September 11, 2005
Moorish Past Finds New Life in a Storied City
By VALERIE GLADSTONE
SITUATED on the rugged foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the southern Spanish city of Granada has long been famed as the site of the Alhambra, the spectacular 14th-century palace built under Moorish rule. Recently, however, Granada has begun showing signs of transformation, thanks to an ambitious campaign by the Andalusian Legacy Foundation to revive Granada's rich Hispanic-Moorish past.
Nowhere is the revival more noticeable than in the Albaicín quarter, built around a citadel founded in the 11th century. In a labyrinth of narrow streets and whitewashed homes with secluded inner patios, boutique hotels have opened in meticulously restored medieval buildings, and new restaurants offer an intriguing mix of Middle Eastern fare and traditional Andalusian cuisine.
During the day, Moroccan tea and spice shops and bazaars full of wares like handmade jewelry, brass tea sets and colorful paper lanterns draw tourists and residents, including many of the 60,000 students who attend the city's ancient university. On most evenings, people gather on the Mirador of San Nicolás, a park near the Albaicín quarter's high point, to watch the sunset over the Alhambra, then head to one of the many pretty garden restaurants nearby. As the night progresses, flamenco, American pop, Arabic chants and even reggae can be heard emanating from intimate clubs and on the streets surrounding the Plaza Nueva and the historic center.
A tour of the Albaicín quarter should start with a visit to the Bañuelo, (34-958) 229 738, Carrera del Darro, 31, 11th-century Moorish baths, which were originally a meeting place where people got haircuts and massages. Though they are no longer functional, you can still admire the classical symmetry of their design and the light filtering through the star-shaped openings in the ceiling. The Archaeological Museum, Carrera del Darro, 43, (34-958) 225 640, has a remarkable collection of pottery, jewelry and architectural fragments from prehistoric to Phoenician and Iberian times. Near Calle Calderería Nueva, you'll find intimate Moroccan tearooms, called teterías, which serve honey cakes, tea and coffee in quiet rooms with dim lighting. The most atmospheric of them are Tetería Alfaguera, Calderería Nueva, 7, and the candlelit Kasbah at Calderería Nueva, 4.
After a long walk around the easily navigable city, you can soak in a warm bath the size of a small swimming pool and perhaps get an invigorating massage at the Hammam Baños Arabes, Calle Santa Ana, 16. The $25 charge, at $1.25 to the euro, includes a 15-minute massage and 90 minutes in the baths; without a massage. it's $16. For reservations, call (34-958) 229 978. At the adjoining tea shop, Hammam Tetería, traditional live music, dancing and old-fashioned Andalusian storytelling take place Thursday and Friday evenings.
A good way to get a sense of Granada's energy is to spend some time in some of its tapas bars, where you'll find traditional specialties like grilled shrimp and red pepper salad. Among the best in the city center are Ajo Blanco at Calle Palacios, 17, known for its cheeses and ham products, and Om Kalsoum Calle Jardines, 17, which offers Moroccan tapas.
Granada's streets and plazas abound with cafes and restaurants, with the main action around Calle de Elvira, Plaza Nueva and Carrera del Darro. While eating and drinking are the main entertainment, there's also a lot of good music, both outside and in the cafes along the Darro River, in nightspots like the Upsetter, Carrera del Darro, 7, where you can listen and dance to reggae, (34-958) 227 296, and Eshavira, Postigo de la Cuna, 2 (34-958) 290 829, a hidden cavelike place, which features flamenco on Sundays and jazz the other nights of the week. All shows start around 11 p.m. The cover charge is $7.50, which includes one drink.
Avoid the expensive touristy flamenco in the Gypsy caves in the Sacromonte district but try La Peña Flamenca Platería, at Placeta de Toqueros, 7, (34-958) 210 650. The club features authentic flamenco several times a week.
Shoppers will want to wander over to the Moroccan bazaars in the streets near Calle Calderería Nueva, where you can find brass tea sets, colorful woven rugs and hand painted lanterns. A good bet is Bazaar Nueva Karavan, Carrera del Darro, 1, which sells attractive leather bags and glass lamps with fringed shades. You can also find fine reproductions of ancient Granada pottery and woodwork at Alhacaba, Plaza Almona 2-Bajo in the Albaicín, (34-958) 205 024. In the bustling Alcaicería market, vendors sell local and Moroccan handicrafts and aromatic herbs and spices.
The Huerta de San Vicente Museum, Calle Virgen Blanca, (34-958) 258 466, is dedicated to the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca. He wrote some of his best-known works, including "Blood Wedding" and "The House of Bernarda Alba," in the building, which was his family's home. He spent his summers there from 1926 until his death in 1936.
Of course, it would be foolish to visit Granada and not spend some time at the Alhambra. Surrounded by woods, gardens and orchards, the magnificent palaces, citadel and fortress of the Alhambra were the home of the Nasrid sultans, who ruled Granada from 1232 to 1492. Intricately tiled rooms, ornate hallways and courtyards planted with fragrant trees can be explored independently or with a guide. Because of the site's popularity, the number of visitors is limited and reservations are needed.
The Alhambra becomes even more magical at night, when most visitors depart. In the relative silence, you can hear the fountains in the glorious Patio of the Lions and Court of the Myrtles, and as the sky darkens, see the stars reflected in the shimmering pools.
Tickets to the Alhambra are $12.50. Reservations should be made at the Alhambra ticket office in the Entrance Pavilion, or by calling within Spain at 902 224 460 or from the United States at (34-915) 379 178. To book on the Internet: www.alhambratickets.com. Granada also offers a City Pass for $25, available at the Alhambra ticket office, covering entrance fees to the complex and most other important monuments and museums. For information, contact the Andalusian Legacy Foundation at www.legadoandalusi.es or the Granada Tourist Office (34-958) 226 688.
WHERE TO STAY
The 126-room Alhambra Palace Hotel, perched on a hill near the Alhambra at Plaza Arquitecto García de Paredes, 1, (34-958) 221 468, www.h-alhambrapalace.es, reproduces the splendor of a Moorish palace, with sumptuous public areas lighted by brass lanterns, carpeted with oriental rugs and adorned with mosaic tiles. Doubles start at $209, at $1.25 to the euro, not including 7 percent tax.
The elegant new 70-room Hotel Hesperia Granada (34-958) 018 400, on the Web at www.hesperia-granada.com, in the small Plaza Gamboa, is set in a quiet area of the old city. The serene, plant-filled courtyard, fountain and stained-glass windows of the lobby evoke the Moorish past as do the spacious pastel rooms with handsome dark wood furnishings. Doubles start at $187.50.
Originally the home of a noble family, Casa del Capitel Nazarí, Cuesta Aceituneros, 6, (34-958) 215 260, on the Web at www.hotelcasacapitel.com, retains original ceramic tiling and antique detailing. The owner, Angel Pinto, rescued Roman columns from a nearby site and installed them in the patio. The hotel has 17 rooms with doubles starting at $87.50.
WHERE TO EAT
Many Granada restaurants offer both Andalusian specialties like broad beans and ham and Moroccan dishes such as meat pastry with pine nuts and almonds and savory almond cream soup. Among the best of them is Restaurant Sibari, Plaza Nueva, 3, (34-958) 227 756, a friendly, casual place to watch people in the plaza. Dinner for two with wine runs about $50.
On the crest of the Albaicín, you'll find two charming restaurants both with breathtaking views of the Alhambra. At Carmen Verde Luna, Camino Nuevo de San Nicolás 16, (34-958) 291 794, a seafood dinner for two is about $75.
The nearby Mirador de Morayma, Pianista García Carrillo, 2, (34-958) 228 290, Granadine remojón, with codfish, oranges and olives, and Alquería lamb stew with prunes costs about $62 for two. In most restaurants a bottle of local wine, like the white Castillo de San Diego and red Corral de Castro, costs $10 to $15.
Granada is an hour's flight or a six-hour train ride from Madrid. (Round-trip air fare is $421 on Iberia or Air Europa. By train, one-way tickets are $42 for tourist class, $56 for first class). The 20-minute taxi ride from the airport costs about $27. For train information, call (1 902) 240 202, for flights (34-958) 245 200 and for buses (34-958) 278 677.
Granada is easy to navigate: most of the important sites are within walking distance of one another. If the hills of Albaicín and the Alhambra are too strenuous, you can take the No. 31 or No. 32 bus, which runs every few minutes from Plaza Nueva to the peaks of both districts. The ride costs a little more than $1.