As we continued our Spain adventure we made our way from Gibraltar to the Costa Tropical. (see part I & II) We quickly breezed by the hotel lined Costa del Sol and drove to a less busy/touristy location south of Granada. We stopped for two peaceful nights in La Herradura (Horseshoe in Spanish). La Herradura is a sweet little town on a picturesque horseshoe-shaped bay famous for its crystal-clear waters, sheltered beach, and watersports. We found a super affordable wonderful hotel right on the beach and spent two nights soaking in the Mediterranean winter.
We spent the winter solstice day enjoying paella on the beach, drinking white wine and watching the sun say good night before it’s long winter’s rest. The second day we hiked up the hill on the edge of town to the little light house on the hill. At the lighthouse the Sierra Nevadas peeked their way out in the distance, a preview for the next day’s adventure.
From La Herradura we traveled to the Sierra Nevadas and Las Alpujarras for a day of hiking. Below the Sierra Nevada mountains lie the valleys of Las Alpujarras. The three beautiful villages of the Barranco de Poqueria; Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira are the most visited white towns of the Las Alpujarras. The villages are famous for artisan crafts; leather, weaving and tilework and cuisine; ham, jam, cheese, honey, mushrooms and grapes. The towns are connected by a winding road and hiking trails and can be reached by bus from Granada. We took the narrow road to the last and highest village of Capileira for lunch and hiking. We had a lovely lunch and went past town a short ways to start our hike.
The trail went through the Poqueira gorge and upwards towards the Sierra Nevadas. We passed only a handful of other hikers and enjoyed the peaceful solitude of the mountains. We left at sunset and headed back down the hills towards Granada. We drove to about 30 miles outside of Granada, El Valle and stayed in a tiny little town surrounded by orange groves. We were the only guests at the rural hotel that night and enjoyed a wonderful dinner by the fire at the tiny restaurant. In the morning, I went for my run on a hiking trail connecting the towns through the orange groves along the river. Magic.
We rented a wonderful Airbnb in Granada to spend several days over Christmas in. Granada is full of narrow winding passages, Moorish architecture, vibrant nightlife and the crown jewel; the Alhambra. Our apartment was right around the corner from Cuarto Real de Santo Domingo. We were in perfect walking distance from the Alhambra palace and spent our first afternoon taking in the wonder of the palace, gardens and grounds.
The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a beautiful display of Moorish culture and architecture. The first palace on the site was built in 11th-century and building continued through the 13th and 14th centuries. The grounds are vast and at least half a day can easily be spent exploring its charm. The crowds weren’t too bad when we were there right before Christmas but I am sure in the height of tourist season it can get very busy. We enjoyed our off season visit taking in the gardens at our leisure and watching sunset from the grounds.
Our days in Granada were spent celebrating Christmas, cooking, eating, walking and exploring all we could of this lovely city. The best way to get to know Granada is to take off on foot and weave in and out of the narrow streets and lose yourself in the history, culture and atmosphere. On Christmas eve we went to the hammam and soaked in the Arab steam baths for a unique and relaxing Christmas eve. On Christmas day we went for a long walk which turned into a hike up the Generalife park, behind the Alhambra. The park is filled with olive trees and views of the Sierra Nevadas with hiking trails weaved throughout. We spent most the afternoon hiking all around taking in the views and stopped on our way home for drinks at the historic hotel Alhambra palace. We made a wonderful Christmas dinner and called friends and family back home for the perfect Christmas day.
The day after Christmas we went hiking up in the Sierra Nevadas. It seems that is what all of Granada was also doing that day. It was full of families skiing, sledding and quality time together in the snow. The mood of the mountain was full of Christmas cheer. We drove up to the ski resort area and went on foot up the mountain for outstanding views of life below.
For our final nights of the trip we drove made to Madrid, dropped off the car and took in all we could in a short period of time. Madrid is a beautiful city full of art, life and culture. If ever there was city for nightlife this is it. I had been in Madrid earlier in the year and missed one of the museums I really wanted to go to, so we made sure we out the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum this time. We also spent time in the Parque del Buen Retiro visiting the Palacio de Cristal, a magnificent metal-and-glass structure near the lake. It was built in 1887 as a winter garden for exotic flowers and is now used for temporary art exhibitions.
We ate amazing food and found a local craft beer bar. The holiday feel was still in the air and the streets were full of families and tourists alike. The weather was clear and beautiful and was the making of a true love affair with this country.
Our two weeks in Spain was capped off by a 22 hour lay over in Toronto, Canada were we got to briefly explore another beautiful city for a few simple hours. We had an amazing two weeks in Spain. We fell in love with this country all over again. Two weeks in Spain is medicine for the soul.