Spain has a long history of battles between Christian and Moorish leaders, so you will find a ruined Arabic castle in nearly every town and the foundations for a mosque somewhere around the region. So no visit to the Sierra Nevada can be complete without exploring Granada, especially the Alhambra – the distinctive red stone giving it its name, built as a defence town with a splendid tower. In order to get the most out of our visit, we had a potted history of the religious and political struggles in Spain and Granada from Ursula the evening before. It was certainly useful to get an idea of why the Alhambra was built, although as we were in the bar area for the talk, I’m not sure we could actually answer any exam questions on it.
You need to arrive in plenty of time for your pre-booked tour as it is a good 15 minute walk from the entrance gate to the Alhambra Palace. Our half-day tickets gave entry to all three sections – the palace, tower and the gardens – to be completed by 2pm so if you want to see it all, you need to keep moving. It is a fascinating site and you are walking around 2 miles to cover the main areas but absolutely worth it, especially on a bright sunny day like this one.
The finely-detailed Islamic arch and decorative carving is as spectacular as you expect it to be and remarkably well-preserved. Although the outside is made up of plain, undecorated red blocks of stone, inside is symmetry and balance of intricate carvings, once richly painted, arches and verandas and, of course, long narrow pools that reflect the sky and buildings perfectly. Walk past the elaborate exterior of Charles V palace – very expensive and took a long time to build but never actually used by him! – to the steep winding steps of the Tower for stunning views of the sprawling city of Granada across the flat plains below, and the equally stunning snow-topped Sierra Nevada to the north. Actually, 2015 was the hottest year for a long time so no snow, just the tiniest sprinkle of white today.
There is a long walk now to cross to the summer palace on the hill opposite, and the very beautiful well-tended gardens with so many flowers still in glorious colour against a backdrop of falling, golden leaves. Built as a retreat from the heat, noise and bustle of the Alhambra, it has no fortifications so was considered too insecure to actually spend the night there. Each evening, back they trundled to the safety of the fortress.
We made our way to the Parador Hotel cafe for lunch on the terrace. There was a surprisingly good selection of reasonably-priced light lunches, and an exceptionally large measure of G&T, but we all managed to meet at the allocated spot on time for the steep walk down into the town for our guided tour.
Robert, our guide, was a very pleasant knowledgeable young man who was easy to listen to. Be warned, this is a continuous climb up through the old town to reach the highest viewpoint. It is mainly cobbles and steps, winding through narrow alleys between tall, white-washed houses. But we stopped regularly for more detailed explanations of why this part of town is structured as it is. Clearly each section of the town reflects the changes in political and religious conflict throughout its history, and the changing fortunes of its muslim or catholic rulers. It was dusk by the time we got to the highest viewpoint so even though it was quite a hard day’s walking, the pace was acceptable to everyone and we were certainly ready for the coach to take us back for dinner.
To continue with the fascinating history of this region, the Nerja Caves is a spectacular geological site that should not be missed, and reasonably priced at 10 Euro for an individual, 6.50 Euro if part of a group. It is extremely busy with lots of groups of all ages, so it is much better as an organised tour like ours. It is amazing that these marble caves were ever found at all, just by chance in 1959 when a group of hikers were curious about where bats were going to down a hole!
Inside, it is carefully laid out as walkways with lots of uneven steps, lighting kept intentionally low to avoid the development of algae that would ultimately cover and destroy the giant stalagmite/stalactite structures. A few small sections are lit up so that you can see the bright green signs of algae starting to develop and, unfortunately, dense dry patches on the top of shiny wet columns where people have touched them (despite being told not to!) so introducing chemicals that stop the growth permanently.
We were very disappointed as the advertised “cave paintings” have not been available for public viewing for a long time, only researchers and geologists have access to them and then only if they are agile enough to cross the walls of the caves by rope. A fascinating site to visit, certainly as a group, then carry on down to the sea-side town of Nerja on the little tourist train.
Reflections on the Adagio package
This is primarily a cultural tour that provides a great opportunity to get to know this part of southern Spain, its history, and the wide range of interesting attractions available. It is certainly much more than a sea-side tourist destination although clearly this is also important for the region.
While there are some sections of the itinerary that involve quite a bit of uphill climbing, including steps, there is no pressure to rush and regular stops are incorporated so that you can rest while finding out a bit more of the history. The average age of this group in November was closer to 70 than 60, including a couple of younger people and two in their 80s, so it is intended to be manageable rather than a long-distance trek. And of course, if you do not want to take part in any of the trips or activities, you can stay back at Hotel Alcadima in Lanjaron or just relax with a coffee while others walk around the sites. The hotel put on an afternoon tea for us, with a special cookery demonstration in the garden restaurant as a treat, so we were well looked after.
It was good to include a wide range of visits to castles and caves, beer and rum producers, and to see the contrast between mountain, town and sea-side. This November tour is a bit late for some things that were open to the September group, but there is still plenty to see and do to make it an informative and enjoyable holiday. I would like to say we may have lost weight with all that walking, but perhaps the opportunity to sample Spanish food and wine did not help in the diet department!
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Adagio Holidays
- Read Gateway to the Sierra Nevada with Adagio Holidays – Part 1
- Read Gateway to the Sierra Nevada with Adagio Holidays – Part 2