|The Alhambra perched on a hilltop with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain as a backdrop|
American friends, Anita & Dick, who have made a complete relocation and now call Portugal home, invited me to join them and another couple touring Granada and Seville before my time in Europe is up. Of course, I said yes!
Spain conjures up pictures of bullfighters and massive Moorish-influenced architecture; small plates of delicious delicacies (tapas); sangria and yummy vino Roja; flamenco dancers and Fado singers. Our road trip included all of the above - and more.
It's a 7-hour drive from Ferragudo, Portugal to Granada, Spain. We drove past seaside villages before turning north into rolling hills filled with vineyards and even larger olive groves. We only got lost once before we found our huge, 2-story AirBnB (with the world's tiniest garage) in The Realejo, the old Jewish section of Granada. Out our window and towering over us was the mighty and magnificent La Alhambra. After enjoying a delightful Spanish dinner of paella and red wine, we all turned in early as we had an early morning appointment.
Arrangements had been made for the 5 of us to enjoy a private tour with our own guide of La Alhambra. What a difference this made! We could stop and stare in awe, ask as many questions as we wanted and take 100's of pictures without worrying about keeping up with a group of total strangers. FYI - During high season daily admittance through the gates of La Alhambra is cut-off at 8,000. Low-season sees an average of 2000-3000 daily.
Mario, our very handsome guide (a nice extra!) spoke perfect English. I learned he had to study for 5 years to become a licensed Alhambra guide. This is on top of him being a college-educated historian. He continues to constantly improve his vast knowledge of not only La Alhambra but also the history of Granada, where he is employed directly by their Board of Tourism.
Photos can never do justice to this magnificent structure. The history of this hill-top city that was ruled by the Moors and existed for so many years in harmony with all nationalities and religions was destroyed over the love of a woman and the simultaneous invasion of the Christians. Click on this link for a brief history of this magnificent place. I can only provide you with just a few of the 100's of photos I took that day.
The colorful tile and amazing plaster work, the gardens with their massive hedges, numerous reflecting pools, fountains and formal gardens add to the grandeur of The Alhambra, a World Heritage Site, which should be a 'must see' on any visit to Spain.
But certainly not to be missed, laying spread out beneath La Alhambra, nestled in a valley with the towering Sierra Nevada mountains as their backdrop, is one of the most beautiful cities I have visited - GRANADA.
I have found the best way to get to know any city and learn its history is from a knowledgeable local. So I always take advantage of a 'free walking tour'. These are offered by different companies in almost every large European city. I went online to find that several companies were offering tours - all departing from the same place - just different colored t-shirts for their guides!
I chose 'Feel The City Tours' and Anita and I met Miquel, a Basque now living and getting his Masters in Granada, for his 10 a.m., 2 1/2 hour walking tour of the city center. Miquel was a wonderful guide, extremely knowledgeable and lots of fun.
We learned so much of the history of this city that saw the Romans and the Visigothic inhabiting the area as early as 5500 BC. The Moors arrived and founded what is now the city of Granada beginning in 711 AD. Civil wars and skirmishes ensued, along with the building of the hilltop city-town, palace-filled La Alhambra.
The Moors ruled fairly and evenly, allowing all ethnicities and religions to live together peacefully until 1492 when the last Morrish Emir surrendered the region to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. By the
16th Century, the Christian-Catholics had converted all the mosques to churches, if not completely destroying them. This 'change/desegregation' can be seen in the total mix/mismatch of architecture throughout the city and La Alhambra. The Castilian Crown rescinded the Alhambra Decree treaty and mandated that Granada's Muslims must convert or emigrate. Under the 1492 Alhambra Decree, Spain's Jewish population, unlike the Muslims, had already been forced to convert under threat of expulsion or even execution, becoming Marranos (meaning "pigs" in Spanish), or Catholics of Jewish descent. Many of the elite Muslim class subsequently emigrated to North Africa.
Following are just a few of the many photos I took this chilly but sunny day of the wondrous architecture we saw - including the massive Cathedral of Granada - which was built over the Nasrid Great Mosque of Granada. We entered a small church with it's cloistered nuns sounding like angels singing while the sun shone through the stained glass illuminating the walls in a rainbow of colors; climbed twisted narrow streets with colorful flower boxes hanging on each window; strolled through the large, tiled squares filled with restaurants and people of all ages; enjoyed the fabulous street art; plus stopped at a small coffee cafe for a choice of very strong coffee or a glass of wine served with slices of fresh bread and olives. Yum!
These 'free' tours cost you only what you wish to 'tip' your tour director at the end of the tour. ($10 is my usual norm.) I'm sure Miquel earned a goodly sum from those who had the luck to be part of his outstanding tour this day.
I don't want to leave out another really spectacular place we visited -
The Carmen de San Miquel Restaurante located on top of the hill next to La Alhambra. This lovely restaurant has a commanding view of the entire city of Granada and is well-known for serving suckling pig, cooked nightly in its kitchen.
Because we had planned an early morning departure for Seville, we didn't abide by Spain's normal dinner start time of 10 p.m. By arriving at 6:30 p.m. and departing at 9:00 p.m., we had the entire restaurant and staff to ourselves. It was an amazing meal (I had the lamb chop) and we shared an antipasto salad and a desert that was just indescribably delicious!
Early the next morning we bid farewell to Andalusia and Granada will full tummies and wonderful memories. We all agreed that 3 days was not nearly enough time to spend in this city filled with glorious treasures of all kind. But now it was time to head for our next stop - SEVILLA.
Until next time.........
PS: Don't forget you can click on any photo to see it full-sized.