Beyond The Alhambra Palace - Exploring Andalucia

(No reviews yet)
0.00 Grams
Current Stock:

A typical day in Andalucia: you’re driving through a tiny village with traditional whitewashed cottages and you brake hard as a goat herder leads his flock across the road. The goat herder, and his goats of course, are in no real hurry and waiting patiently I notice that we’re idling outside a bar simply called “Miguel’s”. It’s an omen. I turn the engine off and we wander in and grab an outside table to watch a bit of village life - it might be too early for a drink but the locals don’t seem to care, so a beer it is. Even after just a couple of days in southern Spain, the “chill factor” has well and truly kicked in. This was just the first stop on a driving tour of Andalucia at the village of Alhama de Granada at the top of a stunning mountain range overlooking a gorge revealed a labyrinth of traditional whitewashed cottages. The local men, as they tend to do in this part of the world, congregate outside the church in the main square to chat and smoke cigarettes, and a wayward donkey is rounded up casually by its owner and led away, presumably to the local market. 

The Alhambra Palace

Authentic village life, grand architecture, dreamy landscapes and pretty beaches; Andalucia is a world far removed from modern life, making it easy to become sidetracked by such diversions. The pace of life may seem endearingly slow at times but it’s important to build in extra time to fully experience the culture and essence of a proud region which is slightly bigger in area than Tasmania. Ahead of us lay the highlight of our trip and one of Europe’s most inspiring architectural wonders - the magnificent Alhambra Palace in the city of Granada. We had to leave the charm of Alhama behind and push on, and after a relaxing drive through the mountainous countryside, we hit the outskirts of Granada. And that’s when it becomes obvious what all the fuss is about. The Alhambra Palace dominates the skyline, and overlooks the bustling city with an austere presence. It’s the finest example of Moorish architecture in the world and its scale is overwhelming such that even the Andalucians describe it as a “must see” which needs at least a full day to explore the maze of palaces, fortresses, churches, gardens, and plazas.We’d booked a room at the famous Alhambra Palace Hotel to become immersed in the stylish Islamic elegance that pervades the monument. Overlooking the city of Granada and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, at night the hotel provides a commanding view of the city bathed in the silvery glow of the vivid snow-capped peaks. It’s a breathtaking prelude to the Alhambra Palace itself where photographers from around the world lament the fact that it’s almost impossible to capture its scale and grandeur. 

A Brief History Of Andalucia

To understand the history of the Alhambra, is to grasp the history of Andalucia itself. The Moors arrived in the region in 711AD and made Granada one of their strongholds. It’s believed construction of the Alhambra in its current form began in 1238 under an Islamic dynasty and continued until 1492 when the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel conquered Granada. This naturally meant a change in architectural style. During the 18th and part of the 19th century it fell into disrepair until it was declared a national monument in 1870. At every turn within the fortressed walls of the Alhambra is a piece of history which typifies the Andalucian heart. At the end of the day we found ourselves in an area called the Generalife - a massive garden complex with flowers, courtyards with fountains, and serene gazebos which were used by the medieval rulers as an escape from the summer heat. Slightly disoriented and very weary, we headed for the nearest exit hoping to stumble back to the hotel. Instead we found ourselves at the top of the Albaicin - a neighbourhood at the foot of the Alhambra which is a maze of narrow streets, white walled homes and Moorish handicrafts and art laid out on street corners. But it’s the tapas bars which draws the locals into the area. Each drink is accompanied by a small plate of food and is another great way to sample some of the street culture. 

The Road To The Costa Del Sol

From Granada to Andalucia’s famous coastline is a short 60 kilometre journey, prompting locals to brag that it is possible to swim in the ocean and ski in the same day, and which sweeps through the impressive Sierra Nevadas. With a peak of 3,400 metres, it also means the route to sea level resembles an asphalt downhill ski run; within an hour the bright blue Mediterranean opens up. The Costa del Sol, or Sun Coast, attracts millions of tourists each year, among them package-deal Brits and Germans which has led to an abundance of high-rise and neon in some former fishing villages such as Torremolinos and Marbella. They can be tacky or humorous places to people-watch the sunburnt northern Europeans on holiday, but for a low-key and local beach resort experience, a short drive east of the Costa del Sol is the Costa Tropical. Pretty seaside villages such as La Herradura and Salobreña have yet to experience the mass tourism that can affect its more brash neighbours on the Costa del Sol. Azure blue water, uncrowded beaches, friendly tapas bars and relaxed and charming hotels like La Tartana in Herradura are a feature of the Costa Tropical. The design at La Tartana is modelled on the Moorish influence of the Alhambra Palace, with a resident cat usually the first to welcome guests as they step into the courtyard. 

Not Quite Malaga

While the Andalucian coastline is the major drawcard in this part of the world, its “Parque Naturals” are becoming increasingly popular with visitors. The Spanish locals have embraced this form of eco-tourism and we headed for the Parque Natural Montes de Malaga just north of Malaga City and is an ideal stopover on the day before a flight home. The park features several walking trails which provide a relaxing mix of fir trees and roadside wild flowers and local bird life and is a real nature lovers’ haven. Some of the natural parks have hostels as the only accommodation but we chose the Montes de Malaga because of the Hotel Humaina, a charming three star with a lovely pool which overlooks the forest. It doesn’t take long to absorb the region’s rich history, gastronomic delights such as tapas and locally made wine and sherry, stunning mountain scenery, fabulous beaches and sheer natural beauty, and it’s no wonder Andalucians believe they’ve inherited a slice of heaven.


Ben Hall