Nothing like winter to remind us that it’s never too early to plan a summer holiday. Visions of lazy days under the Spanish sun will warm up even the chilliest winter evenings, so get started. Spain’s Alhambra is a must-visit on every travel buff’s list.

An enduring example of the finest Islamic architecture, the Alhambra (meaning Red One) nestles like ‘a pearl set in emeralds’ in lush green mountains in Granada, in the Andalusia region of Spain. The palace and fortress complex was first built in 889 AD, then renovated and rebuilt in 1333 by Mohammad bin Al-Ahmar, emir of Granada. It passed on to the possession of Spain’s Muslim rulers of the Nasrid dynasty till the Catholic conquest of Granada in 1492.

Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII, was a Spanish princess. She often recollected her childhood days spent in the Alhambra palace, fondly remembering its rooms and courtyards full of sunshine and fresh air. She found English palaces dull and dank by comparison, and rued that there was no running hot water in England’s castles, which seemed highly unsophisticated compared to Alhambra.

Rediscovered by European travelers in the 19th century, the Alhambra is now Spain’s major tourist attraction. It has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The buildings are based on a consistent theme of an earthly paradise. They are quadrangular, with all rooms opening into a central courtyard. Later additions have all been synchronized to blend in with the original structure.

The gardens of Alhambra have been an inspiration to poets and writers for centuries. The roses, oranges and myrtles planted there fill the air with fragrance all year round and the song of the nightingales, along with the soothing sound of running water from several fountains and cascades transport the visitor to an ethereal dimension.

It is indeed a lost paradise, yours to rediscover.