Granada, Andalucia, spain

GRANADA AND ANDALUCIA, SPAIN OCTOBER 2012 TRIP REPORT

Granada, Spain October 2012

I arrived Malaga from London October 3rd for Cultour conference. This is yearly International conference which showcases different culture region of the world each year. In 2012 it was Granada.

Most participants were European travel professionals and journalists.

I was met with others arriving participants at airport and it took about 1.5 hours to transfer to Granada. On the way I took pictures of pretty Andalusian countryside with white house villages.

My hotel in Granada was Alhambra Palace. It is beautiful 4* palace historic hotel, near, you guessed it,  Alhambra Palace. It was established in 1910, used to be casino, then hospital during civil war in 1930’s, and later a hotel. It is located on the hill and commands great views of the city below. My room had balcony and large bath with Moorish tiles.

I had some time to refresh before going for reception at Alhambra Palace itself (not hotel). I am saying it because some tourists looking for Alhambra Palace, walked into hotel’s lobby and asking if it was THE  palace.  :=)

I was happy to be back in Granada since in previous trips I only visited Alhambra Palace on the way to the next destination in Spain.

Granada was established by Moors in 8th century. At that time Andalusia was called Al-Andalus. It thrived in 13th century ruled by Nasrid dynasty, when many scientists, artisans, merchants and scholars contributed to city’s reputation of culture. 

3 religions – Christian, Muslim and Jewish lived peacefully side by side and prospered until mid-15th century when they had to leave  after Moorish King Boabdil lost to Christian kings Ferdinand and Isabella. The Catholic Kings expelled Moors and Jews.  Under Christian rule, the city undergone Renaissance in 15 century, however declined in 19th.   The Moorish legacy is dominant in the city’s architecture. Fortresses, walls, mosques and water cisterns, were merged into churches, convents and palaces in a mix of diverse styles as Mudejar, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.

Today it is a beautiful, vibrant city with many tourists and university students. Half of the city’s population is students and there is famous Spanish language University.

Number one visited attraction is Alhambra Palace, Unesco Heritage site. It was built by rulers of Nasrid dynasty and they created their idea of paradise on Earth. It is a magnificent work together of display of water, gardens, fountains and palaces. The brochure provided with your entrance ticket gives some itineraries to better explore it but good guide is essential since it is a large place.  One of the oldest parts of palace is the military area, Alcazaba, then there are also three Nasrid Palaces built in 14th century. Lower and Generalife  Gardens were constructed to be the recreation area for the Granada’s Kings.

Please note, we book many clients there and Alhambra Palace has limited number of people to admit, so it is essential to book tickets in advance.

Other most visited sight in Granada includes Cathedral, it is the first Renaissance church in Spain.

There are also many palaces for example Madrassa Palace in Moorish style, and renaissance and gothic churches and monasteries.

Very interesting in Albaicin old town quarter which we planned to visit after return to Granada in next two days. Also Sacromonte, where gypsies settled is very picturesque and famous for Flamenco.

In the evening, there was reception at the patio of Alhambra Palace at sunset time which afforded beautiful photo opportunities. After that, we went on private after hour tour of the  palace. I never seen it in the dark and it added to almost surreal experience to be there .

Next day work started with full day tradeshow in Granada’s convention center. There were only few Americans, the rest were from all European countries. I have met my colleague from Spain which whom I work for many years. I also met new suppliers from Brussels, Malta, Turkey, Russia, and South Africa. This was small but well organized trade show and I’ve learned about other areas of Andalusia which I have not been yet, for example Jaen.

Second evening receiption and dinner was at Andalusian mansion . We walked back to hotel. I sat at the table with Slovakians, Russian, Latvian and Spanish. Almost no Spanish agents spoke English but they tried to translate menu for us. It was enjoyable dinner.

Next day we checked out and took luggage back to convention center. After half day continuation and conclusion of trade show, we were divided into separate groups depending on which routes we selected for post-show study trip. During registration, I was pondering between 2 itineraries – cultural Jaen and more nature bound Alpujarra Sierra Nevada mountains and I decided to go to Alpujarra .

2 day adventure to Alpujarra  and Guadix – The “Other” Andalusia!

We left for Alpujarra at about noon. Raúl from Granada Promotion and tourist board, led the study trip. The group consisted of 20 people, travel agents and journalists. I was the only one American. Even though English was a common language, about 6 Spanish agents did not speak it and the guides had to repeat everything in two languages.

On the way we were told about this romantic and tranquil area. It was Moors last stronghold in Iberian peninsula and thanks to its isolation, it still relatively unspoiled. High Peaks of Sierra Nevada and Mediterranean breezes protect Alpujarras. The area’s villages are perked on the mountains in different heights, climate varies. Once we were going up in the mountains, the landscape changed, the tropical plants on sea level gave way to fertile farmland in the valleys. On higher land, crops were grown on terraces and large areas were covered by forests. On peaks – up to 3,400 m, only bare rocks were visible.

First stop was Lanjaron, a small one street town, well known in Spain for its mineral water and spa. The quality of waters was attracting visitors since 19th century. We visited spa with mineral waters and did “water tasting”. There were 5 springs of water with different water springs and we were explained that they are all with different characteristics and some waters help with digestive illnesses, some with others. The waters indeed tasted differently.  The spa has treatment programs utilizing waters for drinking and skin treatments.

We stopped in a nice 3* family owned hotel where they did presentation on local cooking and served variety of food. It was delicious. We had some time to rest and talked. After escaping of some political discussion with Brits, I settled with sangria on the sun enjoying beautiful views and talked to lady agent of Denmark. We first exchanged photos and names of our dogs (mine is Timmy, her is Oscar) and then introduced themselves.  Other people came by and we had nice few hours.

Then we needed to go back to the bus. Raúl was trying hard to herd all to the bus on time but some people were wondering in local store. We were a bit behind schedule.

Originally next stop was supposed to be Buddhist monastery. Very unusual for Spain and we were told, located in the beautiful surroundings. However some rains destroyed road there and they visit has been cancelled.

We arrived to Poquiera Valley – entrance to quaint Alpujarras villages. The road was very winding. Fertile valley had abundance of chestnut, walnut and poplar trees – these are Southern Slopes of Sierra Nevada, and the beginning of National Park. The architecture of this villages is organic – they are fitted into slopes of the mountains and irregular shaped house with tall chimneys coming from gray flat roofs – were fitted to build around and into mountains. The villages on steep terraced hillside, were all white, with a lot’s of flower pots.

We got off the bus in first village Pampaneira where we were met by local guide. He told us that village conserves the local tradition of flat-roofed whitewashed houses with crowned chimneys and typical whitewashed stones. There were quite few tourists in this village but it was not that crowded. We saw small shops with local products: ceramics, cane, basket-work and colorful rugs. We visited local bodega to buy local food products. We sampled wine and local specialties – cured ham and cheese. Everything was delicious and the village was beautiful. They are self sustained. The guide explained that the colorful rugs which are specialty of the region – are made from recycled old clothes. They re-use everything.

Then we got on the bus again and went to next village Bubion where one part of our group stayed at “Casa Rural” houses in Bubion village where we were scheduled for dinner. The owners of the Casa in Bubion met us. We had delicious dinner with local specialties. Then Raúl announced who is staying in this place – Bubion Village – and who is going to sleep in next village. Most people stayed in Bubion. The accommodations were houses and some people had to share bath – in 2 bedroom villa, but other houses had more than one bath. 5 people including Myself, one Russian, German, Danish lady (mommy of Oscar), and Hungarian lady were supposed to go to next village small hotel. We went to the bus and we asked Raúl – should not the Bubion people take their luggage? – He said, oh yes, it is a great idea. Leave it to German/Danish/American to worry about logistics!  :=)  . The Bubion group came out and got their suitcases but left their shopping bags.  5 of us got on the bus. We observed shopping packages left from the Bubion group and contemplated to taste their shopping delicacies :- )  – but we ate too much already and decided against it. We arrived to our village Capiliera and saw  a small charming hotel. The name was Finca Los Llannos  Unlike Bubion villas, this is small hotel with rooms, no villas. Someone came down from the hill and helped us with luggage and we got into our rooms. It had free wifi, I checked my messages, I was so tired, and fell asleep.  The room was small – it was single, but very pretty and all material were natural wood and stone.

Next morning I woke up and took shower. I realized that my hair dryer does not work. I called reception, but no one was there. I dressed up and went to reception (all rooms are going to the patio so you need to go outside), it was rather cold. Reception was closed and the sign said it opens at 8. Near my room there were some sounds from restaurant and nice smell of coffee so I concluded there is some staff there. I knocked on Danish woman’s door to complain but she was taking shower and said will be out soon. At 8am indeed someone came to reception and I replaced my hair dryer and went for breakfast. Breakfast buffer while not that much of variety as in Alhambra Palace but good vegetables, cheeses and fruit and they made eggs made to order. German guy and Hungarian lady came out and we compared our experiences. We liked rooms but they were small. Russian came out and complained lack of signs and lack of waiter service at restaurant. I wanted to explain to him it is “Casa Rural” not city hotel but thought better of it.

We finished breakfast and I went to pack. The Bubion village group came on the bus and we were given presentation of Finca Los Llanos.  It was really nice, built in traditional style respecting the Alpujarrean architecture and using local materials with cobblestone walkways.  Besides our small rooms, there were also larger doubles and some suites. They have a swimming pool with pretty views, beautiful chestnut streets, nice gardens with fountains and waterfalls. The scenery around it was spectacular. The hotel manager said there are a lot’s of trekking and walks in the area. The water was used from ancient Moorish irrigation channels. People come here from Granada to stay in the mountains, skiing in winter and only few hours away from Costa del Sol for beaches and water activities. Such a diversity of Andalusia. The area of Alpujarra by the way, is declared by Unesco “Biosphere Reserve” National Park. It is really nice place to rest if you want to be close to the nature. 

We went to Guadix to take jeeps for our next activity was Jeep driving in the desert Marquesado area  of Guadix, about an hour drive from Alpujarras, which is called the troglodyte capital of Spain. The soft local rock lends itself to tunneling, and in bygone centuries, all round Guadix, people built themselves houses not only on the ground, but in the ground.

On the way the Bubion group told us that they had nice nightcap with drinks yesterday night.  The complained on lack of sleep… We even were shown some compromising video of members of the group who drank over limit.  :-) . On request of person who was compromised, the video was erased.

We took a day trip in 4×4 across the desert in the desert with a visit to the Megalithic Interpretation Center and a tour through the famous scenery of the 70’s spaghetti western.

We had a convoy of Jeeps, 4 people in each Jeep (two people were driving and two were passengers). Raul asked in advance day before who is driving and divided geoup by 4 people in each jeep. I did not want to drive in desert and did not want to drive manual. Our 4 people jeep team was great, 2 guys, one from Prague (originally from Phillipines), and another journalist driver from Hungary. Myself and Hungarian lady were passengers.

There was separate convoy Jeep with the guides. The scenery was breathtaking. It reminded me of Cappadocia in Turkey – same formation shapes with chimneys.  We took breaks getting out, taking photos and admiring the nature.

Here are some photos from the desert.

After desert, we came back to jeeps location and boarded bus to visit have lunch and visit a Restaurant/Hotel which is located in a cave!http://www.cuevas.org/

Probably Tolkien was inspired in these houses to write Lord of the Rings… They are Hobbiton style! We had nice lunch and we were shown apartments made in caves.

Afterwards we came back to Granada. On arrival, we checked into hotel Carmen 4* in the historical center of Granada and we were ready for last activity – walking tour of Albaicin quarter. It is very characteristic Moorish neighborhood in Granada, located on the hill apposite of Alhambra Palace. Jewish people used to live there before expulsion together with Berbers and Arabs. It is the most characteristic Moorish neighborhood left. It resembles old cities of Morocco. The guide was very good, very animated and told us in short time about history, culture, architecture and gave us a perception of the current city. It was Saturday evening and the music bands played in historic center and people danced.

Afterwards we came back to hotel and had farewell dinner at hotel’s Carmen’s restaurant. It was buffet dinner and was somewhat commercial hotel and restaurant but at that point I just needed a restful comfortable accommodation.

That concluded my exploration of Granada and “other” Andalusia.

Conclusion.

I love Andalucia and toured it few times. But besides Seville, Cordoba, whitewashed villages and Costa Del Sol, Granada province has something else to offer. Most people come to Granada to see Alhambra, but there is much more to see in the city and outside in the province… I was impressed by diversity of the area. It has mainland Europe’s southern tip, the highest mountain in western Europe outside the Alps, Europe’s only desert, one of its most important wetlands, some amazing wildlife, a world-famous vineyards and so much more. It is also the home of Flamenco, and of a race of horses that were once the mounts of kings and princes throughout Europe. Even in the mountains, accommodations while rustic, were very comfortable and had internet connection.  It has delicious food, beautiful landscapes and lots of activities to offer to any visitor.  Highly recommended!