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One approach to Latin America is to track down places with names inherited from Spain, the great Hispanic coloniser. Granada is a case in point. Everyone knows of the Andalucian city and its iconic Alhambra, but until a few weeks ago I had no idea that it had a clone in Nicaragua, and a very beautiful one at that.


Granada (NIC) was founded in 1524, just 32 years after the last Moorish ruler of Granada (SP), Boabdil, rode over the Sierra Nevada into the sunset, surrendering all power to the ambitious Castilians. The founder of Granada (NIC) was the conquistador, Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba, whose surname Cordoba (from the Spanish city barely 100 miles from Granada), ended up as Nicaragua’s currency. Like Costa Rica’s colon which is named after Cristobal Colon (AKA Columbus).

You may have spotted a bottle or two over the years, as Lanjarón’s mineral water goes back to 1830, though savvy Andalucians were already lapping up its medicinal springs in the late 18th century. Centuries before that it was a Moorish stronghold, leaving the iconic ruins of a castle teetering on a lone crag in the valley (below). Today, although it’s rare to find a bottle labeled ‘Lanjarón’ (in 2008, new owners Danone fused the brand with Font Vella), the spa town staggers on regardless, lushly green, packed with welcoming shops and cafés – and cheery geriatrics.


Ask anyone in Granada where the best place to buy ceramics is, and they’ll invariably say Fajalauza, a large factory high up on the main road behind the Albaycin. This is the source of those ubiquitous green and blue bowls, plates and platters that you’ll find all round the region, including dozens of designs featuring that bulbous granada, aka pomegranate, symbol of the city.


Dear reader I beg you please tell me if you know of a quality tapas bar in Granada that is a/ not packed with boisterous students (sorry…) or b/ not packed with carousing tourists (I know, mea culpa, I’m a travel-writer). If I go to Cordoba, no problem at all, I’m spoilt for tantalising choice; Seville, the birthplace of tapas? not bad either, though tourists are inevitably thick on the ground. But Granada??? it’s a tough call. And I have tried – (see my previous blog here).


Over the years I’d hate to quantify the time and tempers used up getting lost in the labyrinthine city centres of Andalucia, all thanks to their Moorish lay-out built for heat and donkeys. Last week I found a much easier approach – a train. Above all, a luxury train with en-suite compartment, gourmet meals, top wines and all sense of personal responsibility lobotomised. Specifically, take Al-Andalus, a 1920s look-alike, full of nostalgia though ramped up with all mod-cons. After 8 years rusting away on a siding, it’s now back on track in refurbished splendour. So, how did it go? (click on title for more)

So there’s a bit of an oxymoron, because culturally and agriculturally speaking, Andalucia was created by the Moors. Although they were kicked out over 500 years ago, their architectural stamp remains outstanding – and unmissable. I’ve reveled in it ever since I first visited the Alhambra in Granada nearly 30 years ago. At the time my boyfriend was a typical Parisian artist-in-a-garret, a status I eventually tired of despite his inspiring personality and Gauloise-smoking allure, but he was the one to introduce me to the spirit of Andalucia. From the beauty of its architecture to the village butcher who once made us a goat’s head soup – thank you J-C.!