If there’s one country that never ceases to delight and surprise me, it would have to be Spain. The people are warm and welcoming, the dishes—delectable, and there’s an abundance of culture and colors. From the sun-baked sandy stretches of Ibiza to the evergreen forests along the Bay of Biscay, Spain is an experience for every sense.

So I was incredulous when Sébastien, who speaks fluent Spanish and is pursuing a degree in Spanish literature, told me that he’s never even been there. As we would be spending Christmas in his hometown in the north of France, I thought it would be opportune to take a dip ‘down south’ before returning home to Switzerland. A petit séjour in Andalusia, the land of flamenco and tapas, would be a nice reprieve from the winter chill.

Panorama of the fortress of the Alhambra as seen through an intricate stucco archway

Andalusia forms the majority of Spain’s southern coastline. Over the course of history, the region was home to a spectrum of peoples and cultures, including the Vandals, who possibly lent the region its current name, Andalucía, by way of the Arabic Al-Andalus. Before becoming a part of the Spanish Empire, the region thrived for centuries as part of Islamic Iberia.

It was a manifestation of the desire to own the oases—the only source of refuge and sanctuary in the otherwise unforgiving deserts of the Maghreb.

Our first stop was Granada and the world-famous Alhambra. Constructed during the 1300s in what was then the Emirate of Granada, the Alhambra was the final stronghold of Moorish and Muslim influence on the Iberian peninsula. The former fortress and royal palace is a true testament to a once flowering Islamic civilization in Southern Europe. We spent the mid-morning admiring its splendor from the Mirador San Nicolás over a healthy brunch before touring its complexes.

Left: a mango and avocado salad; Right: a small outdoors dining area with wooden chairs, stone wall, and hanging mirror

The inspiration behind the design of the Alhambra is nomadic in its origins. The courtyards revolve around a central pool, accompanied by neatly preened myrtle hedges. It was a manifestation of the desire to own the oases—the only source of refuge and sanctuary in the otherwise unforgiving deserts of the Maghreb. Even though the Moors had already settled in Europe for hundreds of years by the time of the Alhambra, the influence of their mixed North African and Arab heritage reflected prominently across every aspect of their art and architecture. Symbolism and tribute to God could be found in the minutest of details.

Interior of the Alhambra with intricately carved stucco columns and reflecting pool

Leaving behind the part of the palace constructed during Muslim rule, we found ourselves transported to another time, another place. The Palace of Charles V, built inside the fortifications of the Alhambra, stands in stark juxtaposition to the aesthetic palette of its former occupants. Gone were the meticulously decorated Arabic stuccoes and colorful tiles. They’ve been replaced by a more Florentine flair. Even so, the Renaissance building contained marvels of its own. Stand at the center of its circular patio and you can hear yourself speaking into your own ear.

Man on the balcony of a large Florentine-style patio with Ionic columns

Upon the end of our guided tour, we leisurely made our way down the hill and delighted ourselves with a selection of Iberian specialties at La Gran Taberna, close to Plaza Nueva: salchichón, smoked summer sausage seasoned with nutmeg, oregano, and garlic; lomo, thinly sliced cuts of cured pork loin; the renowned jamón ibérico, arguably the finest ham in the world; and queso manchego, cured sheep cheese from central Spain. And finally, to top the evening off: some piping hot churros dipped in thick, melted chocolate.

Left: a board of cheeses, salmon, pâté and cut sausages; Right: churros and a cup of liquid chocolate

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