In September, I flew to Malaga to write this Huffington Post blog and this travel piece for the Epoch Times. I stayed in Granada and Cordoba, which are two beautiful cities in southern Spain in the region called Andalusia. The weather was warm and sunny and I all I wished was that I knew more Spanish. Although you can get by with English in the cities in more rural areas you have no chance! A phrase book or dictionary is essential.
I went on a tour with a company called Andalucian Routes which was set up by a family from England. They also reside in Granada now, after starting the company twelve years ago. The focus on their tours is an Islamic one, where they will show you all the important sites from the Muslim reign. Tariq is the tour leader who knows SO much about Spanish history and culture you will not be bored. I usually don’t go on guided tours but for this region I would thoroughly recommend Andalucian Routes as there is so much to learn about Andalusia and its Islamic heritage, you really need a specialised guide especially if you want to learn. Travelling in a tour group of about 40-50 (more than double the size of a normal tour group)was so much fun. I met some amazing people, some real characters all of whom were attending the Halal Tourism Conference. A lot of laughs were had and some memories of this trip I will never forget!
Granada is a mystical city full of culture, tradition and history. Home of the Alhambra Palace, tourists flock here in their thousands. The Granada Tourist Board have a wealth of information and are very hospitable as are Andalucians generally. There are hundreds of hotels in Granada, but one that is in a league of its own is the Alhambra Palace Hotel. The interior is designed to resemble the Alhambra Palace and create that feeling of eminence for those staying there. It is also 10 minutes away from the Alhambra Palace.
You can find a few halal restaurants in Granada, the tourist board should be able to guide you. And if you’re really desperate for a halal meat fix then there are many shawarma places like Shawarma King and other fast food joints. My advice would be to find a restaurant which has a good vegetarian and fish selection — most Spanish restaurants do. My favourite part of Granada was Albaicin which is the old Arab quarter. White washed houses, narrow hilly cobble stoned streets, flowers, little markets and tremendous views really make this part of Granada stand out. The Granada mosque is also situated here. It was built a mere 12 years ago by Spanish Muslims and is now an integral feature of Albaicin. The view of Alhambra Palace from the mosque is breathtaking. The caretakers of the mosque are lovely people and have done so much to inform and educate tourists about Islam. They provide free meals after Jummah (friday prayers) for anyone who wants to visit. They have a huge library and lots of literature for Muslims and non-Muslims. We were invited for lunch there, and were treated to some yummy Moroccan food — tagine of lamb, courgettes, carrots with couscous that we all shared from a large platter, which is the traditional Arab and North African custom. It was a lovely experience.
The drive from Granada to Cordoba is about 2 hours. The journey though is scenic with mountain ranges and olive groves planted everywhere. There are many little towns along the way which you can stop off at to explore if you wish.
Cordoba is a city with stunning architecture. Old mosques which are now churches are everywhere, and the remnants of the long Muslim rule can be found. Many roads and shops names have derived from Arabic words, the Muslim influence really can’t be missed. Landmarks like the Cordoba Mezquita (mosque)/Cathedral is a key tourist attraction where Islamic and Christian influences come together. Another site outside the centre of Cordoba is the archaeological site Medinat Al Zahra which was a city built in the 8th century by the Muslim ruler Abdul Rehman I. The site which is being excavated also has a museum where you can also watch a short video bringing to life, life in the city all those years ago. The added bonus here is that the cafeteria and restaurant both serve halal food, and even have a prayer area.
I didn’t get to visit Seville which is of course another major city that was important at the time of the Muslim rule. This provides an excellent excuse to visit again. Only 2.5 hours to Malaga from London, a trip through Islamic Spain is essential for anyone interested in history.