I have always wanted to visit the South of Spain. I imagined what it would be like to befriend the locals and eat traditional food. I was lucky to befriend Lola, a former colleague and now a good friend who is from Gualchos - a delightful town at the South Eastern tip of Spain.
When I told her how much I would love to visit the region, she was kind enough to let me accompany her on one of her trips back home as we both currently live in London. I will also shamelessly admit that certain movies featuring road-trips across Spain also made me want to experience all that floss portrayed for myself.
We were hosted by Lola’s sister, Alicia in Granada. This city is the capital of the province of Granada, in the autonomous community of Andalusia, Spain. Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains which are clearly visible as you land in Granada. It’s also only an hour by road from the Mediterranean coast, Costa Tropical.
The city's symbol: Everywhere we walked in Granada, we saw pomegranate imagery: in drawings and paintings; on signs, pottery; as statues, fountains and embedded into pavements and the road. While I thought this was some intricate design in this delightful, buzzing city, Lola told me that the pomegranate (in Spanish it's known as Granada) is the heraldic device of Granada and hence a proud symbol.
The Alhambra palace: As much as the word' must-see is debatable in my travel dictionary, the Alhambra, a Moorish citadel and palace, sits on a hill proudly in the heart of the city. It is the most renowned building of the Andalusian Islamic historical legacy with its many cultural attractions that make Granada a popular destination among the touristic cities of Spain, therefore, a must-see indeed.
The Alhambra is Granada’s love letter to Moorish culture, a place where fountains trickle, leaves rustle, and ancient spirits seem to mysteriously linger. Part palace, part fort, part World Heritage site, part lesson in medieval architecture, the Alhambra has long enchanted a never-ending line of visitors. For me, spending the day here was like walking through a pleasant dream.
The Alhambra takes its name from the Arabic al-qala’a al-hamra (the Red Castle). The first palace on the site was built by Samuel Ha-Nagid, the Jewish grand vizier of one of Granada’s 11th-century Zirid sultans.
This palace is a soothing arrangement of pathways, patios, pools, fountains, tall trees and, roses of every imaginable hue. Climb the steps outside the courtyard to the Escalera del Agua, a delightful bit of garden engineering, where you will find roses of every colour, Spanish orange trees and water flowing along a shaded staircase. Ensure you book your tickets ahead of your trip to avoid disappointment.
People: The people are very friendly and those in the market will try their best to win you over with their grand and unique designs of lanterns, tea and various moorish influenced souvenirs. The city is also well-known within Spain for the University of Granada which is why it has many students and possibly the reason for growing vibrant bars and restaurants.
Food: I let Lola and Alicia order for me as there’s nothing better than eating what the locals recommend. On our first night in Granada, we were offered free croquettes (chicken, béchamel and parsley) from the staff while we waited for the mains. The concept of a large main is very rare in Spain.
The numerous small dishes (tapas) are usually shared and go well with a pint of the local beer. Boiled or fried quail’s eggs and potatoes are very popular on the tapas menu.
From the street, I had Pionono- a custard based dessert that’s fresh and has a pleasant aftertaste.
The simple breakfast is what won me over – strong coffee, fresh tomato puree spread over crusty bread with a splash of olive oil and black pepper. Lola’s mother was wonderful and made a delightful tortilla (Spanish omelette) with aubergines. There was homemade avocado puree with a hint of garlic too.
Overall, it was a simply beautiful and peaceful experience for me- right from strolling about the markets in Granada, to picking oranges and almonds from trees with Lola's mother one summery, breezy morning while watching the Mediterranean Sea at a distance, accompanied with the snow capped Sierra Nevada range on the other side of Gualchos. I am also glad I visited these non-touristy parts of Southern Spain as compared to cities like Malaga, which are flooded by tourists every summer with a few chippies near the beaches.
Getting there: Flights operate from London City aiport to Granada 3-4 times a week. Renting a car to get around is recommended, although we got the bus from Granada to Motril to get to Gualchos which was only a 1.5 hour journey.