When I started looking at visiting Spain, the two immediate candidates were the obvious ones – Barcelona and Madrid. I knew I wanted to see “old Spain” as opposed to a more modern city, and at the recommendation of several friends I decided on Granada. I couldn’t be more happy that I did.
Granada is a small city in southern Spain – it’s hard to compare it in size to an American city (because there aren’t any tall buildings of any sort) but I’d guess it’s most similar in size to say, Providence, Rhode Island. The city certainly looks very “old Spain” in terms of architecture, with incredibly narrow cobblestone streets winding through the hills. The Sierra Nevada mountains provide the backdrop of the city, and a Muslim palace that was built in the 10th century sits atop a hill overlooking the city proper. It’s certainly nothing if not a pleasant setting.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Melia Granada, a four star hotel in a fantastic central location. This hotel does not drip with Spanish charm, but it is very nice, very clean, and located near everything you’d want to see in Granada. It’s a 5-minute walk to Plaza Nueva, the central point of the city sitting at the feet of the Alhambra. It’s just as close to the Albaicin, a Muslim neighborhood within the city filled with twisting streets, hookah bars, and general madness. If I went back, I’d happily stay here again.
One of the highlights of my trip, no doubt, was paragliding. I knew heading into my Spain trip that I wanted to do something out of the ordinary, and this was certainly it. I found the company Andaventor online, and exchanged a series of emails with the guys who run the operation, Romain and Neftali. They spoke English, and generally did a good job of addressing my concerns about running and jumping off a 5,000 foot mountain with two guys I didn’t know and my girlfriend. For that, I owe them a lot.
These guys are both French – come to find out, paragliding is a big deal in France and is growing like crazy in Granada. They moved to Granada about 10 years ago to start an adventure sports company, one that dabbles in nearly any adventure sport that doesn’t require a motor. As Romain put it, “I spent a long time trying to find the best way to fly. Then I found paragliding.” Romain would prove to be a wise man – he spends his days paragliding, skiing, and generally doing anything but what I consider to be “work.” As he put it, “I’m more concerned with living the good life while I’m here than being the richest man in the grave.” A wise man. That could just as easily be the motto of the city of Granada.
Anyways, when my flight from Ibiza landed in Granada, I already had a knot in my stomach – I was scheduled to paraglide the following day, and it was certainly already front and center in my mind. Romain came and picked us up the following day in downtown Granada, and we drove out into the mountains. We stopped at the base of the mountain to wait for Romain’s partner, and when I looked up I could see 30-40 paragliders already flying around thousands of feet up in the air. I was shocked – I just assumed we’d be the only people up there.
As I watched one yellow paraglider who was particularly high up there, I noticed that he appeared to be having trouble with his paraglider. Rather that being fully caught in the wind, it began to ruffle in the breeze and suddenly the man attached to it began to free fall. I’m talking all out, this guy is falling from the sky. An accident! A certain death – not the way to settle your own stomach before jumping off a big-ass mountain. Come to find out this freak was a friend of Romain and Neftali, and is considered the preminent paralgider in the world – he was described to me as the Tony Hawk of the sport. On this particular day he had decided to fly as high as he could, then detach from his paraglider and free fall while wearing what I’d describe as a flying squirrel suit. Shortly before he reached the ground he pulled a reserve shoot and landed safely – he’d go find his abandoned paraglider later – just another day at the office.
Long story short, I was pretty damn nervous until I got to the top of the mountain and started to get ready. At that point I saw how much fun the other paragliders were having up there – a calm swept over me, and I was really just excited to get after it. You fly in tandem your first time around, so I basically had Romain strapped to my back along with the paraglider. As Romain put it, “now just run off the edge of the mountain, but whatever you do just keep on running even after your feet leave the ground.” While this may have felt silly, the translation is if you stop running too soon the paraglider may not catch the wind and you’ll just fall off a cliff.
Once you get off the ground, you basically fly in circles looking for a thermal – two gusts of winds that hit one another and cause and upward draft, pulling you higher and higher into the sky. The flight lasted for about 40 minutes, and felt sort of like parasailing just without a rope and while being much higher up. And the views of the Sierra Nevada’s were spectacular throughout.
I was wearing a helmet cam, and I’ll upload that video later – for now, the video below gives you a sense of what flying over Granada is like.
Eat at El Huerto de Jaun Ranas
It may sound silly, but in my opinion the single best thing you can do in Granada is go to El Huerto de Jaun Ranas – a
restaurant on top of a hill that looks directly across a river valley at the Alhambra. The Sierra Nevadas sit in the background, and you’re high enough up to see birds flying above the tops of the trees. This place has great spanish food and drinks (sangria and mojitos, in particular), but it’s really just all about the view. Everyday when I woke up, this is where I wanted to go. It’s certainly one of the most relaxing places I’ve ever been, and one of the most beautiful. If I lived in Granada, I’d come here to do all of my best thinking. An absolute must see in Granada.
Flamenco shows are very popular in Granada, as I’d imagine they are throughout most of Spain. The lady in my life was hot on the idea of checking one out, and I figured when in Spain, why not?
Flamenco is basically a form of tap dancing done in conjunction with clapping and Hispanic sounding acoustic guitar music. Romain had recommended that we check out the show at Jardines De Zoraya, and I’m happy we heeded his advice. A fantastic atmosphere, great tapas and other food (fried brie topped with strawberries, good lord), and generally a fantastic date spot.
Before heading to Granada, all I heard was “Granada is the home of tapas!” Yes, I was primarily concerned with what I’d be
eating prior to leaving. But come to find out, I didn’t really understand what tapas is. To me, tapas was supposed to be what I’m used to getting at tapas restaurants here in the US – small plates, of which you order many in order to sample as many dishes as possible. Not in Granada.
Tapas in Granada is everywhere, and it’s really a very simple system. For every drink that you order, alcoholic or otherwise, the restaurant is required to give you a plate of tapas. The more drinks you order, the more tapas you get – you have no say over what you’re brought, and it’s really up to you whether you eat it or not. While this may not be great for picky eaters, it certainly makes things very simple and keeps you very full.
The typical tapas plate might be fried eggplant or seafood of some variety, cold cured meats (ham in particular), or cheeses – it all really depends where you’re at, and each place specializes in different types of tapas. It’s pretty great, and my general advice would simply be to ask around for the best places near you – everyone has an opinion.
All in all, I think Granada is a fantastic place – prior to my trip it was as hyped up as could be, and it lived up to my expectations. It’s certainly a laid-back city with a bit of a hippy vibe, stuck in an old Spanish town with beautiful scenery. The people and the location could not complement each other more, and I look forward to going back.