THE CITY OF THE ALHAMBRA
If there is one city in Spain which evokes the whole essence of this country, it must be Granada. A crossroads of civilizations since prehistoric times, its ideal location has turned Granada into the vibrant, bustling, cultural and welcoming metropolis it is today. The Alhambra, watching over the city from its hilltop, is the flagship of its impressive historical heritage, in a city that attracts around three million visitors each year.
Granada is the main city of its province and is located in the south east of the Iberian peninsula, in the autonomous community of Andalusia.
The city is steeped in history, but it also looks to the future. It was the last bastion of Al-Andalus from 1238 to 1492, capital city of the new Christian kingdom forged by the Catholic Monarchs and Carlos V and starting point for the Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. It has been a thriving university city since 1531 and is now the most popular destination for Erasmus students in Europe.
A stroll down the streets of Granada takes you back in time to different layers of the past, such as the Nasrid Arab Madrasa (school) alongside the impressive Gothic Royal Chapel and the Renaissance Cathedral with its imposing baroque façade. After winding your way through the intricate maze of streets with whitewashed walls on the hill of the Albaicin quarter (known as Sabika in Arab times), you can enjoy picture postcard views looking over the Alhambra against the stunning backdrop of the Sierra Nevada (which the Arabs called Sulayr, the hill of the sun), as it turns red with the dying rays of the winter sun.
The quality of Granada's cultural heritage was given recognition with the inclusion of the Alhambra of Granada in 1984 and the Albaicin in 1994 on the UNESCO World Heritage list. In 2014, Granada was named First City of Literature to acknowledge the city's role as the birthplace of writers and poets and as a source of artistic inspiration – a link which joins, for instance, writers as diverse as Federico Garcia Lorca and Alejandro Dumas.
The ancient caves in the district of Sacromonte became a melting pot where Castilian Spanish, Arabs and Gypsies blended their musical styles, giving rise to the unique style of Flamenco. Listening to a Flamenco zambra, looking for the best guitarists among the buskers in the squares around the Realejo or buying stylish garments from a Flamenco fashion shop are all unique experiences you can enjoy in Granada.
Any time is the right time to visit Granada. In spring, the gardens, woods and courtyards explode into bloom to celebrate the major feast days: Easter, the Day of the Crosses and the Corpus Christi Fair. The torrid summer nights are cooled by breezes from the River Darro valley. In autumn, the mild temperatures and sunny evenings produce spectacular sunsets. In winter, the Christmas decorations light up the market in the Plaza Bib-rambla under the stern gaze of the Cathedral tower and in Sierra Nevada, January is the ideal moment to go skiing in the kind winter sun.
Granada is a perfect city for exploring the countryside. The Valley (vega) of Granada has some delightful rural settings just 15 minutes from the city centre, with age-old tobacco drying warehouses and ancient Arab irrigation channels. The Dehesa del Generalife, next to the Alhambra, there is an amazing mountain biking trail beside the archaeological remains. The valleys of the river Darro and the Genil are also idyllic places for a hike to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.