Sunday, 19 February 2012

Visiting Granada (in Spain, not the motorway services)

I wrote this blog post last summer after returning from Granada but never published it. Having just been asked by a friend about what to do in Granada, I felt I could do worse than sharing it in case anyone else is planning a trip there soon. Unlike TripAdvisor, these are all my own genuine and trustworthy opinions.

Rather than keeping receipts and scraps of paper, I thought a blog entry about Granada would be a helpful – for me at least – means of keeping the information about a visit which we certainly hope to repeat and which we would encourage anyone else to try too.

Having flown to Malaga we had a car booked with, for whom it was necessary to take sterling to pay in cash, which worked out smoothly and only felt slightly dodgy. The drive to Granada took about 90 minutes, and it was only in the single-car’s-width one way streets that navigation and driving became a little more hectic.

However, we located our hotel - - and its car park, and found a delightful family run hotel. The husband could speak very little English, but tried very hard and was very helpful, and the wife spoke less English than I do Spanish. Despite this, they could not have been more helpful throughout our stay and the room, costing just €50 (plus €14 for car parking) per night, was lovely; our booking was apparently upgraded, meaning we had a terrace.

As a self-confessed foodie, discovering Tapas bars was high on the agenda. However, it soon transpired that finding bars which serve free tapas with drinks (as is traditional) is not as easy as it should be. The only way in which it seemed possible to find out whether free tapas would be served is to go into the bar, order drinks and see what happens. Sadly, this makes for a dangerous game when you don’t strike lucky.

On the same road as Hotel Almenas, we found Casa Enrique which is a lovely old bar, but where, sadly, the tapas (and a super range of hams were on offer) is only sold. Nevertheless, the range of sherries and watching the barman work out our bill by writing the cost of each drink and the tapas we ordered in chalk on the bar and totalling it up (all upside down) helped make this an entertaining bar and worthy of a visit.

In our couple of nights there, the tapas bars we found which did serve free tapas (and I would suggest going in and sitting at the bar where you will find air-conditioned, smoke-free environments, unlike outside where you will be charged more for the privilege of sitting in the smoggy sun with other tourists) include Restaurante El Deseo (forget their menu, especially the daily specials), and Restaurante Oliver which are both close to the Cathedral; however, do not be taken in by the establishment a couple of doors down from Oliver offering the ‘finest homemade traditional tapas’: we could not leave there quickly enough.

The Cathedral is worth a quick visit even if just to marvel at the large print sixteenth century part books, or the head of John the Baptist sculpture. However, in the Cathedral’s environs, avoid the old women trying to thrust springs of rosemary into your hands: they are fortune tellers and should you not cross their palms with enough euros they will curse you. Knowing this made it quite cruelly entertaining to sit for a while watching people get accosted...

One tradition worth exploring is the teterías, or tea shops, in the El Albaicín area of the city. While wholly unlike the English tea shops, the Moorish tea shops offer a variety of aromatic herbal teas (the Pakistani tea with milk is the closest to an English cup of tea, and I use ‘close’ in the most generous sense of the word), and hookahs for their patrons’ delight.

Continuing the Arabic theme is the Hamman Baths ( which offer a very pleasant couple of hours’ soaking in your choice of hot, warm and cold water, a cooking in a steam room, and – should you choose the ‘Anadalus Ritual’ – a thorough exfoliation and massage given by people for whom the employer’s insurance liability (considering the range of water-related health and safety issues) must be gigantic.

A visit to the Alhambra is included as a must in all the guidebooks and while it is clearly a worthy attraction it is, by its very nature, very touristy. However, lots of the queuing can be avoided by booking tickets in advance at where, for a general daytime visit, you pick morning or afternoon and within that specify a time to visit the Nasrid’s Palace. However, make sure you pick your tickets up at a la Caixa terminal (cash point) in town before you head to the Alhambra. It is simply a case of inserting the card with which you booked tickets and following the instructions. It is possible to walk to the Alhambra from town and going through the El Albaicin area of the city lets you discover some lovely churches and plazas, Spanish guitar players busking, and the mosque (if you time your arrival with their siesta driven opening times), but it is quite a long and uphill trek! There are some lovely views on the way, but the 30 or 32 bus from the Cathedral area at just €1.20 for a single felt the much more relaxed option.

The areas of the city we visited all had a lovely atmosphere; the people we spoke to were all friendly, the places we visited were all good, and we are already looking forward to facing the narrow one way streets with more confidence next time.

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