Days 8 to 15 in a road trip in Andalusia were mostly spent in Granada. I also made a day-trip to the Renaissance towns of Baeza and Úbeda inland and a drive along the coast.
This is #7 of seven articles from a journey to southern Spain. It is diary based.
This post starts with a map of this part of the car trip, continues with the plan we made before leaving and finishes with what we actually did. Read the introduction to this trip.
The Plan (= my best tips to Granada)
Today the Lady returns home. The rest of us stay in Granada for 7-8 days
Granada is one of the reasons, and perhaps the main reason to travel to Spain in general and this part of Spain in particular. The Moors left behind beautiful buildings here in the mountains, unique in fact. And of course, UNESCO-listed. At the same time this is a fact well known among millions of other visitors and we have booked a slot in the fixed timeframes for visits to the Alhambra Palace‘s innermost part, the Nasrid Palace. Two tickets are booked for Friday at 1530.
Furthermore, Granada is a short distance to the coast (80 km, one hour) (recommended beach) and return airport (135 km in 1:40).
I also envision taking a little trip (150 km, about 2 hours one way) to the Renaissance cities of Úbeda and Baeza further inland. They are also on the World Heritage List. UNESCO states: “The central areas (…) constitute outstanding early examples of Renaissance civic architecture and urban planning in Spain in the early 16th century.” I can take the day trip alone. And we have plenty of time in Granada, as I said.
We start with the Norwegian Reisemagazinet’s article and continue with Travellerspoint’s Alhambra-guide. This eager travel blogger is exciting to follow in both this article and another. Finally, a simple image search on Google and a link to Lonely Planet.
The first has blurry pictures but good comments (1:48) and the next is not good enough (4:31). The third is an informative tourism video, but with poor video quality (5:58), while the last one has detailed photographs of good quality (10:00).
The days in town
As I described in the planning section above and in the Introduction chapter we had rented a holiday home for our last week in Spain. It was a large basement apartment with all amenities; cool in the summer heat and with the pool right outside the door. We shared the pool with the residing family but that was no problem.
It proved to be very alright indeed. Its location right outside of Granada made the town within easy reach, but a bit too far to walk. It turned out that we had little need of spending time in the town or elsewhere. In fact I and the youngsters only once went into Granada to eat and have a look.
Nobody even wanted to take the hour-long drive down to the coast for a day on a beach. We had the pool, we had a kitchen and we had supermarkets in a foreign land which always have exciting new food to test.
A need for relaxation
All this must be seen on the basis of our very hectic first week. Only a week ago we had landed in Malaga and pressed on to Marbella and Ronda that same day. Two days later we had moved on south to Gibraltar and west to Jerez before making a day trip across to Tangier in Morocco. The subsequent days had been filled with impressions in the grand cities of Seville and Córdoba.
In short, all of us needed some time to recuperate. On the other hand, I could not resist being more active as lying by the pool quickly gets boring.
That first morning I made it a round-trip driving the lady to the airport in Malaga. We crossed inland to the coastal city of Malaga on fast roads but the return I took along the coast to Motril and then directly back to Granada. I was back in time for making breakfast for the young ones and lunch for myself.
Another day I went into the centre of Granada on my own. I did not become particularly fascinated by it. Had I been more into shopping at Swarovski or Zara I probably would have enjoyed it more.
Albaicín, the old Arab neighbourhood in Granada
Walking around the centre of Granada I came up with the idea of having a look from below of the Alhambra. I went for a walk and tried to ask my way to a good viewing point. Talking only a rudimentary Spanish it was not easy to ask the locals but some of them began to talk about a “mirador”.
Then I remembered the pictures I had seen of a place facing the Alhambra across a ravine or river. I went back to my car and tried to find a road leading up from the centre. Somehow I found a way and ended up in the Albaicín.
This neighbourhood is part of UNESCO’s Granada inscription and deservedly so. What I didn’t realise at once was that driving into the small streets is not something you should do unless you know the area as your own back pocket. Some of the streets are so narrow that only pedestrians and motorcycles can get through, turning the car is a hazard and everything is a maze.
The Albaicín is not big; it only feels that way with its myriad of narrow streets and small residential buildings.
I managed to track my route back to where I came from and park my car on the road leading up to this district. Then I moved more effortlessly around on my sandals and finally found the viewing platform right by a church. So had a large crowd of other tourists, a TV team from Spanish television and two local guitar players.
In any case the view was great, and so was the sunset.
Returning home to Norway I heard from a colleague that many come to that “Mirador de San Nicolás” to wait not only for the sunset over the Alhambra but also to watch the floodlighting being turned on at nine o’clock. Well, well….
“Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada” is no. 314 on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. This video is from Albayzín (Albaicín), the old Arab district of Granada.
Alhambra, the gem of Granada
The Moors of northwest Africa conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula in a few years after 711. The last stronghold they were forced out from by the united kingdoms of Spain was Granada. That was in the year 1492, the same year Columbus “discovered” America. For more than seven hundred years the Muslim descendants of Arab, Moorish and Spanish origin had ruled in most or parts of Spain and Portugal. This legacy has been hard to grasp for the later nation builders of Christian Spain.
I can’t repeat what others have written about the Alhambra, the mixed fortress and palace of the last Moorish rulers in Spain. Let me just leave some photos here and give some impressions and advice.
How to visit it
First of all, I followed the advice on various websites to book a ticket in advance. I was not able to get a print at home, but I think it’s possible to get a proper ticket from your booking reference in any post office in Spain. For my part I went to the Alhambra ticket office right before closing time (1800) the day before my booked visit and avoided the queues.
With my ticket in hand I was able to come back the next day for my actual visit. The ticket is necessary to visit the (not so interesting) westernmost fortress or citadel part of the Alhambra called the Alcazaba. (What you get to see is basically shown on the picture above.) Further on the ticket gives you admission to the summer palace of Generalife (a must) outside the eastern part of the Alhambra. Thirdly, and most importantly the ticket gives you admission to the Nasrid Palace, the gem of the gem. Other parts inside the walls of the Alhambra are free. In short, you need a ticket if you want to see the Alhambra.
There are more details I don’t need to describe here, but beware that the time on your ticket is actually a time slot giving you access to the Nasrid during a period of 30 minutes. That means that you are able to enter within 30 minutes after the time shown on your ticket, but you may stay inside that palace as long as you want to. Nobody checks your ticket once you’re inside.
Now, here’s what you get to see inside the Nasrid. You won’t believe its true beauty until you go there yourself!
As my pictures from Albaicin and above shows, the Alhambra looks like a fortress and its exterior is in my opinion not very special. It is the interior of the former fortress, especially the interior of the buildings, the patios and the gardens that make the Alhambra a wonderful place to visit.
Furthermore, I found the old Moorish structures more fascinating than later additions. It did not understand what the purpose of Charles V’s circular palace was.
The Generalife is a world apart. Whereas the Alhambra has a red-brownish colour, the Generalife is painted in white. According to my guidebook this is where the kings slipped away from the intrigues of the royal court, but it was only a few hundred metres away so they would not be far away if things got out of hand.
Inside and outside of this palace and its gardens there is water everywhere, running or still. Again, you need to see it, hear it and smell the plants yourself.
“Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada” is no. 314 on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. This video is from Alhambra and Generalife.
A daytrip to Úbeda and Baeza
Not able to rest I made it a day’s side trip to the twin cities of Úbeda and Baeza, the cradle of Renaissance architecture in Spain. Leaving the youngsters in the house I jumped into my car and went for a drive inland.
Baeza was my first stop. Wikipedia describes it like this: “It is chiefly known today as having many of the best-preserved examples of Italian Renaissance architecture in Spain.” That sentence may not sound as exhilirating as UNESCO’s reason for listing the town as a world heritage.
I quote even more from Wikipedia: “In the 16th century, Baeza and nearby Úbeda grew rich from the production of textiles, and local nobles hired important architects, such as Andrés de Vandelvira, to design new palaces, churches and public squares in the fashionable Italian style. The economy collapsed in the 17th century, which had the fortunate side effect of preserving Baeza’s Renaissance architectural legacy, because few newer structures were built.”
That’s about the same argument I wrote in my Cordoba chapter. Anyway, I found Baeza to be quite pleasant. It was calm and quiet and had few tourists. The view from the tower of its cathedral was great.
Pushing on to the larger sister town of Úbeda I made the wrong decision in a crossroads and had to make a 20 km detour. Not a good start of that leg. In addition I had a really troublesome experience trying to find the World Heritage palaces once inside that city. Baeza have them spread over a smaller area. For me Úbeda was a tiny disaster.
But it had been a rewarding daytrip nonetheless, if only for making it my 110th UNESCO World Heritage Site…
“Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza” is no. 522 on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. This video is from Baeza.
That was my last experience during these fifteen days in Andalusia. It had been a wonderful summer vacation and we had been able to balance and tackle all the difficult variables I described in my introduction. Everyone was happy!
This is the last blog post from this trip to Andalusia.
All chapters in this series
This post is #7 from my Andalusia road trip in 2012. Find all articles in this series below.
- Introduction: We had a fantastic 15 days’ vacation in the southern Spanish province of Andalusia making the classic golden roundtrip to the famous cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. And a lot more.
- Malaga, Marbella and Ronda: The first two days of our Tour of Andalucia started in Malaga, continued with a short stop in Marbella and is mostly about lovely days in Ronda.
- Ronda, Gibraltar and Jerez: On Day 3 in Andalusia we took the mountain road from Ronda down to Gibraltar and continued across the lowlands on the Spanish Atlantic coast to Jerez de la Frontera, home of Sherry.
- Tangier: Day 4 in Andalusia is a daytrip from Jerez to Tarifa and across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco. The distance is not far, but it proved to be a world apart.
- Seville: Days 5 and 6 of our Andalusia tour were spent in Seville, previously and today one of the world’s most important cities.
- Córdoba: We visited Córdoba on Day 7 of our stay in Andalusia. This day we were on the move from Seville to Granada and stopped for a few hours in extreme heat in this former Moorish capital.
- Granada: Days 8 to 15 in Andalusia were mostly spent in Granada. I also made a day-trip to the Renaissance towns of Baeza and Úbeda inland and a drive along the coast. (THIS)