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Graffiti art in Granada is a jewel in city's crown

By Hector MacKenzie

WAS the holiday romance just a fling or the real thing?

Before love could blossom, the family trip to Granada in the south of Spain had almost ended in heartbreak in the Highlands. A scary tyre blowout on the A9 just outside Inverness left us perilously close to being grounded before we got anywhere near Glasgow Airport.

Sometimes it's the people you meet along the way who make your trip special.

Street art abounds.
Street art abounds.

Kudos then to the calm AA rescue guy and the kindly Tyre City crew who took in our predicament in a heartbeat and combined to get our wee VW Golf back on the road quicker than a Lewis Hamilton pit stop.

Cutting it so fine (we're talking three minutes to spare at the departure gate) wasn't smart. But pre-booking car parking with NCP at the airport was.

I swear the staff at Glasgow Airport are the friendliest I've met anywhere. Heck, even the security staff were smiling. Why can't all airports be that way? We were already on a high before boarding the Ryanair flight.

Would it be harsh to say the best thing about Malaga is the bus out of town? This is the overdeveloped side of Andalucia, though not sufficiently developed, it seems, to allow people leaving the airport to (gasp!) walk into the city.

Granada is a different plate of tapas altogether, reached after a pleasant two-hour ride through olive groves and dusty little villages.

Internationally renowned for its jaw-dropping Alhambra palace and Moorish architecture and heritage, it's a city of many sides which rewards long walks and a willingness to get lost in the maze-like streets and alleyways of its Albayzin district.

Get lost, you say? For us, no problem! Yet before long, you start to see landmarks by which to navigate – none more prominent than that palatial love letter to Moorish culture.

Tourist tip No1: book before you travel if you want to dwell on the treasures of the Alhambra, which typically welcomes up to 6000 visitors a day. If you're on a shoestring, parts are free to wander at any time, and beautiful they are too. Culture vultures, though, will want to gorge on the World Heritage Site and luxuriate over a step back in time to the 14th century.

Granada boasts its fair share of grand buildings over and above its masterpiece. The Capilla Real resting place of Catholic monarchs including Isabella and Ferdinand and the Catedral de Granada, for example. Then there's the dazzlingly opulent Basilica San Juan de Dios. Wander at will and dip in to what catches your eye.

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder and for me there was no real need to enter art galleries or museums to find it.

Street artist El Nino de las Pinturas (also known as Raul Ruiz) is Granada's answer to Bansky. One of the enduring delights for me was wandering aimlessly, following my nose (or the smell of churros) and then turning the corner to be confronted out of the blue by a stunningly original and exquisitely executed piece of graffiti art.

Head for the Realejo neighbourhood, keep your eyes peeled and you won't go far wrong. There is apparently a free tour but we took great pleasure in going our own way and stumbling across these mural treasures by ourselves. Unwelcome graffiti in some eyes; a sparkling jewel in the city's crown through mine.

In a fairly compact city of 258,000 souls, we found no need for buses or taxis as we had given ourselves a few days to explore at leisure. We found ourselves drawn time and again to the Mirador San Nicolas viewpoint in the Albayzin, mingling with buskers, locals and fellow visitors to enjoy the sunrise and sunset over the Alhambra across town.

We took a chance on a flamenco performance in a basement bar called Le Chien Andalou. Intimate? I could feel the swoosh of the dancer's dress and see the reverberation of the guitar strings. And I was almost deafened by the resoundingly defiant stomp of her shoes. It was raw, whites-of-their-eyes folk art, up close and personal the way it should be.

A guide book will point you to Granada's greatest hits if time is tight and you enjoy checklist travel.Yet I'd recommend seeing what you can find yourself if time permits and making serendipitous discoveries.

Cafe Futbol for churros and hot chocolate to die for. Carmen Museo Max Moreau for a (free) glimpse inside a local home, in this case one once belonging to the Belgian portrait painter and composer of that name. The fantastic, artsy Lemon Rock bar/hostel with its live music and a warm, family-friendly vibe.

With the temperature hovering around 24C (the absolute shorts and T-shirt sweet spot as far as I'm concerned), Granada was nigh-on perfect.

It must be love.

Need to know

  • Fly from Glasgow to Malaga by Ryanair.
  • Long and short-term car parking through NCP.
  • Book in advance for best prices.
  • Two-hour bus ride to Granada.

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