The Alhambra, Granada, Spain
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Wandering through the Alhambra in Granada, Spain

The Judas Trees will soon be in bloom again around the Alhambra. With purple blossom glowing in the warm air of springtime in southern Spain, and the cool snows of the Sierra Nevada as a backdrop.

I think this collection of broken towers, palaces, dungeons and gardens is one of the most Romantic places to visit in Europe. In the 19th century sense of the word rather than the boy meets girl scenario.

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

It was in the mid-14th century that the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada in al-Andalus began to build “the red fortress” on the top of the Assabica hill.

It has suffered centuries of disrepair and some clumsy restoration work but it still represents utter romance, as well as outstanding an example of Islamic architecture.

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Of course I’m neither the first nor the last tourist to visit the Alhambra. Back in 1829 a romantic traveller and writer by the name of Washington Irving arrived. Irving had achieved some acclaim with stories such as Rip van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow but he was suffering writers block.

I love the thought of him camping out for months in the ruined palace, scribbling furiously in his notebooks and producing an evocative collection of sketches and stories entitled Tales of the Alhambra. His “discovery” and writing reintroduced the Alhambra to western consciousness. Since then the Alhambra has also been a setting chosen by novelists such as Salman Rushdie and Paul Coehlo.

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

The Alcazaba or citadel is the most prominent original feature and its stark red walls are a contrast to the royal complex, which is a wonder of honeycombed vaulting and carved arabesques, geometrical patterns and painted tiles. I loved the exquisite miradors from which palace ladies looked down on the cool gardens.

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

The UNESCO World Heritage Site complex is a mixture of medieval Moorish castle and 16th century Spanish palaces, but it is  nothing without its gardens. A poet once described the gardens of the Alhambra as almost competing with the celestial beauty of the moon and a walk through the Alhambra’s ‘paradise gardens’ is to be overwhelmed by the simplicity of perfect design.

Looking for a hostel in Granada? See these recommendations.

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

I walked beneath Wisteria arbors scenting the  air and let my ears fill with the sound of streams of water trickling down the water stairway. Wide pools mirror archways and palm trees – it’s pure Andalusia.

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

That night in Granada I went to the Bodegas Castenada, where elderly gentlemen in fedoras and pale linen jackets gather for tapas and a glass of red wine. I ate salty manchego  and cheeses laced with cardamon or apricot with sweet creamy almonds.

On my last morning in Granada I climbed through the steep narrow streets of the Arab Quarter, with its elaborately cobbled patterns of smooth stones.  Up through back streets of quiet, shuttered houses.

The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

From the plaza of the Mirador de San Nicolas I look out on the Alhambra and the old town. Punctuated by tall cypresses, the olive groves march in long lines up the hillsides towards the fortress on its rocky outcrop. Another Moorish poet described the Alhambra as a “pearl set in emeralds” and from here I can see why. Spanish poet Jose Zorilla put it like this:

Leave me in Granada in the middle of paradise where my soul wells with poetry;

Leave me until my time comes and I may intone a fitting song.

Yes, I want my memorial stone in this land.

Granada! Holy place of the glory of Spain,

Your mountains are the white tents of pavilions,

Your walls are the circle of a vase of flowers,

Your plan a Moorish shawl embroidered with colour,

Your towers are palm trees that imprison you.

By Natasha von Geldern

I think the Alhambra is the most romantic place in Europe. Do you agree? Have you got another candidate for the title? If you like this post why not pin it?

Wandering in the Alhambra Spain

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28 Comments

  1. Well, assuming that a holiday romance in Faliraki (on the Greek island of Rhodes) doesn’t count (I was young!) I am going to put in a bid for Florence. Perhaps one of the most visually stunning places I have ever been, and choc-full of Renaissance wonders at every turn, I love it there. With my lovely wife we wandered, sometimes aimlessly, through its beautiful streets and alleys. We had wine, olives and pasta for lunch. We fed the pigeons!

    Rose coloured specs? Maybe. Romantic? You bet!

    • Natasha von Geldern

      Mmmm Florence is one of my favourites for art and general gorgeousness. I still think the Alhambra has the edge in multi-cultural architecture and history.

  2. I didn’t notice the small mosaic tiles among the bricks when I was there. Nice detail.

  3. Lovely photos, Natasha! I especially like the interplay between shadows and light. I’ve long dreamed of a trip to Southern Spain and Morocco, and your post just makes me want to move the journey higher up on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Looks like a really fabulous place to explore and be inspired 🙂

  5. Yeah! I love Granada. I studied abroad there in college. I have many fond memories there!

    • Natasha von Geldern

      Lucky you! Granada seemed a very cool town 🙂

      • Glad you made it there too! It is indeed a raaerkmble place, as I’d mentioned in an earlier post. Can you imagine living there when it was at its cultural height? It seemed futile for the Reyes Catolicos to attempt to change Morrish splendor like this into any kind of celebration of the Church. It was just impossible to over-write the lush mid-eastern influence. It is a profound experience to enter the massive studded gates of the Hall of Justice and stand there below the immense gallery, open to the dommed roof, and imagine being hauled in there accused of anything to stand before judgement of the Sultan. His throne room was no less imposing. And those in contrast with the delicate screened passageways and elegant hidden rooms of the harem. What atmosphere!

  6. I visited the Alhambra this past January and loved it. I am just going through my photographs now. I was there on a very cold day. I made the best of it, and did a lot of exploring. Would love to go back again when it is warmer (much warmer) and some of the flowers are in bloom.

    Lovely photos.

    • Natasha von Geldern

      The gardens are really magical when the flowers are blooming but I’m sure the place had it’s own charm evem in the cold 🙂

  7. These pictures are absolutely gorgeous especially the one with the reflection. I have been seeing some great posts on Granada and the Alhambra lately. It just looks so mystical. We didn’t make it here the last time we were in Spain and would love to visit it next time. It does sound so romantic.

    • Natasha von Geldern

      Thanks Mary, you’d love it I’m sure. And so much for kids – with the fortress and dungeons and gardens to explore.

  8. Ian [EagerExistence]

    I spent an entire day wandering around and getting lost in the Alhambra — solo. Just me and the audio guide. Such a lovely place. Beats the pants off most museums and galleries and architecture that I saw in Europe. But then I might just have a thing for this type of thing.

    • Natasha von Geldern

      That audio guide is good isn’t it, and I usually hate the things. I agree the Alhambra has a certain something, that many more architecturally sophisticated European attractions have lost.

    • Oh god I’m so jealous. I’m back at work and it’s dsespering. The real world sucks and you’re doing the right thing getting away and learning. We’re saving at the moment but then it’s travelling all the way!xx

  9. I live in Granada and have nothing to add. Completely agree! Great post Natasha!

  10. I LOVE the alhambra, and Granada in general… its one of the places in the world i would be happy to keep on returning to

  11. I get to Granada as often as I can – have just posted about it in fact – and I never get tired of the Alhambra. Great shots here 🙂

    • Natasha von Geldern

      I know, I’ve got a friend who has been to the Alhambra at least 10 times. It is just endlessly fascinating.

  12. Lovely pictures and a chance to visit distant places with your eyes

  13. This is pretty amazing, Spain is viewed by so many as a real “Brits abroad” type place where you just go from the UK on a cheap holiday to get drunk but the reality is its one of the oldest and best looking countries and it makes sense to take the time to enjoy it.

  14. The Alhambra is one of those places that is so overhyped, you kind of expect it to disappoint you. It never did for me, I felt completely floored the entire time. Granada is a great city too.

  15. I was there two weeks ago exactly. I was a little bit disapointed but it’s a nice place, a little bit confusing to visit however. Better to book your ticket online if you want to visit it.

  16. We spent 2 months in Sevilla this summer (we’re slow travellers) but didn’t make it to the Alhambra this time around. Did however go Cordoba where we saw the amazing Mezquita which, along with the Alhambra, are the highlights of Islamic architecture in Andalusia.

    We’re planning to be back in the region and the Alhambra at the top of our list for the next time. I think generally Southern Spain just about the most romantic area anywhere.

    Frank (bbqboy)

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