La Chana – unlikely home to some of Granada’s best tapas
Tapas-wise, one of Granada’s best-kept secrets is way out of the elegant and historic centre. The scruffy, working barrio of La Chana lies at the city’s western extremity, practically rubbing shoulders with the A44 ring road. Reachable via the SN4 bus from Gran Via (outside the cathedral), a 40-minute walk from the same spot, or a ten-minute taxi ride from Plaza Nueva, this characterful quarter, though hardly ever explored by tourists, is home to some of the best tapas joints in Granada.
The place to be is a cluster of residential side streets off the Carretera Málaga, near the Lidl store. You won’t find the architectural splendour to which the city centre accustoms you in La Chana; this is an area of functional 70s and 80s apartment blocks, pungent, bustling fish stores and cheap clothing outlets. It might not look like much, but you’re not here to gawp over centuries-old buildings anyway: you’re here to eat. Carry on down past the Lidl (down Calle Delfin) and suddenly you find yourself in an area alive with bars.
At the eateries in this part of La Chana, unlike at many establishments in the city centre, you choose which tapas you want from a varied menu, rather than waiting to see what arrives with your drink. And so generous are the portions – especially at La Locura del Rey and Voy Volando Tapas – that, for the price of a couple of cheap drinks (maximum €3 for a wine; €2 for a beer), you can eat dinner or lunch. And a good dinner or lunch, too.
Mountains of fried calamares and boquerones are piled precipitously high on their plates; the spiced, Moroccan-style pinchitos look like they carry about half a kilo of sizzling pork each; the burgers (a popular option amongst the students who live here) are not “mini” but full-sized; and the croquetas are as big as your fist. And yes, it’s all free; or rather, included in the price of a drink that’s so cheap that it might as well be free. You’re also likely to be the only non-Spaniard in the barrio as you enjoy it.
Out in the country
Given Granada’s incomparable location at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, there are some superb country restaurants within a twenty-minute drive from the city. One of the most spectacularly-appointed is at the Zerbinetta Hotel, located just outside the small town of Dilar. From its two spacious, sunny terraces, you can take in some humbling views of the Sierra, including its second highest mountain, the 3,396-metre Pico Veleta. This is an unbeatable location for a long summer lunch or, equally, a cosy drink or coffee on winter afternoons, when you can gaze out at the countryside from comfy armchairs under a grand, oak-beamed ceiling.
The cooking at Zerbinetta is wonderful: think rustic, country fare such as rabbit stews, hearty, delicious cocido – a broth of chickpeas, pork, chicken and chorizo – and big platters of cured jamon. Comforting, homemade-by-Mum-on-a Sunday-afternoon kind of food that deeply replenishes you, in every way, after a long trek or bike ride.
Similar fare is served at La Fuente de Hervidero, a gorgeous cortijo tucked away in the Cumbres Verdes region of the Sierra Nevada, near La Zubia (again, it’s no more than a twenty-minute drive from Granada).
The Cumbres Verdes is a great area for hiking and biking, offering a series of undemanding tracks lined with beautiful picnic spots, or a more gnarly route that takes you to the 2,079-metre peak of Trevenque. After completing the latter trek, which features a tricky final ascent, you’ll certainly want to reward yourself with a seat on Hervidero’s vast terrace, which offers great views of Trevenque and its rocky foothills. Order a big glass of beer (Alhambra, naturally), one of their huge bocadillos and admire the peak you’ve just conquered. Granada is only twelve kilometres away, but you feel totally disconnected from the city out here.
Even closer to Granada, but still largely unknown to tourists, are the beautiful settlements dotted along the Rio Genil, southeast of the city. Following the Genil (on the Carretera de la Sierra), as it weaves along the southern side of the Alhambra’s majestic hill, brings you to one of the prettiest of these – Pinos Genil – in less than ten minutes. This lovely village spreads itself out on either side of the river’s cool, clear waters, its two halves joined up by attractive bridges. Plaza España has some good terraces, but if you come to Pinos, you’ve got to be by the Rio.
La Taberna del Turrón and Mesón Casa Guillermo are the best eateries, both boasting outside seating right by the Genil. Particularly good at both are the arroz (saffron-infused rice studded with chunks of pork or chicken) and the carne en salsa (stewed meat, typically pork, in a rich tomato sauce), with the grilled meats (carne a la plancha) and fish great options if you’re after a full, sit-down meal. Either way, you’ll have to shout to make yourself heard over the din made by locals, as they enjoy the company of friends and family during long, riverside meals.
Cenes de la Vega, three kilometres up-river, is also well worth a visit if you’re exploring the Vega plains south of Granada. And as with all the places mentioned in this article, as you do, you’ll have the unbeatable feeling of discovering places only known by the locals.