Historic Granada is a Spanish jewel set in its own tropical micro-climate
From its lofty positions it’s also the capital of one of Spain’s little known hotspots – the Costa Tropical, a little gem of a strip with its own micro climate which is pleasant in winter and never scorching in the summers. Visitors come to this region not to bake themselves brown in the summer but to enjoy a traditional pace of life in autumn and spring and take time out to visit the stunning reminders of Spain’s historical heritage.
For Granada has that in bucket loads – here is one of the wonders of the world, the Palace of the Alhambra, a stunning Moorish citadel, home to sultans for hundreds of years when Arabs ruled this corner of Europe for 800 years. It commands a high spot in this valley in the sierras where down below has grown into an elegant city which still retains its link to the past.
The ancient Arab and Moorish quarter of Granada is a picturesque maze of streets and whitewashed houses, located on a hill among baroque churches, renaissance palaces and Arab minarets. Just across and up a bit from my city centre hotel, the Hotel Carmen on Acera del Darro, was the start of the old city with a scattering of 150 monuments and classical buildings like the cathedral and City Hall dating from Spain’s historically dominant times.
Off the Ramblas was a maze of little streets with shops still selling leather and silk to a background of Arab music. The open air restaurants in the main square were doing a roaring trade with their three course menu del dio at €9.99, even though it was one of the main tourist haunts. There are dozens of fine restaurants in Granada but if you can’t visit all of them at least try Restaurant Chikito, popular with the locals and many celebs. At night visitors stroll down the narrow Navas Street which was lined on either side with tapas bars with outside tables, still doing a roaring trade at 2am. Nightlife in this city also booms on until dawn, for although Granada is thronged with sightseers it’s also a university city with thousands of students and the odd group of tourists finding their way to massive clubs almost incognito from the outside streets.
Shopping is another big attraction here – the Hotel Carmen is also directly across from the huge El Corte de Ingles shopping centre. All around are little boutique shops and a short stroll away is the main commercial centre. In the evening we could relax at the Carmen’s rooftop bar which had an incredible vista of the city as it was bathed in the sunset glow – including the Alhambra on the hill.
And this is the most stunning and famous part of the city and the main attraction, both a fort and a walled palace surrounded by acres of terraced gardens. This was the home of the ruling sultans until the 15th century when the Spanish queen Isabella wrestled control from the Moors. And it was in this palace that she met Christopher Columbus before he ventured off to the Americas from Cadiz. Make sure you go with a guide to get not only the full story but also so you don’t miss your entrance times into the various parts of the palace as they are strictly controlled.
For a day trip outside the city you can head to the Sonorio de Nevada winery, which is built around a five star hotel but does a great lunch and wine tasting. Otherwise take a trip 8000 feet down through the stunning Sierra Nevada valleys to the coast about an hour away. You can have a day trip or even stay longer in the coastal area of the Costa Tropical. It stretches along the coast for 80 kilometres from Malaga eastwards and you won’t find many high rises along this strip, just pleasant towns like Nerja, a bit attraction for the Irish, and Almunecar and Motril which see an influx of Scandinavians come autumn.
It’s a pleasant 18 degrees even in winter and while the Irish have deserted Nerja the northern Europeans have settled in the quaint little coastal town of Almunecar 20 kms away. We stayed in the Helios Hotel here facing the beach. It’s officially a three star hotel but everything about it shouts four. (Apparently hotels pay higher taxes when they go up a grade so the Helios is a bit of a bargain).
It has pristine rooms with wooden floors and large balconies which give panoramic views all along the beach to the headland. The beach here is not as sandy as in the nearby Costa del Sol; it’s a bit gritty, but there’s little has given me as much pleasure on my trips as sitting at the bar on the beach with a tinto verano (lemon juice sangria) as the sun sunk towards the horizon – and not a tourist in sight. Apart from those canny Scandinavians.