Civilization is an active deposit which is formed by the combustion of the present with the past. Neither in countries without a Present nor in those without a Past is it to be encountered.Cyril Connolly
Photos: Granada / Alhambra & Generalife / Ronda
Pueblo Blancos / Setenil de las Bodegas
June 12-20 2017
Leaving the relaxing island of Mallorca, we took a quick flight to Granada where we would begin our 9 day visit to the Andalusia region in southern Spain. We had been to the region once before, visiting Seville on our return from a vacation to Morocco, which you can read about in the post Stopover in Sevilla. We enjoyed our visit and knew there were other spots we wanted to check out in the region so we made sure it was on our itinerary during our around the world trip.
We only spent 3 nights in Granada, but we were able to see a lot during our stay, it helped that it was a fairly compact city. The main attraction for us was a visit to the Alhambra, something that had been on our bucket list, and it did not disappoint. It is one of the most popular attractions in all of Spain, and so we made sure to book our tickets several weeks in advance as it is known to sell out quickly in the summer months.
The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex, originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889. It was neglected until the 13th century when the last Muslims to rule in Spain, the Nasrid Dynasty, began construction of the complex which you can see today. The different parts of the complex are connected by paths, gardens and gates but each part of the complex could be blocked in the event of a threat. The exquisitely detailed structures with their highly ornate interior spaces and patios contrast with the plain walls of the fortress exterior. After the Christians conquered the area in the 14th century, an additional palace was built to complete the site.
Just beyond the Alhambra’s walls the Nasrid rulers also built a large estate known as the Generalife. The estate also contains a palace built in the same decorative manner as those within the Alhambra, but its elaborate vegetable and ornamental gardens made this lush complex a welcome retreat for the rulers of Granada.
We spent the almost an entire afternoon and evening wandering through the complex, following an audio guide which explained everything as we walked the grounds. It was a beautiful place, with even the smallest and most hidden rooms full of intricate details. The complex also offered wonderful views of the city below, and all the gardens and water features made for a very pleasant visit. It is something that really must be seen in person, but I did my best to capture the beauty on camera which you can see towards the bottom of this post.
Besides the Alhambra, we really enjoyed the different neighborhoods of Granada. Particularly, El Albaicin and Sacromonte. El Albaicín is the old Moorish quarter of the city, it maintains the layout of Medieval narrow streets and being built on a hill offers good views of the Alhambra. With its neat narrow lanes and well-kept traditional houses, the area has retained its old charm and is the ideal place to discover Moorish architecture.
Sacramonte is the traditional neighborhood of the Granadian Gipsies, who settled in Granada after the Christian conquest of the city in 1492. It is one of the most picturesque neighborhoods of the city, situated in a pleasant landscape and full of homes built into whitewashed caves.
We could have spent a lot more time in Granada, as it had a lot to offer, from what seemed like daily festivals to the wide range of food, but none the less it was time to head to our next stop, the small town of Ronda.
We rented a car for the next part of our trip through Andalusia, with the plan to base in Ronda while we toured around the area during the weekend to visit several of the Pueblo Blancos (White Villages) of Andalusia.
Ronda ended up being the perfect base, a magnificent small city situated on a mountaintop, perched dramatically above a deep gorge. A stone bridge spans the gorge and connects the old city to the newer half, providing wonderful views. We enjoyed several hikes during our stay, both in and around the gorge, taking in the impressive terrain. The town also boasts one of the oldest bull rings in all of Spain, as well as many wonderful plazas to dine and hang out amongst the locals. One of the highlights for Maggie was taking in a Flamenco performance inside a small local restaurant during our stay.
During the weekend, we headed out of Ronda and drove through breathtaking scenery as we toured several of the Pueblo Blancos in the area, including Zahara de la Sierra, Grazalema, Ubrique, and Cortes de la Frontera. Most of the towns were situated within the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, whose roads took us across mountain passes, forested hillsides, and fertile valleys. We stopped several times to hang out with goats, horses, and bulls as we passed them hanging out alongside the twisty route. Our favorite stop was Zahara de la Sierra, which overlooked a large reservoir with an amazing blue hue. The town was also getting ready to celebrate the festival of Corpus Christi, so it was a lot of fun to watch as the towns people got ready to decorate the outside of their homes with tree branches and hay, a tradition to camouflage and make the town look a bit like it was centuries ago.
The next day we took another road-trip, this time visiting the bohemian Pueblo Blanco of Genalguacil. Along the way we stopped to grab some lunch that we took down to a river we were passing over to cool off and do some swimming. Continuing deeper into the wilderness we climbed high into the mountains and reached Genalguacil, the town was full of art and sculptures as we navigated the winding streets and alleyways taking in the atmosphere. We saw only a handful of tourists during our visit and so we really enjoyed the peace and quiet that the town offered.
Leaving Genalguacil we decided to take the scenic route back, this took us all the way to Spain’s southern coast, known as Costa del Sol. While the coast was overbuilt and full of resorts, the drive down from the mountains above and then back up again to get back to Ronda was spectacular, we were even able to see the Rock of Gibraltar out in the distance.
The day before we would leave Ronda and drive to Malaga to catch our flight to our next destination, we made a daytrip to the nearby town of Setenil de las Bodegas. A small town of 3,000 people, it is famous for its dwellings built into rock overhangs above the Rio Trejo that winds through town. Maggie hung out at a café built into a cliff with huge overhang that stretched out across the road, getting some work done, while I wandered the intriguing town for most of the afternoon.
Between Granada situated at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Ronda with its breathtaking gorge cutting through the town, and the Pueblo Blancos that we visited, we got to see some fascinating sites and some really unique places with beautiful views. The way the towns blended into the landscape structurally while standings out with their bright white facades was something we hadn’t seen before and made visiting Andalusia a highly memorable experience.