Let me just get this out… I hate being alone. I’m not good in my own company. Never have been. I like to share experiences with other people and I feel kind of awkward eating or drinking by myself. So when I got stranded for a week on my own in Granada I was not as thrilled as I perhaps should have been. In fact, I have to admit that at times I was darn right depressed about it. But so it was, and I knew I had to make the most of it. So I sucked it up and got down to it.
I’d been looking forward to the trip to Granada for weeks. I was anticipating a good few days of exploring, drinking and eating – all on the company dime. Score! I was flying out on the Wednesday and my colleague was joining me very early on Thursday morning. The thought of a night on my own made me a little apprehensive, but I was armed with a list full of tapas bar recommendations, so I figured I’d just work my way down the list – a glass of vino tinto and a plate of tapas in each.
I survived the first night, but imagine my horror when the next morning the ash-cloud descended over Gatwick airport meaning that my colleague and trip-buddy could not take her 7am flight. I was on my own… for the duration. That meant another two days and nights in Granada on my own. Horror and dismay. Little did I know that those two nights would turn into 6 nights.
Over the next week I was an emotional schizophrenic, flitting through the entire spectrum of emotions: elation at being in wonderful, beautiful Granada; despair that I was all by myself in Granada; frustration that I could not leave Granada; jealousy that everyone else seemed to have buddies in Granada; hysteria because I could not get tickets to Alhambra; joy that I figured out how to stop my bed on wheels from rolling around; pathetic self-pity that I was stuck in Granada, all by myself, and everyone seemed to think this was a good thing; self-congratulation that I was stuck in Granada, which is far better than being in work and definitely a good thing. You name it, I went there.
Each morning was a rollercoaster of BBC World News, calls to the office, calls to our travel agency, tearful calls to Sven whining that I would probably not get home for days and days, before scheming and planning for an hour or so on the internet trying by any means to get. back. home. Then I’d make my peace with the fact that there was absolutely zero chance of getting home in the next 24 hours so I would pull myself together, take myself out and have a thoroughly marvellous time exploring Granada, sitting in bars drinking and eating lots and lots of food, before flopping tipsilly into bed ready to do it all again in the morning.
So, although I moaned and whined through a good proportion of my 7 days in Granada, I do really have some highlights to share with you. And these are all things you can do by yourself without feeling too depressed and lonesome.
1. Take many a slow wonder around Granada
Granada is a fantastic town to just wonder around. Full of interesting back streets and little squares, Marrakesh style markets, and very distinct neighbourhoods, there is lots of wondering to be done. I filled up many an afternoon just casually walking around, taking no set route and just seeing where I ended up. What’s great about that is you will find tiny little bars and restaurants that are not populated by American and (a strange abundance of) French tourists and you’ll get to see the real Granada. The Albaicin area is great for a stroll, full of twisty turny alleyways and (when you get to the top) amazing views of the Alhambra with the mountains in the background.
2. Explore Carmen de la Victoria gardens and restaurant
In the heart of the Albaicin area is (if you can find it) a beautiful residence belonging to the University of Granada. It’s a funny little place… from the street you would never know it was there. Only a very small plaque on the wall signals its existence and a very imposing gates makes you question whether you ought to ring the bell at all. Luckily for me the security guard came outside for a smoke just as I decided to walk away and I ventured an “abierto?” and he buzzed me in. What I found inside was the most beautiful garden.
After a lovely meander around the garden, I (using the international hand to mouth sign) asked the waitress if I could eat. Despite the menu and the empty tables, she had to consult with someone inside, which gives you an idea of how out-of-the-way this place is. It’s simply not used to having people wonder in off the street. I think it’s really just meant to serve visiting academics that are housed there. But don’t let them keep it all to themselves… you can happily sit in the garden (which by the way has the most incredible view of Alhambra) and, if you’re on your own like me, read a book whilst enjoying a pretty decent meal. It was one of the nicest evenings I had.
3. Feast it up in a posh restaurant
Now considering I was away on the company dime, it wasn’t all going to be tapas tapas tapas. I wanted to sample the upper end of what Granada had to offer, so I booked a table at El Huerto de Juan Ranas for some posh grub. Again, the restaurant had the same amazing view of Alhambra. Unfortunately the restaurant seated me on a table right in the entrance of dining room and very much in a thoroughfare, which made me feel very exposed considering I was eating on my own. I would have been much more comfortable if they had put me in a little nook or corner. However, the food was very good. The menu had a really strong Moroccan influence, which I really liked. The amuse bouche was black pudding with breadcrumbs and apple; a classic combination which was really tasty.
For my starter I chose the Tomato-Kumato salad, which was kumato topped with parmesan mousse, spinach, basil oil, and dried raspberries. It was a very elegant and delicate dish.
The main course was a hearty and comforting lamb tagine, topped with a lovely little parcel of sweet potato which worked really well with the Moroccan flavours in the tagine. The dish tasted as good as it looked, and someone across the restaurant did a “I’ll have what she’s having” which will attest to both the visual and aromatic appeal.
The “Postres” sounded amazing, but unfortunately I had not room. However, I did have some Moroccan tea and they gave me a little bowl of coffee ice-cream with chocolate sauce. The meal was delicious, and although I felt a little awkward at first, halfway through my meal an English couple sat down on the table next to me and proceeded to have a long and bitter row so I let them entertain me. Low point was the wife snapping at the husband: “Marrying you was the biggest mistake of my life”. Ouch.
4. And finally… tapas baby
So, obviously tapas is Granada’s “thing” and it is really the bestest thing about Granada. Before I went my friend claimed that I could spend my entire time there without buying any food due to the little plates of free food you get with every drink. However I think a mere mouthful of food for every glass of wine would do some serious damage. There is an absolute plethora of tapas bars, there are hundreds to choose from. You want to pop into every single one and have a try, but that really would be suicide by wine. Everybody has their suggestions of the best tapas bars and I wish I could have had a bar-buddy to explore them all with me.
Here were my top spots.
Casa de Vinos
Casa de Vinos is actually a wine bar, but like every other place in Granada is serves a little plate of tapas along with your wine. The focus is very much on the wine, which incidentally is very good. It feels like the type of place that would be your favourite spot to go to with close friends for a lazy and cosy evening of wine and conversation.
Sol Tapas was more of a young and trendy place. More or less just a bar with stools around it, the two guys running the place seemed to be friends with all the “cool set” that were hanging out there. I liked it because there is something about a bar stool that suggests that you’re welcome on your own. And indeed, I wasn’t the only lone drinker there. Yay. I was served a flaming sausage kebab which I had to rotate until it was cooked, which also gave me something to do. I like.
La Trastienda was my absolutely favourite find in Granada. It’s a teeny-tiny backroom bar hidden behind a charcuterie. It feels like the tapas version of a speakeasy and you really would never ever find it by yourself. I only had the guts to go in and push behind the shopfront because I had been told about the bar that lay behind. At the front, Spanish ladies chatted away under the hanging meats. Out in the back room I was served a really good glass of rioja with some of the best chorizo I’ve ever had. I actually liked this place so much I stayed for a second glass of wine and ordered a “tablas” of cheese, meats and pate. Best decision I ever made. It was awesome.
Much thanks are due to Ben Cooper of luxury hotels specialists Travel Intelligence who provided me with an exhaustive list of Granada’s highlights. He really saved my bacon. I would have been lost in Granada without it. Thanks Ben.