When people ask me if I would ever live long term in Spain, I tell them that there is only one place where I would: Granada. This is because Granada has so many faces and encompasses so many variations of life. It doesn't have extreme, painful winters, nor does it have a boring consistency of year-long heat. It exhibits a bustling city life but also offers escapes into the quiet life of nature. Granada has unbelievable royalty, but children still run around in the dirt next to the mountain's edge. Granada does not offer a one-sided life; you get to dabble in and peruse it all.
1. Royalty and informality
The history of Spain is composed of long battles between the Muslims and the Catholics. The Muslims established their reign in the Iberian Peninsula for hundreds of years before Catholics conquered the peninsula for themselves. Granada was the last city in Spain to fall to the Catholic's power. Because of this, Granada still maintains a strong Moorish ambiance, and it's evident throughout the city.
The most staggering tribute of Moorish influence is the all-powerful Alhambra, the olden palace of Granada. The Alhambra exemplifies the concept of royalty. It is indeed an all-powerful beast that boasts of its intricately perfect design and layout. The builders of this palace were nothing short of geniuses and used geometric systems and calculations to create a masterpiece. There are repeated patterns and interwoven holy words on the walls, and color is used precisely and beautifully to generate positive psychological effects. Mathematicians travel to see the Alhambra and marvel and its complexity. Every design in the Alhambra was painstakingly planned to capture light in just the right way and to represent aspects of nature. Understandably, the palace took hundreds of years to build.
Besides the breathtaking castle, the Alhambra also has surrounding gardens that could star in their own show. The gardens contain dazzling flowers and skillfully trimmed hedges to emanate a feeling of divine tranquility. These gardens are so heavenly that there is a board game named after them. In fact, many video games feature the Alhambra, numerous movies and TV shows used the Alhambra as a film location, an asteroid belt is named after the palace, and it was just shy of being one of the 7 wonders of the world.
The Alhambra is a big deal.
Another way to experience the evident royalty of Granada is to pamper yourself and go to the Arab baths for a day. An Arab bath is one of the most elegant, culturally rich, and calming type of spa that exists. Islamic influence paints the walls with similar features of the Alhambra and heightens the pleasure of royalty. The rates vary depending on the package you want. Packages include different kinds of massages and a standard trip to the warm- and cold-water baths. Soaking in the baths will rejuvenate you and give you a taste of the past.
Outside the walls, gardens, and baths live the common folk, and they do life well too. The Islamic impression has its roots in all of Granada, and there are certain areas and streets that are saturated with kabobs, lanterns, traditional harem pants, tapestries, henna, and tea. These are great cultural places to explore and shop. When you venture into neighborhoods, you witness daily life happening in full swing: children playing soccer barefoot out in the dirt, older men walking around the square selling newspapers, and locals drinking and socializing with friends. When you've tasted the royal history of Granada, your next step is to do the daily life of the locals... or the cave dwellers.
If there's an obvious contrast to a royal palace in Granada, living in caves would be the closest equivalent. In the 1500s, gypsies carved their homes into hills, and there has been a tight community of nomads, hippies, and gypsies there ever since. The neighborhood is called Sacromonte and is perched in perfect view of the regal Alhambra. Decorated with lanterns, colors, and rustic features, the caves represent a functional common life complete with running water and electricity. The community even has a garden and shares goods, fellowship, and music together. Not to mention, flamenco shows in the caves of Sacromonte are an experience you don't want to miss.
From the royal palace to elegant baths to cultural streets to small caves, Granada captures all realms of life for everyone.
2. City and nature
Granada has all the qualities of a respected, well-known city in Europe. It has cobble-stoned streets, mobs of tourists, high-quality restaurants, a constant stream of cars squeezing through narrow streets, and lots of shopping areas. The streets are always active and full, bustling with locals and tourists. Fountains are scattered in plazas, and tourists snap photos of cathedrals and ancient architecture.
To take advantage of the full city life, you must get a panoramic view of the city and the Alhambra. The viewpoints of both San Cristobal and San Nicolas are ideal locations to gave out to the city and the castle walls, but both require walking up steep, inclined streets. San Nicolas has more surrounding tourists shops and restaurants, so there are plenty of places to stop and take a breath on your way up. Both viewpoints reward you with incredible scenary of a busy city.
When you wander a bit out of the city, you encounter a breath of fresh air and a respite from the crowds. Granada is situated in the shadows of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Hiking trails are easily accessible and vary from relaxed strolls to intense climbs. The pieces of nature you will unearth on these trails will be unforgettable and mesmerizing. Along the foot of the mountains, you'll discover charming villages, and, of course, you'll run into the caves of Sacromonte near the mountains too. These are all great areas to sit, clear your mind, and enjoy the freshness of natural surroundings.
If villages tucked into the base of mountains and tranquil hikes aren't the kinds of restful nature you were looking for, the coast of Spain is 40 miles away. That inevitably means there are plenty of beach towns and remote, sandy shores awaiting just a short drive away. In Granada, you will not be trapped in the overwheliming confines of the city; neither will you be miles away from civilization. City and nature lie in equal planes.
3. Snow and palm trees
When I visited Granada, it was nearing the end of fall. The sight that brought me an uncontainable amount of joy was a palm tree in the foreground of a blanket of fall-colored trees. It was a pleasant surprise for me to discover that Granada cycles through all four seasons and yet always has a hint of summer.
The way life usually functions, warm vacation destinations with sunshine and palm trees do not experience the touch of changing leaves or snow. On the other hand, the weather in northern areas would consume any sprouting palm tree.
Granada is one of those rare, beautiful cities that offers both.
Because it is so close to the mountains, Granada receives frost and sometimes snow in autumn or winter months. However, the cold is bearable and usually welcomed. Temperatures commonly don't drop below 30, so winters are not tortuous and long. If you are craving more than frost and snow dust on the grass, you can easily take a jaunt to the mountains where snow victoriously delights in its personal winter wonderland.
Whereas temperatures don't drop below 30, they also don't exceed 90. The summer months are sunny and perfect. The coast invites you to bask in the comforting heat, and the gardens summon you to stroll around in the loveliness of noonday. Granada makes up the perfect balance of temperature and gives you all you could ever ask for.
On any given day visiting Granada, you could explore the Alhambra, walk through the caves of Sacromonte, shop in the city, hike on trails, sweat at the beach, and shiver in the mountains. Everything that Granada offers is so contrasting, so invigorating, and so appealing to all types of people. So go see Granada, and go see the world, change the world, and be changed.
By: Hannah Veldkamp
*Photo credit: Ceiling in Alhambra, Lanterns in Granada, and Granada city and the Alhambra - Hannah Halloran