Granada is an impressive town which has preserved traces of a few diverse cultures – Moorish, Christian, European and gypsy. It was occupied by Arabs for 400 years and at that time it transformed into a cultural and political centre. The palaces of the Nasrid dynasty in Alhambra are definitely the most incredible sight in this town. However, Granada boasts a multitude of other architectural and historical monuments, wonderful food and gorgeous countryside.
The most ancient Arab baths
The bañuelo in Granada are the most ancient and best preserved Arab baths in Spain. They were built back in the 11th century and they are the oldest Muslim structure in the town. Catholics did not think public baths are any different from brothels. Due to that bad fame, during the Reconquest, baths were usually destroyed. To visit one of these places nowadays is almost a miracle. My personal favourite are the Arab baths in Girona, a charming town near Barcelona.
The Moorish quarter Albaicín
As locals like to say a walk around the Moorish quarter Albaicín is “Sí o sí”, meaning simply compulsory. From the steep, cobbled streets, lined with rows of white houses, colourful gardens and orange trees, you will enjoy some of the most remarkable views over the city.
From up here you will see the cathedral in all of its splendour and its massive dome you did not know of. You will also see Alhambra and the snowy mountain of Sierra Nevada at the background. The entire quarter is incredibly tranquil. Here, time stops and the names of the streets do not matter. Your only option is to wander without destination, to come across streets no wider than a meter and opulent doors with Arab ornaments.
Elvira Street, famous with its tapas bars, is quite close by. The tapas culture in Granada is one of a kind in Spain. You order a drink for 1-2 euros and you get served a surprise tapas. Actually, here this traditionally bite-size food is what the rest of the country considers a portion (racción). Two to three drinks are enough for a tasty, filling dinner.
I dare say, on behalf of all vegans and vegetarians, that we do not enjoy surprises in our food. With the Spanish habit of putting ham on anything edible that is completely understandable. In case you are not so courageous, go for the cream soups in Hicuri Art, a lovely vegan restaurant. Arab cuisine, which can be easily found in any part of the town, is also rich in vegan options.
For dessert have the local pionono – a syrup-soaked sweet topped with baked cream. The traditional recipe was not to my taste but did approve of its tiramisu variation. I also recommend buñuelos, a sweet ball of fried dough. Get them at Fiordigelato, a place that can tempt even the healthiest eaters.
Street lights as art
You can find just about anything on the internet. Nevertheless, I doubt any other website will advise you to walk down Gran Via to see the street lights. I consider them the most fabulous street lights I’ve ever seen. They are cubic with some smaller cubes cut out of them. It looks as if their designed tried to honour the geometric Arab culture with a modern taste to it. These lights look gorgeous even when they’re still not lit up.
Thermal waters among the olive trees
I had never imagined that I’d be shivering with cold in the South of Spain. Winter is coming even in Granada and its cold, windy nights are punishing every misguided tourist. In such cases nothing beats a relaxing, hot bath. In the outskirts of the town, hidden among fields of olive trees, you can find the thermal waters of Santa Fe. These are some terraced pools of hot water flowing from one to another. Unwinding in a 35-degree natural Jacuzzi, listening to the sound of the water falling down as the last rays of the sun are caressing your skin, is pure bliss. Being in harmony with nature is the best meditation!
To visit Granada, they say, you need two or three days. To fully enjoy its atmosphere, I suppose, years. Only 30 minutes away from here you can ski or dip into the Mediterranean sea. I am telling you from personal experience: it is hard to get tired of the good life.