Alhambra Citadel, Granada
Tel: 34 902 441 221; 34 915 379 178 (for tickets)
Concierge.com's insider take:
Millions of sightseers flock to Granada for one reason: the extraordinary Alhambra citadel, the most exciting and sensual of all European monuments. It was the palace-fortress of the Nasrid sultans, rulers of the last Spanish Muslim kingdom. There are four distinct sections of the citadel on the Alhambra hill: the Casa Real (The Royal Palace), the palace gardens of the Generalife, the Alcazaba, and the unfinished Palacio de Carlos V.
It is amazing that the Casa Real (Royal Palace) has survived at all, as it was built (crudely in many places) from wood and clay brick. Its 14th-century buildings are essentially a stone canvas for ornate decoration, in which Arabic inscriptions feature prominently. The palace is structured in three parts, each arrayed round an interior court and with a specific function. The sultans used the Mexuar, the first series of rooms, for business and judicial purposes. In the Serallo, they would receive embassies and distinguished guests. The last section, the Harem, formed their private living quarters and would have been entered by no one but their families and servants.
The main entrance to Alhambra is Generalife, a collection of gardens and summer palaces of the sultans. The name literally means "garden of the architect." Deeply evocative, the Patio de los Cipreses is a dark and walled garden where the Sultana Zoraya was suspected of meeting her lover. Nearby is the inspired flight of fantasy of the Camino de las Cascadas, a staircase with water flowing down its stone balustrades.
The Alcazaba is the oldest—and most ruined—part of the fortress, a military stronghold dating back to the ninth century. Visit its Jardín de los Ardaves, a 17th-century garden laid out along the fort's southern parapets. There is access from here to the Alcazaba's watchtower, the Torre de la Vela, named after a huge bell on its turret.
The exit from the Casa Real to the Generalife is through the courtyard of the Palacio de Carlos V, where bullfights were once held. Begun in 1526 but never finished, this distinctly European building seems totally out of place amid the Moorish splendor, but is a distinguished piece of Renaissance design in its own right.