Granada’s grandeur surprised me

February 27, 2023

Granada as a destination was selected by my wife and daughter to be included in our post-Christmas Spain and Portugal excursion.  Truth be told, I knew little about the city but was eager to learn.  When I visit a place with little or no expectations, I expect to be charmed a bit.  I didn’t anticipate being dazzled, though, and I was.  I think Granada has done a superb job of joyfully finding its place in the 21st century while retaining old-world elegance and beauty, and paying tribute to its gloried past.

Planning the trip, I’d hoped to go by rail everywhere in Spain and Portugal. We did take a train from Madrid to Barcelona (see my February 7 post), but the route of our itinerary and time limitations necessitated flying from Barcelona to Granada. We had only 24 hours to explore the city. A train would have taken all day, whereas going by air saved two-thirds of that travel day. Domestic fares in Spain were not outrageous at $112 each one way. 

We planned to go next after Granada to the far southern town of Tarifa, the jumping-off place for ferries to Tangier in Morocco, and Tarifa which is not served by direct trains, buses, or flights.  I, therefore, rented a car from Avis at the Granada airport and drove to our hotel located in the ancient medieval section.  Once again I marveled at how accurate Google Maps is for navigating.  It directed me through the maze of twisted streets perfectly.

In no time we arrived at our hotel, the marvelous Anacapri, via the winding narrow streets, all one way and barely wide enough for our small car.  I soon had the rental car safely parked until the following late morning in a remote lot (about $40) because cars are forbidden in the old section of Granada.  By then it was noonish, and we were starving.  Relying once more on advice from locals, we got a table at close-by La Vinoteca restaurant just before the midday meal rush.

Okay, joie de vivre is a French term, not Spanish, but good Lord! Granada residents know how to enjoy life!  As the tables in our room filled, we were swept up in the sheer joy of being alive! So much positive energy!  Our shared experience with Granada patrons was a celebration of humanity. Raucous and loud fun in the best of ways!

Ordering wine for lunch, which I’d never do in Raleigh, I thought to myself: Yes, we’re just eating and drinking our way across Spain.  No apologies. We were on vacation. Sampling local chefs’ cuisine and imbibing the best local vintners have on offer is essential to travel.  Enlivened by such blissful company as that afternoon.

How lucky we are for these experiences. Such grand flavors, surrounded by happy local people. Made us happier, too!

On the menu for us that afternoon:

  • Mixed tapas, including foie gras, Iberian ham, lox, caramelized onions, roast duck, and cheese sampler.
  • Shared entrees of crisp pork, chopped lamb, and grilled vegetables.
  • Another divine red wine from central Spain.

The bill for three came to $103.20. Not cheap, but you only live once.

My friend Jim H. loves Granada. He’s visited three times and wishes he could be reincarnated as a Spaniard or an Italian.  By coincidence, Jim was in Granada the night of 9/11. Here’s what he wrote to me in an email as we ate:

“After 9/11, the Spanish reacted by a massive turnout.  A million people marched in Madrid.  My trip was scheduled for that very day, and I changed planes in Madrid and arrived in Granada on that Friday night. I think every living soul was out in the streets.  Amazing. It was a true festival.  I consider it as a high movement for our democratic culture.  Historically, the Alhambra ranks near the top of places to visit; most people in this country [USA] have never heard of it.”

I thought: Amen, Jim.

After the fab lunch, my wife and daughter led us on a grand walk all over the old sections of that magic place. Though photos of the street life and street views of Granada are included here, it’s a tiny sample. Words like joy, tranquility, restful, calm, and peace come to mind. The pictures can’t fully convey the beauty and mood of that wonderful city, but I hope it does a little.

We walked for hours after lunch.

Speaking of the meals we had in Spain and Portugal, each one sounds like a lot of food. However, the three of us shared plates, and most were tapas portions (small plates).

The Alhambra is in the background of some of the photos. We walked up the streets adjacent to the hill on which the Alhambra sits with stellar views of the Moorish castle.

Life in Granada can be sweet for those who appreciate a relaxed lifestyle.

Granada surprised me. I had no idea how gorgeous it is and how friendly its people are.

Snow-covered mountains could be seen in the distance behind the Alhambra.

We returned to rest in our hotel, the marvelous Anacapri, in central Granada.

The following morning we arose early and took a cab up the steep hill to visit what’s called “Generalife” and the palace of Charles V at the Alhambra.

Even months in advance, we couldn’t get tickets to the big-deal Moorish Palazio Nazaries at the Alhambra in Granada. However, we very much enjoyed walking through “Generalife” in the upper section of the compound. It was the gardens for growing food and for rest and relaxation.  There, many water features divert mountain streams to fountains and flowing channels. I found it to be uniquely beautiful.

We also walked through the palatial ruins of the castle of Charles V (boring, I thought) and arrived back at our hotel at about 11:20 AM. We left for Tarifa in the Avis rental car at 11:50 AM.

The drive from Granada to Tarifa took us by the Costa del Sol and Gibraltar in a bit over three hours staying off the toll roads, and we arrived at 3:00 PM. Would have arrived at about 2:30 PM by toll roads.

That half-hour time difference in arriving turned out to be important, as I’ll explain in next week’s post.

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