48 hours in Granada

The beautiful snow-topped peaks of the Sierra Nevada surround this Spanish city - a former Islamic capital. Now's the perfect time to go to join in the Easter festivities, says Cathy Packe
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The Independent Travel

WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

Granada is gearing itself up for its annual holy week celebrations, which begin in a couple of weeks (13 April) and continue until Easter Sunday. There will be a series of colourful processions through the city. Among the most dramatic is the Procession of Silence on Maundy Thursday, which includes re-enactments of the scenes at the stations of the cross. The tourist office (1) in Plaza Mariana Pineda (00 34 958 24 71 28; www.turismodegranada.org) has details of events and their routes.

BEAM DOWN

The cheapest way to get there is likely to be via Malaga, which has flights from all over the UK, on charter, no-frills and full-service airlines such as MyTravel (0870 238 7788, www.MyTravel.com ), easyJet (0870 6000 000,. www.easyjet.com) and British Airways (0845 77 333 77, www.ba.com). Take a bus or train into Malaga from the airport, and another bus or train to Granada, 75 miles away. Trains depart three times a day for Granada's main railway station (2) (00 34 958 271 272; www.renfe.es/ingles). The bus journey is direct; services leave every hour between 7am and 9pm. Granada's bus station (3) (00 34 958 185 480) is on the northern outskirts of the city. Or you could rent a car; all the big hire companies offer competitive deals in southern Spain, including Avis (0870 606 0100, www.avis.com) and Holiday Autos (0870 400 0000, www.holidayautos.com).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Granada is built on three hills and is surrounded by the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The city is dominated by the magnificent Alhambra fortress, a monument to its days as capital of the Muslim Nasrid kingdom. The oldest part stretches from here across two other hills, Albaicin and Sacromonte. The streets are very narrow, often a deterrent to drivers. Further south is the more modern city, cut through from north to south by the Calle de los Reyes Catolicos, and from east to west by the Gran Via de Colon. Before you start sightseeing, it might be worth buying a tourist card, available from the Alhambra or the Capilla Real for €18 (£12). It is valid for seven days, and gets you in to many of the main sights.

CHECK IN

A visit to Granada offers a rare opportunity to stay in one of its main attractions. As well as being a luxury hotel, the Parador de San Francisco (4) (00 34 958 22 14 20; www.paradores-spain.com) is in a 15th-century former convent inside the grounds of the Alhambra, so it is possible to walk around after most of the tourists have left. Double rooms cost €207.36 (£140); breakfast is extra. As this is the most popular parador in Spain, it is essential to book well ahead. A cheaper but equally popular alternative, also inside the grounds of the Alhambra, is the Hotel America (5) (00 34 958 22 74 71), 53 Real de la Alhambra. Doubles start from €100 (£66) per room per night. In the city itself, the Palacio de Santa Ines (6) (00 34 958 22 23 62; www.lugaresdivinos.com), 9 Cuesta de Santa Ines, is another historic building that has been beautifully converted. Doubles here cost €100 (£66). A cheaper alternative, on the Plaza Bib-Rambla (7), is the Hotel Los Tilos (00 34 958 26 67 12); ask for a room overlooking the square. Doubles start at €62 (£45), singles at €41 (£29), excluding breakfast.

TAKE A RIDE

Unlike the city's other bus routes, numbers 30 and 31 provide tourists with an easy way to get between Granada's hilltop sights, saving an exhausting uphill walk. Red-and-white minibuses leave from the Plaza Nueva (8); 31 takes a route up the Gran Via to Albaicin hill, and 30 goes around the Alhambra; route 32 connects the two. There are a number of stops on the route, and tickets cost €0.85 (60p), or €4 (£2.75) for a book of six.

TAKE A HIKE

The old Islamic quarter of Albaicin, with its steep, narrow streets and their flower-filled balconies is a good place to start exploring the city. Start in the Plaza Santa Ana (9), and walk up beside the Darro river to El Banuelo (10), 31 Carrera del Darro, (00 34 958 22 97 38; open Tue-Sat 10am-2pm), the remains of an 11th-century Muslim bath house. Further along is the Archaeological Museum (11) (00 34 958 22 56 40), which has some interesting Islamic artefacts. The museum is open Tue 2.30-8pm, Wed-Sat 9am-8pm (until 6pm Oct-Mar), and Sun 9am -2.30pm. Continue uphill and meander around the district; there are several lovely churches whose bell towers include the minarets from the mosques that used to pepper the area. On the far side of the hill is part of the old city wall.

TAKE A VIEW

The best view in the whole city is from just in front of the church of San Nicolas (12) in the Albaicin quarter. From here you can gaze over the whole of the Alhambra complex, and out to the Sierra Nevada beyond.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

On the north side of the Alhambra, on the Paseo del Padre Manjon (13), is a row of bars and cafés serving light Spanish and other European dishes – tapas, paella, pizza and pasta – at tables outside on the cobbled street overlooking the river. There is no doubt this is a touristy spot, but when it comes to finding a table with a view, this street takes some beating.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Granada's highlight, and the place most visitors come to see, is the Alhambra, a vast fortress that was the work of the Nasrid dynasty, the last Islamic sultanate to rule Spain. It is protected by walls and gates; inside is a collection of palaces, courtyards and gardens. At the western end is the Alcazaba (14), the oldest part of the complex built in the 9th century. This was the military fortress. Beyond it are the palaces: the large, square Renaissance building designed for the Emperor Charles V (15), which can seem disappointing in comparison with the beautiful Nasrid Palace, built around the Court of Lions. Tickets for the Alhambra are sold on a timed basis, and at peak times you may need to book in advance, through BBVA (00 34 913 46 59 36; www.alhambratickets.com). The fortress is open daily Mar-Oct 8.30am-8pm, and Tue-Sat also 10-11.30pm; Nov-Feb 8.30am-6pm, and Fri, Sat also 8-9.30pm; entrance costs €8 (£5), concs €5 (£3).

WINDOW SHOPPING

The area between the Calle de los Reyes Catolicos and the cathedral (16) is the Alcaiceria, once the old Moorish silk market, now rebuilt in an ornate style and housing a collection of shops. Although these are largely aimed at tourists, there are often bargains to be found, particularly at the jewellery stores. The shops on nearby Calle Zacatin include some good shoe shops, and several well-known Spanish fashion labels.

AN APERITIF

The best tapas bars are in the oldest parts of the city, clustered around Plaza Nueva (8) and Plaza del Carmen (17). Part of the fun is in finding somewhere you hadn't noticed before, but one of the best spots is Casa Julio (18) on Calle Hermosa, which is famous in Granada for its excellent selection of fish tapas; it opens at lunchtime, and in the evenings from 9pm.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

If you don't want to dine alone, don't plan to eat much before 10pm. One of the most popular restaurants in town is Cunini (19), Plaza de la Pescaderia (00 34 958 25 07 77), which serves excellent seafood (closed Sunday evenings, and all day Monday). Another popular spot is Carmen Verde Luna (20), at 16 Camino Nuevo de San Nicolas (00 34 958 29 17 94), which serves local dishes in a pleasant location. If you have overdone the tapas with your aperitif and are looking for something light to finish off the evening, try La Taberna de Tiacheta (21) (Puente de Cabrera). The food is simple but cooked well, and the taberna is very popular with the locals.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

The most important Christian monument in the city is the Capilla Real (00 34 958 22 38 48), on the south side of the cathedral (16). It is no longer used for services, and instead is a leading tourist attraction (open daily 10.30am-1pm and 4pm-7pm, Sun from 11am; entry €2.50/£1.50). It was built for the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, who wanted to be buried in Granada – the place where they had finally driven the Moors out of Spain. Their tombs are side by side, and Isabella's crown and sceptre are displayed in the sacristy museum. This small chapel (00 34 958 22 29 59) is far more intimate than the cathedral next door, and is open to visitors 10.30am-1.30pm daily except Sundays, and 6-7pm every day; admission €2.50/£1.50.

OUT TO BRUNCH

The liveliest square in town is the Plaza Bib-Rambla (7), with its elaborate three-tiered fountain in the centre. There are cafés all around, and the square is filled with flower stalls and a constantly changing selection of street entertainers. The best option for a decent breakfast is the Gran Café Bib-Rambla, which has a good selection of light meals.

A WALK IN THE PARK

The Generalife Gardens (22) at the side of the main Alhambra complex belong to the 14th-century summer palace. They are laid out in Arab style, with long alleys, pools and fountains, and well-maintained flower beds. This is always a peaceful spot to sit for a while, and enjoy the superb views towards the old city.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

You don't need to be a fan of the Spanish Civil War poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca to enjoy a visit to the Huerta de San Vicente (24). But this is the place where he spent the summer for the last 10 years of his life and wrote some of his best-known work. At that time, in the Thirties, it would have been isolated; now the house, set in a newly constructed park, is just a 15-minute walk from the city centre, and contains furnishings and other memorabilia in their original setting. The Huerta de San Vicente is on Calle Virgen Blanca (00 34 958 25 84 66; www.huertadesanvicente.com) and is open Tue-Sun 10am-1pm and 4-7pm (afternoons in summer 6-9pm); entrance costs €1.81 (£1.20), children €0.91 (60p).

WRITE A POSTCARD

Write a missive from the church of San Juan de Dios (23) (00 34 958 275 700; open daily from 8-11am and from 6-9pm). This is the most beautiful baroque church in Granada, and is attached to a magnificent hospital that is still in use.

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