Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Memories of the Alhambra

There was plenty of rain, not in heavy downpours, but in soft tiny tears from the sky, falling intermittently to the ground. The sun came out too, briefly, just enough to make a dramatic skyscape, before disappearing behind the grey clouds. But we wouldn't have it any other way, the Spanish city of Granada is in its most mystical on cold December days.

When I first visited John's tiny flat above an estate agent shop in Bell Lane, off Gibraltar's Main Street, he spread out on the living room floor a road map of Andalusia and revealed that he came to Southern Spain in search of adventures, to one day be able to greet those unfamiliar names like old friends. It must be then that I knew, and when I asked him to bring me along, it must have been that moment for him too. A few months later, we embarked on our first long journey on the road.

It was December 2009, a few days before our first Christmas together, at a time when mobile phones did not yet come with GPS or internet connections and all we had was a good old road map that I couldn't make sense of. But despite a few missed turns, we eventually arrived, long after the sun has lost its lustre, at the Alhambra Palace Hotel, to be met with the spectacular view of the city and the snow-capped mountains of Sierra Nevada from outside the walls of its most famous attraction.

Granada at Night. A view from our balcony at the Alhambra Palace Hotel.
The now five-star hotel we can only afford when there are fewer tourists around dates back to 1910 and evokes a feeling of stepping back in time, with its Arabian Nights interiors of orange and brown overtones, multicolour tiles and Moorish arches and pillars. It was the perfect prevue to what we really came there for, the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Alhambra.

hotels in Granadahotels in Granadahotels in Granadaviews of Granadaview from Alhambra Palace Hotel

Spain's most popular monument is a gathering of splendid Moorish palaces and landscaped gardens, beautifully located on a rocky hill overlooking the city of Granada.

It was a few minutes walk away from our accommodation, along a row of towering trees with glistening autumn leaves.

Winter in the Alhambra. The streets outside the fortress walls in winter.

Inside the fortress walls, we walked in the footsteps of the Moorish sultans and their many wives, stepping into the gardens where secret liaisons would have been made and sneaking a kiss on one of the quiet corners of Alameda de la Alhambra hidden by tall hedges and rose bushes amidst the sound of running water from several fountains and cascades.

gardens of the Alhambra

Within the palace chambers and corridors, we felt the energy of a civilisation that held such a significant portion of Europe in its clever grip for eight centuries. The intricate patterns on the walls, floors and ceilings speak of tales unknown to us but their mysteries would continue to intrigue us. And as the sun began to set, we found ourselves in a balcony overlooking the city as it slowly gets ready to burst into the lively Spanish nightlife.


When we made our way down the narrow streets of the old town, we were still engulfed in the city's enchantments, of its dramatic past and its equally exciting present. Christmas lights have adorned the busy streets, filled with local people hurrying home or heading towards the many tapas bars.

We were looking for a shoe shop, my feet was soaking wet from the pouring rain and a more reliable pair of boots was needed. We asked for directions, in our broken Spanish, from a young woman under an umbrella and she happily walked with us to get to the city's main shopping thoroughfare and we naturally fell into a companionable chat as she happily practiced her English. We do not have any memory of what we talked about, but we can still remember the warmth we felt on that cold rainy evening in an unfamiliar city that suddenly felt like an old friend.

winter in GranadaGranada

We went back to the old town the next morning, to Granada's cavernous Gothic and Renaissance cathedral that leads to a chapel where Isabel & Ferdinand were buried, the Catholic monarchs who commissioned Magellan to set sail in the fateful expedition that eventually led to the Spanish conquest of the Philippines that lasted 300 years.

Then from Plaza Nueva, we followed the course of the Darro River, crossing little bridges and passing by the Iglesia de Santa Ana with a mosque's minaret atop its bell tower, a characteristic of several churches in the vicinity. In a square with several cafes and restaurants, we paused to admire the Alhambra's fortifications that looms above.

river Darro

We took a turn on one of the narrow lanes heading up the Albaicin, one of Granada's most fabulous treasures and another Unesco World Heritage site. We walked up the steep winding streets in search of the Mirador de San Nicolas, the best place to view the red palaces of the Alhambra with the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada.

river Darroview of Alhambra

After admiring the breath-taking views, we explored the medieval old town where Moorish houses, the traditional gardens of the 'carmenes', old mosques converted into churches and Arab palaces coexist with artisan workshops, traditional bars and local businesses. And as we walked downhill, we watched the captivating sight of the fortress walls of the Alhambra being magically bathed in roseate by the last glows of the setting sun in the horizon.

GranadaAlhambra wallsAlhambra

It was dark by the time we reached the Puerta de Elvira, one of the original entrance gates into Granada, and took the bus back to our hotel to settle in for our last night. The next day, we drove up for a quick visit to the Sierra Nevada which was slowly being covered in snow, ready for the skiing season.


It has been nearly a decade and we have been to many European cities since, embarking on exciting adventures we have set out to do together but when asked to name one place that is the most unforgettable, we still always say Granada.

All this time, the memories of those few days exploring the ancient walls of the Alhambra, the evening walk under a shared umbrella in the ancient cobbled streets of the old town and the breath-taking views from the Albaicin still makes our hearts flutter. Perhaps there was something in the gentle rain that slowly seeped into our skins, forever bewitching us with the charms of the beautiful Granada.

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