Andalucia's ancient Moorish outpost is back on the flight map. Laura Holt jets off to southern Spain.
This ancient Moorish stronghold is today one of Andalucia's most scenic cities, with a dramatic setting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, crowned by the graceful Alhambra Palace.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Granada was the last bastion of Al-Andalus - the southern section of Iberia that was conquered by North Africans in AD711 and ruled by them for four centuries.
After Crdoba and Seville were reclaimed by the Catholic Kingdoms in the 13th century, Islamic refugees fled to Granada, where the Nasrid Emirate had established a separate state for themselves. The Nasrids had taken up residence in a lavish royal palace high up on a hill in the heart of the city. They reigned for more than 250 years from the Alhambra which still dominates the city today before finally succumbing to the besieging Catholic Monarchs (Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile) in 1492. It was the last city to fall and endures today as the place where the old Moorish Spain feels most present.
The Albaicn district is particularly evocative. Rising on a hill north of the Alhambra with sugar-white houses and steep, slender streets, it was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1994, along with the ancient citadel. To the south is the atmospheric Realejo quarter, where the Jewish community settled during the Moorish period, and the modern Centro district, with its bountiful boutiques and tapas bars. The main tourist office is at Plaza del Carmen.
For sheer grandeur, spend a night on the site of the Alhambra at the Parador de Granada. Housed in a 15th-century convent on the hill, it's now a four-star hotel with startling terrace views over the city.
In Albaicn, Casa Morisca on Cuesta de la Victoria 9 is a characterful retreat with rooms around a central courtyard.
For a budget option, aim for the colourful tiled exterior of the Hostal La Ninfa on Plaza Campo del Principe, with rustic rooms and doubles.
TAKE A HIKE
Wander amid the whitewashed houses and winding streets of the Realejo. When the Moors still held sway, this old quarter on the southern flank of the Alhambra was known as al-Yahud Garnata (Granada of the Jews), so strong was the Jewish population here at the time. The two religions managed to coexist in relative peace, but when the Catholic Monarchs took the city back, the Jewish community was expelled and the area rebranded as "Realejo", in honour of the crown.
The Campo del Principe is the main meeting point. Lined with a handful of bars and restaurants, it also holds the Iglesia De San Cecilio, built on the site of an ancient mosque and named after the city's patron saint.
From here, wind your way down the narrow streets of Calle de los Damasqueros and Cuesta de Rodrigo del Campo, to reach the new Sephardic Museum at Placeta Berrocal 5. The museum was opened earlier this year by a Spanish couple who spent years fundraising to make it happen. It tells the story of this old Jewish neighbourhood (open 10am-2pm and 5-9pm).
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
Rising above the Gran Va, the Cathedral of Granada is an early example of the Spanish Renaissance style. Its foundations were laid in 1518, on the site of an earlier mosque, after the Nasrid Emirs were supplanted.
One of Spain's most prolific architects, Enrique Egas, began the work, which took 180 years to complete. Today, white marble columns soar up, effigies of King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella kneel in the chapel, and a gilded altarpiece draws the eye. You can visit the cathedral on a Sunday only if you attend mass at 10am, 11am and 12.30pm; otherwise, opening hours are 4-8pm.
Book your tickets to the Alhambra well in advance. You can choose to visit the rambling rose-tinted complex from 8.30am-2pm, from 2-8pm, or from 10-11.30pm (Tuesday to Saturday only) when the site is bathed in dramatic moonlight.
Book a specific time to see the Nasrid Palaces, ideally at the halfway point of your session. This series of elaborate rooms, adorned with latticework, Moorish tiles and marble courtyards, gives an insight into the opulence of the era.
WALK IN THE PARK
The Generalife Gardens are included in your Alhambra ticket. Bursting with rose bushes, their elegant cypress avenues ascend gently to the Patio de los Arrayanes (Court of the Myrtles named for the plants that surround the building), before arriving at the Patio de la Acequia (Court of the Water Channel), where relaxing water features surround you as you take in the city views.
ICING ON THE CAKE
In 1998, the Hammam Al Andalus on Calle Santa Ana 16 - a decorative Arab baths - opened five centuries after the Catholic Monarchs shut the original baths on the same site.
Their intricate mosaics, arches and Arabesque motifs give an exotic taste of a bygone era. Relax in the hot and cold water and steam rooms or raise the indulgence level with a half-hour massage.