Emma Kirkham and her kids head to southern Spain for a surprising mix of family winter sports and urban culture
Who knew that you can enjoy a Spanish city break with your kids, yet within the hour you can be up on the slopes of Europe’s southernmost ski resorts? If you’re an expat in Spain, you most probably do. But for me and my children, Annie, 10 and Ed, eight, this was a revelation. We’d decided to look into whether we could combine our two favourite kinds of holiday. Since I’d suffered quite a bad injury last time I went skiing, a full-on non-stop trip to the slopes was out of the question. But I was missing the snow, and was hoping to get my ski legs back.
We discovered EasyJet has opened a route straight to Granada, an excellent chance to have a holiday with some good old Spanish culture and a chance to get back on the slopes. If all else failed and the skiing was off, it would be a bus or taxi ride back into town and we would just have a longer city break.
Fortunately, in the end the legs held out, and the kids had the best time, bombing down the runs, terrifying me with their gung-ho bravado.
Sierra Nevada, translated as Snowy Mountain, is just 50 minutes from the airport, and our hotel, the very stylish and modern Meliá Sol-y-Nieve, is a stone’s throw from the gondola station. The resort boasts heaps of ski schools and equipment-hire stores and, luckily for us, the competition keeps prices relatively low. We sought the help of Jonathan and Giles from the British Ski Center, veterans of the Sierra Nevada of over 20 years, who provide English-speaking instructors and were there to offer a helping hand.
With famously wide pistes and safe skiing for beginners, the actual ski area is nowhere as big as the Alps, but we found many of the runs pleasantly quiet. The Spanish turn up en masse at the weekend, so it’s a good idea to plan the skiing portion of your trip for mid-week. Night-time skiing is also a popular option, with the main Rio slope open 7-10pm. There is plenty in the resort to keep you occupied if you fancy a day free from skiing. At the bottom of the Al-Andalus gondola is the Mirlo Blanco Recreation Zone.
A whole day can be happily spent obogganing, riding a ski-bike and whizzing round the Trineo Ruso roller-sled, a cross between a bobsleigh and a rollercoster (where you control the brakes!).
After a few exhilarating days on the slopes, it was back down the mountain to the beautiful city of Granada, the last outpost of Moorish Spain and home for us for the next three days. Granada is the jewel in the southern Spanish crown, and our first port of call was the must-see Alhambra palace and fortress complex. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 and is, unsurprisingly, one of the most-visited attractions in Spain. A day at the Alhambra is hard on the feet – it lies high up at the top of the city, so it’s best to take the bus from Plaza Isabel la Catolica. The complex is huge and sprawling, and you can easily spend a whole day there. The children were particularly taken with the Alcazaba barracks, where our guide regaled us with tales of the lives of the soldiers that lived there over 400 years ago.
The main palace buildings are centred around cool courtyards and fountains, and we all agreed it must be one of the most beautiful palaces in the world.
Another must-see is the wonderful Parque de las Ciencias, an indoor and outdoor science complex where we ended up spending a good six hours. It’s stuffed full of brilliant interactive exhibits, such as a robot that bizarrely recites lines from The Silence Of The Lambs. We played mental games (the children battled it out moving a ball bearing with just the power of their minds) and experienced life on a building site, which was strangely fascinating, but by far the highlight of the visit was the Wonders of Wildlife exhibit, brainchild of Granadian native sculptor and taxidermist Antonio Pérez. We saw lions hunting fleeing zebras, a wolf chasing wild boar and a herd of ibex leap from rock to rock.
A good day out from the hustle and bustle of the city is a visit to Guadix, a community where half the 20,000 residents live in caves. In fact, the town is the biggest concentration of inhabited caves in Europe, and you can even stay in them, as many have been converted into small hotels and guesthouses. How we wished we had more time to spare. One of Guadix’s attractions is the Trópolis museum, set inside a cave, where we had a hands-on experience of troglodyte life. We enjoyed making our own Valle del Zalabí bread and cheese, and there were plenty of exhibits showing cave life.
After an hour or so of looking around the museum and a spot of wine-tasting, our culinary handicrafts were ready to be taken home. Our last night was spent with our charming Tapas Dinner Tour host from Garnata Tours. We walked the length and breath of Granada old town, sampling the tapas and discovering the fascinating history or the much-fought-over city. We had all fallen in love with Granada and Sierra Nevada. Next time, though, we will definitely be sleeping in one of those caves.
Easyjet flies to Granada from Gatwick and Manchester from £28.49 one-way.
Hertz offers 7-day family car hire from £190 in Granada.
Where to stay
Granada The Muralla Ziri Boutique Apartments sleep up to 5 and have handy kitchenettes. Penthouse from £136 per night.
Melia Sol-y-Nieve Mountain view family rooms sleeping up to 4 from around £224 per night.