48 hours in Granada
I make the pilgrimage to Granada each winter. It would be a crime not to, as we live under two hours away in Almería. After six years of living in Spain, the novelty of being able to drive to somewhere as beautiful and exotic as Granada has not yet worn off. I often wonder if it's where my love affair with Spain and Andalusia began. At 14 we spent the summer holidays near Malaga in a non-descript apartment complex by the beach, but my mother, who has always made history and culture a priority in our lives, took us for a day trip to Granada. It blew me away. Walking through the Nasrid palaces and gardens of the Generalife felt like a fairytale. I thought it was the most beautiful, exotic and enigmatic place I had ever seen. Maybe it’s no accident then that I live so nearby. And I go every year for at least a weekend and always, always visit the Alhambra. It’s pure escapism from everyday life, a snapshot into a long-lost world and a glimpse of a moment in history. This year it has also inspired a collection for Nomad Estilo, and I wanted to share with you all my favourite things to do in the city.
Trying to leave for a trip with children is never straight forward. In my case, I have a two-year-old and two little dogs to corral and organize. The week had been manic, I had left packing until the last minute, something I never do, and we left Almeria in chaos, dropping the dogs off with their sitter and making several last-minute stops along the way. When I finally hit the A92, I could breathe deep and start to let the tension of the week melt away. The drive from Almeria to Granada through the interior is spectacular, passing through the Tabernas desert, and then hugging the Sierra Nevada past modern windmills posed like sentries guarding the hills and endless fields of almond trees. When the almonds flower in early Spring, you drive through fields of white blossom with the snowcapped mountains of the Sierra Nevada as a backdrop. Then you hit Guadix, past cave houses and minarets of soft sandstone before finally driving through rocky mountain passes and pine forests in the Sierra de Huetór national park and descending into Granada.
I always stay in the Albaycín, Granada’s oldest neighbourhood with views to the Alhambra and the Sierra beyond. It can seem daunting at first because driving in with a car isn't straight forward, but our hosts provided excellent instructions on the route, and the house came with free parking. Once in the city, you should not need to move your car until you leave. Our rented home is a literal stone’s throw from the Parque de San Nicolas, the famous square where people gather to listen to the flamenco musicians and watch the sunset behind the Alhambra. From the roof terrace and enclosed sunroom, we can hear the crowd and the buskers, and the views do not disappoint. With a young child, it's worth spending the money on a great place to stay, we can't go out in the evenings, so I always make sure we're staying somewhere where that doesn't feel like a penance. We settle in and rest, we have a busy weekend and a lot of walking to do.
While I miss my pre-motherhood lie-ins, I’ve always been a rather irritating morning person, so I choose to see the fact that my son tends to wake up at 7:30am every day as a blessing. We take our time over breakfast and are still hitting the cobbled pavements by just after 9am. I've found a guide to Secret Granada in the house, and I'm full of plans to discover some new hidden corners of the city. This morning our goal is a modern section of the ancient Ziri city wall designed by architect Antonio Jimenez Torrecillas in 2005. I'd actually been really close to it on my last visit to Granada, as I hiked up to San Miguel el Alto on the Sacromonte hill, but had no idea it was there. The hike up to the hermitage is worth it in any case, it takes you up through the narrow streets and alleys of the Albaycin and Sacromonte. The final hike up the hill is along a line of modern granite steps, past cave houses and is not for the faint-hearted. On the final stretch, I carry my son on my shoulders, hey, it a great workout, right? As an added bonus we meet a man on a horse at the top, which makes my son's day. He's a BIG fan of horses.
The section of the wall itself does not look like much from the outside and caused a lot of controversy when it was built. It's an architectural intervention in an ancient structure executed with sensitivity, and the quality of light and space in the void inside is stunning. On the other side of the wall, we emerge into an olive grove. And back through we can see the whole of Granada laid out before us, the tumbling white-washed carmens of the Albaycin, the Alhambra hill, the modern bustling city on the plain below and towering over all of it the snowy peaks of the Sierra. We wander back down through the gypsy quarter of Sacromonte, and into the streets and squares of the Albaycín, now full of life as people start their day. It's hugely touristy of course, but incongruously also just an ordinary Spanish neighbourhood with a pharmacy, fishmongers and fruit stall. We’ve worked up an appetite and stop for coffee and churros in the Plaza Larga, where buskers, beggars and even a street poet try and make a few euros from the tourists and locals having their breakfast.
I buy fresh fruit from the stall and pop into the fishmongers for some fresh fish for my son’s dinner. The fishmonger is full of women talking. I'm happy just to listen while I wait, as they chat about nothing in particular in the way that only the Spanish can. I love to dip into normal life when I travel, you can learn as much about a place in a fishmonger as you can in church or a museum. We walk back through the Plaza de San Nicolas, where my son is fascinated by the flamenco guitarists. One of them says to me that my son will be a musician. "I hope so", I reply. We drop our food off at the house and take a short break before continuing down the hill.
The Albaycín tumbles down the hill to the River Darro in a series of cobbled streets and stairways, little squares, fountains and parks. As you walk you can glimpse through gates into gorgeous gardens with palm and orange trees and on every street corner, there are musicians playing classical guitar or flamenco. We wander idly down the Cuesta de San Gregorio, which snakes down the hill and becomes the Calderería Nueva, Granada’s little Marrakech, a narrow street filled with Morrocan pastry shops and bazaars. As the road forks, we stop into the San Gregorio church, where nuns are at prayer, their hypnotic chanting of the Hail Mary is haunting and beautiful, and we sit for a moment bathed in the sound. It’s as if suddenly we are in 15th-century Spain, their white habits and wimples are bathed in light from the stained glass windows, and the effect is dazzling.
Back out on the street, we are once again in Moorish el Andaluz, or at least a 21st-century version of it aimed at the thousands of tourists who flock to Granada each year. I love walking down this street with all its colour and life, although the shops are not to my taste. I do stop into my favourite pastry shop, the Pasteleria Andalusi Nujaila and buy some baklava to enjoy on our terrace later. The Calderería Nueva comes to an abrupt end at the Gran Vía de Colón, one of Granada's main thoroughfares. One of my favourite places to go nearby is the Los Italianos ice cream shop, as much for its gorgeous original 1930s interior as the ice creams, but it's too close to lunch this time, and we leave it for another day.
We make our way past the hulk of the cathedral and the classic tourist spice stalls and head into Granada’s main shopping district. The whole area between the Calle Recogidas and Calle Tablas is a warren of shops, squares, bars and cafés and is worth a look. This time I discover a new gourmet destination, Locos X El Gourmet on Calle Darrillo Magdalena, whose Argentinian owner is a craft beer and hot sauce fanatic. I buy some incredible local cheese for tonight’s sunset picnic and hot sauce made from chillis grown in the Alpujarras.
I’ve booked a new restaurant this time, and it’s a brief walk across Recogidas to the Calle Rector Morata, a little alleyway off the main thoroughfare to the Restaurante Alameda Granada. I've read very good things about this place, and it doesn’t disappoint, with well-executed modern Spanish cuisine served in a beautiful environment. You can watch the chefs prepping your dishes in the glass-walled kitchen, and the food is delicious and surprising. We order roasted aubergine with bonito flakes which come dancing and moving on top of the hot aubergine, which makes my son squeal with delight. The roast leg of lamb is served with a smouldering rosemary sprig on top which smokes and smoulders and causes my son to shout 'Fire!' very loudly and repeatedly much to everyone's thankful amusement and my chagrin. It could be gimmicky, but the quality of the food speaks for itself. We will definitely be back.
After lunch, we grab a taxi to take us back up the hill to our house and a well-earned siesta. Again my son sets the schedule, and that's fine with me. When he wakes up, we take him to a nearby playground and then head back to prepare our sunset picnic. The Plaza de San Nicolas is thronging with people and is the classic place to watch the sun go down in Granada. Our roof terrace feels like a private VIP version just for us, and we sit and watch the dance of colours on the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada change from gold, to pink, to violet as we enjoy our Granadino feast. When it gets too cold, we move inside the glass-enclosed sun trap, cuddled up until the last of the play of colour fades away, and the sky turns a deep blue.
I have managed to get tickets for the Alhambra by sheer luck or dog-headed determination, I'm not sure which. I had left it too late, and so we have to be up at the crack of dawn and jump in a taxi and are some of the first to go into the palace complex. Our entry into the Nasrid Palaces, which is the most beautiful part of the visit, is also the first of the day. The benefit is that it's still relatively quiet and the only other visitors are group tours which tend to cluster together and so we can still enjoy parts of the palace in peace. I will never ever tire of coming here, the complex artistry and symmetry of the architecture never fail to leave me speechless. For me, these palaces are one of the most magical buildings in the world. The throne room is a masterpiece of intimidation by architecture, its soaring domed roof designed to create awe. The lion courtyard is all water and light, almost spiritual in its energy. For a designer, it's a feast for the senses. Everywhere I look I see colours, forms, textures, patterns and atmospheres which will form the inspiration for a collection for Nomad Estilo this Spring.
From the Nasrid Palaces we stroll up through the gardens to the Generalife, the summer palace of the Nazarid kings, and while less ornamental and extravagant than the palaces has its own quieter magic. The ornamental gardens lead you through a maze of topiary arches and tunnels, alongside fountains and channels of water to an unassuming villa, with a long courtyard garden full of flowers and water. From here you can look back to the main complex across a small valley. But for me, the stars of the show here are the plants: oranges, jasmine, crocuses, clematis, irises and hyacinths, the main garden courtyard is a riot of colour and scent set along a long central pool with fountains playing and splashing, another magical corner full of inspiration.
We spend some time enjoying the gardens before heading back home for a rest before lunch. Being a creature of habit, I have my traditions when I revisit my favourite travel destinations. In Granada that is always lunch at the Mirador de Morayma, a restaurant within a beautiful carmen with a pretty garden and spectacular views of the Alhambra hill. The terrace tables are protected under a grape vine-covered trellis, and the garden is shady and cool on the warmest of Granadino days. There is a well and a fountain, and with the garden, it is a perfect and quintessential example of a traditional Albaycin villa. The food is generally good, although on this visit the starters were disappointing. But our mains of secreto pork and seared red tuna are excellent. We have a long leisurely lunch and then wander the short walk up the hill to our house and a much-needed siesta.
Our hosts have allowed us to check out at any time that day which is such a luxury. I snooze on the day bed in the roof-top conservatory and all the sounds of the city wash over me; the flamenco from the San Nicolas square, marching bands practising for Semana Santa in the old town below, and bell chimes ringing out all over the city. Granada is a city with its own soundtrack.
It’s time to pack up and make the journey south, until next year. I will never tire of you, Granada. Lope de Vega, the 17th-century poet and dramatist, had it right: “I do not know what to call this land upon which I stand. If what is beneath my feet is paradise, then what is the Alhambra? Heaven?”
See more photos from our trip here
We stayed here
Calle Gran Vía de Colón 4
Calle Calderería Nueva 9
Calle Darrillo Magdalena 10
Calle Rector Morata 3
Calle Pianista García Carillo 2
For tickets to the Alhambra click here
Coming soon! Our collection inspired by this amazing trip!
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