All photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates
Strolling through a series of ancient buildings and gardens, I felt dizzy with excitement. The storied history of Alhambra palace in Granada Spain, seeps through every tile and statue. Everywhere I turned, centuries of Moorish and Spanish tradition surrounded me. I was thrilled to actually enter the Alhambra but I was even more thrilled to sleep in it.
Spain's parador tradition of government run hotels in historic buildings or areas, supplies an unexpected way to delve in to Spanish history and culture. But the parador inside the Alhambra, called Parador Granada, serves up the ultimate in fairytale fantasies and the quiet luxury of sleeping in a castle.
The Alhambra is listed as one of the architectural wonders of the world for a reason. Perched on a hill overlooking Granada, it is a complex of fortresses, palaces, towers and gardens. An UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts 7,000 visitors a day, these royal residences, constructed in 1238, are some of the most spectacular historical structures in the world.
I toured the building for three hours, wandering the mosaic floors and walls covered in Islamic poetry. The courtyards and gardens were the most magical for me. Rolling green orchards of magnolia trees and laurel bushes unfolded around streaming fountains. It's on these sprawling garden grounds that the parador beckons.
The Parador Granada was built between 1332 and 1354 as part of the Alhambra's mosque complex. It was later converted into a Franciscan convent, and finally developed into a parador in 1945. Entering through the gardens strewn with roses and herbs feels like the cobblestone path to a medieval dreamworld.
The doors are what initially drew my attention. Heavy wooden portals studded with brass looked exactly like the gateways to castles in my childhood books. Past the doors, hallways lead to an indoor garden with a gurgling fountain and pond, a Moorish sitting room strewn with pillows and brass tables and antique tapestries and furniture. This decorating motif appears in most of the hotel’s spaces. The only inkling that this might be lodging for travelers is a discreet front desk situated between ancient portraits and a tithe chest used for taxes during the 14th century.
There are only 40 rooms in the parador and each one has a different design. What surprised me about my room was the clean, modern layout. Most ancient structures reflect a dark, heavy ambiance from the heavy antiques and typically small spaces. My room was airy, with simple embroidered cushions on the chairs and delicate hanging lamps.
My reminder that I was in a castle was the window outfitted with perforated shutters that opened to reveal the Alhambra's lush gardens. Waking up in the Alhambra is a key highlight of the Parador Granada. You can explore the four sections of the complex several times, which is a requirement if you want to glimpse everything. After roaming through the crowds during the day, it was a surreal feeling to wake up in the peaceful venue a few hours later.
Another highlight of the parador is the dining room. Boasting a carved 16th century ceiling and the quiet elegance of linen tablecloths and heavy silver flatware, the restaurant upholds the tradition introduced by the Moors of meals beginning with soup and ending with dessert. The restaurant serves traditional Andalusian cuisine, including gazpacho, habas a la granadina (fava beans with artichokes), and morcilla (blood sausage) flavored with fresh herbs from the garden.
It often takes months or even years to snag a reservation at Parador Granada and I consider myself extremely lucky to have experienced Granada and the Alhambra from so many different aspects.