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Jewels of Andalusia

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IF YOU have never experienced the delights on offer in the Spanish cities of Granada and Cordoba, now could be the time, as a special break is being organised by PDM Travel to these two historical Andalusian cities.

Hills and history

Located at the foot of the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains, the beautiful city of Granada is in the eastern part of the region of Andalusia. Apart from enjoying the outstanding natural beauty of the area, you will be bowled over by the city’s unique history, which embraces an eclectic mix of Moorish palaces to Christian Renaissance treasures.

Mystical Alhambra

A short stroll from the centre of the city to the ‘red hill’ will lead you to the most enchanting structure of Moorish history, the Alhambra. Alhambra has been declared a World Heritage Site, along with the Generalife and the Albaicín, considered by some to be one of the 10 wonders of the world.

In essence, the Alhambra is a massive castle constructed over many centuries, consisting of gardens, fortifications and sumptuous palaces. It was the home of many of the Arabic Sultans, who ruled the whole province and who wanted to reflect their faith in their palace’s decoration and architecture. As the Koran continually repeats the idea that Heaven is a garden with running water, the Alhambra is an Arabic attempt to create Heaven on earth.

Nowadays, it receives 8,000 visitors per day and is Spain’s most visited monument, yet you can always find a peaceful spot to rest and contemplate the spirit of this ancient site.

Atmospheric Albaicín

Another city highlight is a wander through the Albaicín – the old Arabic quarter located on the hill opposite the Alhambra. It is characterised by its jasmine scented picturesque cobble-stoned streets and white washed houses. Here you’ll find countless squares with terazas– at almost every turn of the head there is an attractive view, almost always involving glimpses of the Alhambra. Be sure to visit the pottery shop, which sells the typical granadino pottery (white background with strong blue shapes) for a great souvenir.

Flamenco Sacramonte

Bordering the Albaicín to the north east, the Sacromonte district is also known as the ‘gypsy quarter’. It began when the city’s poor began to hack dwellings out of the mountainside in the 16th century. The now gentrified caves are still inhabited and have grand views of the Alhambra.

The Sacramonte gypsies are famed for their flamenco skills and there is plenty on offer here. You’ll also find the city’s airy cathedral and adjacent Royal Chapel, which houses the extravagant tombs of the Catholic conquerors, King Fernando and Queen Isabel.

Tempting tapas

Once you’ve soaked up all the history and culture, be sure to enjoy another Granadino tradition – eating out. Most bars in the city offer tasty free tapas with drinks, but for something more substantial try some of the local specialities including bastela (salty-sweet puff pastry with meat, pine nuts and almonds) and spicy crema de almendras (almond cream soup). Kebab shops and exotically decorated teterías (tea rooms) fill the souk area around Elvira.

Cordoba’s remarkable past

It may not feature prominently on any maps these days, but back in the 11th century Cordoba was the capital of the western world! In its heyday it was Europe’s largest city, a centre of learning and culture and was considered the Mecca of the west.

Found in central Andalusia, the city is an intriguing mix of Spanish, Roman, Visigoth, Jewish, Islamic and Christian civilisations and is a living legacy of the diverse cultures that settled in it throughout history. One monument that sums up this unique city’s history and identity more than any other is the magnificent Mezquita – the Great Mosque of Cordoba. This Mosque was by far the biggest and most beautiful one constructed by the Moors in Spain.

There’s more to Cordoba than just the Mezquita. It is a city that is easy to explore, as it is still small enough to walk everywhere. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, Cordoba is a place where you can wander around the extensive historic district, picturesque neighbourhoods and delve right into the essence of Andalusia.

Some of the city’s other highlights include the Archaeological Museum, situated in a renaissance palace, over the ruins of the Roman Theatre, featuring prehistoric, Iberian, Roman, Visigoth, Moslem and renaissance artefacts.

The Julio Romero de Torres Museum is dedicated exclusively to Cordoba’s most emblematic painter, who captured the beauty of Cordoba’s women in his portraits. Across the courtyard is the Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum), situated in a 16th century hospital and exhibiting a collection of paintings and sculptures, including some by Goya, Zurbarán, Murillo and Sorolla. Both museums are located in the well-known Plaza del Potro.

Finally, the Viana Palace, the former residence of the Marquise of Viana, is an impressive museum with extensive gardens spread out over 14 patios.

Cultural Cordoba

Aside from being home to some wonderful museums, Cordoba is also synonymous with art, culture and leisure, thanks to a myriad of cultural events that are organised here throughout the year: Flamenco festivals, concerts, ballet and other activities that are complemented by an exciting nightlife. If shopping is your thing, you’ll love the cobbled streets of the old quarter of Cordoba, which are filled with small shops selling quality craft products. Ornately carved silver and leather work are the most popular souvenirs of the city.