DAWN COLLINSON HEADS TO SPAIN AND FINDS MOOR HISTORY THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A SCIMITAR AT
IT’S rare that a total stranger cares about your travel arrangements. And rarer still for them to care so passionately that their response to your poor planning is a firm slap. But maybe that’s because not every revelation involves a woeful failure to pre-book for a world-renowned site, featuring on at least two million other tourists’ to-do lists every year.
Our Air BnB hostess in Seville could barely disguise her frustration. In fact, she made no effort to disguise it at all. “So,” she said, on hearing our intention to visit Granada. “You’ll already have your tickets for the Alhambra...”
There was an awkward pause.
“Of course,” she added, by way of driving home the point that anyone who didn’t have tickets 12 days before they hoped to see it was an idiot.
We’d considered it, obviously. It’s very much the kind of thing you consider when you book flights and a hotel. But then somehow it had fallen by the wayside.
Surely it would be fine. And if we had to queue, then we’d queue. That is, after all, what we Brits do best.
But we were wrong. Because at the Alhambra, queuing is not an option. No tickets, no entry, and since this is an ancient monument, considered by some to be one of the wonders of the world, they don’t just let endless numbers trample through it.
A quick glance at the official ticket booking website (tickets.alhambrapatronato.es/en) revealed they were booked up for weeks in advance, clearly by people far better organised than us. Luckily, having delivered her sharp slap – wrist, not face (she didn’t care quite that much) – she revealed that she knew an agent who could rectify our mistake. It turns out it’s just a question of knowing the right people and she did so therefore, by default, we did. We made the trip to Granada, after a scorching few days in Seville, by train and roughly three-and-a-half hours later we arrived at the main station, ready to head via taxi to our hotel – the NH Granada Centro. One of two hotels in the NH group in the heart of the city centre, it has a perfect location for anyone wanting, as we were, to see all the major sights on foot.
We only had around 36 hours to cram everything in so proximity was key, and in a city where history literally looms large over everything, it seemed wrong somehow to opt for a super-modern characterless base from which to explore it.
The NH Granada Centro occupies a restored historic building, sympathetically decorated in a classic Andalusian style with hardwood floors, an impressive stained glass ceiling in the foyer and intricately carved headboards on the large comfy beds. Staff are friendly, rooms are a good size, marble bathrooms have a real bath and there’s an excellent buffet breakfast served each morning (with an array of various olive oils for the locals’ favourite tomatoes and olive oil on toast).
The Alhambra is unquestionably Granada’s number one attraction for tourists, visible from most streets and square in the old city. It’s well signposted too and an uphill walk of around 20 minutes from Plaza Nueva saw us arrive at the castle ramparts. It takes a comfortable two or three hours to wander around the centuriesold Moorish architecture, with its tiled mosaics, patterned plasterwork and gardens. Arguably most stunning of all is the Patio de Arrayanes, with its rippling central pool and surrounding arched chambers including the official residence of the king.
The Alhambra’s tranquility is one of its most beautiful features so, while the fact that numbers are so strictly limited might be frustrating for ticket buyers, it’s impossible not to appreciate it once inside.
But there’s far more to wonder at in Granada than just its most dominant relic, and a stroll down the pretty Carrera del Darro along the river is a must, especially if you’re in the market for a local buy to take home. While the castle sits high up to the right, to the left the narrow cobbled streets wind their way upwards, through the whitewashed houses of the Albaicin district, the old Arabic quarter, where tapas is fabulous and a fraction of the price in the river-side tourist traps.
At the Plaza Saint Nicolas we even caught some impromptu flamenco busking, set up with just a portable board to dance on and a guitarist, so for a couple of euros tossed into a box our Granada experience was complete.
Narrow cobbled streets of the Albaicin district Alhambra: Granada’s number one attraction
NH Granada Centro lobby