Arts and Culture Trip Ideas: Explore Gypsy Life in Granada, Spain

Traditionally Granada, Spain’s Gypsy Quarter, the Sacromonte, rises above the Albaicín. It’s a tight-knit community with its own traditions and art forms. Today, visitors can stay in these very caves in what must be the most unusual accommodations in Granada — and perhaps all of Andalusia.

 Most of the dwellings on the hillside high above the city were carved out of the hard-packed lime soil between the late 19th and mid-20th century as inexpensive, quickly constructed housing for people relocating from the countryside. In 1950, Sacromonte had more than 3,600 inhabited caves, though many were abandoned after a major flood in 1963.

Today, visitors can stay in these very caves in what must be the most unusual accommodations in Granada — and perhaps all of Andalusia. Las Cuevas El Abanico are composed of five Gypsy caves carved into the Sacromonte hillside. They have been fashioned into contemporary apartments with whitewashed walls and low, rounded ceilings — rather like a very large igloo. Rate are stable at €70 a night for a one-bedroom, €110 for tow bedrooms (able to sleep four) with a 2-night minimum. Each has a minimal kitchen and small bathroom, and a space heater to take away the chill. No air-conditioner is necessary as the caves remain cool and slightly humid all year. Surprisingly the caves have Wi-Fi, but the owners decided against tv so the sound wouldn’t disturb guests who truly want to get away from it all. A shared terrace has striking views of the Alhambra.

Of course, you don’t have to stay here to get a taste of this unique community. “Today there are about 200 inhabited caves in the lower part of Sacromonte” estimates Carmen Barabel, “and then a few barefoot young hippies who live high in the hills.” Barabel helps oversee the Museo Cuevas del Sacromonte, an institution that signals there is a new sense of pride and openness within the largely self-sufficient Roma (Gypsy) community. Exhibitions are spread over several caves clustered around herb and vegetable gardens. It’s a rare chance to examine these tidy little dwellings with tile or packed-earth floors, whitewashed walls, and low ceilings. The community is know for its weaving, metalwork, pottery, and basketry; if artisans are demonstrating these skills, be sure to strike up a conversation.

Sacomonte’s Gypsies are also credited with developing zambra flamenco. The son of leading zambra artist Maria La Canastera operates a small museum in a memorabilia-filled cave, Zambra de Maria La Canastera. The hours tend to be irregular, but if you happen to catch him, he provides personal, tender insight into the community’s song and dance traditions. Flamenco performances take place in one of the nearby caves Venta El Gallo. Dug deep into the hillside with the stage at the far end, it’s moody and comfortable and the flamenco shows are first rate — everything that Granada zambra is cracked up to be. book for the show and not the dinner, however; you can eat better and more cheaply elsewhere.

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