It is a fact that Granada, Spain is a magical place. I spent a little over two days there this past summer, and I can still remember every minute of my visit.
Granada was my next destination in Spain after Madrid. My sister and I woke up early to head to the train station, only to miss our train; a word of advice: the Madrid Atocha train station is a highly confusing place, even when you speak the language. So, we bought new tickets, and headed out as quickly as possible. The vistas on the way to Granada were beautiful – rich, red-brown soil, spotted with miles of orchards, tan, grassy fields, and mountains casting huge shadows off in the distance.
When we arrived in Granada, we took a taxi to our hotel, the Hotel Navas. Our room was simple, but full of light from two wide windows; the bathroom was huge and white and also full of natural light. One of our two windows even overlooked the small but crowded street of tapas restaurants that surrounded our hotel. We loved it. After quickly dropping off our things we headed to a tapas place on our block where we grabbed kalamari and Spanish tortillas. It was a good start to our visit.
After lunch we set off toward Realejo, the beautiful neighborhood of Granada that sits on the hills leading up to the Alhambra. We took countless photos of this picturesque barrio and decided to return later that evening for even better light. Once our legs could take no more we headed back down the hill, toward our hotel, but first stopping for chai frappes at an indie coffee shop called I Need. The cafe was nearly empty, and we relished its kitschy-chic decor and air conditioning.
After changing for dinner, we returned to a restaurant we had discovered while that afternoon, called Rosario Varela. We immediately fell in love with the restaurant’s hipster vibe, and the food and wine that followed further cemented our love for the place. We began by ordered glasses of rioja and garnacha, which were complimented by a free plate of jamón and queso sandwiches (Granada provides free tapas with every round of drinks!). Then we ordered a quinoa salad, a zucchini pesto dish, and some ‘cookies’ for dessert that turned out to be pastry-like and full of sweet cream. They were all delicious.
The next morning, our first full day in Granada, we woke up at 7:00 am to head to the Alhambra to buy tickets — which were much more in demand than we expected. We waited in line for an hour, but it was a refreshingly cool and clear morning, so we didn’t mind. Afterward we headed back downhill, tickets in hand. After quick showers, we found breakfast downstairs at our hotel — fried eggs, bacon, fruit, orange and pineapple juices, yogurt, and pastries.
Afterward, we headed back up the hills of Realejo to the Alhambra. To say the Alhambra was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen is not hyperbole — particularly its Nasrid Palaces. The buildings were all clearly moorish in architecture, covered in blue, teal, and red tiles, white stone covered in Arabic, curved archways, square pools for reflecting, peaked roofs, and views for miles of Granada’s white houses; and they were all surrounded by perfectly-kept gardens and fountains, full of lush foliage and flowers, particularly roses, magnolia trees, and palm trees. I was awestruck. Perhaps the next most impressive was the Alhambra’s fortress. It reached high into the sky, and was topped by Spain’s flag, next to an impressive bell tower. We also visited the Alhambra’s summer palace — also beautiful, with an amphitheater and enormous flower garden, surrounded by hedges twice our height. Afterward, we headed back to our hotel, souvenirs in hand — mostly prints of Granada and the Alhambra — all beautiful.
We headed to dinner at an outdoor table at restaurant down the road from our hotel, ordered salmorejo (a Spanish pumpkin soup), a quinoa salad, and a deconstructed burger, which were all delicious. After dinner we stopped back at the hotel. After a few minutes relaxing, we headed back out for flamenco at La Chien Andalou — an intimate performance venue and bar in what used to be a cave at the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains. There we watched a guitar player, singer and lone flamenco dancer perform. It was passionate, artistic and incredibly impressive
The next morning we work up early for a run, ate breakfast at the hotel, then headed out to explore. We first went to see the Cathedral of Granada, which was incredibly beautiful, with the most intricate and grandiose altar I’ve ever seen. The organs were enormous and took up entire walls on either side of the pews. Next we headed outside to explore the lively El Albaicín neighborhood, the Moroccan section of Granada. We admired beautiful, colorful tiles, ceramics, blankets, and dresses, and split an almond pastry. We trekked further up the hills then to the Mosque of Granada, which was perhaps even more picturesque than the cathedral. It was white with bright tiled trim, of course, and overlooked the Alhambra and city of Granada.
Next we headed to the moorish-style baths at Hamman Al Al-Andalus. The baths were underground, covered in Arabic lettering and colorful tiles, with air thick with steam. There were several baths — a cold pool, a luke-warm pool, and two hot pools, each with their own rooms and all lit with candles, often held by lanterns. Two corners of the baths also held water and mint tea, which we loved. We spent an hour switching between pools before heading back outside for beautiful Granada.
Afterward, we bought cherries, nectarines, almonds, cookies, and dried apricots, which we ate at the University of Granada’s botanical garden. We ran into several stray cats, which were everywhere in Granada. Afterward, we began to amble back toward our hotel, stopping at several stores that caught our eyes, though unfortunately many were closed for siesta, which typically lasted between around 2:00 to 5:00 pm. Once back at the hotel, we got cleaned up, then headed to the restaurant we found to eat at while visiting the mosque — El Balcón de San Nicolas, high in the hills of Realejo, and overlooking the Alhambra. Alas, it was closed for a wedding, so we went next door to La Huerta de Juan Ranas. The service was slow, but it allowed us to enjoy the view we had of the Alhambra even longer. We did enjoy our bacalao with tomato sauce, patatas bravas, and salad of cheese, avocado and mango, as well, once it arrived.
On the way back from dinner, we wandered again through the Moroccan quarter of town and got henna tattoos. We made it back to our hotel around 11:00 pm, and collapsed, regretting that we needed to leave this beautiful city in the morning. It was on to Cádiz, a port city, next though, and we couldn’t wait to reach the beach.