a holiday with a difference

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.

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