Having spent a successful couple of days photographing Málaga I was looking forward to even better in the main destination of my trip, Granada, a place I had longed to visit for years. On previous visits to Andalucía I had stayed further west along the coast and drove to Gibraltar, Ronda and Seville but Granada always seemed a bit too far away.
I had read that taking a car into the centre of the city was not advisable, so opted for a bus ride (actually a very comfortable air-conditioned coach) which headed out from Málaga along the Rio Guadalmedina valley. En-route I wondered if there was a local Andalucían law which makes it compulsory to place a huge sign announcing the river crossing whenever it occurs. As the motorway goes straight up a winding valley, this is about every 500 metres, so I soon got bored of Rio Guadalmedina. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a raging torrent of water, but it was bone dry. But, after 1½ hours of motorway and olive groves I arrived at Granada’s main bus station, 3km and a short taxi ride from the city centre and my hotel.
After checking in, I set out into the afternoon heat to explore a little. I was based in Plaza Nueva, handy for the centre and Albaycín, and just below the Alhambra. Below being the operative word – it was towering above me way up in the sky, so I wondered where the viewpoint was for those famous photographs with the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I didn’t have to wonder for long, as the tourist office in Plaza Nueva provided a map with viewpoints conveniently marked so I was soon climbing up through a maze of steep alleyways in the Albaycín to the Mirador St Nicolas. The place was heaving. There was a small group sat on a wall playing flamenco guitar, with some occasional singing and dancing, numerous European nationalities were represented and there was a bus load of American college kids. So it was a lively, rather than relaxing spot to admire the view, and I returned later with the camera gear to watch the sunset and the Alhambra floodlights come on. After the sunset the moon rose over the Alhambra, which was a nice finishing touch to the first evening’s photography before wending my way back down toward Plaza Nueva for a well-earned dinner.
The next morning I arose at 7:30 to find I was the only one in the hotel eating breakfast at this hour. I guessed that the rest were either (i) still in bed, or (ii) already in the queue for tickets at the Alhambra. I hadn’t pre-booked my ticket either (which is advisable I am told), and I have a bit of an aversion to queuing, so I opted to explore the city centre in the morning instead. I set out along Gran Via del Colón, the main street. It was busy with people going to work, but when I crossed over to the cathedral area and the Alcaicería I found it pretty much closed. Still, at least I got to find out where everything was and work out when to come back to photograph things. I arrived at Plaza Bib-Rambla, which was somewhat more lively, with restaurateurs washing the pavement with hosepipes, but nowhere actually open, so I headed back toward the Albaycín in search of alternative Alhambra viewpoints. At Placeta de San Miguel Bajo I picked up the Lonely Planet walk route in reverse. The Convento de Santa Isabel la Real was nice, and I was soon back at the San Nicolás viewpoint, so figured that the alternate Alhambra view I had seen on a variety of postcards must be from private property. Or a helicopter. My reverse guide book reading took me through the delightful Arco de las Pesas, a gateway in the Albaycín’s 11th century wall and led me to the Plaza Larga, which was very busy with locals buying fruit and veg, a complete and welcome contrast to the more touristy spots. I pressed on to the Colegiata del Salvador, which was also very pretty in morning light. The rest of the Lonely Planet route was familiar from the day before, so I headed back to San Nicolás to look at the view in mid-morning light. Hazy. The flamenco guitar guy was there again, so I wondered if he’d been there all night?
From here I wandered back down to the centre to find that the Alcaicería traders were now awake, along with hordes of tourists looking at brightly coloured tablecloths, flamenco outfits, belly dancing gear and hookah pipes. It’s a great place for some detail photography. This sort of thing becomes addictive, so by the time I had run out of ideas I was also quite hungry, so I sought out a light lunch and went back to the hotel as I had planned a short siesta.
My siesta turned out to be about ½ hour as I got bored, not being used to daytime sleeping, so I stepped out into the searing heat of the middle of the day. I opted to walk up the hill toward the Alhambra rather than get the bus (mad dogs and Englishmen?) and as a result my water ran out very quickly, despite dodging across the road to stay in the shade all the time. Fortunately, there was a drinking fountain at Puerta de la Justica, otherwise I may well have been hospitalised with my EU health card sitting in my bedside cabinet at home. I entered via this gate which leads to the free bit of the Alhambra. There is still plenty to see, and a reasonable amount of shade to stand in and see it, though most of the shady spots were full of people. The entrance to Palacio de Carlos V provided a cool, quiet spot to sit and relax for a few minutes. The central courtyard of the palace is also part of the free entry, which was quite interesting as it was laid out for a concert. The Iglesia Santa Maria de la Alhambra next door was also worth a look, but the rest was protected by “border guards” so people don’t sneak in, so I continued on to the entrance and ticket office to try my luck. I arrived at 17:10, there was no queue, and I bought a ticket for entry to the Palacio Nazares at 17:30! OK, it didn’t cover the Alcazaba or Generalife, but I was pretty happy with this result. By the time I had walked back through the grounds there was just time for an ice-cream before my allotted entry time alongside groups of US college kids and elderly Japanese people, who I tried to quickly sneak past at the start of the tour to get some free space for taking photographs (of course, whenever I found a good subject to work on they would invariably catch me up…).
The interior of the palace is breathtakingly beautiful. There are quiet, dark rooms with intricate carving and exquisite coloured tiles. There are open courtyards around rectangular pools full of goldfish. And to finish off there are formal gardens with running water and further pools. The whole thing is lovely and I spent ages photographing details of the decoration, so I was mentally exhausted by the end of it all and glad I saved the other areas for a future visit as trying to cram it all in would have been too much. I exited the gardens near the stage door for the Palacio Carlos V to discover the Orchestra de Paris just arriving in a series of huge boxes (I presumed for the instruments and that the players were arriving by other means) which explained what all those chairs inside were for.
The stroll back down the hill was somewhat easier and I freshened up at the hotel before picking up the tripod (not allowed in the Palacio at the Alhambra – thank goodness for IS lenses) and set off back to the San Nicolás viewpoint for another shot at the Alhambra at sunset. This time I took the bus, having had enough of climbing steep hills. The driver negotiated the narrow Albaycín streets with skill – another advantage of not walking, as the streets accessible by vehicles are barely a minibus wide, so being a pedestrian can get a bit wearing with all the giving way to traffic.
At the viewpoint, Flamenco Guitar Man was in action again, and as I arrived I just managed to catch a photo of him finishing a piece with a flurry, arm aloft. For this shot I paid the princely sum of €1 when he came round collecting tips on the back of his guitar later, in the hope that my image may prove of saleable quality (sadly it proved to be totally blurred, even with an IS lens – oh well). The sunset turns a little hazy, so there was no great improvement on the previous evening, but after the sun dropped below the horizon there was some nice twilight, so I took a few more shots when the floodlighting came on. When the light faded I wandered back down into the centre for a meal to discover Plaza Nueva had been converted into an outdoor cinema, showing a flamenco film on a huge screen to a seated audience in the square, which made an unusual backdrop to my last evening in Granada, but just added to the atmosphere of the place I had wanted to visit for so long. It had certainly been worth the wait.
Granada sits just to the north west of the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains in Andalucía, southern Spain.
Getting There and Around
There are direct domestic flights from Madrid and Barcelona, but from the UK the easiest route is to fly to the well served Málaga airport and take the bus. There are also direct trains from Almería. If you are based in the city centre it is easy to explore by foot, plus there are good minibus services to the Alhambra and Albaycín.
What to Shoot and Gear to Pack
The sunset shot of the Alhambra from the Mirador San Nicolás is a must, along with the intricate Islamic art of the palace interiors and the colourful goods on sale in the Alcaicería. Pack your camera gear into an airline friendly rucksack, if you can – a body and two or three zooms for decent coverage should suffice. A tripod is essential for sunset and night shots, though you can’t take one into the Alhambra palaces so an image stabilised lens can be useful.