Tag Archives: Alhambra

Moorish Musings

View of the Alhambra from an Albaicin terraza

If I was ever going to live in Europe again, I would definitely think about southern Spain. Having just spent another glorious week there – in beautiful Granada, Andalucía – I’ve been struck once more by its fascinating history, vibrant culture, and wonderfully laid-back atmosphere.

This time, I stayed with my good friend Paula, a writer who has a house in the very heart of the Albaicín, the old Moorish quarter of Granada. A perfect fusion of Spanish and North African cultures, the Albaicín’s rabbit warren of narrow cobbled alleyways, whitewashed walls draped with pomegranates, and dramatic views of the mighty Alhambra palace quickly recaptured my heart.

The Albaicín is truly an assault on the senses. In addition to its visual beauty, a cacophony of sounds punctuates the day. Pealing church bells jangle away periodically across the city. Laughing schoolchildren clatter down the alleys, calling to each other excitedly in high-pitched Spanish. Battered scooters vroom about intermittently, as residents expertly navigate the maze of steep narrow paths. Then in the evening, stillness – a soporific calm that envelopes the soul, broken only by the low strum of a flamenco guitar or clarinet somewhere close by.

Piononos and coffee – yum!

Then there’s the food. This time, I tasted the delight that is one of Granada’s signature pastelesthe pionono: a thin layer of pastry rolled into a cylinder, infused with super-sweet syrup and topped with toasted cream. What a treat. It’s rich and indulgent, a guilty pleasure – just like Granada itself! Impossible to have just one, though…

And oh, the tapas! On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Paula and I sat in one of the Albaicín’s picturesque squares watching the world go by with ice-cold Alhambra beers. With every order came a plate of delicious tapas: prawns, white fish, risotto, lamb morsels, all beautifully cooked and presented. Even more amazing was the bill – the beers were a mere 2 Euros apiece and the tapas were free! God, I love this place.

This was a woefully short visit, but even as I boarded the plane to head back to Melbourne, I knew I would return. Soon. Very soon.

Alhambra Dreaming

The mystical Alhambra, Granada, Spain

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.

Flamenco in the Albaicin

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.