Ker & Downey’s Rina Chandarana journeys to Seville and Granada and discovers the heart of Andalusia, a vibrant fusion of Spanish and Moorish cultures.
“Keep going,” encouraged a determined traveler, striding up the stairs ahead of me. I looked back, panting and saw the red-roofed city below.
There are easier ways to get to the imposing 13th century Alhambra, a Moorish fortress, the jewel in Granada’s crown. I chose the well-worn scenic route, which was also a step back in time.
Starting in the year 711, the ruling North African sultans referred to this area as Al-Andalus and the Alhambra is their greatest legacy. Stone walls adorned with exquisite tiled patterns burst with color and Arabic calligraphy. All the detailed archways are perfectly symmetrical — a mathematical masterpiece.
I wandered the manicured gardens, dotted with shimmering reflective pools, soaring palms and bubbling fountains. The snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains lay in the distance. It’s no wonder why the Moors wanted to stay.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site peeks between the maze of slender cobblestone lanes that wind up higher between white-washed homes, convents and churches of the Albayzin neighborhood. A Gitano musician strums on a guitar, his raspy, passionate song wafting into the chilly air. Brooding clouds add a moody magic. Spain cast its spell on me, and I am totally enthralled.
That evening, I climbed another hill (there are many in Granada) to get to Sacromonte, Granada's flamenco mecca. When the Gitanos first arrived from India centuries ago they carved out simple caves in the soft rock. The moonlit Alhambra, a constant companion, shimmered across the valley. The faint sound of music leads me into a cave. Copper spoons and pots — a reminder that this was once someone’s home — dangle from the ceiling.
Musicians bang on drums and sing. Dancers shout “Ole!”, their frilly skirts morphing into a blur of color as they spin, and feet are electric with clacking and stomping. Shiny black hair is pinned with decorative combs, ruby red roses and fans. The atmosphere is charged with a powerful and infectious energy. One woman pulls me up and I attempt to mimic her snapping fingers. I don’t even understand Spanish, but I’m completely caught up in the moment.
Pro Tip! Go during the weeks leading up to Easter when large floats and processions are being prepared and the weather is just right. - Rina Chandarana, Marketing and Content Assistant
Although there’s no shortage of architectural stunners in Seville, its main draw is the 10th century Alcazar, a palace still inhabited by the royal family. Southern Spain is a Mudejar treasure trove, Islamic and Christian architectural styles merging in a beyond-beautiful blend. Intricate plasterwork and delicately painted azulejo tiles add decorative flourishes.
Turn to any page of “The Arabian Nights” and the Alcazar would fit perfectly into its stories of princesses, palaces and far-away lands. Thinking of this I drifted into a fairytale garden, my path interrupted by colorful, proud peacocks.
The massive Seville Cathedral is the city’s focal point and sits on the site of a former mosque. Bright oranges bulge from the inner courtyard’s trees. This hallowed building houses the remains of Christopher Columbus, whose travels amassed overflowing wealth for Seville. I repeatedly craned my neck up to see an even more stirring azulejo-tiled depiction of a tearful Mary, the Esperanza de Triana.
After Granada’s leg workout, I sacrificed myself again and jolted up the 35 ramps of the Giralda, the minaret -turned-bell tower, to get a beautiful view of Seville’s blue skies, church domes and bright homes.
Sevillanos linger alfresco over tapas. Pale green olives burst in my mouth with tangy delight. Cortado coffee, a bold espresso, was far stronger and tastier than anything back home. Lightly spiced chickpeas tucked into spinach, crispy toasts topped with tomato marmalade and glasses of red wine were the day’s fuel. I refuse to admit just how many napolitana de chocolate croissants I ate. Maybe my legs were tired from exploring so much of southern Spain, but my senses and my taste buds were happy as Andalusia softly sang to my heart.