What do you look for when choosing a place to live? We seek for diversity, nature and culture all in one place. That’s why we chose to live in Granada, Spain.

We’re convinced it’s the best place in the world to call home (at least for us) after having lived in many parts of the world — this province in southern Spain may be small, but it truly has it all. For outdoor lovers like us, we love how Granada is characterized by extreme variables in landscape and climate, so much so that it’s possible to ski in the mountains and go diving in the sea in one day.

In just one hour, you can easily drive from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Mediterranean Sea, where temperatures drop more than 10 degrees Celsius and lapping waves remind you that you’re still in Spain. There’s so much to see and experience less than an hour from the city: from climbing the highest mountain in continental Spain to bathing on the sun-kissed coast and roaming the desert and valleys surrounding the city.

Ensconced within the eastern part of Andalusia, Granada province may be famous among Spaniards but it’s not really well known outside of Spain. For us, it’s like a little secret that we’d rather keep for ourselves than share with other travelers. I rarely write about our adopted home Granada on this blog — perhaps because I hardly spend any time here in between my travels, or maybe I just don’t want to share Spain’s best-kept secret with you. But things are going to change in 2015 (I’ll tell you why soon, stay tuned!), I’ll spending more time grounded in Granada and will definitely be sharing more of our discoveries here.

As part of my mission to explore my backyard, I recently joined Granada Tourism Board on a journey around the province of Granada (not to be confused with the city of Granada) to uncover little secrets in the region. What I found were little hidden corners and interesting local haunts that reminded me of how I first fell in love with this part of the world. It’s been almost four years since we’ve called Granada home (on and off), but there’s still so much to explore and discover.

Living in Spain: What It's Really Like

Here are some of my favorite places to visit in the province of Granada:

Sierra Nevada Ski Station

Located within a government protected national park, Sierra Nevada is a dramatic, rugged and extensive mountain range, the highest in Europe after the Alps.  As Europe’s most southerly ski resort, Sierra Nevada is best known for its bright sunshine and excellent weather — you can easily get a tan while skiing here; just imagine soaking up the sun with a glass of beer in hand after a day of skiing on the pistes. The well-equipped station also has a range of pistes that cater to every type of skiier from beginner to advanced, and you can easily sign up for a class here. I took a ski class here a few years ago and can assure you it’s an excellent spot to learn skiing. From Granada, Sierra Nevada ski station is just a 45-minute drive away, through zigzagging hairpin bends and scenic landscapes.

Ski pistes of Sierra Nevada Apres-ski in Sierra Nevada

Las Alpujarras Mountain Villages

At the foothills of the southern flank of Sierra Nevada, you’ll find the region of Las Alpujarras, which is a collection of white-washed mountain villages dotted around deep valleys, gorges and olive groves. It’s most famous for its evergreen high-attitude farmlands, Berber architecture that dates back to the Moorish civilization, and the network of hiking trails that criss-cross the area. Las Alpujarras sprawls across the two provinces of Granada and Almeria. I’ve only been to the Granada part so far, but I fall in love with it more and more each time. Alberto’s family has a country home there which we often visit in summer just to escape from the city and immerse ourselves in the countryside, and we hope we can retire there someday.

Bubion in Las Alpujarras Berber architecture in Alpujarras

Costa Tropical Beaches

Few people know that the province of Granada covers a part of the coastline and it’s just a 40-minute drive from the city. Although Costa Tropical is not as popular with foreign visitors as neighboring Costa del Sol, it does attract large numbers of Spanish holiday-makers. This means that its grey pebbled beaches are often packed in summer, but thanks to the subtropical climate here, the beaches here are great to visit all year round.

I personally prefer the beaches here to those in Malaga, because of the authenticity that still remains as well as the rugged cliffs and secluded coves that you can find here. Almuñecar is the most popular beach, with a good range of seafood restaurants and other facilities, while La Herradura is slightly smaller but equally interesting to visit. The beach we usually go to for weekends in summer is Salobreña, with awesome beach bars and a gorgeous rock cliff to jump off from!

View from Almuñecar castle Almuñecar beach

Historical City of Granada

Cloven by the valleys and flatlands at the base of the Sierra, Granada is a whimsical city characterized not only by its natural setting but also its Moorish past. It was the last city to be reconquered from the Moors by the Christians, and even until today it remains one of the strongholds of the Moorish civilization. This can be seen from the architecture throughout the old town as well as the presence of Arabic teahouses, baths and souks.

The city is best known for the Alhambra, a World Heritage Site that showcases one of the finest Moorish architecture in the world. But beyond the Alhambra, there’s a lot to see in Granada as well: the old town, also known as Albayzin, is a hodgepodge of white-washed houses, lavish gardens and cobblestone alleys perched on a hilltop, with plenty of secret corners to be unraveled. Higher up above the city, you’ll find Sacromonte, a gypsy neighborhood aligned with flamenco caves and tablaos. There are also beautiful pockets of nature within the city — such as the Carmen de los Martires, a garden of Eden with 19th-century grottoes and fantastic views of the city.

The Alhambra in Granada City

Old Town Albayzin as seen from Alhambra

Cathedral of Granada

Have you been to Granada and the area around the city? What did you like about it?