Alcázar is the Alhambra of Seville. It may not have an exquisite view of Granada below, but Alcázar certainly does not lack beauty and personality. Founded in 913 as a fort, subsequent monarchs have built their own additions to the palace throughout the years. Intricate architectural designs, water filled patios and tile work are throughout the main palace areas. The gardens, when they’re not full of loud tourists, are peaceful, full of fountains and overall enchanting. The elevated walkway in the middle of the gardens offers a beautiful view and the surreal feeling that you’re no longer in the 21st century. Try to go early or late- the enchanting vibe is somewhat dimmed when you’re having to dodge between large groups of people!
I sat on the patio ledge near the side of La Alhambra and watched my feet dangle off the edge. I was mentally planning a retrieval route in case one of my shoes fell off into the garden below when my mother came up next to me.
“We kinda dropped the ball on this one didn’t we?”
I looked past her, squinting in the 11 p.m. darkness, to the jumbled mess of people waiting in a long line outside the Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra.
“Yeah, we really did. What’s wrong with us?”
My mother and I are usually very studious travelers. We don’t over-plan our adventures, but we certainly find out all the details and activities of the area before we get there. But Granada was different. We just sort of showed up, not realizing how much of a destination point it was at the beginning of September. Needless to say, when we moseyed down to the Alhambra from our hotel that morning we found ourselves face-to-face with a long line to purchase tickets just to get in. By the time we got up to the ticket booth, the Nasrid Palaces, which require a designated entry and exit time, were sold out for the afternoon. So instead we bought tickets for the special nighttime viewing of the Palaces and thought (again) that it shouldn’t be too crowded.
Fast-forward another 10 hours and we came upon another long line waiting to get into the Nasrid Palaces at 11 p.m. Neither of us being the wait-in-a-crowded-noisy-line kind of people, we shrugged our shoulders in defeat and wandered over to an upper patio that looked toward the Sierra Nevada moutains of Granada (something that didn’t require a ticket.)
As we sat there with a mild “I am a failed tourist” feeling sinking in, I began to really look out into the dark hills of Granada…It looked like I was in front of a green screen. The view was unreal, like something out of a movie or a desktop picture, not something I accidentally happened upon on a late summer night.
A warm breeze danced through the patio and over my body. I was completely entranced. The shadowy hills were filled with golden balls of light that were shining from the distinctive square European windows…it was something I’d never seen before. The hills were alive with a magical, silent presence, that made me want to cry, laugh and sigh. I sat there, not caring anymore if one of my shoes fell off, thinking about…thinking? It was a rare moment in my life when I really wasn´t thinking about anything. At least nothing on the laundry list of to-do’s that I carried around with me. I became philosophical; impressive, grand thoughts filtering through my mind, but I let them go… This was a time to enjoy a feeling, not a thought.
My mother and I sat there for almost an hour, not really saying much to each other, a rarity in itself, simply looking out at the scene before us. Life slowed to a snails pace, nothing seemed to matter because I was fully in that moment.
We eventually got up and passed by the still-long line into the Nasrid Palaces, joking at how we had been so clueless. As we walked away and I turned back one last time to seal the image in my mind, I realized we had a more spectacular 60 minutes than if we had toured though the ancient palace. As magnificent as the Alhambra is, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will stay with me forever. And it was more than just looking- it was feeling the moment.
I didn’t learn about Moorish architecture that night, but I did learn this: leave time for the unexpected. Don’t plan every second of a trip. We had a list of activities we wanted to see and accomplish in Granada and that certainly wasn’t one of them. But it stands out as the brightest, sharpest picture in my mind. You never know what you’ll discover or feel when you simply let yourself live.
I stared blankly at the shelves of wine directly in front of me. I set down my grocery basket so I could focus more on the towering rows of dark glass bottles. It was hard enough to pick out wine in the United States without knowing “wine lingo” and now I was trying to do it in another country and in another language. After about five minutes of hesitantly taking a bottle of red wine down from the shelf, only to put it back again, I decided to cut my losses and do a little research before I bought my first bottle of Spanish wine.
A Little History
Spanish winemaking is believed to have originated over 3,000 years ago in southwest Andalucia. The Phoenicians planted vines throughout the hills ofwhat is present day Cadíz and Jerez and soon wine became one of the most sought-after trading products in the Mediterranean. Wine continued to flourish under the Roman Empire, where they introduced some of their own techniques that added fruity, floral aromas and flavors. Wine production slowed during the subsequent Arab rule, but after the reconquest of Spain by Catholic kings, winemaking flourished as it played a significant role in religious rituals, became a popular part of the local diet and had the potential for commercial exchange and success.
The winemaking sector faced difficult times when vineyards were hit with the arrival of phylloxera, the Civil War and World War II. In the 1950’s, Spanish winemakers “began a renovation and modernization of the winemaking processes and wineries,” which has now developed into the unique andunforgettable wines produced throughout the country today.
The Montilla Moriles Wine Route
One of the most intriguing wine regions in Andalucia is the up-and-coming Montilla Moriles. Situated in the heart of Andalucia, between the destination points of Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba, Montilla Moriles has a tranquil beauty and charm that rivals that of Napa and Sonoma Valley. And this region offers more than your simple wine tasting experience. The seven towns along the wine route form what is known as “Campaña Sur” and each is more intoxicating than the next. (And I’m not talking about alcoholic content.) It is hard not be entranced by their strong and unforced sense of artistic, architectural, historical and ethnographic heritage as you tour through the Arab Muslim medieval palace of Medina Azahara in Córdoba or find yourself surrounded by the authentic pottery and ceramics of La Rambla.
If there is one thing that makes Montilla Moriles stand out from the rest, it is the non-commercialized and almost untouched feel throughout the region. Wine-makers have small unique wineries where grapes are pressed in lagares, usually located at the center of the vineyard. Traditional white-washed farmhouses, or cortijos, can still be found between the vines and olive trees. This is a place to live and breathe quintessential Andalucia.
Living in Sevilla, I like the thought of buying a local wine and I’m already thinking ahead to a possible weekend get-away. But for now, the only trip I’m taking is to the local store in search of a Oloroso, a “full-bodied wine with a solemn aroma of vine, sun and oak wood.”
This was originally posted on Andalucia Inside.