The beautiful Moorish city of Granada has one of the most dramatic locations in Spain, poised below a magnificent backdrop of the Spanish Peninsula’s highest mountains, snowcapped Mulhacen and Veleta peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Home to Andalucia’s most precious monument, the exquisite Moorish Alhambra Palace and gardens, the city also preserves the old Moorish quarter of the Albayzin and the gypsy barrio of Sacromonte.
The Alhambra, one of the most romantic architectural creations in the world, was the palace-fortress of the Nasrid kings, rulers of the last Spanish Muslim realm. In its construction Moorish art reached a spectacular yet serene climax. The Alhambra sits on a hill overlooking the city and there are three distinct groups of buildings: the Casa Real (Royal Palace or Palacios Nazaries), the palace gardens of the Generalife, and the Alcazaba.
To protect the complex, only 6600 daily admissions are allowed so booking your ticket in advance is highly recommended.
Tickets are also available through other booking agents plus if there is any availability left you could chance it on the day.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994 (along with the Alhambra) the Albayzin covers the hill facing the Alhambra across the Darro valley. Many tourists visit here for the spectacular views of the Alhambra and Sierra Nevada from the viewing point by the Church of San Nicolas. As Granada’s old Muslim quarter, a wander through the winding cobblestoned streets gives you a fascinating glimpse into the area’s past with its Muslim ramparts, gates, fountains, cisterns and carmenes (large mansions with walled gardens, from the Arabic karm for garden). Highlights include the remains of an Arab bath complex, Granada’s archeological museum, and the church of San Salvador, built on the remains of a Moorish mosque. The Albayzin also contains some original Moorish houses and a wide range of restaurants, including several streets whose eateries are inspired by North Africa.
The Sacromonte district occupies the north side of the Darro valley northeast of the Albayzin, below a city perimeter wall dating from Nasrid times. Many of the dwellings here are cave houses, burrowed out of the hillside since the 18th century and mostly occupied by gitanos. Granada has an ancient and still considerable gitano (gypsy) population from whose clans many of Spain’s finest flamenco guitarists, dancers and singers have emerged. Here you will see lively displays of dancing and music in their zambras (shindigs) which used to be spontaneous but are now performed as part of the daily flamenco shows for the avid tourist.
Las Alpujarras refers to 70 kms of valleys, ravines and gorges that run along the southern flank of the Sierra Nevada, dotted with villages looking out across the Mediterranean towards the Rif Mountains of North Africa. The breathtaking views of hillsides split by deep ravines alternate with oasis-like white villages set amid gardens, orchards and woodlands watered by rapid streams. First settled in the twelfth century by the Berber refugees from Seville, and later the Moors last stronghold after they handed over the keys to Granada city, the flat roofed Berber style villages and terraced/irrigated hillsides retain a sense of timelessness and mystery.
Just a 10 minute drive from Casita de la Vaca is the spa town of Lanjaron, famous for the curative powers of its spa waters which are sold in bottled form as mineral water throughout Spain. When the spa baths are open, between March and December, the town fills with visitors hoping to benefit from the most important medicinal waters of Andalucia.
A further 10 minute drive along the A348 brings you to the main town of the western Alpujarras, Orgiva, a lively market town with a diverse community of locals, farmers and New Age hippies. One local resident and farmer Chris Stewert (in his trilogy of books: Driving over lemons, A Parrot in the Pepper Tree and The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society) wittingly wrote about life among the peasants, shepherds, New Age travelers and expats of the western Alpujarras and helped to place this part of Andalucia on the map.
Perhaps the best known and most visited villages are the High Alpujarra villages of: Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira. Clinging to the side of the deep Barranco de Poqueira ravine, they teeter on the steep edge of the gorge among their terraces surrounded by woods, flowers, springs and streams. Here you’ll find plenty of craft shops selling the local wares of rugs, weaved baskets, ceramics, pottery, honey and jamon.
Another popular village to visit is Trevelez, with its equally dramatic setting cut into the mountainside by the Rio Trevelez. At an elevation of 1476m it is often claimed to be the highest village in Spain, or at least part of the highest municipality, and is famous for its jamon serrano which cures in the dry mountain air. Trevelez is also a frequent starting point for ascents into the highest Sierra Nevada peaks.
Further into the Eastern and Southern Alpujarras there is a striking change in the landscape where the dramatic, severe but relatively green terrain of the Guadalfeo and Cadiar valleys gives way to the open, rolling and much more arid land. The villages here share many of the characteristics of those in the west but are less visited by tourists. There are attractive places to visit among them Yegen, where Gerald Brenan lived and wrote about in his autobiography “South from Granada”- an account of rural life in Spain between the wars.
The best months for walking in Las Alpujarras are April to June and September to November when the temperatures are more temperate and the vegetation is at its most colourful. There are lots of good walks linking villages of the valleys or heading up into the Sierra Nevada plus the GR7 and GR142, which are two long distance footpaths that traverse Las Alpujarras. For further details check out our activities page.
The Costa Tropical, the name given to Granada Province’s 60km of coastline, is 25 minutes away and has dramatic scenery of rugged mountains peppered with inviting coves. From the coastal N-340 road you get spectacular views as it winds up and down between scattered seaside towns and villages. This coast is called the Costa Tropical because of the hot climate crops such as sugar cane, custard apples, avocados and mangos that are grown where the coastal plain broadens out. Here you will find the appealing resorts of Salobrena, Almunecar, La Herradura and just a 10 minute drive further on the pretty resort of Nerja.
The spectacular vista of Salobrena with its huddle of white house’s tumbling down the rocky hill topped by the shell of its Moorish castle and surrounded by a sea of sugar-cane fields dominates the coastline west of Motril. Relatively underdeveloped, due in part to the town being set back 2 kms from the sea, the long and dark-sand beach makes for a low key and relaxed destination.
Fifteen kilometers west of Salobrena is Almunecar, Granada’s biggest seaside resort which despite some high rise holiday apartments still manages to retain its “andaluz character” and is popular with Spanish and northern Europeans alike. It has a long pebbly beach, attractive old town and a vibrant scene of palm-roofed bars (many offering free tapas) and restaurants.
Beyond Almunecar, the N340 passes tracks leading down to inviting coves and quiet beaches, a few of which have welcoming bars. After 8 km the road descends into La Herradura, a fishing village resort with a pretty horseshoe-shaped bay. Its sheltered beach makes it an ideal place to swim, especially with younger children, and take in the laid back atmosphere at one of the many seafront restaurants. La Herradura is a popular place for water sports, it has a windsurfing school and several dive outfits, and also for paragliding due to the thermals that rise around the hills backing the beach.
Although part of the Malaga province, the pretty seaside resort of Nerja is worth a mention as it is only 10 minutes further along the coast from La Herradura. Nerja’s old town fans out to the north of the Balcon de Europa, a striking palm-lined seafront belvedere which offers magnificent views over the rocky coastline. The tangle of pretty narrow streets and balconies bursting with flowering geraniums, add a certain charm to Nerja which it still retains despite the summer crowds. A great walk is the Paseo de los Carabineros which winds its way for nearly a kilometer (passing a series of quieter coves) to Playa Burriana, Nerja’s biggest and best sandy beach.
Not to be missed is the spectacular natural wonder of the Cuevas de Nerja, an enormous cavern hollowed out by water around five million years ago and inhabited by Stone Age hunters around 15,000BC. The prehistoric cave paintings are off limits but there is still a lot to admire in the astonishingly huge cave with the dangling limestone stalactites and soaring stalagmites. You can attend ballet, flamenco or music concerts here when Nerja’s International Festival of Music and Dance is on in July.