Leaving Barcelona, we ventured south to the Andalucia region – famous for the heat, tapas, flamenco dancing, bull fighting, and of course, the siesta! In this region the streets are lined with orange trees – a citrus aroma for the senses!
In Andalucia, the majority of shops and businesses close from 1.30pm until 5.30pm each day due to the heat. Adopting local custom, we too had our siestas each afternoon following our tapas lunch. Life was tough! We also became accustomed to Spanish meal times; lunch around 3pm and dinner around 10-11pm. Restaurants do not even open until around 8.00pm in the evenings and the sun does not set until 10pm! The concept of eating late is to avoid the heat. With temperatures soaring above 35 degrees everyday, we embraced the Andalucian lifestyle with gusto!
Our first stop in the Andalucia region was Córdoba. Once a Roman colony (152BC), it was then captured by the Moors, who made this city the Islamic Capital of the region, only to return to Christian rule in the 13th Century. Córdoba contains the second largest old town in Europe, which we were lucky enough to stay in.
To orient outselves we booked a budget friendly free-walking tour of the city. Our guide was Celia from Free Tour Córdoba. These tours are a great way to learn about a city’s history and familiarise yourself with the streets. Celia was great, extremely knowledgable and friendly! The concept of a “free walking tour” is that you experience the service and then, at the conclusion of the tour, you pay an amount you consider to be commensurate to the service received.
The most famous tourist attraction in Córdoba is the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba. The beauty of this mosque is that its current constructed form follows the history of the city; firstly a Roman temple, secondly an Islamic Mosque, and thirdly a Christian Church. Each period can be seen inside this mosque, although it was clear the Christians wanted their religion to be front and centre upon their occupation of Córdoba.
Another attraction we explored was the Alcazar; originally a Roman fortress and then a castle built by the Moors. When Córdoba fell under Christian Rule, much of the fortress was re-built, although the Islamic style was retained. The beauty of this attraction was the gardens; unrivalled by any other garden we have visited on this trip to date! Strangely, the Christians retained the name “Alcazar”, the Arabic word for Castle.
Finally, not to be missed is the beautiful Roman Bridge located near the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba. The view at sunset is mesmerising. The best views are found on the opposite side of the bridge looking back at the city. On the night we went exploring, we witnessed the Córdoba Orchestra playing at sunset. A sensation for the eyes and the ears! Locals told us that the Córdoba Orchestra play regularly here in the summer, their music complementing the illuminated Mezquita-Catedral at sunset (10pm).
A short 2 hour and 45 minutes by bus, took us to the beautiful city of Granada. Similar to Córdoba, there is a diverse history in Granada that includes Moorish occupation and Christian rule.
Around the outskirts of the city lies the Sacromonte area; once a living area for servants, then Arabs and now Gypsies. You can also see Gypsie Caves, man made living areas built into the hillside. We did a walking tour of this area through “Walk in Granada”. Our guide Nacho told us that majority of the population of this area were relocated in 1990s, as an effort to integrate the Gypsies into the community. However, some Gypsies remain living in this area in man made caves concealed with concrete, often unconnected to water or electricity.
This is one of the best areas to view the city and the Alhambra.
The Albaicin district was constructed during the time of Moorish occupation, and the Muslim population of Granada was confined to this area once the Christians took over the city in the 15th century. Here you can find the beautiful white houses, cobblestoned streets and some of the best miradors (lookouts) and views of the city and the Alhambra. When the Alhambra was declared a UNESCO site, Spain opened the migration path to Morocco and this area is now filled with Moroccan tea houses and gift shops! We also visited the Alcaiceria, a former Arabian silk market, which is now quite touristy, mainly containing souvenir stores.
Undoubtedly, the main draw card for Granada is the Alhambra. This was originally a fortress until the Moorish kings built the current palaces and walls during the 13th and 14th centuries. This complex is monumental, comprising of multiple palaces, gardens and grand military fortifications. The beauty of the palaces cannot be described and our photographs will not do them justice. We were in awe of the detail and intricacies of these palaces. The Alhambra is visited by approximately 3 million visitors each year; having been, we understand why!
Tourist tip:- make sure you book your tickets for the Alhambra online before arriving in Granada (up to three months in advance). Alternatively, you can line up at 5.30am with the other sorry tourists and hope that you get a ticket for the day. Yes, we were the sorry tourists praying for a ticket miracle! For context, we purchased our tickets at 8.05am (5 minutes after the ticket gate opened) and then discovered that there were only 59 tickets (of 220) left for the day. The credit card ticket line moves much faster than the cash purchase line so your odds may be better in this line. However, best option is to book online!
After a hot day exploring the Alhambra, we finished with some tapas (free at most restaurants with drink purchase) and a cold drink.
Until next time (unless the Spanish heat wave takes us),
DT & AP