Feasts and fla­menco

There’s more to Granada than the fab­u­lous Al­ham­bra

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - EMILY SAR­GENT

Walk­ing through El Al­baicin, one of Granada’s cen­tral bar­rios, it’s as though we’ve en­tered a time warp or, per­haps, some kind of fairy­tale. This An­dalu­sian city is filled with cas­tles, gar­dens and cathe­drals, ly­ing in wait to be dis­cov­ered along nar­row, cob­bled al­leys.

It’s en­chant­ingly sur­real, but where to start? Well, we be­gin at the Big At­trac­tion, of course. The his­tory and beauty of the city are epit­o­mised by the Al­ham­bra, the palace of the city’s last Mus­lim com­mu­nity, with its mir­ror-like ponds, walls cov­ered with in­tri­cately pat­terned tiles and av­enues.

The per­fect times to visit are at sun­rise or sun­set if you have any ounce of sun­shine, when the palace’s walls and the spires of its cypress trees are bathed in peach light (we are met with morn­ing rain and grey skies so we visit around mid­day). How­ever, at 6pm on our first evening the sun sud­denly be­gins to break through, so we rush off to catch the view from one of the best van­tage points out­side its walls, St Ni­cholas Square. It is packed. Even lo­cal teenagers sit shoul­der to shoul­der, gaz­ing at the mon­u­ment. The palace re­ally is breath­tak­ing and we are by no means see­ing it in its full glory.

Evenings in Granada are per­fect for wandering, eat­ing and drink­ing, do­ing a lit­tle of each as you work your way through the streets. Given our bad luck with the rain, we mostly set­tle for eat­ing. Sit­ting by a large bar­rel act­ing as a ta­ble at Bode­gas Cas­taneda, a ta­pas bar with a great at­mos­phere, we or­der drinks that are ac­com­pa­nied by a plate of free ta­pas slammed down at speed by a tiny, an­i­mated woman. We or­der more dishes: br­uschetta with toma­toes and basil; Iberico hams; and lit­tle po­tato omelets. Truly noth­ing bet­ter. Food is not ex­pen­sive; small plates of ta­pas cost about $4 to $7.

We weave on­wards from ta­pas bar to ta­pas bar try­ing po­tato tor­tillas, padron pep­pers, more br­uschetta, lo­cal cheeses, fresh bread, olive oil and toma­toes. We love the tiny fried dough balls (bunue­los) and fried-dough pas­tries (chur­ros); the best places for the lat­ter are Chur­re­ria Al­ham­bra and the Fut­bol Cafe.

We be­gin our se­cond day with a visit to the cat­a­combs of Aba­dia del Sacromonte, which lie be­low a pretty court­yard lined with orange trees by a lovely church on top of a hill. The door­bell to en­ter the court­yard and buy a ticket from an el­derly woman is a brass bell at­tached to a long piece of string. We re­ceive a long talk largely in Span­ish about the lit­tle mu­seum and church above the cat­a­combs and nod en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, un­der­stand­ing only the odd bit.

Then we hit the road. We wor­ried when we ar­rived that hir­ing a car would turn out to be a waste when much of Granada is walk­a­ble, but af­ter spend­ing three hours pot­ter­ing about in the moun­tains we soon change our minds. To get a real sense of the coun­try­side around Granada, and to see the best ex­am­ples of the string of gor­geous alpine-like vil­lages in the moun­tains to the south, we set off in the di­rec­tion of Pam­paneira, an hour’s drive away. Other vil­lages, such as Bu­bion, Por­tu­gos and Capileira, are par­tic­u­larly scenic. We pick up al­mond cake and freshly baked pas­tries filled with spinach and cheese in Granada as a pic­nic for our road trip, but end up hav­ing a dou­ble lunch in the vil­lage square at Pam­p­eneira. The food at Bar Restau­rant Nar­ciso Martin is sim­ple and only costs the equiv­a­lent of about $5.50. What a bar­gain.

Many fla­menco shows can be in­au­then­tic, we are warned. The au­di­ence at the at­mo­spheric Pena La Pla­te­ria So­cial Club in Granada, how­ever, is evenly split be­tween lo­cals and tourists. The fe­male dancer is cap­ti­vat­ing and the mu­sic of a high stan­dard; en­trance is about $12, in­clud­ing a glass of san­gria. An­other bar­gain.

With­out much time on our fi­nal morn­ing, we pot­ter about the Plaza Nueva, in­ves­ti­gate the church of San Gil and Santa Ana, and walk along the cob­bled path by the River Darro. We feel a bit sorry we haven’t had more luck with the sun, but not nearly as much as we might have done in an­other, less en­chant­ing city.

THE TIMES

Granada’s Al­ham­bra, top; St Ni­cholas Square, left; fla­menco danc­ing, above; El Al­baicin and Bode­gas Cas­taneda, be­low

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