an insider’s guide to getting lost in granada {el albaicín}

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What better way to see everything than to let yourself get lost in a new city? By ditching the guidebook, you’ll find tons of hidden gems that you might have missed had your nose been stuck in a map all day! Plus, it’s a great way to meet locals. In a place like Granada, where the Andaluz people are so warm and welcoming, you’re likely to make a new friend by stopping to ask for directions. Hey, they may even invite you de marcha along with them!

I’ve put together a little guide of my favorite neighborhoods to get lost in my querida Granada. This will be the start of a new series where I’ll post my guide to a new area once every few weeks.  Each of these places offers unique activities, art, restaurants and watering holes; you really can’t go wrong.

 El Albaicín

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One of the most enchanting things about Granada is that it synthesizes so many seemingly conflicting elements. It’s an hour from the bright Mediterranean waters to the south, and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada to the east. It is a representation of Catholic Spain, dedicating endless landmarks to the kings that expelled both Moors and Jews, but it also represents a revival of the Granada of the past; where many religions and peoples lived in harmony. A stone’s throw from the very cathedral where the Reyes Católicos are buried, you’ll find a hub for the colorful culture they thought they drove out of this city in 1492.

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Start at the base of the hill off of Calle Elvira, where you’ll smell the mint tea and incense wafting out of the many cafés, and know you’re in the right place. The streets are lined with colorful fabrics and tapestries, glittering lanterns, handmade stained-glass tea cups and endless treasures. Be sure to pop in for a te marroquí and traditional Moroccan tapas at my great friend’s tetería, Dar Ziryab on Calle Calderería Nueva. You’ll be treated like family, and feel like you’ve been transported to Morocco. Your senses will be overwhelmed with the pleasures that surround you.

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On your way to the top, follow your curiosity. Wander down the tiny side streets that smell of wisteria, and keep an eye out for the small wonders that are hidden all around you. El Albaicín is filled with love notes and poetry scribbled on the cracked white walls. For an artist, writer or photographer, it promises endless inspiration.

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There’s beauty around every corner, be it a pop of bright flowers hanging over a white wall, or an open patio offering a rare glimpse into the private lives of the Andaluz. No matter what you see, you’ll feel like you’re in a different world. The enchanting sights, and the sound of spanish guitar that is always echoing down the cobblestone paths, will make you stop and pinch yourself.

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If the base of the Albaicín represents the Moors of Al-Andalus past, the top is all about the fabled gitano, romanticized by Cervantes, Mérimée and my beloved Lorca. The gypsy culture is still alive in Granada, though nowhere near as visible as the days when these men haunted Andalucía. If you’re lucky, you may find a small band of gypsy men de toque y palma under the late afternoon sun.

 The real jewel here is, of course, the Mirador San Nicolás. The plaza offers the perfect ending to a long day of wandering and sensory overload. Pick up a bottle of Rioja, find a seat on the stone ledge, and enjoy enjoy the sounds of the city while you watch the sun fall over Granada and her Alhambra. Reflect on the art, the mix of cultures, the love letters, the colors and the history that you’ve seen in this little barrio and let the wonder wash over you.

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