Albaicin - Exploring Granada's World Heritage Site - The Maritime Explorer


Albaicin – Exploring Granada’s World Heritage Site

The Albaicin

In a previous post I described how Alison and I, almost on a whim, ended up in a beautiful three story apartment in the Albaicin area of Granada, Spain. Well now that we are settled in and I’ve found the closest place to buy wine, cheese, bread, olives and sausage in that order of importance, it’s time to start exploring Albaicin. I won’t repeat what I wrote in that last post about the history of the area and why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will find these signs in Spanish and English throughout the area.

Albaicin World Heritage Site sign

The owners of the apartment have been kind enough to give us a few suggestions about good places to eat in the area and for breakfast it’s Restaurant Aixa in the Plaza Larga which according to the google map on my computer is not far away. How hard can that be to find? I even take the precaution of writing down the various turns which are quite numerous considering it’s only 400 metres away. Before I go further, please don’t ask why I didn’t just use Google maps on my iPhone or iPad – that would be too simple and besides I’m paranoid about data roaming. So off we go exploring Albaicin by starting with a nice morning coffee and pastry.

I am always amazed at how differently things look in the real life of four dimensions compared to a two dimensional map. The streets of Albaicin are extremely narrow and only a few are wide enough for cars. This is generally what you see.

Exploring Albaicin
Albaicin lane

There are no straight sight lines and intersections seem to come out of nowhere. Street names are occasional, although sometimes what you think is one street suddenly changes names in mid-stream. For some reason I get it in my head that Plaza Larga is downhill from Calle San Luis so we take these steps.

Another lane in the Albaicin

After about twenty minutes I realize that the projected five minutes to Plaza Larga is well past and we are totally f***ing lost. But you know what, I don’t care. We’re having a blast just walking these ancient alleyways and I know that eventually we’ll find our way to Plaza Larga. Let’s start by going back uphill.

Exploring Albaicin
Back uphill

The great thing about just letting yourself get lost is that you never know what is around the next corner. It could be hidden fountain like this one which clearly shows the traces of the Albaicin’s Moorish past.

Exploring Albaicin
Hidden Fountain in the Albaicin

It could be something like this Jack Russell on guard over his master’s property.

Exploring Albaicin
Jack Russell on an Albaicin Wall

Or this cute guy behind bars,

Exploring Albaicin
Behind Bars

One thing quickly becomes very clear while exploring Albaicin and that is that we are just about the only tourists around. There are a lot of students heading down to the city proper where over 60,000 of them attend the University of Granada which dates all the way back to 1531. There are a lot of elderly people walking dogs which they do not pick up after so you have to watch where you step. That was about the only negative thing I could possibly say about exploring Albaicin. On our way back uphill I manage to overshoot the Plaza and end up at the very top of the Albaicin where the Sacromonte district begins. This is an area, famous for its caves still inhabited by the gitano people (Spanish gypsies) that I had seen quite clearly from the roof of our apartment on Calle San Luis and knew that somehow we were now farther away from Plaza Larga than when we started.

Long story short after quite a few more of these.

Exploring Albaicin
Another Albaicin lane

And these.

Exploring Albaicin
Almost at Plaza Larga

We finally got to Plaza Larga. I was so happy to get a coffee and buy a pastry from the really good bakeshop at the top of the Plaza that I forgot to take a picture.

Mirador San Nicolas

Now that we had our bearings and some sustenance it was time to seek out the Albaicin’s number one attraction, the Mirador of San Nicolas. A mirador in Spanish simply means a place, usually a turret or a window from which there is a commanding panoramic view. Over the years it has evolved to include any place with a great view and that’s what you’ll find at the Mirador of San Nicolas. The narrow streets and lanes open up into a large open space from where the view of the Alhambra across the Darro River valley, the city of Granada below and the snow covered Sierra Nevadas in the background is (trot out any of the usual clichés – they all fit) stunning, jaw-dropping, mesmerizing, stupendous etc. Judge for yourself.

Alhambra from Mirador San Nicolas

The Mirador also doubles as a place for young and old musical types to gather and practice on their Spanish guitars. It was pretty neat to see them jamming together playing not rock, folk or God forbid hip hop, but classical Spanish numbers, while a few listeners responded with classic, if exaggerated, flamenco moves. They were not doing this for money or to impress the tourists, of which there were few, but simply for the sheer joy of indulging in this ancient Andalusian ritual. So our exploration of the Albaicin got off to a slow, but interesting start and ended on a crescendo of duelling guitar chords. As long as an area is safe, and the Albaicin is, then it never hurts to let yourself get lost and just go where ever serendipity is going to take you. Yes Alison, I got lost on purpose.

Tomorrow we’ll start exploring the rest of Granada. Please join us.