and I can´t think of anything nicer than a jamon bocadilla (Spanish cured ham sandwich) picnic in the shade of an orange tree.

The best views of the Alhambra are to be found in the adjacent hillside neighbourhood known as the Albayzin. This is the only way to appreciate the sheer mass of the Alhambra complex, towering over Granada in all its terrible beauty. The Albayzin is the old Moorish quarter of the city, and its labyrinth of narrow, sloping streets contain excellent Moroccan food in beautiful restaurants with cushions and fountains, as well as a spectacular birds-eye view of the city at the Mirador de San Nicolas. I stayed at the Rambutan hostel in the Albayzin, a place so laid back it is practically horitzontal, where a coven of Australian hippies tend the cactus garden and take turns playing the guitar. It was well situated near Paseo de los Tristes, a lovely walk which offers peaceful views of the river (which is itself strewn with lean, mean stray cats) and a great selection of lively bars and cafes.

Granada is one of the few cities left in Spain where restaurants will honestly and truly serve you free food. Simply order a drink – a beer, a glass of wine, or even a Coke or fruit juice, and the waiter will cheerfully present you with a bowl of nuts or a saucer of mouth-puckering olives. I particularly enjoyed the Cafe Minotaur – it´s low-key but the service is fast, the food delicious and the portions generous. I had the tortilla patata (in Spain, a tortilla is an omelette), a delicious octopus salad, potato croquettes and of course, a nice heap of jamon serrano (Spanish ham is famous and ubiquitous – many restaurants here are decorated with hanging rows of pork haunches, their juices dripping into little cups). However, nearly every restaurant I visited served healthy platters of excellent quality food, with tapas going for anywhere between 2 Euros and 6 Euros. Two people can eat sumptuously for 14 Euros (wine not included).

Granada’s tapas bars tend to be lacking in dessert, which is perfectly alright, because the city abounds with delicious homemade gelato at 2 Euros a cone. I tried several places, but the best of the lot was the Gelataria Tiggioni – their creamy rich mandarin orange scoop was one of the best ice creams I’ve ever tasted.

One is urged to provide balance in these sorts of articles, but I can’t fault Granada in anything – there was not a single discordant note. It´s well connected by air and train and bus, the food is good and cheap, the views incredible and the climate superb (in May, anyway – in August it’s a different story). I would live here for always if I could, imbibing the sunshine and Spanish roses, with a tall cool glass in one hand and a fistful of olives in the other.

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