Saturday, 7 February 2015

January Travels: Revisiting Zaragoza & Granada


Zaragoza's Basilica del Pilar by night

A month of travels offline equals a quiet month online: with trips to Zaragoza and Granada in January, I haven't posted here as much as usual. Back in December, I wrote about the #take12trips challenge, which encourages everyone to take at least one trip per month, whether it be a local day-trip or a far-flung holiday. I'll be honest, I had no problem completing this mission in 2014, and I doubt I will this year either, but it's still a fun way to document travel experiences.

For me, the challenge is likely to be visiting 12 new places. Although I love travelling and discovering corners of Spain and the world that I've never previously seen, I am often drawn back to countries and cities I've liked and wished to explore more. Thanks to work travel and trips back home to the UK, I do frequently find myself in the same destinations from one year to the next, with a few unchartered territories thrown into the mix. This year started off in exactly the same vein, with a work trip to Zaragoza (followed by a weekend break in the city, of course) and a couple of days in Granada.

Zaragoza is a city I've visited twice before, once for the hugely enjoyable Fiestas del Pilar, and once to research the city for the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget. It may be Spain's fifth-biggest city, but the centre is compact and easily walkable, with most of its sights concentrated around the impressive Plaza del Pilar. Even the prime tapas spots are clustered into one little area; the narrow network of streets known as El Tubo. On this trip, I spent a couple of nights at a hotel in the outskirts for my employer's annual conference, followed by a couple more at the central Hotel Rio Arga. This location two minutes from the beautiful Basilica del Pilar couldn't have been bettered, but a combination of post-conference fatigue (it should be a recognised syndrome), a bitter battle with El Cierzo, Zaragoza's famous wind, and having already seen all the city's main sights made me wonder if the charm Zaragoza worked on me first and second time round had faded.

A windy day at the Alhambra in Granada

I had no such problem with revisiting Granada: the only issue was that I needed more time to enjoy the beautiful andaluz city. It may be much smaller than Zaragoza, but with snappable scenery around almost every corner and free tapas dished up in all bars, there's a lot to like. And that's before you even mention the Alhambra, the hilltop palace-fortress surveying the city that's both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Spain's most-visited attractions. This was my fourth visit to Granada, and I know I'll be drawn back: every trip seems too short. Staying in the rambling hillside Albayzín district on this occasion, I got to explore another side to the city, but I still haven't made it to the barrio of Sacromonte, with its cave-houses and stunning views. And with a high concentration of tapas bars and restaurants, I need to return to work my way through the list of excellent recommendations from Piccavey and Azahar.

So, two trips of 2015 down but no new destinations ticked off. Are repeat visits worth it? Well, if a city charmed you the first time round but you were short on time, yes. But what if you thoroughly enjoyed it and feel like you saw all you needed to? Well, after my experience in Zaragoza, it might be worth 'parking' a return trip for a while, but if you find yourself there again, go off the beaten track. If you spent your first visit exploring the best-known sights and living off a guidebook, try and take a more local approach next time. Seek out advice from resident bloggers and search for those under-the-radar sights, such as Zaragoza's Museo Ibercaja Camón Aznar, which has a huge space dedicated to Goya sketches. The tourist information office can only go so far to help: repeat visitors need to divert from the tourist trail and experience a place as the locals do.

This is why I'd like to introduce a new feature on Oh hello, Spain. 'Like a local' will feature guides to towns and cities around Spain written by locals, whether they be lifelong residents or current expats - just as long as they've been living there long enough to build up some expertise. I'll be writing the first post on Madrid this month, and I'd love to line up contributors for the coming months to show everyone what's great about your city, beyond the obvious sights. If you'd like to find out more and get involved, please email me, tweet me @ohhellospain or leave a comment below.

Full posts on Zaragoza and Granada coming up soon. I'll be posting on Mondays and Thursdays (alternate weeks) again from now on.


5 comments :

  1. I spent a few days in Zaragoza in 2012. Unfortunately, I had the flu and the weather was terrible, so I didn't see much. Am more interested in going back to see what's beyond ZGZ.

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    1. That's a shame! It's been really windy every time I've visited (3 different seasons!) which does put me off. I definitely think it's worth visiting once - the Basilica del Pilar, Cathedral and Aljaferia are all beautiful and there are some great restaurants and tapas bars. However, it wasn't really a case of third time lucky for me - twice was probably enough!

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  2. From your pics on Instagram Zaragoza does look impressive and I have yet to venture up there yet. Do let me know if you would like a Seville 'like a local' :) although I know you already have quite a bit of info on the Andalusian capital ;)

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    1. There are some beautiful parts but it lacks a pretty casco antiguo - it's nice enough but doesn't have the charm of some cities in Spain. Yes please! Was going to ask anyway, of course - will send more details when I have done the Madrid one. Thanks Kim!

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  3. I have been to Zaragoza three times in different occasions and seasons and the city never failed to impress me. Heck I don't even mind a fourth visit in time for the Fiestas del Pilar. Thanks for your wonderful blog!

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