‘I visited the most beautiful city in Spain and immediately fell in love’

By Staff

Lucy Thornton explores Andalucia and the glorious city of Granada, which is full of breathtaking centuries-old buildings and diverse neighbourhoods that exist in a relatively quiet world outside the thronged walls of the Alhambra

It has been voted the most beautiful city in Spain, so it’s not surprising we fell in love with Granada too. And the jewel in its crown of attractions is, of course, the Alhambra.

Constructed on a plateau that overlooks the city, the magnificent Moorish palace and UNSECO world heritage site, full of courtyards and fountains, attracts millions of visitors from all around the world every year.

Its name in Arabic translates as ‘the red one’, due to the fiery hue of its walls and it is split into three sections: the Alcazaba (fortress), the Palacios Nazaríes (Nasrid Palaces), and the Generalife (palace gardens). You could dedicate the best part of a day to visit this romantic complex and take in all of its artistry.

But it wasn’t just this awesome fortress that thrilled us during our trip to the sun-kissed region of Andalucia. We were charmed by Granada’s breathtaking centuries-old buildings and diverse neighbourhoods that exist in a relatively quiet world outside the thronged walls of the Alhambra.

The streets below are a treasure trove of shops and cafes. It is also one of the strongholds of the Spanish tradition of bars offering free tapas with your drinks, so grab a stool and enjoy the chance to graze on tasty little dishes.

We also spent hours wandering the marble and pebbled streets, stopping for lunch followed by a gut-busting hot chocolate and churros treat. It’s a steep walk down to the heart of the city when you decide to park almost in the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains, but one which was so good it was worth the effort.

After getting my breath back, it was taken away again by my favourite building – the cavernous Granada Cathedral.

This giant structure, and one of Spain’s largest cathedrals, emerged in turbulent times in 1523, after The Grand Mosque was demolished, and took 181 years to build. Its interior is huge with 20 vast white piers rising from a black-and-white tiled floor to a ceiling capped by a 100ft high dome.

Away from Granada, Andalucia is a region of contrasts.

You can enjoy traditional Spanish seaside resorts – think more Benalmadena than Benidorm – and within a few miles the grandeur of the snow-topped Sierra Nevada mountains. Of course, we were more interested in the 600 miles of beaches on the coastline than anything more athletic, after all, people break legs going skiing. I’m much happier when the biggest danger to health is more churros.

We also visited Salobrena – a gorgeous whitewashed town perched on top of a huge rock and topped with a Moorish castle.

I loved the laid-back Spanish atmosphere in this historic beachside settlement with its maze of dazzling houses. Known as the Jewel of the Costa Tropical it towers over the vast sands below and has easy parking and many restaurants.

We opted for Restaurante El Penon which protrudes into the sea on a rocky peninsula. With a prime location like this, this destination restaurant is often fully booked so you have to be organised if you want a table in the summer months.

Luckily, we visited out of season so we were able to sample their famous fresh fish. Their sardine skewers are cooked on a wood fire in an adapted rowing boat outside their front door.

From the tables in the restaurant, it almost feels as if you’re dining out at sea with near-360 degree views of the ocean. It is a setting so blissful, with the waves crashing outside. The menu, which includes sizzled squid, seared tuna, crab and octopus, is spectacular.

Our base for the trip was a villa in the rural outskirts of the town of Padul, which has wonderful mountain views, and is a great jumping off point for visiting the interesting local towns. Prehistoric times here were perhaps the most significant for Padul, since the remains of two mammoths from this period were unearthed here near its lagoon in 1982. The huge animal is now the image of the town of Padul.

You won’t see much of the lake over the bulrushes but you will learn about the region’s prehistoric heritage and you can take a walk around its very own mammoth trail.Further down the valley is Niguelas, which also sits in the national park of Sierra Nevada.

The romantic gardens next to the town hall play host to many community events and there are fabulous views of the valley below.

Take one of the many hiking trails if you’re feeling energetic or then relax and refuel at the gorgeous rural hotel and restaurant Alqueria de Los Lentos. Rooms here feel homely and romantic with wood beams, white-washed walls and brightly decorated throws on the beds.

You can also pick a themed break, one of the options being oil tourism, which is of the olive variety, where you can enjoy olive tasting sessions and pick the fruits from century-old trees. The hotel will even arrange excursions of hang-gliding and paragliding over the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, or a road bike experience, taking in its highest peak, Mulhacén at 11,424ft.

The hotel restaurant is a real treat, brimming with dishes such as crispy artichokes, octopus leg and grilled cuttlefish.

Surrounded by bougainvillaea the restored 16th century grain mill is as pretty outside as in and the surrounding terraces are the perfect place to take in the views and reflect on a destination well chosen.

Book the holiday

  • Vueling flights from Gatwick to Granada start on April 3, from £32 one-way. vueling.com
  • Rooms at Alqueria de Los Lentos hotel in Niguelas, near Granada, start at £54 a night. alqueriadeloslentos.com
  • More info at spain.info

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