This was another Airbnb find on the cheap, the whole apartment for under €30. In fact we nearly had the whole place for ourselves, as apart from the owner, very few people turned up during our 1-week stay. The dwelling was a converted goat shed, now housing instead of goats a small cinema, 3 ground floor apartments and 5 bedrooms on the first floor amidst almond trees. And with view of the Sierra Nevada’s snow-topped peaks from the northern side this time.
As usual, dogs and cats were about. And three hens that were quickly despatched by the fox, that strikes when the dogs are away from the place. Marion our host takes this philosophical. Even the fox has to live, so let him have them. There’s always more.
Alquife is a former mining town. Mining has been carried out here since roman times. This mine, Spain’s biggest iron mine, produced up to 40% of Spain’s iron, closed in 1996. But the spoil from the underground and then open mining operation were visible as huge man-made mountains. Research on the internet reveals that it is hoped to restart mining, with access to 1000 ha of land for possible exploitation. In the meantime a solar business put up ca. 10 ha of solar-panels to generate electricity [https://www.exclusivegranada.com/menu-english/the-old-mines-of-granada/the-iron-mines-of-alquife-guadix/].
In Alquife the old town that hugged the rock has been deserted. A landslide destroyed several houses which are now kept pretty by lime-wash. We clambered around this part and imagined the life of the miners back then. Now the two bars in the town barely scratch a living and are glad when pilgrims take this route on their way to the Camino Mozarabe de Santiago. They can stay at La Balsa for €5/night. This is supporting tourism in this area.
As quaint and away-from-it-all La Balsa is situated, I didn’t get much peace to write my blog. The day I was sitting in the hammock phoning my mum a car arrived. The two Spaniards wanted to sell some wine to Marion, who was not at home. Then two pilgrims arrived and we tried to figure out what to do until Marion would return. But all was well as she did know about their arrival. These are situations where my bit of Spanish does help, but it does nothing for a prolonged conversation. But we always experience the Spanish to be helpful, polite, patient and friendly and not one bit put out by our feeble efforts at their language.
We took to cycling up the road towards the mountains and also visited Granada twice during our week in Alquife.
Our first evening visit to Granada was a bit prosaic – Nigel wanted to see the FA cup semi-final game between Manchester City and Arsenal in an Irish Pub, Hanigans & Sons to be precise. For any football fanatic this would be a valid reason but for me this is a sacrilege. I mean this is Granada – one of the most beautiful towns in Spain or the world, you don’t spend your time in front of a tv screen. So I disappeared into the small streets of the Albaycin, the Arab quarter to suss out a place for dinner and acquire a lovely light Pakistani style loose pair of trousers.
Our chosen Moroccan restaurant, El Divan, can be forgotten about. I have never had such tasteless and flavourless food in my life. Where were the famous Moroccan spices? We had the cous-cous, the humus, and chicken with vegetables, but no taste. Even the milk shake was watered down. A typical tourist-trap menu.
But on our next visit we did go and visit the Alhambra, one of the world’s most visited and cherished buildings, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This amazing palace and fortress complex with lovely gardens, enclosures, fountains and water features was built in the middle ages by the Moorish rulers of Al-Andalus, as it was then known. The Islamic colours, patterns and craftsmanship is unforgettable and cannot be taken in on one visit.
We only walked the inner free areas because even a week in advance all tickets for the palaces were sold out for the next 4 weeks! So be warned, a visit to this treasure requires at least 4 weeks forward planning. This applies also for the gardens, the Generalife and the fortress complex. [https://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/]
But we had a place booked in the Arab baths, the hammam, which included for me a 15 min massage. A Hammam is a most wondrous place, a place to let your senses drift away and relax. The Hammam in Granada is lit by candles placed in niches, there is sweetened peppermint tea available and four pools and a steam room await your weary bones. The atmosphere is calm, nobody is allowed to talk loud and soft Arabic music plays in the background.
The pools have water trickling into them in different temperatures and are surrounded by beautiful detailed Arabic tiles and ornaments and intrinsic carvings. One of the pools is ice-cold to finish the cleansing process by closing your heated pores from the steam room. We braved this one twice as the reward was the hot marble stone!
You can choose your massage oil from Pomegranate, Rose, Lavender and Red Amber oils. A massage in such surroundings will enhance your experience of total bliss. Before and after you can lie on the hot marble stone. [http://granada.hammamalandalus.com/en/]
It doesn’t get any better. This is pampering in a sublime fashion. It is difficult to describe the whole experience in words, maybe poetry would do it justice. You just have to go and see for yourself. I surely will return to Granada, the Alhambra and the Hammam many more times.
On our last day, Peter from Holland arrived to take care of La Balsa until Marion’s return from Italy. We invited him for dinner and had a very good night. Full of introspection, psychology, philosophy and got to see his invention: reading glasses as fashion items. He wanted to design reading glasses that can be worn unobtrusively, as a piece of jewellery or fashion item. They needed to be small and easy to wear. His design is patented and hopefully will make him a rich man some day.