I’ve just returned from one of the most magical places on Earth. The mighty Alhambra in the Spanish province of Granada is a dreamy blend of exquisite medieval Moorish palaces and calm-inducing gardens, standing proudly atop a plateau on the Assabica hill south-east of the city. It’s not one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but it should be.
I’d always dreamt of visiting the Alhambra in the golden warmth of a balmy Andalusian afternoon. But, alas, the rain descended from early morning, sluicing down Granada’s cobbled streets and threatening to wash away any hopes of a truly magical experience (and any decent photographs!).
I needn’t have worried. As I rambled through the vast Alhambra site, marvelling at the intricate architecture, Arabic inscriptions and geometrical patterns, the perfectly-positioned colonnades and pavilions, and endless gardens showing off their golden and russet autumn colours, I found myself indulging in the most incredible feast of the senses. The rain actually enhanced this sensory overload, heightening the smells of the flowers and shrubs, and leaving the ancient stones and brick glistening magically in the half light.
Pausing in the Generalife, a 14th-century summer palace and gardens where the Nasrid Emirs (kings) would escape their daily stresses and strifes, I was struck by how quiet it was up here. Only the steady trickle of the fountains filled the air, lulling the senses into a soporific peace. How those Moors must have loved this haven in the heart of Andalucia, a rare treasure indeed.
Later, in a picturesque cobbled square in Granada’s Albaicin quarter, I mused over my afternoon with a glass of vino blanco and some tapas. As I sat in my reverie, a striking raven-haired woman in a crimson dress quietly lay a wooden board down on the cobbles nearby and, accompanied by a singer and guitarist who slid silently into view from a side alley, began the most beautiful impromptu flamenco dance. Her whole body moved as one with the music, with an intensity and feeling that appeared to totally consume her. It was captivating. And after the sensuality of the Alhambra, it was the perfect punctuation to a truly magical day.