|The Alhambra, Granada|
Falling into the latter category, my family and I sallied forth into the deserted streets of the Albayzin, Granada's rambling hillside Moorish quarter, catching not one glimpse of the dangerous muggers mentioned in our guidebook. They were clearly all at home enjoying their air con. Wandering through the quiet streets fringed with huge white carmenes (villas particular to this area of Granada), we hoped to stumble across a tiled taverna to retreat into for an extended Spanish-style lunch. No such luck: the heat got the better of us before we had chance to seriously search, and we retreated to the central Plaza Nueva and lunched at vegetarian-friendly cafe Green and Berries (after liberally splashing our faces with water from the nearby drinking fountain). Suitably panini-filled, we gave in and did as the locals do: headed home for a siesta.
Hostal Lima, heading for the nearby Plaza Bib Rambla, a pedestrianised square with a fountain at its centre and cafes all around its circumference. After a leisurely drink, we were keen to get to grips with Granada's famed tapas scene. The southern city is one of the few in Spain to retain the custom of serving customers a free tapa to accompany each drink ordered. Apparently they usually improve in quality and extravagance the longer you stay: you might get olives or ensaladilla rusa (a mayonnaise-saturated egg, potato and miscellaneous vegetable salad) with your first tinto de verano, but as the night wears on you'll move through the ranks of Spanish omelette, pincho moruno and so on. Our first choice of bar presented us with a healthy dollop of ensaladilla, which sadly wasn't tempting enough to encourage us to linger. It being Sunday evening, pickings were unfortunately on the slim side as many Spanish restaurants close then - highly-recommended seafood bar Los Diamantes, which we'd been hoping to try out, was sadly one of them.
A little tired of trekking Granada's scenic streets in search of free food, we took a seat in Plaza El Cristo and opted to pay for the pleasure, choosing a mixed plate of tapas for €8. Refuelled and re-energised by sitting at an actual chair rather than perching on a bar stool (as required for the freebies), we headed to the city centre, finding plenty of lively bars to quench our remaining hunger pangs on Calle Elvira, with the tortilla de patatas sandwich dished up at friendly El Espejo proving particularly filling. The riverside Paseo de los Tristes, with its view uphill to the hulking Alhambra fortress (our destination for the following morning), provided the perfect post-tapa walk.
|Palacios Nazaries, Alhambra|
Busy year-round, the Alhambra gets especially crowded during the summer months, so we opted for a 9.30am slot (the earliest is 8.30) with the aim of beating the crowds and the heat. This was perhaps a bit optimistic, but our wander round the palace was quite enough to be able to contemplate the views of the city and the valleys beyond; the intricacy of the multicoloured mosaic work on the wallks and the Arabic slogan of 'There is no conqueror but Allah' inscribed throughout. Spain is notorious for its relative lack of explanatory plaques at attractions, but at the Alhambra this absence works to the visitors' advantage: courtyards and chambers are uncluttered but for fellow tourists, allowing imaginations to roam and conjure up visions of tea-sipping Nasrids reclining on colourful cushions. The immaculately-preserved splendour of the Palacios Nazaries is all the more impressive given the cheap materials used in its constuction: brick, wood and adobe, all skilflly manipulated to create a truly beautiful monument.
As the mercury in the thermometer started to creep towards the unbearable, we decided it was time to flee the pretty little city of Granada and return to our air-conditioned seaside apartment. Compact enough to explore in a weekend, interesting enough to linger, Granada is certainly a tempting destination - just don't go in summer if you want to get the most out of it!