The coastal towns of Andalucía are familiar to many Irish tourists but on a recent visit to southern Spain, I ventured off the beaten track to explore other areas of Andalucía.
One of the undisputed cultural highlights of this region is Granada’s Alhambra.
On arrival into the scenically located city of Granada, the Alhambra creates an imposing sight as it appears to majestically rise from the landscape. This was my second visit to this remarkable location but it had lost none of its wow factor.
The Alhambra is one of Spain’s most visited attractions. The sprawling hilltop fortress complex encompasses royal palaces, courtyards, terraced gardens, fountains, and pools and allows visitors to step back in time to explore another world.
For centuries, its location was deemed to be of immense strategic importance with good visibility of the surrounding areas and, while many are aware of the Alhambra’s popularity and cultural importance, few are prepared for its sheer size and scale.
There are three parts to the Alhambra: the ornate Nazrid Palaces, the Alcazaba (the battlements) and the Generalife (the gardens).
Famed for its various architectural styles, it was constructed by the Moors, who invaded the country from the 8th century onwards. It wasn’t until the 14th century that the Alhambra as it is known today began to take shape when the palace’s construction was commissioned by the Moorish emir Muhammad I of Granada. It was eventually turned into a royal palace by Yusuf I Sultan of Granada. The Moorish rule subsequently came to an end after the Spanish launched the Christian Reconquista and reclaimed their land. After the conclusion of the Reconquista in 1492, the Alhambra became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella and was where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition to discover the ‘New World’.
The Alhambra underwent significant refurbishment and restructuring in accordance with the Renaissance style of the time. The structure grew into the large complex of rooms, palaces, courtyards, chambers, and gardens that visitors can admire today.
It has been the inspiration for countless love songs and stories and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our guide Manu vividly brought the stories of the past to life and it was fascinating to hear the reasons why certain buildings within the Alhambra display specific design features. It was thrilling to participate in a tour with a guide who was so enthusiastic and immensely proud of his history and heritage.
City of Surprises
Granada is a city of many surprises, and it was delightful to learn about one of the area’s most famous sons who I had previously known little about.
Federico García Lorca (1898 – 1936) is the most translated Spanish poet of all time and one of the most popular Spanish writers ever.
I was immersed in all things Lorca related after embarking on ‘the Granada of Lorca’ theatrical guided walk through the historic centre of the city during which the key events in Lorca’s life were recreated by talented performers.
Another surprise came by visiting the Guadix region and the Gorafe desert, home to unique landscapes shaped by thousands of years of erosion. To protect this wonder of nature, the area has been integrated into the global network of UNESCO Global Geoparks of which Waterford’s Copper Coast Geopark is also a member.
To properly explore the landscape, and to access the best viewpoints, take an electric bike through the area with Ruta MTB Geoparque de Granada (https://rutamtbgeoparquedegranada.com/)
After a guided tour of Guadix, we visited Trópolis for a bread making workshop (https://www.tropolis.es/) Cheese making workshops and wine tasting are also available and will leave visitors with a truly memorable experience. While I had fun baking bread, I don’t have any plans to change profession just yet!
From bread to caviar.
We don’t necessarily associate the south of Spain with this delicacy but a stop-off at Piscifactoriá Caviar de Riofrío (https://www.caviarderiofrio.com/es/) proved to be a revelation.
The farm’s sturgeons, which include the famed Beluga, are farmed in what are proudly proclaimed as being the best waters in Spain, at a constant temperature between 14 and 15ºC, which replicates their wild habitat. The water flows all year round from a natural spring located 300 metres from the farm’s pools.
Due to the quality of its water, its natural temperatures, and hours of sun, Riofrío Caviar possesses an enviable freshness and quality and is regarded as being among the world’s best. After a guided tour of the farm, we enjoyed tasting accompanied by a tipple of our choice – having the difficult task of choosing between champagne or vodka!
From caviar to something that is most definitely associated with Andalucía – flamenco dancing.
This lively dance originated in the south of Spain, and I marvelled at the intensity and talent on display during an after-dinner show in Cueva del Sacromonte: Venta del Gallo. (https://www.cuevaventaelgallo.es/)
While I was prepared for the beauty of the Alhambra, I wasn’t prepared for my visit to the spectacular town of Montefrío.
On first appearances, it may seem to be a typical Andalusian town but, in 2015, National Geographic ranked Montefrío as fourth in its compilation of the top 10 towns with the best views in the world. Obtaining this prestigious accolade has resulted in an influx of visitors from across the globe ever since.
In addition to admiring the views of Montefrío, the town is also well worth exploring on foot especially as it is home to two remarkable churches.
The first, Iglesia de la Villa, sits on the imposing hill to the west of the town. This church was built on the site of what was once a Nasrid Castle that aided in the protection of Granada’s Muslim kingdom from the Christian invasion in the Moorish wars during the 15th century.
Meanwhile, Iglesia de la Encarnación was completed after the Christians regained authority in southern Spain at the beginning of the 1800s. The church is modelled on the Pantheon in Rome and is the only round church in Spain.
After our spoonful of culture in Montefrío, we dined at Restaurante El Pregonero (https://el-pregonero.eatbu.com) which was bustling with locals which is always a good sign.
If you do decide to explore the coastal areas of Andalucía, then there are many options beyond the well-known Costa del Sol. To the other side of Malaga is the lesser-known Costa Tropical which is home to beautiful villages including La Herradura near Nerja.
This wonderful region of Spain is easily accessible from Ireland and offers something to suit all tastes.
Gran Hotel Luna de Granada (https://www.delunahotels.com/en/granada/hotels/gran-hotel-luna-de-granada) is conveniently located for accessing attractions in Granada and the surrounding area.
For accommodation with a difference, check out Cuevas La Granja (www.cuevas.org) a uniquely restored collection of cave suites in Benalúa.
There are regular flights from Dublin and Cork to Malaga with both Aer Lingus and Ryanair. See www.aerlingus.com and www.ryanair.com for timetable and fares.
For more information, visit www.spain.info