by Vernon Grant
IT does not surprise me one of the reasons British people give for their decision to move to the Granada province in Spain is the very existence of the marvellous city of Granada itself.
What does astonish me is the fact once they have settled, many of those same people rarely visit the city. Why is that?
Of course, there is always a reason not to do something. Lack of parking places is a regular excuse I hear. Frankly, this is nonsense. Even before the imminent opening of even more underground parking, it is relatively easy to park within a short walking distance of all the splendour of Granada. Simple fact is some people have forgotten how to walk.
Big mistake if you are going to truly revel in all this vast and varied city has to offer. Comfortable shoes are mandatory for strolling around Granada but I often wonder what it is like to actually live in the centre of this atmospheric place.
Who better to ask than a man who has resided there for ten years?
Michael Rainey made his name as a fashion designer in London in the 1960s. He clothed many of the famous faces of that decade. Today, Michael has the most enviable view of the Alhambra Palace. His home is in the centre of the Albaicín and is directly opposite the building that is expected to be voted as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
Michael lives on a very friendly street, close to some of the more authentic bars and restaurants used by the local community.
His home has six tourist board approved apartments he rents out to visitors from all over the world. (www.casadelajibe.com)
He says: “House prices in the Albaicín have rocketed in recent years. More and more Spaniards from other parts of the country are buying here.
“The positive thing about living in this part of the Albaicín is how quiet it is. The loudest sounds come from the local birds and the timeless clanging of the bells from the many local churches.
“The view of the Palace from my private quarters and from the rented apartments is amazing. I never take it for granted.”
Eight years ago it was possible to buy a house that looked across to the Alhambra for around 60,000 euros. Today, the same property would set you back ten times as much. Then, it was not always safe to walk around the Albaicín and tourists were warned against going there. Now it is a much more pleasurable experience. The development of run down properties continues apace and has caused much controversy. Many locals fear the heart and soul of the Albaicín is being lost to gentrification.
Despite the extensive development, the Albaicín still oozes character. Some of its walls date from the 11th century. This historic quarter has much stunning Moorish architecture and, with the most expensive properties, some beautiful gardens.
When buying here consider how busy your street is. Remember you are in a very popular tourist area full of camera wielding visitors. It is best to look for a house in a traffic free area. That way you will spend less time diving out of the way of the tourist buses that speed their way through the narrow lanes.
If you like your privacy do not buy a house that is within sight of the Mirador de San Nicolas. This is the most popular viewing area in Granada and can be noisy until the early hours of the morning. So think twice about spending over one million euros to buy a carmen (a house with a garden) that is very close to this, or any other mirador (viewpoint).
Another barrio undergoing big change is the equally charming Realejo area. In my experience this is the section of Granada most often bypassed by visitors. They are missing out on one of the more historic quarters.
Before and after the Christian conquest of Granada in 1492, the Realejo has greatly modified its architectural design. It is a shame nothing survives of its prestigious gateways but if you venture into the upper part of the barrio you will experience walking through an ancient maze of streets – a layout that is so typical of Muslim cities.
Granada itself is undergoing an extensive facelift. Major roads in the city are being dug up for further pedestrianised streets or for the planned underground Metro service. Shopping streets are being made more attractive all year round with planting, wider pavements and improved street lighting.
In the two years since the first scheduled international flight landed at Granada airport, property agents have been busy. Excessive demand for apartments in the city centre is the reason why the skyline is crowded with cranes at the moment.
That does not only apply in the centre but also in villages and towns close by. New apartments with panoramic views of the province are for sale in places like Víznar, a pretty village just off the motorway to Murcia.
Víznar is famous for being the burial location of poet Federico García Lorca. If you want to live somewhere that is truly Spanish – but only minutes from the city – I urge the reader to visit Víznar and its neighbouring villages.
Further from the city, but closer to the ski resort, there is Güéjar Sierra. The drive from Granada up to this village is truly memorable. En route you will pass a large reservoir and enjoy some marvellous views of the mountains.
The most famous export from Güéjar Sierra is cherries. The area also boasts high altitude potatoes that are amazingly sweet. There are hundreds of miles of mountain walks; log cabins to rent and all manner of water sports are available.
Although close to the Sierra Nevada ski station this hamlet was, until a handful of years ago, largely undeveloped. Today many cranes dominate the skyline and the British population there has reached its highest ever total – approximately 20.
Jay Williams is a location scout in the film industry and has lived in Güéjar Sierra for many years. He is clear as to the attractions of the place.
He says: “The streets are clean, the bins are emptied, the children are educated and there is virtually no crime. I love the fact I can be on the ski slopes in the morning and, if required, meet a film director for lunch on the coast.”
Three years ago it was possible to buy a fully furnished, three bedroom apartment here for 78,000 euros. It was built over three floors and had splendid views of the snow covered mountains. Time has marched on and things are changing even in quaint Güéjar Sierra.
Eighteen months ago Denise Guest bought two properties off plan in the new El Ladero development. The one-bedroom apartment cost 87,000 euros; the three-bedroom 112,000 euros.
Recently, a similar three-bedroom apartment sold for 153,000 euros.
They enjoy superb views of the mountains and, in the foreground, Güéjar Sierra itself. Both properties are available to rent via www.spanishholidaycottages.com
Closer to Granada is the split town of Monachil. The modern section of Monachil is “victim” to some of the more aggressive housing development in the province.
However, the more tranquil and pretty village of Monachil has, so far, been left relatively unscathed by new apartment blocks. The cranes are there at present and the village is growing at a rate with which the local excellent school cannot keep pace. However, its alpine like charm remains intact.
Shaun Allen runs www.ridesierranevada.com from the centre of the village. He loves Monachil but sometimes despairs of the local authorities. He says: “We are ten minutes from the Alhambra Palace. The Sierra Nevada National Park is right here, but where are the tourists? They are doing nothing to encourage tourism here. It is crazy people drive nearly two hours to La Alpurjarra when we have everything here for those who love mountain sports.
“All the investment goes up to the ski resort. I asked the town hall if I could put up simple wooden signs for biking and they said “no.” They feel they do not need tourism here.”
Shaun’s wife Csilla is mother to two sons who attend the local school. She says: “The village itself is still very basic in its amenities. We have one supermarket and one tobacco shop. You cannot buy a newspaper here.
“This area boasts the stunning Los Cahorros, which is a gorge second only to El Chorro. It is the best climbing spot here and yet nobody knows about it.
“There is also a Bronze Age site here. It is not signposted. People would be interested in seeing it but nobody knows where it is and if you find it there is no information about the importance of the site.”
For me that is the other reason many people living in the Granada province do not fully explore all that the region has to offer. “Build it and they will come,” went the saying in the film Field of Dreams. My instruction to the tourist board of Andalucía would be: “Signpost it and then people might know where it is!”
There is, however, no excuse for the apathy displayed by so many British residents living in the area. I urge them to take time and explore Granada further. After all, its very existence was one of the reasons you moved here in the first place!