Set against the magnificent, snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountain range, the city of Granada reflects Spains Moorish influence like no other. The awe-inspiring Alhambra is visible from nearly everywhere in the city, dominating the skyline from its position on the hill overlooking the city. If you see only one town in Spain, make it Granada.
The Alhambra is a massive castle consisting of magnificent gardens, fortifications, and sumptuous palaces. It began life as a fortress in the 9th century and was added to by subsequent generations of the Nasrid dynasty, the Arabic sultans who ruled the area for centuries. Truly breathtaking, the Alhambra consists of three main parts – the Alcazaba, the Casa Real, and the Generalife gardens. The Alcazaba is the fortress and has stunning views of the city from its towers.
The Casa Real is the royal palace and boasts beautifully proportioned rooms and courtyards and delicately carved stucco walls. The Generalife gardens feature strikingly colored flowers and elegant cypress trees. The old Arabic quarter of the city lies on the hill opposite the Alhambra. Known as the Albayzin, it is characterized by narrow cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses. Many Muslim ramparts, houses, gates, and fountains remain and the area retains a strong Arabic feeling. Stroll around the pleasant Plaza Bib-Rambla. Once the site of bullfights and Inquisition burnings, it is now home to restaurants, flower-stalls, and buskers.
To sample some local cuisine head for the Plaza Nueva, the Calle Caldereria Nueva, the Plaza Bib-Rambla and the Campo del Principe. The city has great seafood restaurants and wonderful tapas bars. For an unusual evening, head for the gypsy caves of Sacromonte. Set into the hills on the north side of the city, these atmospheric caves occasionally double up as nightclubs.
Many defining periods in U.S. history are reflected in Bluegrass and Appalachian country. This was Cherokee country and the beginning of the Trail of Tears; the Appalachian and Smoky Mountains evoke the early settlers and pioneer days; Kentucky and Tennessee were major players in the Civil War and the site of far too many battlefields; the Tennessee Valley Authority epitomizes the country’s struggles to recover from the Great Depression; Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry are the heart of 20th- and soon 21st-century American country music; Memphis encompasses Mississippi lifestyles with riverboats and muddy-water blues; while the Ohio River bordering northern Kentucky was probably the strongest section of the Mason-Dixon Line and sported its own river life. Another sort of river life you’ll find in the region is whitewater rafting. Small companies are tucked here and there, so if this is a type of adventure you want to try out, check with the tourist departments.