Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Local's Secrets (6) : Ivana's Granada

Medieval Arab architecture infused with a modern European vibe, beaches and mountains both within an hour’s drive, and wine as cheap as water: what’s not to love about Granada? Oh, and did I mention free tapas? 

What do people have to know about the city’s transportation? 
Granada is an easy one when it comes to transportation: just walk! The city is small enough that you can get just about everywhere you need to go by foot. If you do need to reach somewhere in the outskirts of the city or have mobility issues, a regular bus fare is 1,20€, or if making multiple trips, you can buy a rechargeable travel card for minimum 5€, where each trip will cost you only 0,79€ or 0,57€ if you’re a student.

Do not, I repeat, do NOT fly into Granada!! Its airport is domestic only and will therefore cost you a fortune to fly into. Instead, fly to Málaga and take a bus directly from the airport to Granada for about 11€. The trip takes two hours. See https://www.alsa.es/ for timetables. 

If you need to go from Granada to other parts of Spain, bussing is an option, but so is BlaBlaCar. Think Uber, only Spanish. It’s a trusted ridesharing service that allows you to enter your trip details and view the drivers going in the same direction as you, along with reviews and prices.  

If someone is new to the city, which website should he check for daily or weekly free events? 
Check out the official Granada tourism site first. For events specific to Art & Culture, visit Agenda de Granada.  

The food scene! 

Signature dish and where to get the best servings: 

While you may not find a diverse selection in terms of international cuisine in Granada, the local food scene will not disappoint. Granada is a fairly progressive, green city compared to other locations in Spain. As such, there are a handful of strictly vegan and vegetarian restaurants. Otherwise, the dishes involve a lot of meat, cheese, and seafood. 

The signature dish of Granada would have to be the pionono. Named after Pope Pius IX (Pio Nono in Italian), these sweet little pastries look like tiny cinnamon rolls, only instead of cinnamon, they’re fermented in syrup. Pastelería Casa Ysla is known to have the best ones in town.  

Wackiest food in town and where to try them: 
Granada – and Spain in general – is pretty tame when it comes to their cooking. That’s not to say the food is bland (quite the opposite), but it’s not as “wacky” as some more exotic places. One interesting dish is berenjenas con miel, or eggplant with molasses. Essentially, it’s a plate of eggplant cross-sections fried and drizzled with molasses. Grab a plate at Los Manueles. 

Is there any everyday food that foreigners might find exotic? 
This one is native to South America but there is a tropical zone in the province of Granada where it grows: chirimoya. Spain is the largest producer of this scaly tropical fruit. Covered in a thick green skin, slice open a chirimoya and you’ll be treated with a sweet, creamy white flesh. Apparently, Mark Twain even called it “the most delicious fruit known to man.” So, you know, it must be good. 

"things you should experience before you die” 

Experience Granada’s Arab influence by visiting two of its most spectacular attractions: La Alhambra and the Arab baths. A truly marvelous day would be to do these one after the other. Book a ticket to the Alhambra as soon as you know you are going to Granada, as in high season they can sell out upwards of a month in advance. Try to plan your visit to the Alhambra so that your entry into the Nasrid Palaces is in the evening. At the same time, reserve a spot at the Hammam Al Ándalus Baths, timing it so that when you finish at the Alhambra, you can stop by your hotel to grab your bathing suit and head to the baths. Take your time wandering the gardens and palaces of the magnificent Alhambra, admire the extraordinary attention to detail, and claim your spot on one of many terraces to watch the sun slip below the horizon. Then, make your way to the baths where you will be treated to a ten minute back or leg massage and have the remainder of the 1.5 hours to dip between cold, warm, and hot pools, sipping on mint tea all the while. The candlelit atmosphere is perfect for couples or those who simply wish to escape the buzz of the city. 

Alhambra - Jardines del Partal

Hidden Gems
Skip the tapas in the city centre and head to the university area to really get good bang for your buck. Just off Plaza Einstein is Calle Gonzalo Gallas where students go to get cheap, filling tapas. And when I say cheap, I mean spend 2€ on a Coke and get a 6-inch sandwich plus fries for free. You’d be hard pressed to find that kind of deal in the heart of the city, but tapa places like these are a dime a dozen in other neighbourhoods. 

Flamenco shows are among the most popular tourist attractions in the south of Spain. Some venues will ask that you shell out a whopping 40€ for dinner and the show. These shows target tourists because they know they’ll pay. Don’t. Instead, opt for a night at Peña La Platería, one of Spain’s oldest flamenco clubs. For 12€, enjoy an impressive performance by the best local artists along with a complimentary drink. Reserve your spot beforehand.

Let’s talk about the best festival in your city, and how to participate!
The best time to visit Granada is at the end of May or early June because of Corpus Christi, Granada’s largest celebration. The city is taken over by a fair where you can enjoy amusement park rides, street food, dancing, and lots and lots of wine until the wee hours of the morning. A number of different buses will take you to the fairground. The city absolutely sparkles in the light of hundreds of lanterns as flamenco dancers invigorate the streets with their energy. Simply follow the crowd to take part in the festivities. 

Tell us your favorite photo spots in your city and how to get there 

The absolute best place to take photos in Granada is at the magnificent grounds of the Alhambra. Of course, this usually means you’ll have to pay admission. However, if you go in the evening after it closes, you’ll be restricted access to some areas, but the patios with perfect views of Granada’s hilly landscape will be open for your photo-taking enjoyment. To get there, start at Plaza Nueva and follow Cuesta de Gomérez up to Calle Real de la Alhambra.

The patios of Carrera del Darro, which runs along Plaza Nueva and the Darro River, are in full bloom in springtime. Take a walk along the Carrera and snap some vibrant photos with the Alhambra in the background. 

My final recommendation for Instagram-worthy photos is, of course, the Albaicín. Just north of Plaza Nueva is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets buzzing with tourists, vendors, and locals alike. Take any one of these roads and just keep heading up, up, up! Part of the fun is simply getting lost and finding what you think will make for an interesting photo, be it a colourful door, intricate stonework, or breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. 

The best day trip destination from the city
No trip to Granada is complete without a visit to Las Alpujarras. Spain is the second-most mountainous country in Europe and nestled within those mountains are pueblos blancos, or white villages. The name says it all: amidst the lush green foliage of the southern portion of the Sierra Nevada range are hundreds of tiny white homes, restaurants, and shops. Be prepared to be blown away by the terraces bursting with flowers, locals so friendly they’ll make you feel like part of the community, and quaint boutiques that you won’t find in the city. This is the perfect opportunity to buy authentic Spanish souvenirs. Spend the day exploring a few of these villages by car. While there are many to choose from, some of the most popular ones include Pampaneira, Lanjarón, and Capileira.

About the Author: 

Hi! I’m Ivana, a Canadian-raised, Spanish-at-heart traveller and recent graduate about to embark on the next chapter of my life. This fall, I’ll be packing my bags and heading back to Granada, Spain to teach English. The semester I spent studying in Granada helped shape my identity as a young woman with a desire to experience as much of this diverse world as possible. I know leaving my home in western Canada - possibly for good - will be a challenge emotionally, but I’m convinced the adventure to come will be well worth the sacrifice. 

You can follow my journey on my blog, Ivana Abroad or on social media:

Twitter: @ivanaabroad
Instagram: ivanaabroad
Pinterest: ivanaabroad

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