Tuesday, March 31, 2015

48 Hours in Granada

As often as I shout my love for Madrid from a mountaintop, sometimes my soul still yearns for the magic of Andalucía. One city that has been on my heart lately is Granada. The majestic Alhambra, the bustling streets at golden hour, the captivating glimpse into Spain's Moorish past... oh yeah, and the free tapas. Granada exudes an intoxicating, mysterious charm that can't be found anywhere else in Spain.

Today I'm excited to introduce Christy Swagerty of What Up, Swags?! Christy is an American expat and volleyball player in France, who also happens to be a fellow victim of wanderlust. I've been shamelessly stalking following Christy's gorgeous Instagram for ages, and her adventures constantly inspire me to see more of Europe (and revisit the places I love the most!) 

With all of her recent travels through Spain and Morocco, Miss Swagerty really does know what's up. Here's how to make the most out of 48 hours in Granada according to the fabulous Christy!


Why Granada?

The Andalucía region in the south of Spain attracts many visitors every year to the likes of Sevilla, Málaga, Córdoba, and the white hill towns of Ronda and Arcos de la Frontera. If you’ve been considering Granada as a destination, but maybe it’s not “on the way” to your next place, I encourage you to commit to it and make it a priority to get there anyway! Find those two extra days in your itinerary or book your next free weekend for a journey into an entirely different version of Spain.

The last Moorish kingdom to fall in the Spanish Reconquista of 1492, the city still basks in its Arabic glory of the Alhambra. The natural beauty of Granada cannot be missed either, with the snowcapped Sierra Nevadas crowning the edges of the valley. In Granada, you will make friends, whether with the shopkeepers, tea brewers, bodega owners, or just the kind people on the street. Granada is best experienced on foot, as the city center doesn’t allow extra vehicles on the roads, and the crooked turns of the hills invite you to explore hidden paths at your own pace.


Day One

Morning 

The Alhambra. You’ve come all the way to Granada, and it’s only fitting that you pay tribute to the reason Granada is on the tourist map in the first place. Make sure to grab a delicious pastry at a bakery before heading up the mountain on foot, by bus, or with a taxi. Tackling the Alhambra in the morning guarantees less crowds, less heat, and a much better overall sense of meditation that the Alhambra originally graced upon its visitors.


The incredible detail in the tile mosaics, rock work, and designs will impact you with a much deeper reverence for the Moorish empire and their dedication to art, beauty, and peace. Best trick to visiting the Alhambra is to buy your tickets online in advance for a set date and time. Bring the same credit card with you to Granada, and you can withdraw your tickets at any La Caixa ATM.

Afternoon

Meander down from the Alhambra to Plaza Nueva, and pick out a café to enjoy the square and your favorite view. Get the Menú del Día, and ask the waiter to match it with a glass of local wine. This will best prepare you to unwind during your next activity at the Hammam Al-Andalus Granada.


This calming environment will refresh your tired feet and mind, and will allow you to literally immerse yourself in the ancient bathing traditions of the Moors. Most hammams and bath houses have defined schedules and routes for the guests to take, but one of the many wonderful aspects of the Hammam Al-Andalus is the freedom to be in whichever rooms or pools one wishes at any given time. Make sure to include an essential oils massage to relax your muscles or a kessa scrub for a thorough exfoliation.

Evening

Continue deeper into the Moorish world on “Tea Street": Calle Calderería Nueva. Every tea room has interesting aromatic options in addition to the classic Arabic mint tea. Take your time finding the right teteria, in between browsing the colorful Arabic leather goods and decorations.


For an Alhambra-themed tea house, try As Sirat for its intriguing and thorough tea selection. I wanted to try at least ten different flavors before finally settling on mango, and my husband drank the flower honey tea. It feels like your own quiet corner inside the grand palace. When you feel shopped out and rested up, ascend into the Sacromonte for gorgeous lit up views of the historical districts of Granada and the next phase of the night.

Late Night

As you make your way uphill from Calle Calderería Nueva to Camino del Sacromonte (via Calle San Juan de los Reyes and Cuesta del Chapiz), absorb the scenes around you. Real life is still happening in these steep cobblestone neighborhoods and cave homes. The Sacromonte is the traditionally gypsy district of Granada, and the flamenco caves draw the tourists from the valley below.


Try to book your flamenco show and dinner through the venue itself; many hotels will charge extra for bookings. Zambra María la Canastera, Zambra Flamenco Venta del Gallo, and Jardines de Zoraya all have easy to navigate websites and translated menus. If you like to wing it, you can slip in and out of the side streets of Camino del Sacromonte to pick a less-touristy zambra cave for yourself.


Day Two

Morning

Stop into a café on the Plaza Bib-Rambla for churros con chocolate before heading out on a hike in the Sierra Nevadas.


There are several trail options on Trek Sierra Nevada, from a 2-hour walk on the Cahorros trail to a much more advanced 5-hour climb on the Silleta de Padul. It will be excellent morning exercise, as well as providing incredible morning views of Granada and the surrounding areas. If you can get up early enough, it is the most magnificent sight to watch the city of Granada rise with the sun.

Afternoon

Enjoy great and filling Spanish paella at La Parrala or in one of the many cafés in the walking zones behind the Granada Cathedral. After refueling with a “café solo” (espresso) or “cortado” (short coffee with milk), take a pleasant afternoon stroll through the city center, observing the awe-inspiring Gothic and Renaissance architecture of the Cathedral & Royal Chapel and Monastery of San Jerónimo.


Evening

Fall captive to the Spanish siesta - you’ll probably need it after hiking the Sierra Nevadas! It can feel strange to take a nap in the very late afternoon/early evening, but it really is the best time to rest in Spain because not very many sights or restaurants are open. A couple of hours of sleep will rejuvenate your Spanish spirit, and you will wake up just in time to get ready to go out for dinner and enjoy the night for as long as you want! Alternatively, if you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can hike-wander into El Albayzín for more great views of Granada and tucked away homes with beautiful gardens.


Late Night

For an amazing tapas and wine experience in Granada, go meet Fuensanta at La Bodeguilla de Al Aldo. Walk up around 10:00pm on a Saturday night, and you will barely get through the door, it will be so packed. When you finally do manage to get inside, a dark-haired lady will come down the steps of her two-tiered bar to see what you need.

Everyone in the bodeguilla has a genuinely wonderful time together, eating, drinking, talking, laughing, being together. The energy is unmatched in the big city cafés of Madrid and Málaga; this is an intimate setting with intimate friends, and you will get to be a part of it. Just remember; after what you think will be your last glass of wine, Fuensanta will probably pour you another one!


Granada can be experienced on the surface in two days easily. But it is likely that you will fall in love with this beautiful place, where Moorish culture and history are showcased through a Spanish lens. After climbing to new heights, soaking in the hammam, and tasting the delights of Granada, you will want to plan your next stay to last much longer than just 48 hours.


BIO: Christy Swagerty, “Swags,” is an American expat volleyball player and travel blogger in France. Swags and her basketball coach husband, Marc, love living abroad, learning languages, trying new foods, hanging out at the Eiffel Tower, and taking advantage of the unique opportunity to explore Europe and the world through sports. You can join their Volleyball = Travel adventure on What Up, Swags?!, Twitter, and Instagram.

13 comments:

  1. A beautiful 48 hours! I wish I could be sitting under those gorgeous lanterns drinking mint tea right now! This looks like an amazing place to explore - would it be safe to travel alone with a small child there?

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  2. Ahhh last time in Spain I really wanted to visit Granada, but unfortunately ran out of time! Dang, this makes me sad that I didn't! Hhaha now I'll just have to make it a point to go back!

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  3. I agree with your point of view of this article. This is a good article. Very timely given us so much useful information. Thank you!

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  4. Great post! I just recently visited Granada for the first time and completely fell in love with the beautiful city! I just shared my first post of my blog :)

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  5. Love this post! Granada sure does look amazing :) It's great when you can see the best of a city in a short time but it leaves you wanting more!

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  6. Beautiful photographs. I really need to get a lot of Spain in my life this year - it looks incredible :)

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  7. What a great blogger to feature, I'm totally going to check out her blog right now! And I know so little about Granada although there are many Italians who vacation there and have always spoken about what a great destination it is. Great post from her, thanks for sharing!

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  8. Hey Madaline! Granada is a FABULOUS place for anyone and everyone, and I think your toddler will adore the beautiful colors and sights all around! The Alhambra might be a bit exhausting to climb, but the city itself is full of beauty, and very safe. I found Granada was a really comfortable blend of Arab culture with Spanish familiarity, and served as the perfect launching pad for my Morocco trip afterwards! Totally recommend it!

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  9. Hi Jessi! Yes, Spain is just one magnificent love affair. I mean, I adore Paris, but Spain. The Californian I am just can't get enough of it!

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  10. Thank you so much! :) Granada is everything great that people say it is, and more! :)

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  11. I love Christy and this guide is amazing!

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  12. Ahhh finding this at the perfect time! Heading to Spain next month and I was umm-ing & ahh-ing about whether or not to bother with Granada - I'm now convinced! Beautiful photos too, by the way!

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