Part three of our Summer in Spain journey brought us out of the Castille region into the Andalusia region of Spain. This area is famous for its rich history (Flamenco, bullfighting (eek), its hot summer weather and cold Sangria (yum). Grenada which some call the “Moorish Jewel” of Spain is a must see. Andalusia is also home to its capital Seville (which I will get to in a later post), Malaga, Cadiz, and the Costa del Sol.
I am so happy that we made Granada a stop on our journey. We woke up early from Toledo and headed out. Grenada is about a four-hour drive going South from Toledo. It’s a beautiful drive through the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I loved the landscape – we came upon a lot of Olive groves and craggy mountains and even some lakes.
When we arrived in Grenada you could see that there was an old city center with the towering Alhambra at the peak. The more modern parts of the city were spread out around it. I have never seen anything like the Alhambra before – It made me think about movies I’ve seen and shows like Game of Thrones (Dorn).
As with many of Spain’s historical sights, the Alhambra is a mix of Muslim and Christian design and architecture due to the rise and fall of different rulers. It was originally built as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, and then (according to Wikipedia) “largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls.” Later it was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. The Christian influence came in after the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492, when the site became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella.
If you look at a map of Grenada you will see the Alhambra at the top of the hill with winding streets heading up to the top. We stayed at the base of the hill in a small AirBnB that was across the street from one of our favorite restaurant experiences of our whole trip to Spain.
There was a strip of restaurants on the Campo de Princepe. In typical us fashion – we arrived in Grenada around 3pm from Toledo, hungry and rattled after a harrowing parking experience (one of many in Spain). As luck would have it, every restaurant was closed for siesta. But one restaurant let us order cold drinks, Fanta’s for the kids and wine and beer for Dave and me. The fun part was the candy and snack mix they kept bringing. The free snacks puzzled us. Our waiter clarified that the candy and snacks were the only “tapas” he had available because the kitchen was closed. Every drink ordered included a “Tapas”. Southern Spain is one of the last places that holds to this wonderful tradition. Most places we went outside of Grenada and a few spots in Seville didn’t serve the free Tapas.
We came back to the same restaurant for dinner and were delighted with the hot Tapas that we received as part of our drink order and the dinner that we also ordered. The prices were also really good! (We found Southern Spain cheaper, overall than Madrid, Barcelona or the Basque country). Spanish Tapas (IMO) can be a real mixed bag. A lot of it is fried and feels heavy. After several rounds of patatas bravas, a salad just sounds great – but those are often hard to find on a Tapas menu. In those cases, my go to is a cold bowl or glass of fresh Gazpacho. (YUM!)
The Alhambra and Generalife
Now let’s talk about visiting the Alhambra and Generalife. If you stay in the area of Grenada right below the Alhambra you can walk to get there. We enjoyed the walk up through cobblestone streets with old homes built into the hillside that have incredible views. Keep in mind its VERY steep. There are buses that go up as well.
One thing to note about visiting the Alhambra — you need to book your tickets in advance. They have a limited amount of tickets available and in the summer those slots fill up. Additionally, you will receive a special time to visit the Palace of Nasrid section. DON’T MISS YOUR TIME. They will NOT let you in no matter how pathetically you plead. I totally misunderstood the time-stamp for Nasrid as our entry time for the whole of the Alhambra (what a rookie!). We wandered around for an hour and then went to the Palace of Nasrid and missed our window. It was a big blow. I felt SO bad we had come all that way and missed it.
There was much more to see of course, including the Generalife, the incredibly beautiful grounds, the Alcazaba fortress, which is the oldest part of the Alhambra, and more. You still get to see so much of the beautiful architecture, the stunning tilework and mosaic patterns and pools. The self-guided tour (with earphones) was great for the kids. They loved walking around and finding the places the guide talked about.
I found a great blog post that includes facts and history about the Alhambra. I encourage a read if you are interested in learning more about this fascinating place. Here’s the link.
I loved the Alhambra and really enjoyed Grenada.