We visit Granada in late March, just as Spring awakens the city. Pale blue skies drift overhead and the breeze carries the scent of almond blossom, wisteria and oranges. We begin each morning eating breakfast alfresco, shuffling our chairs towards long fingers of sunlight that stretch along the narrow streets. By 11am, the sun is strong and growing warmer still; its movement across the plazas during the day, before receding, mirrors the locals’ movement from their cortados to their cervezas.
Our days are spent between Moorish palaces and Catholic cathedrals. We wander from the central Bib-Rambla area with its tall, Renaissance buildings to the winding, cobbled walkways of the ancient Albaycín, where scruffy, white-washed houses flaunt hanging plants and conceal peaceful inner courtyards. Above us, the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Alhambra - monuments to natural and manmade beauty - stand guard over the city.
Of course, a trip to Granada must intersperse sightseeing with stops at cafés and bars, where one can slow down and absorb the Andulucían atmosphere. My short guide for a getaway to Granada aims to cover a little of each activity - it is by no means exhaustive, but will encourage your first explorations of this beguiling city.
A city break needn’t cost the earth and, in fact, I often find the more affordable accommodation has a little extra local personality. Hostal Rodri may not be the biggest, grandest hotel, nor the chicest boutique B&B, but it meets all my essentials for a solid place to stay: central location, clean room, comfortable bed and a good, hot shower. The proprietor is knowledgable about the area and is happy to provide advice. Crucially for me, who plans holidays based on the cuisine, several of his restaurant recommendations prove to be excellent - in particular, he directs us to the fantastic Taberna La Tana (but more on that below…)
Few people visit Granada without a trip to the Alhambra as their focus. And rightly so, for I was completely enchanted by this collection of palaces. Plan your visit around your appointed entry time to the Nasrid Palaces, each of which is a series of courtyards based on Islamic design, with every wall and corner adorned by magnificent domed roofs, intricately carved doors, painted ceramic tiles and lace-like plaster work. By contrast, the military area of the complex, known as the Alcazaba, is made up of huge towers and sturdy ramparts, whilst the manicured gardens and palace of the Generalife show that light, water and vegetation are just as important as bricks and tiles.
Back in the centre of Granada, it’s worth visiting the beautiful Cathedral, an attempt by the Catholic monarchs to compete with the Moorish monuments, and its adjacent Capilla Real (Royal Chapel). Other highlights of our trip include the Monasterio de San Jerónimo and Monasterio de la Cartuja. Work your way around their sun-dappled central courtyards, filled with the scent of orange trees, until you reach their spectacular chapels - the chapel of La Cartuja is particularly extravagant and considered one of the finest examples of the Spanish Baroque style. To experience curious cave-like homes, the flamenco feel and spectacular views over Granada, take the bus to Sacramonte Abbey and stroll back downhill to the city.
Begin your day at Café 4 Gatos, where locals sip coffee at the darkened bar and tourists vie for a seat in the sunny courtyard with views up to the Alhambra. Our table wobbles between the cobblestones as staff set down freshly squeezed orange juice and tostadas as long as your arm, which are crowned with the best local produce and cost as little as 90 cents. The traditional Andalucían accompaniment is grated tomato and olive oil, but there are several other offerings such as Seranno ham, manchego or Spanish jam. At lunch time, more substantial toppings include aubergine and goats cheese, tuna with roasted pepper and caramelised onion, or smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers. Though the slices aren’t as large, it’s worth paying a little extra to try the local, organic wholemeal bread for its mellow flavour and soft crumb.
In the evening, head to Taberna la Tana for superlative Spanish wines paired with great tapas. Behind the lantern-lit door, you’ll find a cosy bar dominated by floor-to-ceiling shelves of wine bottles. Its dark walls are decorated chaotically with strings of vegetables and vintage posters; its floor is crowded with locals and well-advised tourists. Arrive promptly for opening at 8:30pm if you want a seat. The sole lady behind the bar somehow manages to keep everybody satisfied and, despite our embarrassing lack of Spanish, suggests a number of wines to our taste. My favourite is the Cerrojo Criado en Barrica, a red from the Bodegas Jabalcón vineyard at the foot of the Sierra, which retains a light, elegant feel despite the depth of sweet, candied fruit and warm spices.
Although most bars in Granada offer a free tapas with every drink, here they are particularly good - perhaps crusty bread with tomatoes or sombrasada (sausage pate) and mouth-puckeringly salty olives. Don’t miss ordering the cured manchego, warm goats' cheese with oil, homemade pepper salad or delicate artichoke hearts with dried tomatoes. A superb tortilla, leaking sunshine-yellow yolk from between layers of potato, is not on the menu, but seems to be offered to those in the know - make friends with the regulars and, if you’re lucky, they’ll let you try theirs and order another for you.
Then, well fed, spend your night with a glass of something glinting ruby red until the blue-skied day is almost ready to begin anew.