Architecture & orange blossom
Gatwick was not chaotic, as promised by the media and we land into glorious sunshine at Granada Airport and collect a hire car to drive forty-minutes to the hotel. After navigating tiny cobbled streets, we leave the vehicle in a car park, grab an overnight bag and walk the rest. The hotel had warned us that it would be impossible to get there by car because of the Holy Week procession.
We enjoy the fresh air and the spectacle of the hooded holy men and squeeze through the crowds to our hotel, by the ‘Pasos’, floats of thrones with religious icons.
We are spending one night here in Granada ‘Place of Dreams’.
Hoping the angsty religious statues and black hoodies holding flaming torches don’t enter those dreams.
Dinner is just a few minutes’ walk to contemporary Damasqueros. A stylish modern restaurant with a wood-panelled dining room and creative Andalusian cuisine. The tasting menu consists of a series of small plates, great after a day’s travelling as we don’t have to think about what to order. Cured sardines are an acquired taste (which I’ve not yet acquired). It's accompanied by chickpea and a delectable red pepper sauce. A variety of beautifully presented dishes arrive one by one. The service is fantastic, and the tiny portions are surprisingly filling. Some look better than they taste (they look amazing) but overall it’s delicious.
The hotel has a courtyard with a tinkling fountain, and a metal tubular wishing tree to hang your wishes on. Late breakfast in the white brick tunnel breakfast room, then we get dropped off in a cab near to La Tabernilla del Darro on Puente de Espinosa, which looks worth a visit.
A brisk walk in the sunshine, past the souvenir shops, towards old Moorish neighbourhood The Albaicin to reach the delightful Mirador de Morayma in the heart of Sacromonte quarters. A fountain gurgles in the tranquil terraced gardens. The views of Alhambra are so incredible it looks like a film set backdrop. We relax with a (gluten-free) beer and simple yet delicious fish and vegetables.
After a leisurely lunch, we walk fifteen minutes uphill to meet our very own personal guide Mercedes, for a private three-hour tour of The Generalife - Alhambra: including Medina, Alcazaba, Nasrid Palaces, Partal and Generalife Palace. This is so worth it as you can go at your own pace and ask questions to the informative, friendly Spanish guide who you have all to yourself.
The Alhambra was a palatine city, Christian Royal House and military fortress until 1870 when it was declared a Monument. Generalife is beautifully planted with perfectly manicured hedges, with vibrant colourful flowers and wistful wisteria. Cypress trees line up across the horizon like a Van Gogh painting. She tells us about raisin production and the Sultans. Hedges create an emerald tunnel, and the courtyard has a canal, fountains and flowers.
At Palacio Nazaries, The Court of the Myrtles the pond water mirrors the building and skyline as we rest on a chair and reflect on the view.
“If what is beneath my feet is paradise, then what is the Alhambra? Heaven?“ asked Lope de Vega.
Buildings have keyhole windows or stars cut out of the ceilings and balconies overlook beautiful gardens. Wisteria winds a lilac garland around the awesome architecture.
The Place of the Lions has reflective white marble with stone lions guarding the fountain.
This rich decorative palace steeped in history is decorated with ornate tiling.
Remember, as in life, don’t forget to look up. See stalactite effect Islamic carvings on the ceilings, admire the Gypsum stone decoration on the walls.
“Granada is so moving that it stimulates and melts all of the senses” said Henri Matisse.
Unfortunately, it’s time to leave, hopping in a taxi to the car park to embark on a two-hour drive to Córdoba.
It’s Good Friday...Not so good if you want to get to your hotel as the roads are closed due to Holy Week and the brotherhoods pass through the area around the Mosque. Jesus Christ the traffic’s bad.
Parking in a nearby carpark, it’s a short walk into the ornate mayhem, kerb-crawled by the swinging golden float, candles flaming, as we try to get to our restaurant booking. Trying to squeeze respectfully past a hushed crowd looking at the hooded mob. Some show us their cross, literally.
Spooked by the hooded participants we have a much-needed drink and an ‘innovative’ meal amongst cool quirky interiors at Horno San Luis.
Strawberry adds an unexpected twist to delicious burrata and tomato. Tasty steak with a Jenga stack of chunky chips and soft cooked onions. Followed by a mini-gin on the roof terrace where we hanker after a chair after all today’s walking.
Our hotel is Las Casas de la Juderia, Córdoba. An adapted penthouse room with a princely bed. There are royal headboards and wooden shutters. The bathroom has cool marble floors and walls. Looking up from the bed, it’s like an upside-down boat.
A leisurely breakfast is served on a colourful tiled table on our sunny private roof terrace. We sit in white towelling bathrobes... just because we can.
Devouring omelette, fresh fruit salad, a basket of bread and pastries, yoghurt, tea and freshly squeezed orange juice. Listening to bird song, overlooking the cathedral and the roofs of the city. The hotel has a spectacular courtyard with large stone pillars and hedges and a fountain next to an honesty bar.
Lunch is al fresco at Taberna el número 10 for ‘Vinos tapas & lovers’. I’m a wine and a tapas lover. We enjoy deep fried aubergine and the white garlic spicy foam on patatas bravas makes them refined and experimental. The Russian salad, with tiny prawns and potato/coleslaw salad, is as appetising as Russian politics.
At the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba we marvel at the serene expanse surrounded by seemingly infinite dimly lit candy-striped pillars.
Dinner is at Bodegas Campo with orange archways, and fab retro posters. The good food makes up for the not so good service. Can’t remember what I ate but the wine glass was literally as big as my head, maybe that’s why!
Roll out the barrel... the hallways are full of them. One barrel adorned with Tony Blair’s autograph. Full of it.
La Fragua on Calleja del Salmorejo, has cobalt blue barrels and plant pots. The bar is bustling, with a guitarist playing, as we saunter by in the evening.
Hammam and massages and a ‘water journey’ are the best way to start any day at Hammam Córdoba. Wish it was every damn day. An incredible massage then floating about in dimly lit warm baths, then daring to take the plunge into an icy bath. Wim Hof would be proud. A quick shower in the tiny changing rooms then float into the sunshine-y day for a cuppa outside on a lovely little terrace next to the Posada de Valina.
We float into, yep... you’ve guessed it... another religious procession. This time they’re wearing golden yellow hoods matching the golden float. We are treated to an accidental front row view in our attempt to push through. The church bells chime and the brass band play, as we are sandwiched in the crowd gawking at the candle-lit Virgin Mary.
Talking of sandwiches, lunch is at Casa Pepe de la Judería. An amazing location with flower-filled balconies, beautifully decorated interiors, a courtyard, and staff dashing past the religious iconography. I always did love a theme, and it is Easter Sunday.
We share a roasted tomato with burrata and delicious grilled beef tenderloin with peppers. The food is wonderful, and the last few restaurant menus are getting as repetitive as our forgetful conversations, especially for a fussy eater.
Cases pulled over cobbled streets from hotel to carpark, then an hour’s drive to Carmona. Giant black bulls looming on the horizon. Thankfully, they’re cut-outs.
We stroll around the walled city of Carmona, eating an obligatory gelato on a bench in the stunning square.
Another half an hour drive to Seville, driving in ever decreasing circles to return the hire car to Santa Justa Railway Station with a collective sigh of relief and taxi to Hotel Unuk.
Sat under a statement lampshade for dinner at Torres y García. Patatas bravas with peppermint aioli and chilli. Ribbons of courgette in a pesto and papaya salad. Burrata (again) with warm aubergine, olives and tomatoes. The gin and basil cocktail is delicious and refreshing.
Breakfast at the hotel, then a few minutes walk to meet a tour guide for Alcazar and Cathedral of Seville Tour. We’re not as spoilt this time, so we do not have the jovial and humorous Spanish guide to ourselves. We nearly lose him and the large group after we scale the tower. Step count is surprisingly low as there are no stairs, just a series of slopes, so you could climb the tower riding a donkey. Good to know. At the top of the Giralda tower, I gaze up at the giant bell end and out at the views of Seville.
Catedral de Sevilla, at the time of building, was the tallest building in Europe. The Catedral de Santa María de la Sede is the third largest cathedral in the world and the largest gothic cathedral.
The headphones provided enable us to hear our chatty guide, although sometimes I zone out from his strong Spanish accent and the historical info and just enjoy the art and views.
I did hear:
Golden balls fell in an earthquake from the tower in 1356.
A painting of the famous virgin with a white rose said the troops would win, and they did. The power of positive thinking.
And apparently, two miracles make a Saint. Do three make a trend?
We’re led into a room full of 15th-century paintings. In the Moorish and Christian Real Alcazar palace, we hear the sound of peacocks as we admire a huge tapestry map.
It’s a lot of walking during the lengthy three-and-a-half-hour tour so after we pop to La Terraza del EME for a much-needed cold drink and a seat to admire the view from their roof terrace.
Dinner is at Pelayo Bar drinking sangrias under the bullheads. Trying tapas of garlic prawns, salmon, Camembert, tuna salad. We avoid the oxtail we spy served to a neighbouring table.
Sunset cocktails on rooftop Hotel Doña María, spotted from the Giralda tower, to enjoy the drinks, music and atmosphere. We spy Jesus out on another procession and pop into trendy Mamarracha bar for a cocktail.
Late buffet breakfast then some relaxing sunny pool time up on the hotel roof. Some very satisfying shopping at Tenderete Sevilla, a fab little boutique full of crockery, homeware, china hens, orange blossom water, candles and soaps.
Gazing up at blue skies through the honeycomb structure of Setas de Sevilla, also known as the Metropol Parasol. The ground floor has the gastro food market and the Antiquarium, an archaeological museum - we decide to pass. The modern waffle-like structure juxtaposed with the historic buildings that surround it. This is a place for residents with boys playing football and a playground under the tourist attraction.
Up in a spotty lift to the serpentine path/walkway on the observation deck - it’s like a dinosaur spine. You can hear the chatter of people and the hubbub of the city below from the largest wooden structure in the world. The ‘aurora’ illuminates at night with otherworldly sounds.
Donaire Azabache overlooks the General Archive of the Indies. We initially sit outside, but they allow only main courses on the terrace. Glad to be sat inside, perched at the lively bar with the hanging Jamóns, we watch the world go by. Simply amazing tapas brought one by one by the experienced busy waiter: Triangles of Manchego cheese, eggplant, codfish fritters, Iberian ham, sliced tomatoes sprinkled liberally with salt, washed down with a superb Paco & Lola white wine. The clip-clop of hooves slip on the cobblestones as horse-drawn carriages pass. Oranges hang ripe in trees threatening to splat on the pavement.
A girl in a pink dotted flamenco dress runs past cool bar Charlatán as we head off into the sunshine. At the Plaza de Toros Real Maestranza, the largest bullring in Spain, a large yellow sand circle of the round, red auditorium contrasts with the blue sky. Load of old bull... paintings of bulls in the small 'Museum of bullfighting'. That’s another one ticked off the list.
A cheeky Alice Springs photograph draws our attention to the open fronted bar Bar Agustín & Co. Classic black and white photos adorn the walls, silver piping and contemporary lighting on the ceiling.
We dash to a flamenco show, which allegedly is a must-see, but I can’t say I’d recommend this one. However, we can’t help but tap toes in time to the beat. An anguished singer wails, threatening to inhibit my afternoon wine doze, in the intimate and stuffy audience. The loud banging heels, stomping and clicking fingers of the pained male dancer jolts me alert. Olé! The dancer loops her spotted dress up, kicking the ruffled train into the air with her back heel.
Fancy footwork. Clapping hands. Them, then us. Pleased it’s over.
Cross over the river Riu Guadalquivir at Puente de Isabel 11 to the Triana quarter to the end of the bridge for Mariatrifulca or Grumpy Maria. Described as creative Mediterranean cuisine in a rustic dining room with a riverside terrace. If you like fine dining, hushed tones, no music in a seafood restaurant then this is the perfect place. We enjoy the views of the river but with hindsight, we would have preferred to spend our last night in buzzy El Pintón, listening to Balearic tunes. We stop at cute tapas bar Casa Paco for white wine, olives and relaxed ambiance outside by the Alameda de Hércules arches.
Walking past cool Bar Alfalfa to Casa de Pilatos where Lawrence of Arabia, and more recently, Knight and Day were filmed. Through the Renaissance gate, petals flutter from a magnificent bougainvillaea in a typical courtyard with a fountain. Precious azulejo tiles adorn inside the Andalusian palace walls. Stumbling across Sevilla Vinos we taste the sherry and the liquid liquor gives a liquorice afterburn taste. Stumbling out into the streets, blossoming jasmine scent infuses the warm air.
A pit stop for cerveza, Manchego and Jamón then passing Casa Román in Santa Cruz.
Saving the best until last, cutting through the Royal Alcazar Gardens into Parque de María Luisa, to visit Plaza de España, a giant curved tiled building with fountains.
The last supper is grilled prawns, croquettes, Galician mussels and a mini burger at El Pintón. Before heading to the airport to take-off into the sunset.
To my regret, but to my bank balance and my travel partner's relief, we didn’t hit up shops like Zara or Oysho.
The weather was perfect in April, with temperatures from 18-26ºC in the day and 7-18ºC at night as the week warms up.
If you visit during Holy Week at Easter, then maybe let the train take the strain or cab and travel light.
Our average step count was 13200 a day so pack some walking shoes, trainers or a Teva sandal.
Written by Crystal McClory