Today we went to a poor man’s Alhambra. We sought jaw-dropping beauty, tumbling cascading water, refreshing cool…. and peace. Javi delivered us a day in which, only some 12 km from Granada, we experienced soul-soothing quiet, dramatic views – and just a touch of adventure. And not a tourist in sight.
We started our day climbing from Monachil, a village set among arid yellow and red tinted slopes. As we went on, dramatic rock formations scrambled high above us.
Our path narrowed. We were obliged to hang onto nearly sheer rock and manoeuvre ourselves along a route whose path followed a stream. Swaying bridges too.
As our gorge widened, there were different views, and a grassy plain for a mid-morning rest. We watched choughs wheeling high above us, preparing to nest high on the mountainside.
There were Mediterranean herbs, gorse, butterflies. And suddenly, over there in the distance, Granada.
Our circuit was almost complete. We’re refreshed, invigorated and renewed. Especially after our tapas, eaten sitting in a sunny riverside bar in Monachil. Don’t choose. Get what you’re given. Perfect.
What can I say about the Alhambra in Granada that hasn’t been written a hundred times before? I shan’t even try. Since the 9th century this striking hillside site just outside Granada has been a fortress, an Islamic palace, a Royal palace, gardens, a whole city. It’s even been an abandoned ruin. Javi’s grandmother used to come up to this abandoned place with her friends for picnics.
Now it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We tried to imagine what this place meant to those who lived here over the centuries. Southern Spain is hot. For months it’s rarely cool, even at night. Here are cool courtyards; formal canals and ponds; trickling or cascading fountains; elegant chambers with exquisitely, delicately carved tracery; slender columns; magically evanescent roof spaces reaching heavenwards.
I offer you a scrapbook of images. You can find history lessons, detailed descriptions elsewhere. I don’t offer you selfies. I left that to the – mainly younger – visitors who wanted only to pose and pose and pose again for yet another image against a beautifully wrought backdrop to which they paid no attention whatever.
Southern Spain once upon a time was Muslim territory. So Javi’s mum decided we should begin getting to know Granada by visiting Albaícin.
This was a quarter, then outside the main city walls, developed by the Muslims between the 6th and 15th centuries. It’s a warren of tiny characterful streets interspersed with grander dwellings, ‘carmen’. These houses had large courtyards at their core, planted with vines, with fruit trees, with sweet smelling climbing shrubs. Cooling fountains played.
And for us there were views too, across to the snow-crusted Sierra Nevada, and to the Alhambra. That’s where we’ll go tomorrow.
Before I begin a series of posts from Spain, I thought some of you would like to catch up with Danny. For newer readers – my daughter, who is not called Fanny, lost her husband to oesophageal cancer after a tough couple of years of unsuccessful treatment, leaving her with 10 year old twins, a business which she and Phil had run together, and a recalcitrant dalmatian. Three months later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has the all clear, but is awaiting great reconstruction. In this post, she brings her story up to date. I’m so proud of what she’s achieved these last few dreadful years.
I meant to publish this just after Christmas, which passed without incident. I’d forgotten how to enjoy festive family time, because for the last four years its presence only enhanced the pain we were in as a family. Whether we were waiting for test results, or scans, or news of a trial which might just give my husband a bit more time, or for a mastectomy which would only afterwards determine whether my life could be saved or simply prolonged a bit, every Christmas week (when the rest of the country ground to a halt and celebrated) left us dangling in painful suspended animation. Every year, we wondered if it would be the last we’d see with our children.
But this year, it was wonderful. Quiet, calm, content… and rather than being angry for the loss of my husband (though of course the grief hit us all at times) I…
In December 2017, I introduced you to my Spanish teacher Javi, and the parallels between his life and that of my daughter living in Spain. Fast forward a year, and Javi is still my teacher and our friend, and planning a treat. He’s taking Certain Selected Pupils (two of us anyway) and Malcolm to his home town of Granada for a week. He’ll not only be our tour guide, but will get us behind the scenes of his city in a way that only a native can.
He’ll introduce us to its Moorish history (the Alhambra, of course), and to the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada. He’ll take us to his favourite haunts. We’ll eat together. We’ll meet his mum.
I can’t wait. On Saturday morning, bright and early, we’ll be at Leeds Bradford Airport, then airborne for Málaga, and Granada. Watch this space.
I wrote this post six years ago, when we still lived in France. Winters were winters there, as what follows testifies …. though there too, they’re no longer the affairs they once were when our Ariègeois friends were small, when schoolchildren marched to school down head-high channels excavated into the snow. This winter here in England, we’ve celebrated the occasional crisp frost, and a couple of days of snow, quickly melted.
This is the Real Thing.
Scaramus, Plateau de Sault, Aude: February 17th, 2013
It’s only 7 o’clock, but I can’t see me having a late night. We’ve had a day of ‘raquettes’ – snow shoes. Gosh it’s exhausting. You strap great oval saucers of plastic, webbing, and toothed metal to your feet and spend some minutes feeling like an ungainly baby taking its first uncertain footsteps across the endless wastes of the living room carpet.
But equilibrium returns, and without these cumbersome contraptions, how else would you walk across the undulating white snowfields of the Plateau de Sault, with views of snow-sculpted hillsides nearby, jagged snow-crusted peaks beyond? How else could you enjoy the sound of the satisfying crunch and crack as feet break through the crispcrust of the surface snow? Thank goodness for that icy layer. We found our 5’ long batons, plunged deep below the surface, wouldn’t touch the frozen ground beneath.
The road to the snowfields.
And with a bright blue sky, a hot sun enabling us to walk wearing T shirts and summer hats, what better way to spend a February Sunday?
My drawers are stuffed with odd gloves, almost exclusively left-handed. I only buy cheap pairs, because they rarely last longer than a month. One famous winter I lost one or both gloves from eleven pairs. I managed to hang onto the twelfth….
This year, I made a stand. I spent four whole pounds on a pair of leather ones from a charity shop and vowed I would not lose them. Shhhh. So far so good.
So this year, I’m losing hats instead. Three down, one to go…..