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About halfway along the Camino de Sacromonte, when the views of the Darro valley and Alhambra suddenly open up, there is a tiny bar set into a dappled white cave with a few tables and chairs outside (and probably a ginger cat dozing under their shadows). You say you’ll just stop off for one at Pibe and next thing you know, you check your watch and you’ve spent a whole afternoon on the enchanting terrace, pondering the Alhambra and listening to the crickets and birds singing in the valley beneath.
Literally ‘San Miguel High’, this old church in the dusty countryside above Albaicin has a beautiful external courtyard offering panoramic views of Granada. Reached by a concrete staircase that leads up from the cacti-studded scrubland above Albaicin, it is a popular gathering-point for the city’s teenagers, who sit on the low walls chatting and smoking. A wonderful spot to enjoy some time by yourself and the best views Albaicin has to offer of the sunrise and sunset.
The most charming and bohemian square in Albaicin is compulsory for any solo visitor to Granada. There is, of course, the usual jumble of tapas bars and terraces to try out, but on Plaza Larga you can join the locals instead. Simply buy some refreshment from one of the many nearby stores, sit on one of the benches and watch the local life unfolding. Plaza Larga provides a sort of concentration of Granada itself in one tiny square: tourists from all over the world, smart Spaniards from down in the centre, and scruffy, guitar-wielding Gypsies who are liable to burst into song at any moment.
Surely one of the most photographed squares in all of Andalucia. Famous among locals and tourists alike, this beautiful space at the top of Albaicin (which takes its name from the whitewashed old church on its north side) offers unforgettable views of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the background. Given its central location, you can’t help but find your way to San Nicolas eventually, affording the opportunity to become happily lost in Albaicin’s maze-like streets on your way. The views of the softly-underlit Alhambra at night are well worth a second climb up the hill.
Nowhere else are you reminded more of Granada’s proximity to north Africa than in Calle Calderia Nueva, just off Plaza Nueva. This squashed, chaotic street – that leads into Albaicin if you wander up – is packed with shops selling Moroccan-style bags, rugs and artefacts and cafes offering a huge range of scented Arabic teas and flavoured shisha pipes. You will hear more Arabic than Spanish spoken in this mini-souk, which offers one of the most colourful and aromatic reminders of Granada’s great Moorish history. A great place for a solitary stroll and for practicing your haggling skills in either Arabic or Spanish.
Known as the ‘Donkey Square’ by Granadinos on account of the brass statue of a donkey in one corner, this is one of central Granada’s most attractive spaces. It offers a striking contrast between modern and classic architecture: the slanting, white panels of the Federico Garcia Lorca Centre are right next door to stately apartment buildings in the traditional Andalucian style. Situated next to the cathedral, its many bars and restaurants also offer some of the most chic tapas dishes in the city.
Just next door to the Donkey Square is Granada’s only covered market. You can wander around and sample cheeses, hams and olive oils or enjoy a glass of wine and watch the locals buy fresh fish, meat and vegetables from the many stores within. Here, doing the weekly food shop is not just a necessity but a great social occasion, with Granadinos stopping for a chat and bite to eat between purchases.
Discovering the old Jewish quarter of Granada is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in the city. It’s a slightly-more navigable and less-hilly version of Albaicin that rewards the curious solo traveler with its many hidden squares and jasmine-scented pathways up to the Alhambra. Particularly attractive is the Iglesia Santo Domingo – one of the more obscure churches in the city yet one of the most beautiful, both inside and out.