Now that our children are getting a bit older, but still willing (or have no choice!) to travel with us, it’s easy to go a little off the beaten track for holidays.
One of the complications though is that with three kids (14, 12 and nine), accommodation is more expensive and difficult to find – they are too young to stay in a hotel bedroom alone and it’s a bit tight in one room, even if you find a hotel that can take five to a room. Time to get creative….
We spent 12 days in Spain in August, split between Granada and Cadiz. Beautiful, Moorish Granada is inland, close to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, with lots to see, and very hot in August. We were lucky to get a stunning homeswap – a couple of fine arts professors from the University of Granada and their family were spending the summer in New York, so we were able to stay in their city-centre apartment (more about the mechanics of the swap later). It was exactly as you might expect an artistic family apartment to be: old but sympathetically restored, unusual and beautiful art everywhere and right in the centre of the city, like living just off Grafton Street (but with more outdoor eating and with fewer buskers!).
We booked evening tickets so it would be cooler but it was 38 degrees at 6pm
Granada has so much to see: the Alhambra is the most visited monument in Spain, beating the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and the Prado in Madrid. You therefore need to plan your visit – tickets should be booked in advance online and collected in Granada city centre. A small number of tickets are available at the entrance but on the day we visited, we heard people queued for five hours to get a ticket. The time of your visit is also important. We booked evening tickets so it would be cooler but it was 38 degrees at 6pm when we were there – so much for advance planning!
The beauty of the Alhambra is spectacular; my husband and I had visited before but the kids were wowed by the palaces, the gardens and the views over Granada. The heat was soon forgotten…
The other World Heritage Site we visited in Granada was the Albayzin, the Moorish quarter, established by Berbers more than 1,000 years ago. We wandered around the tiny, hilly streets, stopping to look at houses, churches (built after the forced conversion of the Muslim population to Christianity in about 1500) and the views across to the Alhambra, before visiting the Moorish bathhouse. El Banuelo is a well-preserved 11th century public bathhouse, now a National Monument. While the restoration of the ornate tiles and various rooms is ongoing, there is a clever interactive device in each room that allows you to see what the baths looked like when they were an important community meeting place and describing the use of each room. The kids loved working out how underground water channels – still visible – carried water over fires to create steam rooms for example.
We followed up the Albayzin walk with a stop for tea – Moorish style – beautifully poured and presented in pretty glasses and tasting of cardamon, mint and other spices.
The cave-homes of Sacromonte, a short walk from the city centre, provided another fascinating visit. The caves, many of which are still private homes, have been inhabited since the late 1500s when the Jewish & Muslim populations of Granada were expelled from their homes. The Cave Museum is a collection of actual cave-homes, set up to demonstrate the way of life in Sacromonte – and we spent an interesting time visiting the surprisingly cool caves during a very hot afternoon.
Leaving Granada, we took the longer, coastal route past Malaga and Gibraltar to Cadiz. Beautiful, ancient Cadiz sits proudly surrounded by the sea and guarded for centuries by its numerous defence towers.
We stayed in a homeswap beach apartment a few miles outside the old walled city
Differing from the grand, broad city streets of Granada, Cadiz is a charming warren of tiny streets and squares, with a narrow strip of land – with beaches all the way along the edge – connecting it to the rest of Spain. We stayed in a homeswap beach apartment a few miles outside the old walled city – the sea-breezes very welcome in August.
The apartment in Cadiz was a pleasant holiday apartment and we spent time on the beach during the day before exploring the city in the early evening before dinner. We noticed a distinct lack of other English-speakers and we were told the area is generally where Spaniards from Seville and other nearby cities spend the month of August.
It was interesting to note the differences in food from Granada to Cadiz. Where we had had rabbit and kid for dinner one night in Granada, seaside Cadiz was naturally more inclined to offer fish but also pork. Our experience of tapas differed too – while Cadiz offered tapas menus, in Granada they were generally only served free – one per drink, whatever the kitchen had prepared that day, in the traditional way.
The real joy of this city though is just walking around
We enjoyed a visit to one of the city towers – the Torre Tavira, featuring a Camera Obscura (which projects a live image of the city of Cadiz unto a circular screen in the tower) – as well as amazing views from the rooftop terrace. Lunch one day was a wander around the city food market, buying and eating anything that looked good. The real joy of this city though is just walking around – views out to sea from the military fort are a short walk to the Plaza San Antonio, where the Spanish constitution was proclaimed in 1812 and a few minutes more brings you to the Cathedral of Cadiz. Cadiz is small and that is a big part of its charm.
It is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Christopher Columbus sailed from there, everyone from the Phoenicians to Hannibal to the Romans to the English once ruled it, but Cadiz feels like a charming small town.
So, back to the “sharing economy” as a way to travel. We used a company called Lovehomeswap. The beauty of this model of swapping is that you don’t have to do a direct swap – instead, you earn points with one swap and spend them for your swap. Our lovely Granada apartment stay came courtesy of points we had earned from someone using our holiday apartment. The family in Granada needed all the points they could get to cover their long summer stay in New York so everyone got to go where they wanted, at a low cost and in a family-friendly way.
However, for our family, the big win with homeswap was the experience it offered and what we learned about how others live. I now fully understand why continental Europeans leave their cities for the coast in August, although the heat, noise and tourist crowds didn’t bother us. I didn’t know (or even consider before) where you park your car if you live in an old apartment in the middle of a city (you have a long-term rental of a space in a normal city carpark – kindly passed on to us while we were there).
The kids slept in other kids’ bedrooms, saw their school books on the shelves and got a glimpse of someone else’s lives. It’s not for everyone – it’s a bit strange at first to sleep in a room with a stranger’s clothes hanging in the wardrobe (though a space had been thoughtfully cleared for our things), their toiletries in the bathroom and there is no reception desk to inquire as to how things work – but for our family, it was a great way to travel.