Granada occupies a high mountain bowl scenic, yes, but dusty,
dry and grimly hot in the summer.
The Nasrid monarchs were no fools. When they established the
Alhambra, the palace complex from which they ruled their Medieval
Moorish kingdom in southern Spain, they built on the high edge of
the bowl, where water flows, trees flourish and cool breezes blow
unhindered through the high passes.
The Hotel Alhambra Palace benefits doubly from the same
placement. It too rises above most of the noise, smog and bustle of
the city. And it is just a few minutes’ shady walk from the
The hotel is a tall, domed building rising atop a steep slope.
The windows of the front rooms overlook roofs and domes in a
residential quarter directly below and the view sweeps across the
entire valley, complete with the peaks of the high Sierra Nevada
catching the setting sun to the left.
Also complete, in some weather, with a fearsome layer of smog.
The same mountains that keep the breezes out of the valley trap the
dust and fumes of the city, and the resulting smudge will be
familiar to anyone who has looked down on Los Angeles from the San
Gabriel Mountains. All the better to be above the worst of it.
The hotel’s public areas are enriched with decorative details in
plaster, wood and tile in the style of the ornate Moorish monument
just up the hill. Dark wood predominates in the rooms, but they are
large and comfortable.
The view is there again when guests linger over at dinner in an
enclosed porch along the front of the building. The food is
palatable, if unremarkable, but the view at sunset is worth one
ordinary meal. For other nights there are fine restaurants in the
city that specialize in Moorish-style food, rich with olives, figs
and honey. Breakfast, a buffet in the dining room, is memorable
chiefly for the constant groan of one of those overworked rack
toasters that cling to existence in some Spanish hotels.
To get to the Alhambra from the hotel, the best way is to walk.
It’s a few hundred yards and uphill, though on a gentle slope, but
a traveler who can get around inside the historical site can
probably get to it. The graveled walkways through the trees and
under the walls of the fortress are more pleasant than the
Clients who do not read Spanish should be warned that signs
inside the site don’t have English translations. To confuse things
further, some guidebooks don’t call the buildings by the same names
as those on the signs. It is a big site and there is a lot to see,
but ruins of big fortresses with great views like the Alcazaba, for
instance, can be seen elsewhere. What brings people to this place
is the Nasrid Palaces Palacios Nazaries on the sign which need time
for full appreciation.
It is astonishing, considering the quality of the air in the
city below, that the delicate ornamentation has lasted through the
centuries. In fact, the lion statues around the outdoor fountain in
the Lion Court show the telltale blurring of detail that is
associated with acid rain. But the tiling and plaster traceries
inside and the play of light through the day are worth plenty of
time and repeated visits. Do note that the palaces close after
A tougher walk from the hotel is the Albaicin, the old Moorish
quarter along a stream below the fortress. It’s not far, but the
path is quite steep.
Taxis are always available in the busy little square in back of
the hotel that also serves as a bus stop and a valet parking lot.
Clients who reach Granada by rental car should be advised to leave
it here when they explore the city: Not only is the route
circuitous, but driving along a street that narrows for a fortress
gate only inches wider than the car is not for the
Riding, not walking, is definitely recommended for sights
farther down, such as the Alcaiceria, once a teeming bazaar, now a
warren of narrow streets and souvenir shops.
Waiting to be explored farther afield are the Sierra Nevada, the
beaches of the Costa de Almeria and, for film buffs, the locations
for spaghetti westerns near Tabernas.
Cordoba, with the wonderfully eclectic architecture of the
Mezquita, is a longish but picturesque day trip through miles of
When Napoleon’s troops invaded Granada and seized the Alhambra,
the General intended to blow up the palace. So the story goes, his
plans were hampered by a wounded soldier who had been left behind
in the palace. The courageous man succeeded in diffusing the bomb
single-handedly, and thus saved this beautiful building for future