Arriving into Granada, one of the more reticent cities of the Andalusian region, over the dramatic Sierra Nevada, in an immense sky splashed with oranges and pinks, you get the sense that this Spanish hideout has a divine quality. A quick dash across great plains from the airport, and you’re soon in the heart of the city. Superlatives are the only way to describe this dreamiest, laziest, most calming long weekend away.
There’s an off-the-grid feel that Granada firmly holds onto, remaining resolutely itself, with no care it seems about being overshadowed by its big-hitting neighbours of coastal Malaga, Marbella and the growing glamour of Seville; the Andalusian capital. In recent years, the location has been thriving from the tourist hit-list and is a location that has not succumb to over endured hype moments of this generation. There’s a historical mystery to this Spanish jewel that has to be sought after and claimed.
The first steps out into the network of the labyrinthed, cobbled streets that meander the city, carving paths of character, rich history and family tapas spots to dive in and come bellied out is a captivating, vibrant experience. Senses are evoked, by the rustic facades of the buildings with wrought iron balconies in full bloom, to the evocative, exotic fragrance that permeates the streets from the bountiful orange trees providing a real zesty hit. The beginning of February is the best time to see these majestic fluorescent orbs, but the joy spreads into later months of the year too.
The crowning jewel is the ancient Alhambra Palace, dating back to 1237, which overlooks the city. It is true decadence at its finest, carrying not only monumental historical importance to the region but also providing grandeur and a maximalist approach to architecture that not only appears in the buildings with their myriad of tiling, sublime carved wood decoration and glorious gold, but also landscape with its twenty-six acres garnering gardens of precision, sharp symmetry and glass surfaced pools.
A quieter attraction – but equally impressive – is the 1914 home of José María Rodríguez-Acosta. The site was declared a national monument in 1982 and is now looked after by the foundation who provide insightful tours of the property and grounds. The gardens are idyllic and ornate with a grand quality of beauty and intrigue, again with magnificent views of Granada that simply drop away. There’s plenty of surprises to discover here.
There’s a steady climb to the eastern side of the city, but following the inclines and bends and you’ll suddenly stumble across Sacromonte. Tucked away, this segment of the city offers a contrast with whitewashed houses stacked high, hole in the wall bars and tavernas and famed dwellings of fiery flamenco night that only show in the after light. Wander around during the day for a humming cacophony of flamenco slams echoing around the walls and narrow streets and strumming strings of practising fingers on guitars. With its prime positioning and heady heights, it is the perfect place to join the throng of sunset snappers and watch a truly mesmerising moment as the whole city is bathed in an orange, pinky haze.
The central district has it all, from the monument structure of the Cathedral to churches on nearly every street corner, to squares packed with boutique shops, tapas joints and small bars and cafes. It’s an intricate city with some absolute finds to seek out.
City brunch spots, popular with locals and visitors alike, fill up quick. Cafe Lisboa is a relentless passage of hungry visitors refuelling and sun chilling locals enjoying a morning coffee. It is simple and delicious with the most warming hospitality and a glorious spot just off the Plaza Nueva. Rooftops are sparse in this historic city, which makes the magic of the rare few even more splendid. These intimate and quaint spots offer a view of a skyline spiked with colossal church spires, a dominant cathedral dome, a palace on a hill and a backdrop of snow-kissed mountains. Monasterio Chill-Out Copas is a shabby chic spot with a multi-level seating complex that gets higher and higher for the ultimate panoramic views of Granada’s breathtaking glory.
Of course, it goes without saying that the Tapas in Granada is terrific, with no shortage of places to grab a seat and dive straight into menus brimming with choices with no chance of running out of options. Locals are welcoming and happy to suggest the best dishes with passion and playful ferocity. Round after round, dish after dish, the food will keep on coming. Tocateja is a local jaunt perfect for that bar vibe with delightful dishes that go perfectly with a chilled beer. A spot favoured by the locals, and for good reason too.
Granada is a city neither too big, nor too small. Authentic and simple, grand and glamorous, but above all a glorious representative of Spain, its people and culture. Just like a rare gem, once you’ve seen and experienced the place, you’ll simply fall in love.