We arrived from London full of frown and push and shove; in our cool-weather layers and dark, crease-resistant jackets, dragging our lives behind us in smart lightweight cabin luggage. Our heads were full of in-tray and mobile signals – would there be one? – and did we have time to make a couple of calls before the bus left? Honestly, what did we look like.
And then? And then we walked outside and the sun made us blink and the warm cologne-scented air rushed to hug us and a lizard ran up a dazzling white wall and we fumbled for our dark glasses and tied our jackets round our waists and just stood and stared at the Sierra Nevada in the distance. Andalucia. At last we were back in Spain. And off we went.
The hotel Santa Isabel la Real is situated in Albayzin (roughly pronounced as Al-bah-thin), the old Moorish quarter of Granada; perched high on a hill. This converted convent sits squashed between white-washed homes, tiny churches and squares with delightful cafes and the narrowest of steep winding streets, where occasionally, you have to press your back against the wall when a car goes past. I wanted to shriek “I’m going to die” the first time a mini-bus passed us near to the hotel. We jumped up on to a tiny step and survived to tell the tale. There is actually room for everyone but it took me a while to believe it.
Opening a hefty wooden door we stepped straight into the hotel courtyard complete with tinkling water fountain and a wooden balcony running around the upper floors. Looking up into a beautiful blue sky, we realised that, technically speaking, we were still outside. In the coolness of the shade we walked across to the tiny office in one corner of the courtyard that served as a check-in, check-out and welcome area and were greeted with almost shy warmth and quiet smiles that is the understated, relaxed wonderfulness of Andalucia. And into the arms of the wonderful staff that run this 11-bedroom piece of heaven.
Our spacious room was on the first floor. The large bathroom was marbled and cool and I felt my shoulders dropping as I kicked off my shoes and lay on a generously-sized twin bed. My partner did the same and we just lay there taking in the shutters that opened onto the courtyard and the wooden beams on the ceiling and the paintings on the walls and he said “I think we’ll be O.K. here love.” And we were.
Back down to the courtyard level there is a very comfortable library/sitting room, filled with settees and comfy chairs and tables and books and sweeties in a big glass bowl. Before we left London, I had requested a quiet room and had to give a rye smile as the whole hotel is quiet and peaceful. Made me feel a bit silly but there you go. You don’t know till you get there do you. There are a couple of tables laid out in another part of the courtyard filled with pottery and booklets to buy and some postcards too. All very tasteful and, again, understated.
Down a short flight of steps from the courtyard is the breakfast room. This is fairly small as there are only 11 bedrooms to cater for. However, the buffet was excellent and a lovely lady came out and asked us if we would like an ‘omelleta.’ There was plenty of fresh bread, fruit, cheese and Spanish ham etc. together with cooling fruit juices and piping hot coffee. What a pleasant way to start the day.
We definitely wanted to visit Alhambra and the hotel staff was more than happy to arrange this for us before our arrival in their usual unassuming and efficient way. They made everything so easy for us. You can go to Alhambra under your own steam of course, but then you would have to queue up. We chose an organised trip for our first visit and were pleased we did as the little bus picked us up from a nearby square and took us to directly to Alhambra and then an English-speaking guide picked the reins up from there.
Santa Isabel la Real is really a b&b. It doesn’t have a restaurant, or a spa or a nightclub or a swimming pool or room service and, for us, that was the joy of the place. It has a little terrace which is accessed by climbing out of the door/window at the back of the office area. You get used to it! It only has three tables with umbrellas and is encased in greenery and a low whitewashed wall that you can peer over and watch people sauntering down to the square and beyond.
If rain is forecast, an awning is pulled over to protect the courtyard. There is a tiny lift that will take two people and two small cases. This hotel is rather like a retreat in its quietness. The only noise you will hear is the slow tread of weary tourists on the stairs and, perhaps, quiet chatter drifting up from the courtyard. There is a small TV in the room and also a fridge/mini-bar and safe. I would have loved a little kettle but that is being picky.
You can walk down to central Granada and the Cathedral area from the hotel in about 15-20 minutes. It is an extremely steep walk for the first half and then it gradually widens and levels out nearer the bottom. We walked down and took the bus back. There is a mini-bus (C1) that comes up regularly from early morning till late at night and costs 1.80 Euros. It stops close to the hotel and drops you off near the Cathedral. The downside of the bus is that it is popular and gets very full. Local folk need the bus as well and they often have to grapple with heavy shopping and tourists. There is also a hop-on hop-off little tourist train that comes up as far as the square two minutes from the hotel.
Talking of squares, we frequented them every evening for a glass of wine and the ubiquitous tapas. No need to go down to the central area of Granada to feast. Albayzin has it all. We found that when we ordered a drink, free tapas were presented to us on the side every time, which ever bar/restaurant we were in. How lovely is that? We studied the menu in a totally unhurried atmosphere with the sun on our shoulders, a church bell ringing in the distance and a sleek black cat having a lazy wash. Most tables was taken but there was a definite sense of space and time standing still and that you were welcome to sit there till the place closed if you felt like it. The simplicity of it all bowled us over.
Did we want to go home? What do you think. We booked the hotel through Booking.com but obviously there are many sites on offer, or you can cook book direct with the hotel. And I hope you do. We flew on a direct flight with British Airways from London’s City airport.