Tag Archives: Spain

Andalusia’s Granada: Last Moorish Holdout and the Catholic Kings

Alhambra at nightfall as seen from the Nirador de San Nicolas. Photo by Richard Varr

There’s no better view of Granada’s imposing Alhambra – the fortified hilltop Moorish castle fronting the dramatic snow-capped peaks of Spain’s Sierra Nevada – than from the hilltop lookout known as Mirador de San Nicolás. The best views are at dusk, when the waning sunlight casts a golden glow on the 14th century palace, the last Moorish holdout in Europe.  And as the sun sets, the spotlights illuminate the palace walls. I enjoyed the view with a beer in one of the several restaurants and cafes lining the adjacent street, all with clear views of the Alhambra and across the valley. On the way up to Mirador de San Nicolás, you’ll walk up the central streets of the Albayzín Moorish Quarter with its Moroccan cafes and shops lining the hillside’s narrow streets.

Alhambra’s Courtyard of the Myrtles. Photo by Richard Varr

Islamic calligraphy in the Alhambra. Photo by Richard Varr

Granada was the last Moorish stronghold which fell to the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. Alhambra’s stone walls shelter several structures including a museum, a fort with ruins and dominant tower, and the elegant Moorish Royal Palace with its courtyards, pools and seemingly starlit domed ceilings, where it’s likely that Columbus pitched his voyage to the Orient by traveling west, but instead ended up discovering the New World.

Courtyard of the Lions with the circular lions fountain in the Alhambra. Photo by Richard Varr

Part of Palicio Nazaries in the Alhambra. Photo by Richard Varr

I would recommend spending at least a half day or more touring and walking the Alhambra’s grounds. Timed entry tickets that should be reserved a few months in advance are required to get into the Royal Palace; or, you can take a guided tour usually the day you arrive. I would also recommend purchasing the Granada Card for access into the Alhambra and other sights around the city. http://en.granadatur.com/page/5-que-incluye-la-granada-card-bono-turistico/

Plaza Nueva, central Granada. Photo by Richard Varr

View from the Alhambra. Photo by Richard Varr

What I liked most about Granada was in the town center – the Royal Chapel of Granada with its Isabelline Gothic-style architecture. This extension of the Cathedral holds the tombs of the Catholic Kings who brought Spain together after defeating the Moors. Grandiose marble tombs are the nave’s centerpieces, while a small stairwell leads to the actual underground crypt with a window to see their coffins inside. The chapel’s alter glitters with golden trim and features statues of the monarchs and Old Masters’ paintings, while Isabella’s crown and Ferdinand’s sword can be seen in glass display cases. The Cathedral, meanwhile, is vastly cavernous with Renaissance design and with Baroque-style side chapels. Unfortunately, taking photos inside the Royal Chapel is prohibited so none are posted here.

Barcelona Day Trip: Figueres’ Teatre-Museu Dalí

Called the World’s Largest Surrealist Object

Teatre-Museu Dalí. Photo by Richard Varr

Teatre-Museu Dalí – called the world’s largest surrealist object. Photo by Richard Varr

You can almost feel Salvador Dalí’s presence in his museum in the Catalonian town of Figueres, just under a two hour train ride from Barcelona.  Many of this eccentric artist’s likenesses – with his pencil-thin moustache – can be seen in his

Church Square with the Museum behind the church. Photo by Richard Varr

Church Square with the Museum behind the church. Photo by Richard Varr

own artworks within this old theater-turned museum, also the final resting place of one of the 20th century’s most innovative artists. With its signature cupola skylight, the museum sits behind Figueres’ stone-walled Church of Sant Pere with its impressive tower.  Upon entering the museum, visitors soon

"Rainy Taxi" in courtyard. Photo by Richard Varr

“Rainy Taxi” in courtyard. Photo by Richard Varr

find themselves in a courtyard with slim gold-tinted figurines up three and four stories within window ledges.  In the center is the “Rainy Taxi” – an artwork, if you can call it that (Dalí can, of course).  Put a euro in the slot and, yes, it rains inside the taxi upon a mannequin driver and plants.  Click on the video link below to see this.

The futuristic skylight tops the museum’s expansive main atrium with a few large murals of Dalí’s surrealistic and even macabre artworks featuring contorted shapes and figures, cool and dreamlike colors, and paintings of his wife Gala.  Stairwells lead to backrooms with his paintings, engravings, sculptures, drawings, photography, a collection of gold jewels set with gems, and a lot more.

Inside the Dalí Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

Inside the Dali Museum. Photo by Richard Varr with permission from the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí.

How does one understand Dali’s genius?  A quote from the artist taken from the museum’s website is a good start:

“It’s obvious that other worlds exist, that’s certain; but, as I’ve already said on many other occasions, these other worlds are inside ours, they reside in the earth and precisely at the centre of the dome of the Dalí Museum, which contains the new, unsuspected and hallucinatory world of Surrealism.”

Face of Mae West Which Can Be Used as an Apartment.  Photo by Richard Varr

Face of Mae West Which Can Be Used as an Apartment. Photo by Richard Varr with permission from the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí.

Exhibit rooms are numbered, but the museum’s floor plan guide suggests seeing the artworks in any order you’d like in keeping with the way Dalí would most likely prefer.  The brochure, however, also suggests that rooms can be visited in numerical order so you don’t miss anything.  I did just that.

In all, the collection encompasses maybe 1,500 of Dali’s artworks.  A few you simply can’t (and shouldn’t) miss include:

Soft Self Portrait with Grilled Bacon.  Photo by Richard Varr

Soft Self Portrait with Grilled Bacon. Photo by Richard Varr with permission from the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí.

–          Gala Nude Looking at the Sea Which at 18 Meters Appears President Lincoln.  This artwork is in the main atrium.

–          Face of Mae West Which Can Be Used as an Apartment.  Climb a stairwell, look through a large magnification glass and see the likeness of the 20th century actress and sex symbol.

–          Soft Self Portrait with Grilled Bacon.  (Do I really have to attempt to explain this?)

–          Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops Balanced on her Shoulder.  (Ditto in reference to the previous listing.)


Dali likeness along La Rambla in Figueres. Photo by Richard Varr

A bit of background:  the museum is housed in the building of the former Figueres Municipal Theater, which was partially destroyed in 1939 at the end of the Spanish Civil War.  Dalí was approached by the mayor to turn the ruins of the old theater into a new museum for his artworks.

The following in Dalí’s own words, as quoted by the museum’s website, explains his thinking on this:


Detail of the Palace of the Wind Ceiling. Photo by Richard Varr, with permission from the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí.

“Where, if not in my own town, should the most extravagant and solid of my work endure, where if not here? The Municipal Theatre, or what remained of it, struck me as very appropriate, and for three reasons: first, because I am an eminently theatrical painter; second, because the theatre stands right opposite the church where I was baptised; and third, because it was precisely in the hall of the vestibule of the theatre where I gave my first exhibition of painting.”

Dali's Tomb. Photo by Richard Varr

Dali’s Tomb. Photo by Richard Varr

Born in Figueres in 1904, Dali also died in his hometown in 1989.  He is buried in the museum’s crypt, which is located in the center of the museum.



VIDEO:  “Rainy Taxi” exhibit at the Teatre-Museu Dalí.

Staying in Barcelona: Hotel Continental Palacete

Main parlor in the Hotel Continental Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

Main parlor in the Hotel Continental Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

I found a wonderful, reasonably priced hotel in Barcelona, owned and operated by some hardworking and gracious hoteliers.  I stayed at the Hotel Continental Palacete, situated in a 19th century building on the edge of the upscale Eixample neighborhood.  It’s just a few blocks beyond the northern edge of Barcelona’s pedestrian La Rambla and the bustling Plaça de Catalunya, and just around the corner from Antoni Gaudí’s famous Modernisme-styled Casa Batlló.

Hotel Continental Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

Hotel Continental Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

The Hotel Continental Palacete is a superior 3-star accommodation in an old mansion – in my opinion, far beyond that rating – that made me feel like I was in fact staying in a mansion. I was particularly impressed with the dining/lounge parlor lavishly refurbished in what might be 17th century French architectural style reminiscent of Versailles, with gilded stucco and a monstrous chandelier.

Sagrada Familia. Photo by Richard Varr

Sagrada Familia, a Barcelona landmark. Photo by Richard Varr

“When we bought this building, everything was in ruins,” says  Señora María Pilar Vallet, who with her son Jose Malagarriga Vallet own both the Palacete and the Hotel Continental Barcelona, a similar property located a few blocks away on the northernmost stretch of La Rambla.  “I liked the architect’s design very much and decided that I would do the same and reconstruct it in the original design.”

Gaudi's Casa Batllo. Photo by Richard Varr

Gaudi’s Casa Batllo, just around the corner from the Hotel Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

“The main lounge was built by artisans who came from France, and my mother found the original papers,” says Jose.

The Hotel Palacete was one of the hotels listed in Rick Steves’ Barcelona guidebook, and after taking a look at reviews on tripadvisor.com, decided to book it for my weeklong stay during Thanksgiving.  I was particularly impressed because the Palacete’s staff responds to every review on TripAdvisor, whether the guests like the hotel or not. I found that quite appealing, as Señora Pilar and Jose hail from a family which has been in the hotel business since 1826.

Richard with Señora Pilar.

Richard with Senora Pilar at the Hotel Continental Barcelona, overlooking La Rambla.

Another great selling point for me was the hotel offers a 24-hour complimentary tapas bar with everything from fresh fruits and cereals to ham, cheeses, cold vegetables, pastas and pastries.  There’s even wine and beer on tap.  Around dinner time, Señora Pilar often cooks the food herself – hot pastas, egg dishes, rich tomato sauces and sautéed vegetables. “Cooking is my favorite pastime,” she says. When coming back from a long day of sightseeing and research, it was great to have the option of just eating in house before retiring for the evening.  And when hunger struck in the middle of night, the tapas bar was there – like raiding the refrigerator at home!

Guest room at the Hotel Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

Guest room at the Hotel Palacete. Photo by Richard Varr

The Hotel Palacete has only 19 rooms – mostly small, but pleasantly draped with flowery wallpaper.  My room didn’t have a view (but it did have a small patio), but for rooms with balconies overlooking the often boisterous La Rambla, check out the Hotel Continental Barcelona.  Also a 3-star property, this hotel has 35 rooms and a similar 24-hour free tapas bar for guests.

Guest room at the Hotel Continental Barcelona with balcony overlooking La Rambla. Photo by Richard Varr

Guest room at the Hotel Continental Barcelona with balcony overlooking La Rambla. Photo by Richard Varr

“I am very proud of the people who work with us because when I read the reviews on TripAdvisor or other websites,” says Jose, “overall even when people aren’t happy with the hotel, they’re happy with the service and for me this is very important.”

PLEASE NOTE:  I did not receive any special or reduced hotel rate for writing this or because I’m a travel writer (other than the 5% discount offered when mentioning Rick Steves’ guidebook).  In fact, I booked my stay online.  I certainly recommend taking a look at these hotels if planning a trip to Barcelona – great locations, clean rooms, reasonable rates, complimentary 24-hour tapas, and very friendly and helpful staff and owners.


Balcony overlooking La Rambla. Photo by Richard Varr

For more information: