Let’s turn back the clock:
It’s puente weekend at the end of February, 2011. Less than a week ago I didn’t know the first thing about Granada, besides that it was a city somewhere else in Andalucía and it shared a name with a UK-based TV broadcaster (naïve, ignorant, blah blah yes I know). Then, as our cherished puente approached, a teacher I worked with in El Puerto de Santa María suggested I visited for a long weekend, and take advantage of the region’s very own ski resort. ‘A ski-resort in Spain?’, was my first thought. Surely not…
One Google search later and I was booking my bus tickets and accommodation for the weekend. This was potentially a dream come true for the year ahead: stay in Spain, continue learning Spanish and go snowboarding regularly. A lot was riding on this trip.
I begin the weekend by sauntering up to the Alhambra’s public viewing area to take in the fabulous views below. The bustling El Mirador de San Nicolas– Granada’s most popular lookout –sits atop the historic and maze-like barrio of El Albaícin across the valley. The flashing (of cameras) is relentless; the view must be even better where they are.
Inside the palace, entry to which isn’t free but an equitable €15, is the intense and fascinating history of Moorish Granada, embossed within intricately carved walls, ceilings, marble-glazed fountains and centuries-old, storytelling paintings.
Such architectural ingenuity, I later discover, extends to the rest of the city; the Cathedral, hidden within the maze of pedestrianised streets side-streets, is as large and impressive as any in Spain, and an arched doorway to a cluster of official-looking offices are cast in the archetypal Moorish style.
That night it becomes evident that the nightlife is a pretty big draw too. I meet a friend who is determined to show off the city’s gastronomic prowess. The bubbling and Moroccan-faced Calle Elvira off Plaza Nueva is the choice of locale, and we eventually settle on trendy looking tapas bar Babel (C/ Elvira 40), which promises ‘a world fusion of flavours’. “What do you recommend?” I attempt in my best Spanish. “The octopus or the chicken fajitas” the cheery waiter replies in English. “But why not try both? All tapas come free with each drink!” He has a point. In fact, any tapa in any tapas bar comes free with each drink. Thus, dinner, along with three swills, costs me about €6.
I soon discover that filling up on tapas is especially important if you plan on having a night out in Granada. Bars and clubs stay open until dawn and it’s generally considered bad form to call it a night before 4am. It’s tempting to plough through and see where the night takes us, but we think better of it; tomorrow, we are going skiing.
The Sierra Nevada mountain range provides the striking backdrop to Granada, and serves as the region’s year-round adventure playground. Summer attracts climbers, hikers and mountain bikers to the rolling hills of Las Alpujarras, whereas winter brings multitudes of skiers and snowboarders, who either make the 45-minute drive from the city or travel epic distances to spend the day carving their way through the 3,393m high and 118 piste boasting ski-resort.
We are going in April, when conditions are slushy but almost warm enough to ski in just a t-shirt. We don’t, choosing instead to sweat profusely beneath our numerous layers before the day climaxes with a litre-sized jar of beer and a platter of €1 priced mini baguettes at 100 Montaditos (Plaza de Pradollano).
My second evening is almost a mirror image of the first, except this time I allow myself to carry on into the morning, at which point I have got very lost, my phone battery has died and I’ve lost everyone from the hostel.
After an hour or so of stumbling around in the dark, I still haven’t found my hostel, but I do come across a signpost for El Mirador de San Nicolas, the viewpoint that has alluded me until now. So off I go to watch the sun rise over The Alhambra, and decide, there and then, as a local drunk man attempts to speak to me in entirely incomprehensible Andaluz between swigs of his flat and lukewarm-looking litro, that I would make no mistake about it: I am going to live in Granada.