Imagine getting to one of your dream bucket-list destinations, the Alhambra Palace, and discovering that there weren’t any tickets available on that day, no rock-up-and-wander-around-at-will as I was hoping (and had been our experience at the Alcazaba in Malaga). Fortunately, months before we travelled, we discovered online that general entry tickets for the day we were to visit, 31st December, were unavailable. Sold out. Surely not. It turns out that local tour operators block buy tickets in advance for most days, leaving just a handful of tickets available on any given day, effectively forcing visitors to purchase guided tours from their hotels or from touts on the street. Hmmm….
Our hotel recommended that we book a private tour group at 70 euros per person (compared to 14 euros for general entry). This is not something we would normally do, preferring instead to discover a place on our own terms and at our own pace, but we reluctantly forked out and rocked up to the designated meeting spot and joined a thankfully small group of nine for our tour, which BTW included kids in strollers and one Italian woman who was pressed for time and wanted to get a move on.
I had hoped and dreamed of roaming around the Alhambra at will, spending as much time as I wanted in the various palaces and gardens. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be the case. It’s all done in a strictly ushered time restricted way – timed from first entry point, then walked as a group at pace through the palace and garden complex, with little time to soak up the wonders around you, let alone take in the history and the significance of this place. Having said that, the tour still took all of three hours and I can understand, for without this control the inner sanctums of the Nasrid Palaces and the Generalife Palace and Gardens would be overrun and potentially at risk of damage. Even in winter this place is busy with a constant crush, so I can only imagine what it could be like in summer.
Given the crush and the pace it’s hard to take it all in – the sheer scale, time span and history of this place is staggering.
The Nasrid Palaces are incredibly delicate, exquisitely detailed and beautifully proportioned, like nothing I’ve seen before. Most impressively, star-shaped domed ceilings with tiny honeycombed patterns soar above, whilst forests of intricately carved stone pillars, Moorish arches and gleaming coloured mosaic walls enclose white marble courtyards and fountains.
Crowds notwithstanding it is still possible to get an amazing sense of intimacy and private seclusion here.
If only I were here on my own…