city slicker Granada

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The Independent Culture
In January, Granada traditionally commemorates the capture of the Alhambra from the Moors, and their expulsion from Spain. And the old city has a lively new function as the jumping off-point for a winter sports centre

Most famous sight: The Alhambra, fairy-tale Moorish paradise atop a hill, a pleasure-complex of fountains, courtyards, marble and mosaic. As palaces go, it's unsurpassed romance. If only Charles and Di had lived here, things might have turned out differently. On 2 January, 1492, it was surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic monarchs. The Dia de la Toma, or Day of the Capture, is marked by a procession and a service in the cathedral, and on the 17th there is a mock Moors vs Christians battle in nearby Orce. Nowadays, the capture tends to be a little less jubilant, as we recognise what Europe lost with the final expulsion of the Moors - exquisite architecture, tolerance, plumbing, algebra, etc.

Most attractive part of town: The old Moorish quarter on the Albaicin, the hill opposite the Alhambra, with its 13th-century Arab water-cisterns, some still in use. Explore the picturesque little squares and streets, markets and craft-shops.

Flamenco: Granada is a famous centre for classic flamenco teaching and the rapid gunfire of castanets echoes through the streets from doors and windows. Tablaos are late-night dancing shows and zambras are all- night flamenco parties. Try Jardines Neptuno, Calle Arabia, (tel: 25 11 12), for traditional flamenco. The gypsies on the Alhambra hill offer uninhibited flamenco evenings - not very authentic, but a lot of fun.

Shopping: There has always been a wealthy bourgeoisie, which means Granada still has elegant main streets and the kind of shops that have vanished in England: old-fashioned displays of perfumes and pomades, heaps of expensive chocolates, covetable tailoring and leather goods. Apart from peering in the windows, you can have fun buying less expensive souvenirs in the closest thing Europe offers to a souk, the Alcaiceria, or heart of the old Moorish silk-market. This was badly damaged in a fire, but has been carefully reconstructed and is a good place for copper goods, pottery, etc. Food shops, with windows full of ham and sausages, are a local speciality. And some of the convents sell delicious sweets which carry on old Moorish recipes, such as tarta real, made with almonds, sugar and orange-flower water.

Poetry: The middle-class was not always so attractive. In the 1930s it was deeply conservative and homophobic. Born into one of Granada's wealthy families, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca savagely attacked it. Because of his Republican views, and probably also because of his homosexuality, Lorca was murdered in 1936 by right-wing troops outside the city in the beauty-spot of Fuente Grande ("the Great Fountain").

Bars and discos: Granada has an enormous number of tourist spots, but there are more interesting bolt-holes in the student areas around Calle Pedro Antonio de Alarcon and Callo Martinez de Rosa. There are bars with skating-rinks, billiard tables, jazz - the crazes come and go, so dive in and out till you find one that suits.

Winter sports: 30 km from Granada is Solynieve, one of the best-equipped ski-resorts in Europe, in the Sierra Nevada National park. The skiing season lasts from December to late April. Solynieve has plenty of hotels, bars and a lively night-life. For information contact the Spanish Ski School, Escuola Espanol de Esqui, (Granada 48 01 68). Solynieve is also the brand-name of a fiery liqueur, made with local aromatic herbs.

Getting there: Granada has an airport for internal flights and good links with other Spanish cities by rail and road. A charter flight to Malaga, then coach to Granada, is probably the cheapest option.

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