Granada’s Albayzin: Going Where No One Has Gone Before
Our night started innocently enough. We were walking around Granada’s Plaza Nueva, when a woman approached us. She struck up a conversation, and our group liked her instantly. She talked about interesting places we could go to, and gave us tips. Then she started talking about this “night adventure”. It was nothing like a hard sell, she was so casual — but from the moment she said “adventure”, I hung onto every word. It turns out she’s with a tour group called “Play Granada”, and she invited us to join a little “walking tour”. It usually sold for 25 Euros, but that night they gave it for 15. Needless to say, my friends and I booked without hesitation. That was despite the fact that we knew nothing about what to expect.
In hindsight, I should have Googled what this Play Granada is all about. Everything was spelled out on their website, and “interesting” is a very weak word for what’s in store for us. The site proudly stated the tour as one of CNN’s 10 Best Nighttime Adventures, among hundreds other around the globe. Speaking from experience, it squarely deserves that title. However, I really wish the lady who talked us into it prepared us for what was to follow.
The tour started at their office, and we were given a short briefing just like any other tour. Then, they asked if any of us had knee or back problems, or issues with climbing. Of course, we said no! We didn’t want to miss this tour after knowing it had some of Granada’s best sites — Albayzin, Sacromonte, and Alhambra.
From the office, we walked off into the narrow medieval streets of El Albayzin. This place had been declared a World Heritage site back in 1984. Fabio, our tour guide, gave us a little history. The streets were pretty much like they had been back in the time of the Arabs. The winding pathways form a labyrinth, and it’s very easy to get lost especially at night. We were lucky we had a guide with us, Albayzin was a district that was first born in the Iberian period, before the Romans conquered the region. Then, in 1013, the first Islamic settlement moved in. It was the Zirid Kingdom at this time that laid the foundations for the lasting Islamic imprint on Albayzin.
From there, we moved on to the different viewpoints around the district. From where we were, we caught glimpses of Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex and a great place of interest. As we climbed higher, the view became more and more breathtaking.
We paused for a break at the Mirador San Nicolas. Most blogs say that this is where you should stop, but I found that the place was too tourist-y. It wasn’t bad, but it was crowded. And when I started thinking we would stick around here until the sun has set, Fabio started goading us into going higher.
This is where our being ill-prepared started to show. Audrey was already starting to pant while climbing Albayzin’s steep steps. Since we didn’t expect this level of activity, we weren’t dressed properly. In fact, most of our clothes had been left in Seville. We just had enough in our capsule bag for Granada, Ronda, and Cordoba. We had warm boots on, but it would have been a lot better to have been better to have sneakers handy.
We went on to the First Wall of Albayzin. Fabio joked that this used to be a sort of TripAdvisor for the people back then. If you didn’t like someone’s cooking, or if someone cheated you with the price or anything else, you write their names on the wall. Today, none of those names are still showing. We also headed for the 2nd wall, which is an expansion of the first.
The View From The Top
Up next was a hill, steep enough to cause discomfort in our attires. At this point, I realized I was still lucky. Perhaps it was my intuition or premonition, or an intervention by God or his angel. That night, I had initially worn a long dress, tights, and boots! I changed at the last minute to something more casual, and thank God I did. My initial attire would have caused no end of problems for me.
We hiked the hill and waited at the top to see the Alhambra light up. It was absolutely magnificent. This viewpoint was less-crowded than the first, though there were still some people. Just when I was starting to relax and take in the beauty of our surroundings, Fabio called us over — the tour was not yet done!
He led us next to a path that led to Sacromonte, one of the neighborhoods around Albayzin. Here, we saw the traditional cave dwellers and passed the part where people could live completely for free. That means no taxes! I can’t believe such a thing existed in this world, but there it was, right in front of us. There were also cave dwellers that were legal taxpayers, and we saw them, too. We even got to enter one of the cave houses. It was a cool experience, and it only takes a donation of 1 Euro.
At this point, I realized I had already gotten my 15 Euro’s worth. We had already seen not just the tourist spots but also places that are less touristy. On top of that, we were given the history and background of what we visited. But Fabio and Play Granada had other ideas. From Sacromonte, we headed to the top of a nearby hill.
We really felt the meaning of “night adventure”. We had nothing but headlamps as we climbed the narrow path to the top of the small but steep hill. Once there, we entered a small cave. Fabio said that this led to tunnels that were once connected to the Alhambra fortress around 700 years ago. Most of the tunnels had collapsed already, and this is what’s left of it.
Finally, after three hours, we went back down to the office. We had seen the best of Albayzin, but in case we wanted more, Fabio gave us some tips on where we can go next.
CNN was spot on — this was one great night tour. After all the twists and turns and climbs, we felt like we’ve gone places where no one has gone before. I highly recommend it! It’s a must do, sans the fact that we weren’t briefed enough to understand what we’ll be facing. But now you know, you can be prepared for when you conquer the Granada Night Adventure Tour!