Granada: You and the Alhambra have stolen my heart.
January 1, 1970
by Iman Choisya
I lived in Granada for two years from 2013 – 2015, and I often go back and forth from my home in Seville. Granada had embraced me and told me I was home before we moved to Seville due to my husbands’ business. My heart is at peace when I am travelling, so that is what I do. I pack my little red suitcase and kiss my husband goodbye and off I go.
This beautiful city homes the incredible red palace Alhambra and the magical barrio of the falconers, Albaicin. This Nasrid dynasty and world heritage site were the Muslim quarters whilst the Muslims reign here in Granada (800-1490 approx.). It is a collection of entwining alleys and small streets, all cobbled and surrounded by white walls. These white walls home some of the most beautiful houses of Granada. It has a charm that I have not experienced anywhere else. Often, when I explore new Spanish cities, I compare the old parts of that city to the Albaicin. Cobbled streets and cute white houses make me feel like I am walking the alleys of the Albaicin. There is nowhere that quite meets the quaintness of the Albaicin however.
The Alhambra was the home of the Sultans of Granada during its Muslim reign. It is divided into parts, you have Generalife which was the Sultans summer house, surrounded by fountains and beautiful gardens slightly further away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is white which distinguishes it from the main Palace. In the middle, you have a big building built by Charles the fifth, which you can point out straight away as it does not fit into the surrounded architecture. This miracle that is the Alhambra is full of incredible geometry, the first of its time in Europe, fountains that blow architects away today. How did they manage to make such a system when Europe was in the dark ages. Al-Andalus was different, it was advancing rapidly in so many different fields. The Alhambra incorporates high levels of mathematics, science, art and language. The famous calligraphy and Arabic phrase “Wa La ghaaliba illa Allah” which translates as “There is no victory except God” is written over 50,000 times on the walls of this Palace. The Alhambra is ever increasingly more difficult to get tickets for, so you must buy them at least two months in advance on the good old’ internet. I suggest you go with a tour guide, you can get your tickets here. If you are no so prepared you will be stuck with the horrendous queues at 8 am. Some people queue up from 2 am with blankets. Even then, you are not guaranteed to get a ticket.
Granada is best seen from Mirador de San Nicolas, or even better the mosque right next door. It is in the middle of the Albaicin (you can jump on the C1 bus from Plaza Nueva) and the view is breathtaking. With the Sierra Nevada as its backdrop, in the winter the mountains are covered in glistening snow and in the summer the colours are to die for. The mosque gardens are such a peaceful place to sit and reflect, take in the beauty that is the Alhambra. They have a small shop full of locally made art, scarves, ceramic and leather. It is definitely worth a visit.
Sacromonte is in walking distance from the Albaicin. Here you can explore the museum hidden in the caves, the authentic flamenco or simple to just get out of the city centre. This is the famous barrio of the gitanos (gipsies) and that is why the flamenco here is definitely one not to miss. There are many shows available in Sacromonte, many of them are advertised in the city centre. It is beautiful also to go for a walk and will frequent buses don’t worry about trying to fit it into your schedule. There is always time!
You have many different flamenco shows around the city centre too. One that I recommend is the Casa del Arte Flamenco which can be found on Cuesta Gomérez, just off Plaza Nueva. It is an intense show of approximately fifty minutes. You do not get provided dinner but you can take your own drinks along. It includes Singing, Guitar and some intense Flamenco dancing.
Shopping in Granada can be tricky when looking for quality. There are so many bazaars and market looking shops as you walking down the Albaicin. They are filled with beautiful lanterns, hookahs, scarves and candles. While this is all very nice, it really depends on what you are looking for. It is not made in Spain and you could find the same in Morocco when you go. Granada is a city of great artesian craft, you just have to know where to look.
TripAdvisor is a good place to start when looking for good places to go shopping. Munira Leather has been number one for quite some time now I believe. It is a beautiful art gallery with locally made jewellery, scarves, ceramics, etchings and hand made leather. I have various pieces from her shop, I love the scarves and the silver jewellery. Actually, I love everything. They have a workshop upstairs, which you can visit, where they make the leather bags and wall hangings made from carved leather, as well as leather bracelets, quality belts made to size and purses. She uses an authentic Granadian style of tooling the leather on a lot of her products, her teacher being the last man in Granada to practice it. She is lucky enough to have her son willing to take on the trade and he comes up with new designs and uses modern techniques too. You can even book workshop taster sessions in advance via her website. My sisters and I did one when they came to visit me. It was incredible and I had never felt so creative! She has so many different tools and so much experience to share. The list on TripAdvisor on other shops in Granada is very helpful, and the comments too! There are various other shops with locally made pieces such as Miguel Moreno, he works with different medium to create sculptures of all sizes. His brother Rafael Moreno works with silver and both of their shops can be found on Reyes Catolicos.
Close by to Plaza Nueva, which I use as the centre point of Granada, is the new city centre. I say new as compared to Albaicin and Sacromonte it is very modern. Here you can find all your favourite shops from back home, H&M, Zara, Mango etc. Zara is considerably cheaper than the UK seeing as it is a Spanish brand. Here you can also find boutiques full of quality Spanish made clothes and shoes. I had never seen so many shoe shops on one road until I came to Granada. They are very good quality but a bit more expensive than the UK. You also have Corte Ingles if you are looking for some famous brands in clothes, makeup and also has a food court. If you are staying in Granada for a few days and want to do a bit of food shopping, there is also a Coviran close by or Mercadona.
Every year at the end of May there is a music festival based on heritage music of Al-Andalus. I attended a few concerts this year and it was like being taken back in time. Here is their website to check out their programme. It is amazing how music has evolved here in the south of Spain. There is so much influence from the Islamic world and you can even hear it alive in the flamenco today. ¡Óle!
Also, if you are into culture and especially if you are Muslim yourself, there is a celebration of the mosque every year to celebrate its anniversary. This year it is on the 7th, 8th and 9th of July. They have conferences, food served and a garden party all free of charge. It is a great way to see how the Mosque has had a positive impact on the Albaicin neighbourhood and to also taste the culture that once was Granada. I am a big fan! Halal Tourism in Spain is blossoming and there are so many Halal Tours you can find. To name a few, Visit Al-Andalus, Alhamra Tour and Al Andalus Experience. The Jumua prayer is at 14.30.
Other activities in Granada include the Hammam, which is a traditional Arab bath. Here they offer different types of massage as well as different pools of distinct temperatures. The Science Park is also a great place to go if the kids are getting a bit restless. There are so many different expeditions and activities for them. It also has a lot of information about Granada, especially if they have history expeditions on.
Hope you are enthused to go and visit. I can’t keep away.