A week in Andalusia

February/March 2024

Across the Alhambra, Granada

As the calendar turned to 2024 I was finding the prospect of an international holiday increasingly remote. The pandemic had left me comfortable (perhaps too comfortable) with staying at home and accounts of post-COVID and post-Brexit travel problems had made foreign travel an increasingly daunting prospect. On top of which it had been a hard year for me with my mother going through a steep decline before passing away in November. After a solitary Crimble break I was a grey man in a grey world, my horizons rarely stretching beyond my little home town.

Our house in Granada

During a midwinter call with an old friend she mentioned that her own holiday plans had been put in jeopardy when her prospective travelling companion had warned that she might have to pull out of their joint trip to southern Spain at the end of February. I commiserated with her but was taken by a rogue impulse - before we hung up I said I might be up for filling in for her absent friend. This offer was made in the most tentative, noncommittal way but when Saille rang a few weeks later to confirm that the place was free I found that my mind had been made up and I agreed to join her. We'd holidayed together before (although many years back) so I felt fine about sharing a place with her and trusted her planning skills - she had chosen & arranged all the accommodation. I'd never visited mainland Spain before so was happy to go wherever Saille chose, we ended up with a seven-day itinerary of Granada (where Saille would be staying for the previous week), Cordoba, and a final night in Malaga from where we'd be catching our flights back home.

Now I had to dust off my holidaymaking gear and arrange transport to Spain. A minor panic came when I found my passport would expire in five months but a quick online check confirmed that I only needed three months remaining to travel to Spain. As a bonus I found a sheaf of Euros that would likely cover any outlay that couldn't be handled by Apple Pay on my phone.

Below the Alhambra, Granada

Next up was transportation. EasyJet flew from Bristol, my 'local' airport, to Malaga and the flights looked surprisingly cheap. That was until I noticed that adding a 'larger' carry-on bag invoked a surcharge and a hold case a substantially higher one. My suitcase would probably have fitted into the 'large carry-on' dimensions but I like being unencumbered when flying so I shelled out to have it put in the hold. Saille had advised that there was a convenient bus from Malaga airport to Granada but that tickets must be bought in advance so I found their website and booked a seat - and was sent an electronic ticket that was stored in my phone. At the time these online arrangements felt awkward & fiddly but on reflection it was an almost effortless way to plan a trip, it's good to be living in the future.

The final step was getting to the airport. My flight left at 6:20am which gave a nice, long day in Spain but was too early for UK public transport so I booked a taxi which would require a 3:30am start (eek!) and would cost almost as much as the flight. The early start was to allow for possible flooding en route to the airport and the high price was (partly) due to prohibitions on where cabs could drop off passengers, they all had to go through the car park and pay a substantial fee. Sometimes it feels like Bristol Airport goes out of its way to be inconvenient & annoying. I considered staying at an airport hotel the night before flying but that turned out to be way more expensive than the taxi. Sigh!

Our street, Granada

On the day of travel things ran very smoothly. The taxi arrived promptly, there was no flooding, the driver left me alone to gradually wake up in the back, and there were no holdups getting in to the airport. An alarm flashed when I tried to drop off my case but this was down to my passport not having six months before expiring, a supervisor confirmed that this was OK for Spain and typed in the magic number that let me proceed. I'd imagined an empty, deserted departure lounge at that time in the morning and had prepared sandwiches for the flight but the shops, restaurants (& duty free) were fully operational and the place was full of people. Interestingly it seemed that the majority of travellers were grey haired, the silver surfers out in force at a time unsuited to snow, sand, or school holidays. My decision to add my coat to the hold bag meant I had to brave the walk across the tarmac in shirtsleeves but I was soon seatbelted in place and off to Malaga.

Malaga arrivals was as deserted as I'd expected Bristol to be and in very short order I was through passport control, had reclaimed my bag, and was out front looking for the bus to Granada. This was easy to find and the speedy disembarkation meant that I'd gotten there in time to catch the earlier departure. Sadly the driver was insistent that my ticket could only be used on the specified bus as his was 'totally full' so I found a bench and sat down to soak up the Spanish atmosphere during my 45-minute wait. Airports rarely provide a scenic welcome for tourists and the grey, slightly drizzly day wasn't quite what I'd been hoping for but it was warm (my coat remained in the case), I knew where I was going next, and I was on holiday! Slowly it began to dawn on me that after all the planning & preparation (& associated anxiety) I could actually relax and enjoy this new adventure.


The bus trip to Granada was smooth & pleasant, although it started with a trip into central Malaga through fairly dense traffic. Interestingly this driver had also turned away other potential passengers at the airport as it was 'totally full' despite barely a quarter of the seats being occupied for the entire journey. Having very specific tickets did help with boarding & was nicely reassuring but it did seem that the bus company was missing out on some potential customers.

As the bus climbed out of Malaga on a wide, smooth road we passed from urban streets to warehouse shopping to light industry to scrubby countryside. After a while I noticed that the shrubs were often suspiciously neatly arranged and it dawned on me that these were in fact olive trees and we were driving through productive farmland, which was confirmed by the occasional citrus 'field' within it. The olives went on for miles, up and down hills in regular rows, with very little in the way of human habitation to break them up. There were quite a few isolated, ruined houses implying a much reduced agricultural workforce and rather than small towns & villages we passed the (very) occasional industrial looking processing & distribution centre, all steel warehouses and rows of trucks. The bus did pull off the motorway for two stops in smallish towns but these were the only breaks in a two hour trip, clearly this was not a densely populated land.


Finally we pulled into the bus station in Granada where Saille was waiting to meet me. The surroundings were similar to most modern European cities but on the taxi ride to our accommodation the streets became narrow & twisty and started to grow steeper as we began to climb a substantial hill. Finally we pulled over in a small church plaza and after a short, very uneven rise of stairs we arrived at our home for three days in Granada.

I'd given Saille carte blanche over finding places to stay with the proviso that I was happy to pay a bit extra to have somewhere quirky or interesting. The Granada apartment was certainly that - a retro-futuristic building, all white with sharp angles, lots of glass, and rooms flowing one into the other, it was like the set of a 70's sci-fi film. Positioned at the start of the Alhambra hillside it gave panoramic views over the city and was far enough outside the centre to avoid late night bustle but near enough to walk in. The neighbourhood was scenic & quiet and there was a nearby mini-mart for food & essentials. A great base from which to explore.

Alhambra gardens, Granada

Sadly the house was woefully under-equipped. Apart from the beds, a dining set, and a single, very uncomfortable modular sofa there was no furniture - no armchairs, bedside tables, etc. Each bedroom (there were three) had large built-in wardrobes but only a couple of coat hangers and no shelves or drawers. There were no hooks to hang coats, no tea towels, and after spending an age trying to get the heating working we found no batteries in the remote control. It was as if the house had been built without anyone actually trying to live in it.

After a series of exasperated (non-)discoveries Saille proposed that we have a Big Moan and then look on the bright side, which worked surprisingly well. The house was very well situated and gave us lots of room to spread out, besides which the intention was to see the town rather than stay cooped up indoors. What equipment there was worked well and at the end of the day we had everything we needed. After buying a tea towel

Palace of Charles V, Alhambra, Granada

The one dampener was the weather which was showery and surprisingly chilly. As we discovered throughout our stay houses in southern Spain are primarily designed to keep cool rather than stay warm and the first order of business was working out how the heating system worked and sorting out slippers or warm socks for padding around on the cold marble floors. Luckily both the houses we stayed in had the same aircon system. As the week progressed it stayed cold but we saw more & more sunshine, sometimes enough for me to forego my coat in the latter part of the day.

Granada was a beautiful city, at least in the old town where we spent most of our time. Lots of small, winding lanes that felt like alleys until you met the occasional car (or bus!) somehow navigating through. Even the busier streets were small, mostly one-way with very narrow pavements, but the cars & mopeds seemed (mostly) happy to give pedestrians right of way and I rarely heard horns blown in anger or impatience. Despite the twisty nature of the street layout it was easy to stay oriented and I usually had a pretty good idea of where I was and where I was headed. Something that did surprise me was the abundance of fruiting orange trees throughout the city, giving a dash of colour & scent to a picturesque but still very urban setting.

Street flamenco, Granada

The 'must see' attraction in Granada is the Alhambra, a hilltop fortress/palace that towers over the town. With our tickets booked (even in February there were none available at the gate) we made an early start and walked up the hill to the main entrance. Saille suggested we start with the gardens and this was an excellent choice, we strolled through tranquil greenery with tinkling fountains and views over the town while most of the other visitors headed straight for the castle & palaces. It was still a bit cool for Arabian Nights but did give a feeling of idyllic leisure, a place where one could relax into a beautifully manicured version of nature.

Eventually we made our way to the castle (although we'd decided to forego the palaces). This had a lot more people around but didn't feel crowded - we went up the tower, into the old hammam (traditional baths), and around the other buildings. A big surprise came with the Palace of Charles V which looked like a solid, imperial office building but once inside revealed a circular courtyard ringed with slender columns, a delightful & elegant space.

The cathedral, Granada

For the rest of the visit we meandered through the town, either separately or together, staying in the old centre but otherwise letting ourselves wander and seeing what we found. I really enjoy this way of slowly absorbing the feel of a place and my footsteps led me all over, through tiny lanes to impressive facades, remnants of past glories, intricate 'cobblestone' patterns (often featuring stylised pomegranates, the city's symbol), creative street art, and lots more. And with a great cup of coffee never more than a few steps away. My sort of town.

But all too quickly it was time to pack up and travel to Cordoba for our next stop. I'd booked train tickets online - another 21st century experience with payment made and tickets delivered to my phone - but we had a four-hour gap between checkout of the house and the departure of our train. As we were both travelling light we decided to walk into the town centre, have a relaxed lunch, and catch a bus out to the train station.

The house had one final niggle as the checkout instructions told us to 'load the dishwasher' despite there not being one. Sigh!

Roman bridge and Grand Mosque, Cordoba

After a very nice lunch at a sunlit plaza the short hop to the train station proved more of a challenge than we expected. The bus stop was a good distance from the restaurant, along uneven pavements, the bus's ticket reader was broken so I had to hold the door open while Saille validated the tickets outside, the bus was very full, the walk from the bus stop to the train station was longer & more convoluted than expected, we had to have our luggage x-rayed before entering the station, and there was no obvious platform indicator board. Despite everything we made it to our seats with (a little) time to spare but a lesson was learned - when travelling in a city with luggage it's always best to get a taxi.

The train to Cordoba was smooth & comfortable, passing through the inevitable carpet of olive trees before softening to more familiar green fields as we approached our destination. Once out of the station we hailed a cab and fifteen minutes later were pulling up at our Cordoba house where the owner/agent was there waiting for us. A quick tour (& some inevitable paperwork) and we were left to unpack, settle in, and prepare to meet the town.

Grand Mosque, Cordoba

This new house was more conventional than the one in Granada but still with much more character than a generic hotel room. The lounge was dark & cosy (but in a good way) while the dining room had a 'well' rising up through the upper stories - although thankfully closed off with a translucent roof. The first floor had bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, and second lounge (that we never used), while above that was a utility room with washing machine and access to the roof terrace. It would undoubtably protect you from the fierce heat of summer but even in chilly March it was a very comfortable place to stay.

And its biggest benefit was the location. From the front door it was maybe fifty yards to the riverside walkway and the end of the Roman bridge leading into the historic heart of the city. A quiet little backwater with all the major attractions just a few minutes walk away. Once again Saille had excelled herself.

Jewish Quarter, Cordoba

Cordoba presented a very different face to Granada with wider streets ringing the dominating Great Mosque at the centre of the city. On our first afternoon we strolled in across the Roman bridge, a wide pedestrian (& cycle) walkway, and did a brief circuit of the old town before eventually finding ourselves tucking into tapas for an early supper. After returning home we set out again for some essential shopping (breakfast bits & milk for Saille's tea) which we finally discovered at a (fairly) local supermarket.

The next day we had tickets to visit the Great Mosque, Cordoba's most famous attraction. This more than lived up to its reputation with a forest of striped arches providing a vast quiet space that managed to preserve a sense of stillness & sanctity despite the many, many tourists. Curiously the flamboyantly decorated Christian cathedral at the centre seemed rather gaudy and out of place, at least to my eyes. Another odd aspect of this dual nature was that the mosque seemed to encourage movement through the space, for me a gentle contemplative stroll, whereas the cathedral was more of a place for sitting & stillness. Maybe it was just that there were pews in the more churchy part. For whatever reason I found it a wonderful space to be in and when we finally emerged I felt refreshed & somehow renewed. A very special place.

Carriage tours, Cordoba

The old town had similar narrow lanes to Granada but something about them confused my sense of direction, I found myself having to use the map in my phone a lot and was regularly surprised at discovering where I actually was. I had a few theories about this - the streets had fewer junctions and would twist & turn unexpectedly - but it seems some towns just don't match with my internal mapping of them. And for a lot of the time I was quite happy to find myself 'lost' and having to navigate a route back to familiar ground.

I don't know if Cordoba was better set up for tourist shopping or I was becoming more open to the idea, either way I found myself drifting into various shops as I wandered around the town, looking for some Regional Specialities to bring home with me. Sadly most of what caught my attention was too touristy, too ordinary, or too bulky to bring home but I finally succeeded with some Cordoban olive oil and sweet vinegar. Later in Malaga I added some smoked & spicy paprika, seems like my holiday shopper is mostly focussed on culinary products these days.

Roman amphitheatre & castle, Malaga

Cordoba felt a bit more relaxed than Granada, it was easier to find open spaces to hang out in and the overall atmosphere was less busy. Maybe it was just me easing into holiday mode, perhaps it was the working parts of the city being a bit further away from the old town, maybe it was the calming effect of the wide river - for whatever reason(s) it was a nice easing off for the second half of the holiday.

But time pressed on and once again we needed to decamp to a new base. Having learned our lesson we booked a taxi to the station and caught an earlier train to Malaga, arriving there mid-morning. Our apartment wouldn't be free until mid-afternoon but the booking office was open early and they were happy for us to leave our cases with them so we set off to have a look around the town, and to grab some lunch.

Malaga was considerably bigger than the other cities we'd stayed in and was clearly better set up for hordes of tourists, the old town was predominantly pedestrianised and was filled with cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops. That's not to say it didn't look nice, lots of very pretty old buildings, (palm) tree lined walkways, the sparkling sea, and two castles on the overlooking hills. After a preliminary stroll through to the seafront Saille went to visit the central museum while I continued my meanderings. After a quick tapas lunch we returned to check in to our apartment which turned out to be a delightful modern unit with bedrooms reached from a spiral staircase. And nicely warm!


That evening we tried & failed to find a restaurant that Saille remembered from a previous visit but still managed to eat well - there were eateries all over the place and our (for Spain) early dining routine meant that we could almost always find a free table. In preparation for our day of travelling tomorrow Saille headed home for an early night while I took one final walk around the town as twilight slowly faded into night.

The journey home passed easily & smoothly. Checking out was straightforward, an Uber took us to the airport, and flight preparations were routine (including a very long wait to check my case - next time I think I'll go with just a carry-on). After a final coffee we waved goodbye - Saille was on a later flight - and I made my way through passport control, out to the gate, and onto the plane with a comfortable but not tedious margin of time. The flight, airport bus, and train connections all went smoothly and by mid-afternoon I was back home, once again turning on heating systems to warm up a cold apartment. Sigh!

It had been a great holiday, not just the adventure of seeing Andalusia and catching up with Saille but in getting me out of the slump I'd sunk into over the past months (or years?). It was good to find how easy modern travel could be and to rediscover my ability to cope with unexpected & unfamiliar situations & surroundings. And to realise how little you need to bring with you when travelling! The question is - where next?