In an attempt to briefly escape the rain cascading down on Madrid for the entirety of the month of May, my flatmate and I headed south for a long weekend. Andalusia beckoned with its beautiful beaches, quaint cities and the promise of glorious weather. As it turned out Andalusia is a tremendous tease and we were welcomed with rain that fell for three days with just a single morning of sunny salvation. Rude.
First we hit Granada in eastern Andalusia; a little Spanish city with a lot of Arab influence. Racing through the streets in a taxi that first night, I could already tell that Granada felt entirely different to Madrid and other larger Spanish cities. The streets were narrower, the people were happier and the architecture harked back to another Berber world just a stone’s throw across the Mediterranean Sea. There are many lovely hostels available in Granada at competitive prices, all of which can be found on the most popular hostel booking sites. We opted for the hostel Al-Andalus located a mere 2-minute walk from the centre and close to many upmarket bars and even one (El Capistrano) that shows all major football games and tournaments. (It’s commonplace for bars to serve a free tapa with each drink.) The hostel was clean, modern and spacious with the option to share a 2, 4, 6 or 8-berth – each with a stylish en-suite bathroom, and a locker for each bunk. The hostel also features a kitchen with a fridge and a cooker that all guests are free to use and complimentary breakfast is included in the room cost. Attached is a stylish bar and restaurant that is also run by the Al-Andalus team. Free wifi is available throughout the hostel although the signal isn’t so strong in some of the dorms.
So what does one do do on a rainy day in Andalusia? Geek out in a giant science museum OF COURSE. Granada’s Parque de las Ciencias is by far one of the coolest science gigs going and, according to my former boss who is very knowledgeable on theses sorts of things, it’s even better than the world famous City of Arts and Sciences (Ciutat de les Arts i Ciencies) in Valencia. The museum consists of numerous zones (or rooms), each of which focuses on a different scientific “aspect”. The EUREKA Room (Sala Eureka) focuses on physics and mechanics; the PERCEPTION Room (Sala Percepción) on light, mirrors and sound; and in the BIOSPHERE Room (Sala Biosfera) you’ll learn all about geography and natural sciences, and experience simulations of volcanoes and tornados. There’s an area for “little explorers”, a temporary exhibition pavilion, a planetarium, and an astronomical observatory that hosts astronomy and stargazing nights.
By the far the most fascinating part of this scientific extravaganza is a zone called the MICROSCOPE (El Microscopio). If you only do one thing at this museum you absolutely have to visit the Microscope which is home to preventative science, technological advancement and a fantastic journey through the human body! When you’ve finally worn yourself out exploring all of these different areas of the museum you should take a relaxed wander through the tropical butterfly garden that houses many different species of butterfly from every continent across the globe.
Entry to the museum costs 6,50€ and all exhibitions are displayed in both Spanish (Castilian) and English. It really is a fantastic rainy day filler!
An absolute must-visit in Granada is the beautiful Alhambra palace. Located at the top of a hill a little out of the centre, the Alhambra is an ancient Spanish fortress and Islamic palace complex that offers spectacular views across the city and, contrastingly, there is also a fantastic nightclub that overlooks the palace itself. Admission to the palace is pricey, ranging from 8,00€ for children over 12 to 13,00€ for an adult (with concessions available for European youths) however there are adjacent grounds and gardens which, although a little neglected and overgrown, are free to enjoy throughout the year. Just a little over a mile away across the ancient granadino catacombs lies the Sacromonte area which takes its name from the nearby Sacromonte Abbey. This old, hilltop neighbourhood also offers wonderful views over the city of Granada and is famed for its beer bars and gypsy history. Up here you will stumble upon flamenco shows in caves, live music, a museum and some of the most genuinely friendly people in Spain. If a trip up to this tickles your fancy you may do well to take a bus from the centre as the journey uphill is quite steep and tricky.
Down in the centre the cathedral (Santa Iglesia) casts a spikey shadow over the surrounding buildings and, although very grand and beautiful, entry is heavily overpriced for what is essentially a giant church – if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all (well, almost). Just a few slinky side streets away hides a miniature Moroccan paradise where mint tea practically trickles down the gutters, shisha wafts through windows and bakeries sell more baklava than you’ve ever dreamed existed. Tea shops, bakeries, restaurants, leather shops…if it’s in North Africa, it’s here too. My friend and I opted to eat in a traditional Berber restaurant called La Alfaguara where we enjoyed a feast of falafel, hummus and khobz (Moroccan flatbread), beef tagines and peppermint tea before heading off to a bakery to stock up on baklava and Turkish Delight. I was in total culinary heaven and it was all done on the cheap with a menú del día for approximately 10€. The food was well worth the money and the hummus was the best we’d found in all of Spain – but that’s not saying much as the only hummus you can find in Madrid is the crappy mass-produced stuff they sell in Mercadona and the runny overpriced stuff they have in El Corte Inglés.