Today we had booked a tour of the Alhambra palace and fortress near Granada. The second most visited place in Spain. We planned this as a day trip from Nerja as forecasts for Granada were in the 30’s and rising and we are enjoying the coastal cool. It was only an hour’s drive to Alhambra, a little to the east then straight uphill all the way there.
It was a pleasant drive on empty roads to Granada with the snow capped peaks of Sierra Nevada in the distance. Unbelievably for an area that gets to 40-45 degrees C in the summer, in the winter there is a ski-resort in the Sierra Nevada.
We were booked in for a guided tour at 12. We had tried to get gate tickets direct but they were sold out 3 days in advance, so this was the only option. We met our guide at the designated cafe outside, there was three tour groups meeting at the location and at 11.45 the started calling names into groups and we thought this looked like an organised group. However, it soon started to degenerate as a couple in our group despite notices when booking that you must bring ID in order to enter had not brought any and the guide agreed the whole group would wait for them to go an fetch it. We are always a little anxious about leaving the dogs despite having air conditioning in our van and do rely on things running to time. We eventually hit through the barrier 25 mins late on a 2.5hr tour.
We had both really been looking forward the Alhambra. Kevin had read the article below and we were both really intrigued to go and see this spectacular building – https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20220428-the-spanish-city-where-water-defies-gravity
However, it soon became clear that our guide, whose English was so heavily accented that we were both struggling to follow before we even got through the entrance gate, was not going to easily build inspiration in our surroundings. We have had some really excellent tours and really enjoy the in-depth knowledge you get by doing them, not to mention the opportunity to meet locals and find out more about a place.
We first toured the external gardens which had originally been vegetable gardens when this Moorish fort supported an autonomous community in defence of the many internal political battles and eventually a two year stand off against the Catholic King and Queen of Spain. Nowadays the gardens have been replanted with roses and other fragrant flowers following a 19th century renovation. Next we went into Generalife, or the “Architects Garden”. Our guide explained that originally there would be no windows in the walls and that the garden was a place for calm where the five senses were exercised. If he said that once, he honestly repeated 6-8 times as we walked round. He also held the mic so close to his mouth that he was deafening with the volume turned right down on our head pieces 😩🙄
The waterways as explain in the BBC article have not been fully restored and were originally designed to flow without noise but the garden now has fountains using electric pumps. Originally the water which was pumped several kilometres uphill using waterwheels and donkeys was used to watercolour the palace using special stone which so porous that the water leaves it cooler than when it entered and this was used throughout the complex to cool the air. It evaporates so quickly that ice was formed on the stones. Our guide referenced the water system only once and did not explain it any further.
Next we went on to the palace of Charles V, via the ruins of the Alcazaba, the oldest part of the Alhambra where a labyrinth of underground tunnels were constructed for defence. Sadly this area was subsequent wars. We were told this was Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother by our guide but Google does not appear to support this version of the story.
Sadly we unable to visit the Nazarin Palaces which is the real gem of the Moorish Royal palace preserved by tickets for this area are booked months in advance and none of the tours include this.
Charles V’s palace which was a renaissance addition to the Alhambra is somewhat out of place in the Moorish fortress architecture. The circular balcony structure is now used for music concerts due to the acoustics.
The Convent of Saint Francis has now been converted to a €300 / night hotel. The site of the tomb of Queen Isabella I is the only part you can now visit, although the tomb has now moved to Granada Cathedral.
Finally we visited part of the original fort and got to visit the watch tower (the Torre de la Vela) part of the Alcazaba built in the 12th century. The views from here to the city of Granada and the Sierra Nevada mountains were probably the highlight of the tour.
We were both a little disappointed in the tour, mostly due to the poor oration of our guide. So we decided to treat ourselves to a night out in Frigiliana for the evening, on of the prettiest Pueblo Blancos (white villages) of Andalusia just above Nerja which we had seen on TV before our visit.
As soon as we were out of the taxi, we knew we had done the right thing. A lovely meal in great surroundings. Not exactly undiscovered, but still retaining a great deal of charm and atmosphere. A lovely end to the day.
Main image taken from Wikipedia so you can see the majesty of the Alhambra viewed from Granada city.