April 19th, 2012
I never cease to be amazed at how many people living or holidaying along the coastlines of Spain never hop on a bus to see more of the country. Especially the cities that are easily reachable in a day.
In Spain it is wise to see more than the sea. So leave the car at home and get on one of the comfortable coaches that run daily linking so many coastal towns, with inland villages, and the distinctive cities beyond.
Here is such a journey. I take the bus to gorgeous Granada.
Granada is a city that can easily be reached by bus from north, south, east and west. You may be wanting to leave your holiday home base in the city of Madrid and spend a few days in a more laid back Spanish city. Granada is a great destination for a week or weekend long break.
The express bus from Madrid takes four and a half hours and it will take you much less time to discover how different this Andalusian city is. A lunchtime made up of free tapas will be one of the first things you like. There are so many authentic bars that will serve you a tasty nibble or two with your drinks.
Jose who, along with his brother, runs the bar and restaurant Paladar in the city tells me that this is but one of the reasons why people come to the city from all over Spain. When i visit i meet tourists from Madrid, Valencia and Murcia.
He says: “Tapas is a big attraction for people who come to Granada by bus, train or car. You would be surprised how many people from the north of Spain come here for a few days and they love getting for free what they pay for back home. Often the wives go shopping in the morning and then meet up with the men at lunchtime in time for beer, wine and lunch.”
The shopping is also very different from that you will experience on the coast or in the capital city. Yes, all the usual suspects are in the shopping streets of Granada, but there are far more individual, one off shops to experience. Shoes are big sellers in Granada, as is clothing, furniture and household items that have a feel of Morocco to them.
Shops like Hecha a Mano in the Realejo barrio of the city. And those atmospheric alleyways that form the Alcaiceria near the Cathedral. This area was once the home of the original silk market that was destroyed by fire in 1843.
Those selling the colourful goods know only too well that you are going to try and haggle. By all means give it a go. But do have in mind that while the scent permeating the air may give you the idea that you are in the streets of Tangier or Fez in Morocco; you are not! You are in Spain. The men selling goods in the Alcaiceria are not in the habit of undercutting each other.
Gayle Mackie of the blog, Gayle in Granada, organises personal shopping trips for those who want to shop until they drop but have little time on their hands. She also breaks down the language barriers with the shop staff so ensuring her clients get to buy exactly what they want.
She takes them to the boutiques and more unique shops that you will likely not find yourself. Tucked away as some of them are in the cobbled streets that are away from the main thoroughfares. Here you will be on the receiving end of more personal attention than you will experience in the big High Street department stores.
I have no interest in standing around in shops aimed at girls who are ready to spend, but i did follow one of Gayle’s guided shopping trips and spoke with one of her party, Marie Kelly from Dublin.
She said: “I could never have bought what i wanted in Granada had i been shopping on my own. With my lack of command of Spanish i would have come out of the shop with a sofa instead of shoes! Gayle was a great help and her fluent Spanish and lively nature ensured that shopping in a Spanish city while on holiday was enjoyable, and not headache inducing.”
I was pleased to meet a couple recently who had no interest in seeing the obvious sights in Granada. The Alhambra Palace may be the most visited tourist attraction in all of Spain but ancient buildings are not for everyone.
Stuart and Sandra from Melbourne visited Granada to see the streets of the Albaicin, to sample the food and drink but also to see the less publicised museums in the city.
They went to the Science Park museum just outside of the city and spoke with enthusiasm of how interactive the place is and enjoyed great views from the tower at the top of the museum. With sunshine and the backdrop of the snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains, there are few better natural views on offer in Spain.
Then they went to Casa de los Tiros to learn much more about the history of the city and see so many items dating back centuries and from a time long before Skippy was bouncing around Australia.
Stuart and Sandra marched through the city and on to more sites, beginning with the city archives in a much overlooked building at the end of the River Darro. The Cordoba Palace houses the city archives. Close by is the Cuesta del Chapiz, which anyone can visit Monday to Friday. Now operating as a school of Arab studies, the Houses of Chapiz are home to a fascinating public library with reference books, monographs, journals and documents on the history of al-Andalus.
Stuart said: “We are not really into castle and palaces. We are more interested in the museums that deal with modern architecture and the history of cities in Spain. We have seen the best of old and new Spain in Granada. Immediately upon arrival we had a good feeling about the place.
“We came here from Seville, which was a super city in which to stay and we would like to have spent more time there. On advice we got the bus and were frankly amazed with how the bus was on time, was so comfortable and so relaxing. We saw some amazing countryside on the way. I have never seen so many olive trees. We didn’t know there were so many olive trees in Spain. It was a fabulous way of seeing the land.”
The couple planned their trip well. They stopped for an overnight stay in the pretty hamlet of Riofrio, just off the motorway and close to the historic town of Loja.
They wanted to try the trout for which Riofrio is so famous. Then, the next morning, they simply got on the bus again and continued their journey to Granada.
Taking the bus in Spain is, for me at least, more preferable than letting the train take the strain. You see more from the bus. You have more time to take in the sights. You can jump on and off buses should you come across a sight or destination you want to see more of.
It is so much easier than wasting time trying to find somewhere to park.
You can buy a day return ticket and i think the prices on offer are a bargain considering the distances covered and the comfortable mode of travel. Of course if you go to the more out of the way places, be sure to find out if you can get back to where you started on the same day, should that be what you want.
But in my many years of travelling Spain, more often than not, I find myself leaving a place only wishing I could stay there longer. You can take a Spanish bus to the coast, or to the mountain villages where fresh air fills your lungs, to the countryside or to a splendid city.
And the great city of Granada is one such destination. I can never get enough of the place.
And by bus you can go there at any time. And, what is more, be on time when you arrive.