Week 10: Granada, Malaga and El Chorro

Visiting Granada and the Alhambra with a Campervan and a Dog

We finally made it to Granada. After several failed attempts last week at parking at Areas de Caravanas near Granada, we decided to change tack and just drive and park in Granada. We usually find driving into and parking in a city with a campervan loaded with 3 bikes a nerve wracking affair. But after some careful research into parking near Alhambra, we decided to go for it, and had an excellent experience. We drove into the city early and snagged a plum corner spot in the parking lot closest to the Alhambra. This gave us time to wander down to a churerria in town for breakfast before the first booking we had for the Alhambra.

The other important consideration we had was juggling visiting the Alhambra and Zeus care. We decided to take turns. James had a 10 a.m. slot to visit the Alhambra, and Aileen had a 1 p.m. slot. This gave us 3 hours each, which seems a lot, but there is so much to see at the Alhambra.

We were both quite moved at how beautiful the Alhambra (a Muslim palace and fortress) is. It was built in the 1200’s by the first Nasrid emir and was home to 23 successive emirs, until the conclusion of the Christian Reconquista in 1492. It’s quite hard to believe it was left to fall into disrepair for hundreds of years, housing beggars and squatters and being partially destroyed by Napoleon’s army, before restoration began in 1828. It was first brought to the world’s attention by the writings of Washington Irving in 1832.

Palacio Nazaries is the main draw at Alhambra, and for good reason. It is quite simply, a work of art – with intricately carved stone walls and wood ceilings, elaborate honeycomb vaulting and framed windows with sweeping vistas of Granada, beautiful tiling, delicate fountains, each room unique. We were particularly impressed by the Haren, with its large patio surrounded by 124 delicate marble columns, and the serene sounds of water emanating from a central fountain of 12 stone lions.

Aside from Palacio Nazaries, we each visited Alcazaba, the main fortress and ramparts. Red, square, foreboding and utilitarian, it sits in stark contrast to the beauty and serenity of Nazaries.

Palacio Carlos V is a Renaissance-era palace that was never completed, and now houses the 2 museums of Alhambra – the Museo de la Alhambra which has a collection of Muslim artefacts from the Alhambra, Granada and Cordoba, and the Museo de Bellas Artes. We were most interested in the former, which unfortunately was closed the day we visited.

The Generalife, the summer palace and gardens were probably less dramatic a site than it would have been in spring or summer with full bloom and foliage, but visiting in winter did let one appreciate the design of the gardens and palace, and views of the city. After visiting the other areas of the Alhambra, the Generalife felt more relaxing and playful, a good way to end and wind down from the visit.

While James was visiting the Alhambra, Aileen and Zeus explored a bit of Granada – more particularly went in search of remnants of Muslim rule in the city. They enjoyed most wandering through the narrow streets and alleys of Albaicin, Granada’s old Muslim quarter, up to Mirador San Nicolas which had great views of the Alhambra and Granada.


From Granada we headed to Malaga, which we hadn’t really considered stopping at, but had to because of our appointment at the VW Service Centre in Malaga. After dropping the van off for service in the morning, we took a short train ride into the city for a bit of touristing which mostly involved eating. Our first stop after coffee and breakfast was the Mercado Central, the city’s main market. It was nice to see it was a proper functioning market with lots of locals buying their supplies for the day. We love exploring a market to see what fish, meat, cheese and vegetables are on offer in the area. We spotted lots of small local prawns – which was a sign we needed to try some. So we snagged a table at Mercado de Atarazanas, one of the bars at the mercado, and had a deeeeelicious lunch of mixed fried fish, fried prawns and grilled razor clams, washed down with white wine.

After lunch we meandered through the centre of Malaga, stopping for some very tasty gelato at Casa Mira, and to let Zeus’ many admirers pet him. We headed to the Alcazaba, remnants of a moorish palace to check it out. Unfortunately it didn’t allow dogs. We then head towards the port and gawked at the amazing trees we saw along our walk. Malaga is a good place for tree spotting – we saw some really old looking gnarled rubber trees, the kind you’d expect to see in old quarters of Delhi or Mumbai, some floss silk trees, natives of South America, with their massive swollen bottoms and spiney branches, and lots of grand and clearly old palm trees.

We were pleasantly surprised by Malaga. There’s a lot to see. It has a lot of museums – 2 Picassos, and outposts for the Pompidou, Thyseen, and many points of interest outside of high culture. Unfortunately many sites aren’t possible to visit with a dog. Malaga also has a feeling of uncomplicated and unadorned pleasures – the sun was shining brightly, the food was simple, fresh and delicious, and there was a positive vibe as locals went about their business.

Aileen’s Food Poisoning Incident

It had to happen at some point. James had spent the morning at a climbing wall in Malaga, whilst Aileen and Zeus chilled in the campervan. We then started our journey to El Chorro without first stopping for lunch. Aileen does not cope well with driving through squiggly roads on an empty stomach, so we stopped for a bite at a roadside restaurant in Alora, just south of El Chorro. It was almost 4 in the afternoon. Aileen ordered the fish. That was the likely culprit. She then felt even sicker the rest of the way. The following day she was completely wiped out, and it took a couple of days to feel normal again. The lesson here is don’t order fish in a mountain restaurant.

Aileen is very grateful we had booked to park/stay at Casa La Paz El Chorro, a casa rurales in a stunning setting, owned and run by a lovely couple from the UK, Julie and Glynn. They have space for two campervans, and a dedicated bathroom for the campers. So we had ready access to bathroom facilities 😅

El Chorro: Hiking in El Chorro

El Chorro, a small village in Malaga province was founded to house workers for the construction of hydroelectric plants by the Chorro gorge in the early 1900s.

The most famous sight in El Chorro is the Caminito del Rey, a walkway with bridges and tunnels, some of it built into the vertical cliff walls of the El Chorro gorge. It was constructed as a means for transporting workers and materials for building the hydroelectric dams.

The original walkway has fallen into serious disrepair over the years and has sections missing. Dangerous to scale, until 2015 it was only used by climbers to access routes. James hadn’t climbed here but had heard stories from friends about their accessing routes via the train tracks and the walkway, and how scary the experience had been. It was named the deadliest walk as a number of climbers unfortunately died over the years at the site.

A “new” path was built in 2015 directly over the original path which is still visible, and allows tourists to visit the path safely. Having said that, a recent rockfall destroyed a section on the northern half of the path. On the day we visited we could only complete the southern end of the walk, which included the sections along the side of the gorge and the suspension bridge. The northern half continues into the valley behind the gorge. We had seen some of the northern half on a good walk we did the the previous day. (Our) Words can’t really describe how dramatic the setting of the walkway is, so we’re sharing pictures!

We also did a hike in Parc Natural Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, that took in 3 miradors (viewpoints) – Mirador de las Buitreras, Pico del Convento and Mirador del Embalse – and ran above the Caminito del Rey. It was a relatively short but rewarding hike with amazing views of the Gaitanes canyon, rivers and dams. It was also excellent for wildlife spotting – we same some wild deer, wild goats, and lots of eagles soaring overhead and sweeping through the canyon beneath us.

We suspect there was a lot more good hiking to be done in the area, but we had to take it relatively easy while Aileen was recovering from her bout of food poisoning.

El Chorro: MTB

James also did a couple of mountain bike rides around El Chorro. It wasn’t somewhere he was aware of for off-road riding, but it turned out to have an interesting selection of trails. His first ride was the shorter of the two, and on the same side of the valley as our camping site. It did an ascent up a winding road to some pretty good views of the valley. There was choice of two mountain bike trails heading down after the climb. He took Slippery when Wet, but with hindsight should have taken Fast and Loose which he rode the end of and was a fast hand built flow trail. He was planning to go back to ride it, except the trails on the second ride / other side of the valley were so good.

His second ride was a longer workout. James explored the other side of the valley and found three downhill trails of very different characters. The first was called El Moab and like it’s namesake Moab, Utah, it took in several sections of exposed rock, at times with steep drops that needed to be either ridden or avoided. The second was a fast flow trail following the course of a dry stream incorporating the river banks and gulley. The third headed down from La Mesa which is a table top mountain overlooking El Chorro. As well as stunning views in all directions, the peak also had a big reservoir which is part of the surrounding hydroelectric infrastructure and made navigation around security fences difficult. This trail followed a more natural path and was very rocky and physical to ride cleanly.

It also looks like there would also be some good road riding in El Chorro, but the mountain bike takes precedence.

What next?

We plan to head to Cordoba and Sevilla to explore of more of Spain’s fascinating Muslim history, and maybe head down to the sherry towns on the coast. We’re also inching closer to Portugal!

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