The Moorish charms of the Alhambra in Granada – Spain

I might have realised that the Alhambra in Granada is one of the foremost tourist attractions of Spain when we arrived late morning to be told that all tickets for the palace were sold out. What a disappointment! Apparently you need to book online for the Alhambra, sometimes many days ahead, or arrive early when it opens to buy one of the few tickets that they sell on the day.

View from the Alhambra tower in Granada

View from the Alhambra tower

If you don’t get a ticket for the palace, you should still do as we did and take the ticket to look around the gardens and grounds, including the courtyard of the Genaralife and the walk along the battlements with a commanding view over the city. If ever you felt the power of the rulers of the Alhambra, it would be up there at the top of the tower, with the plains stretching before you and the palace behind you, with the flags flying in the breeze. No wonder they named it the Torre del Homenaje or the Tower of Homage.

The Tower of Homage at Alhambra in Granada

The Tower of Homage at Alhambra in Granada

We nearly didn’t come to Granada, as the day before we’d visited El Chorro in the pouring rain and  we couldn’t face another day of damp sightseeing. But luckily the sky was blue as we left Malaga, although as we got nearer the Sierra Nevada, the clouds were gathering again. There were a few light showers, but nothing to slow us down and later the sky brightened and we sat in the courtyard under the battlements in the sunshine, sipping a beer (Brian) a coffee (Ana) and a Magnum ice cream (Marilyn and me).

View of the Nasrid Palace in the Alhambra in Granada

View of the Nasrid Palace in the Alhambra in Granada

First we visited the Genaralife, a moorish villa with courtyard surrounded by gardens that overlooks the main Nasrid Palaces. We passed through the huge, sculpted hedges, next to the area where they have a stage and seating for concerts in summer and climbed the water stairway, where channels of water cascade down on each side of the steps punctuated by small fountains. In the gardens of the Generalife in particular, the sound of running water was everywhere in jets, fountains, pools and water channels. In the heat of the Spanish summer, this was the place where the Moorish kings came to relax and feel the cooler mountain air, serenaded by the music of running water.

Generalife Courtyard at the Alhambra in Granada

Generalife Courtyard at the Alhambra in Granada

The Alhambra complex was begun in the 13th century by the Moorish rulers of Granada, starting with Muhammad I who brought his court here and followed by Muhammad V who constructed the Palace of the Lions. In 1492, however, the Moorish rulers surrendered the palace to the forces of the Catholic monarchs, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castille and in the 16th Century King Charles V constructed his palace alongside the older Moorish ones.

As we didn’t get into the palace, we missed out on the beautiful tiled interiors, elegant courtyards  and ornate Arabic style carved stonework, although we got a taste of it in the Generalife. In early summer it would be perfect, to feel the heat of the sun tempered by the shady walkways and topiary and the sound of running water everywhere.

Fountains in the gardens of the Alhambra in Granada

Fountains in the gardens of the Alhambra in Granada

By the time we had walked everywhere, seen practically every bit of the garden, climbed every stairway and taken in every view, it was mid afternoon and we decided to go down into Granada to get something to eat. The guides advised us not to drive down into the city, but instead to either walk down the pathway that leads to the old town or to take one of the small buses that go up and down the hill (€1.20 each way). As the bus was just leaving we took that and ended up wandering around a while in the alleyways of Granada trying to decide which of the many Tapas bars to choose. We ended up in one called Tabernas Salinas which was large and packed, but we stood at the bar, hanging our bags and coats on to one of the many hooks that lined the walls, and were treated to some free tapas with our drinks as we waited for a table to become free.

Tapas bar in Granada

Tapas bar in Granada

Tapas bar in Granada

Tapas bar in Granada

Eventually we were seated around 4pm (when the kitchen is normally closing in Spain) and chose from the many delicious dishes – mine was Pimentos del Piquillio relianos de Bacalao or stuffed red peppers filled with a paste of salt cod with a seafood sauce. The others had grilled octopus and stuffed aubergines, washed down with the local red wine. We didn’t have much time to see anything else of the city, but returned back up the hill to our parked car on the same mini bus – they need to be small to turn the corners in the narrow streets.

I had previously visited Alhambra with the family over 10 years ago when we stayed in a campsite just up the valley looking towards the Sierra Nevada, and I have a picture of us all in front of one of those fountains in the courtyard of the palace. Next time I visit it will be in the early summer to stay in the luxurious Parador hotel in the Alhambra grounds and to wander around in the warm evening air, to the music of fountains, as if I owned the place – I wish!

Visitor information for the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

Book tickets in advance for the Alhambra – highly recommended, especially in high season, or alternatively arrive at opening time and hope for the best. If you don’t get a ticket for the palace, you should still take the ticket to see the gardens, including the Generalife and the towers.

Plan your visit on the official Granada tourism website for Alhambra

The Tapas bar where we ate was Tabernas Salinas in Granada. I recommend it for the lively atmosphere, tapas at the bar and the delicious light dishes of the restaurant

If you’d like to stay in luxury in the Parador, set in a former convent  in the grounds of Alhambra, you can compare prices and book the Parador de Granada Hotel on Hotels Combined.

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From Malaga to El Chorro in the rain – Spain

March 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Costa del Sol, Europe, Leisure, Nature, Spain

We drove inland from Malaga towards El Chorro, a steep canyon set in a Natural Reserve, about an hour’s drive from the coast. As we got closer, orange and lemon groves gave way to rocky outcrops, dotted with yellow gorse and groves of stunted pines. I’d hoped for a sunny spring break, but today it was pouring with rain and we had to rub the condensation from the windows to get anything of a view.

Reservoir at El Chorro

Reservoir at El Chorro

As we turned off into the National Park area we drove alongside the huge reservoir, one of several connected reservoirs in the area, it’s blue-green waters turned muddy brown from the constant downpour. It looked as if the water was high and the bushes along the shoreline were starting to get submerged. We turned off the road with the view of the reservoir on winding roads through a landscape of smooth rocks and boulders where my Spanish friend Ana told us that you might find a pleasant spot to stop for a picnic in the springtime.

Before long we were all starting to feel a little queazy as the car wound it’s way round the curving route and finally we ascended to a resevoir, set high up with a sheer drop on one side down to the valley. There was a path all around the resevoir where you might walk around on a sunny day, although on this windswept day it only got out of the car to take a brief photo.

El Camino del Rey at El Chorro

El Camino del Rey at El Chorro

We reached the place where the gorge narrows into a steep canyon where the only way to pass is on a precipitous broken path known as El Caminito del Rey, that we could trace high up along the wall. As parts of it are completely broken away, you’d be foolhardy to attempt it without the security of climbing ropes but we saw a group of climbers down below preparing to climb up to it. The path was originally constructed in 1905  to enable hydro-electric workers to access different parts of the gorge, but in recent years the local government has closed it following several deaths, and plans to repair the path.

At the side of the canyon there’s a train tunnel bored through the mountain with a green metal gantry bridge that was used as a film location in the second world war movie, Von Ryan’s Express, in which Frank Sinatra is shot running across the bridge trying to jump on the train and escape into Switzerland.

Further on we reached another viewpoint where you could look in both directions down the valley, to the open plains in one direction and down to another resevoir at the bottom of the valley. Apparently they pump water up from one resevoir at night time when the electricity is cheap and then use it to generate hydro-electric power in the daytime. As we stood there, we spotted five eagles drifting on the up currents from the valley and then they soared past us, one by one with just an occasional sweep of their feather fronded wings. With the rain continiuing to lash down, we didn’t linger there but drove down to the resevoir at the bottom of the valley where there are several hotels and cafes.

Jamon at El Chorro

Jamon at El Chorro

My friend Ana passed by the cafes with the coaches outside and drove on to an unassuming small hotel where she had eaten before. I’ve learned that in Spain you can’t judge a restaurant by the outside, and the patron moved a table into the bar area in front of the open fire, where traditional legs of cured ham were hanging.

The patron brought us a few different dishes to try, including a gratin of spinach topped with egg and cheese and wild boar cooked slowly in red wine, which Ana drank with a small glass of Anis liquer that she said was good to keep out the cold. Outside the hotel, the reservoir had elegant wrought iron railings and the last time my friend had been there in the summer, she said that children had been jumping into the water for a swim.

It was unfortunate that with the pouring rain, we hadn’t been able to appreciate the views and mountain scenery or enjoy some of the hiking and adventure activities that are to be found in this area. The reserve which is well known in Spain and Europe as a playground for rock climbers, as well as being a centre for many other outdoor activities, such as mountain biking and paragliding.

Lunch in the hotel at El Chorro

Lunch in the hotel at El Chorro

Visitor Information

You can reach the area by bus or train from the coast, but it’s difficult to get there and back in a day without a car, so if you’re relying on public transport you may need to find local accommodation for a couple of nights. If you’re looking for accommodation, you might try this campsite at El Chorro, that also has a bunkhouse and cottages, or there are a number of guest houses, lodges and small hotels in the area if you search online.

Compare prices and book hotels near Malaga with Hotels Combined

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Where Heather travelled in 2010

As one year ends and another begins, I review my travelling year at Heather on her travels and highlight the places I’ve visited and things I’ve enjoyed. What’s on my New Year list? Seeing some more of Scandanavia, back to visit my sister on Zakynthos, some explorations of northern Egypt with a friend who’s in Alexandria (avoiding pyramids at all costs), hunting out more hidden corners of England and any other interesting opportunities that come my way. Here’s what I enjoyed in 2010;

January brings a stay at the Mandarin Oriental and tea at Kensington Palace

January and February are the dreary months weatherwise in England but there’s still plenty to enjoy in London, where many museums and galleries are free and indoor attractions come into their own. I was brought up in London often popping back to visit my parents, and I spent a delightful weekend with my daughter at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hyde Park, where we were treated like princesses, ate Princess Diana’s favourite crab cakes and went shopping at Top Shop on Oxford street, that favourite of teenagers. A little later in the month and I was back in London to meet a friend, when we spent the day at Kensington Palace, admiring Princess Diana’s frocks, encountering a former palace resident, the Countess of Marlbrough and treating ourselves to afternoon tea at the Orangery.

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To Kensington Palace and tea at the Orangery
A suite for a princess at the Mandarin Oriental – video
Affordable Luxuries at the Mandarin Oriental
Weekend at the Mandarin Oriental – podcast

Entrance at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London

Entrance at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London

February – and we’re nearly snowed in at our Welsh country cottage in the Brecon Beacons

In a contrast to city life we got a breath of fresh air in February in the half term holidays when we found a cosy Welsh cottage in the Brecon Beacons. My thoughts of spring sunshine and daffodils were lost in a fall of snow that almost threatened to maroon us half way up the mountain, even though the fields around Crickhowell at the bottom of the valley were still grassy green. The children loved our snowy break with walks along the quarry tracks on the slopes above our cottage, making snow angels and sliding in the snow down the steep hillside.

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A snowy break at Laswern Fawr holiday in the Brecon Beacons, Wales

Snowy sheep at Laswern Fawr cottage, Nr Crickhowell, Brecon Beacons, Wales

Snowy sheep at Laswern Fawr cottage, Nr Crickhowell, Brecon Beacons, Wales

March – and we take a creative break in Manchester

You may think that Manchester is all about nightlife, football and shopping, but I discovered Manchester’s arty side on a weekend break hosted by Creative Tourist, staying at the stylish, modern MacDonald Hotel, Manchester. We observed Manchester’s industrial past proudly on display and buzzed around on the new Metrolink that took us out to Salford Quay to seek out the pictures of LS Lowry, Manchester’s favourite son and the moving Don McCullin Images of War exhibition at the Imperial War museum just opposite. We completed our whistlestop exploration of Manchester’s museum scene with a close up of the Mona Lisa, naked as you’ve never seen her before (well without her varnish anyway). Before we left we just managed to fit in a Sunday morning stroll around the Northern Quarter, all vintage and street-art. I’m looking forward to being back in Manchester in March for Travel Bloggers Unite.

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Up close with the Mona Lisa at MOSI in Manchester
Getting to know LS Lowry at The Lowry in Manchester
Shaped by war – Don McCullin at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester

The Lowry Arts Centre in Manchester

The Lowry Arts Centre in Manchester

April when we stay at a Cotswold Country Inn and take a dip in the Roman Baths

A weekend break in the country drew us out of Bristol again with a promise of picture perfect pale stone Cotswold loveliness. The Kings Head Inn at Bledington, proved charmingly English, set on a village green complete with babbling brook and quacking ducks, with views over the fields from our bedroom window. We tramped across the muddy fields to Stow on the Wold for tea, but returned in time to have supper by the open fire in the bar. Later that month I was in Bath, showing my daughter’s French exchange friend all the tourist sites, including some I’d never seen such as the Roman Baths which are a must see for any visitor. Sometimes you have to be a tourist in your own back yard.

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Cotswold country charm at the Kings Head Inn at Bledington – Video
Fancy a dip at the Roman Baths at Bath?

The Roman Baths in Bath

The Roman Baths in Bath

May – and we seek the sun on the Greek island of Zakynthos

In May I finally got the sunshine I was longing for in our annual visit to my sister who runs the Windmill Studios Hotel and Windmill Bay Hotel in Argassi with her Greek husband Denis. We’d seen plenty of things over the 20 years we’ve been going but still managed to find a few we hadn’t tried yet, like the a visit to the Monastery of St Denis, the island’s patron saint, with a quick stop to photograph the famous Smuggler’s cove at Navagio. We also loved the day we spent on a boat trip around Laganas bay, known for it’s loggerhead turtles. We didn’t spot any turtles this time but we had a great time jumping off the boat and swimming in sea caves in the refreshing turquoise water.

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Visiting St Denis Monastery on Zakynthos – in Greece
13 Zante – my Greek island holiday – podcast
A turtle spotting boat trip on Zante – in Greece

In Zante town harbour, Zakynthos, Greece

In Zante town harbour, Zakynthos, Greece

June and we’re going underground into Churchill’s London war-rooms

I was back in London with my son to visit my parents and we spent an afternoon visiting the Churchill war rooms, near Horseguard’s Parade. It was a facinating glimpse of the war operations conducted here by Churchill in his secret underground bunker, with offices and sleeping quarters for Churchill and large numbers of his war staff, and war maps and telephones still laid out, as well as a museum devoted to Churchill’s life. This is a London attraction that deserves to be better known, especially for those interested in history, and could be combined with a visit to nearby Buckingham Palace, St James Park and Horseguards Parade.

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Into Churchill’s underground bunker – Churchill war rooms in London

Churchill War Rooms in London

Churchill War Rooms in London

July – we make a pilgrimage to Altötting and see the passion play at Oberammergau

July was a special month as we took a trip to Bavaria in Southern Germany, to see the famous Passion play at Oberammergau. The Passion Play only takes place every 10 years and has been performed by the residents of the Bavarian Town since 1632, when they made a vow to perform a passion play if the village was spared the plague that was then ravaging Germany. The play is performed in a modern auditorium, with an extremely professional production of choral singing telling the dramatic story of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Afterwards we were also able to wander around the town itself to see the painted houses and wood carvings against the backdrop of stunning Alpine scenery. We also stayed for a couple of days in the pilgrimage town of Altötting, where we saw the small shrine of the Black Madonna in the town square, as well as the many other beautiful churches in the town, and hired bikes to seek out the badesee or local swimming lake.

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12 Oberammergau Passion Play and Altötting in Bavaria – Podcast
A pilgrimage to see the Black Madonna at Altötting in Germany
Painted houses and wood carving at Oberammergau – in Bavaria, Germany

Pilatus House in Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany

Pilatus House in Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany

July in Malaga – seafood on the beach on the Costa del Sol

Later in July I flew to the south of Spain to stay with a friend at Benelmadena near Malaga on the Costa Del Sol. This is a region of Spain that’s full of British expats and beloved of the English package holiday makers as well as many Spanish families on holiday, and as a consequence the coastline has been highly developed in recent years. We spent our time eating seafood in the many beach restaurants known as Chiringuitos and escaped for a day into the hills behind Marbella to visit the pretty village of Ojén, one of the many Pueblos Blancos or white hill villages that you can visit in Andalucia.

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A visit to Ojén – the Pueblos Blancos of Andalucia
Gaudi glitz at the Puerto Marina – Benalmadena, Spain
Seafood on the beach at the Chiringuito in Spain

Sardine barbeque on the beach at Fuengirola

Sardine barbeque on the beach at Fuengirola

August – and we head for Hungary for a family holiday in Budapest and Lake Balaton

For our family holiday we headed for Hungary, spending a couple of days in Budapest before driving to Lake Balaton, a large freshwater lake that’s a very popular holiday destination for Hungarians and Germans. In Budapest we drove out to Memento park to see enormous statues that had been preserved from Budapest’s communist era, climbed up to the Fisherman’s bastion and went for a swim on Margaret Island. On the Southern shores of Lake Balaton, we based ourself at the friendly Hullam Hostel in Révfülöp and visited the castle at Sigliget, the palace at Keszthely and floated among the water lilies in the thermal lake at Heviz, as well as taking a ferry trip across the lake to the busier resorts on the southern shore.

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Thermal springs and rubber rings at Hévíz – in Hungary
The Festetics Palace and the marzipan museum at Keszthely – in Hungary
Memento park – Icons of Budapest’s communist past

At Memento Park near Budapest

At Memento Park near Budapest

September – far a walking break in the French Alps  on the Tour de Mont Blanc

As the summer holidays finished I took an early September break with my friend Julia to walk in the mountains above Chamonix on the Tour de Mont Blanc Trail. This long distance circular path normally takes 12 days to walk through the mountains of Switzerland, France and Italy around the Mont Blanc mountain range, but we did a cut down mini-version in 3 days. We hiked up above the Chamonix valley, staying in basic mountain huts, with amazing views of Mont Blanc on the opposite side of the valley, visiting the glacial Lac Blanc and the ice cave in the Mer de glace at Montenvers. We enjoyed the experience so much that we’re already planning to go back in 2011 to walk another section of the Tour de Mont Blanc trail.

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Inside the glacier – at the Mer de Glace above Chamonix
Video diary – walking the Tour de Mont Blanc path above Chamonix
Day 3 on the Tour de Mont Blanc – Flégère to Lac Blanc

At the start of our walk in Les Houches on the Tour de Mont Blanc

At the start of our walk in Les Houches on the Tour de Mont Blanc

October – family fun in northern France, near Paris

At October half term we took a family break in Northern France with Eurocamp, staying at La Croix du Vieux Pont parc at Berny Riviere. We stayed in a mobile home on this parc that has plenty to keep families busy with an indoor swimming pool, boating and fishing on the lake, cycling and a bar and restaurant on site. We used the parc as a base from which to explore northern France, with a day trip to Paris for the obligitory climb up the Eiffel Tower, a visit to Disneyland Paris and time to explore some of the First World War battlefields such as the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge that mark this region of France.

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Our supercalifragilistic day at the Magical kingdom of Disneyland Paris
The Eiffel Tower – Icon of Paris or tourist trap?
Visiting the Canadian War memorial at Vimy Ridge, France

Halloween in Frontierland at Disneyland, Paris

Halloween in Frontierland at Disneyland, Paris

November and I link up with other travel bloggers at TBEX in Copenhagen

In November I was off to Copenhagen to attend the Travel Blog Exchange or TBEX conference in Copenhagen staying in the cosy Avenue Hotel. The conference was held in the amazing Wallmans Cirkus, an old circus building that now hosts a dinner and caberet show in the evening but was used for the conference activities in the day. I was a speaker at the event on Using images effectively for your blog, and enjoyed other highlights such as the  SEO skit, listening to other speakers, special events such as the tour of the Georg Jensen Silver Workshops and eating in some great restaurants. I didn’t spend as much time as I’d like seeing Copenhagen itself, so I’m hoping to get back again some time in 2011 to explore the city more thoroughly.

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Burning the midnight oil – my TBEX Copenhagen diary
TBEX Copenhagen – what were the highlights for you?
Cosy up in Copenhagen at Avenue Hotel

Heather presenting at TBEX

Heather presenting at TBEX

December – it’s Christmas!

I took a breather from travelling in December and spent the time getting into the Christmas spirit, buying presents, hanging the Christmas decorations from around the world, and generally preparing for our typically British festivities with turkey and all the trimmings. I hope you also had a very happy Christmas and here’s looking forward to more exciting travels for us all in 2011.

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Join me for a traditional English Christmas dinner
A terribly British Christmas
A very Happy Christmas from Heather on her travels

Trifle and Christmas pudding

Trifle and Christmas pudding

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

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