GRANADA – This 480-year-old city bythe lake has a strange effect on foreigners: Acomplex quasi-gravitational pull that perhapsonly Stephen Hawking could understand fully.With its colonial architecture, safe brickstreets and old-world charm, many have foundGranada is hard to leave once they entered thegrips of her tractor beam. Many of the expatriatesliving here came on vacation and neverwent home. Still others are people who cameto make a visa-renewal border run from CostaRica and never looked back.The influx in travelers and foreign capitalhas brought an increase intourism infrastructure:hotels, restaurants and barsfor all tastes and budgets.In the heart of the city,on the southeast corner ofthe Central Park, the historicLa Gran Francia Hotel andRestaurant is one of theGranada’s landmark architecturaljewels.The original building isthought to date back to themid 1520s – shortly afterGranada was founded.During the last five centuries, this elegantSpanish-colonial home has been home toFrench Duke Hugo Theobald and later fell intothe hands of U.S. mercenary William Walkerin the 1850s.AFTER surviving the fire Walker set toGranada upon his departure in 1856, the homecrumbled through years of abandonmentbefore being fully restored to its original colonialelegance in 1995 and turned into one ofthe city’s most exclusive hotels and restaurants.With spacious high-ceilinged rooms, bathtubsand air conditioning, the hotel offers allthe comforts of home. The upstairs restauranthas a wrap-around outdoor balcony that is aperfect setting for a cocktail and watchingpeople in the park.But the real charm of La Gran Francia is inthe details and the attention to history. Eachhotel room has a large ceramic sink hand paintedwith the various historical churchesand Cathedrals from around the country.Antiques in the hotel lobby date back centuries,and the home’s original dungeon/jailhas been converted into a bar, complete withhand shackles and chains still attached to thewall.Double occupancy starts at $70 up to $90for a junior suite.ANOTHER new hotel that has quicklybecome a fan-favorite is the stylish El Club.Located on the main drag four blocks from theCentral Park, this Dutch-owned hotel, bar andrestaurant has become one of the trendiestplaces in Granada, attracting an internationalcrowd and the well-to-do Nicaraguans fromManagua who come for dinner and drinks duringthe weekend.The back of the hotelhas several modern andspacious rooms set arounda pleasant courtyardremoved from the noise ofthe bar and restaurant.Rooms start at $35.On the other side of thepark, just next to the SanFrancisco Convent, is thenew and charming CasaSan Francisco B&B. Seton a quiet street next to thechurch, Casa San Francisco is a cozyMexican-fare restaurant and bar with fourcomfortable rooms in the back set around acozy brick patio and fountain.Rooms start at $30 for a double, with acolonial annex home complete with Jacuzziand pool for $75 a room.Whether you are coming to explore thecity and the Isletas of Lake Nicaragua or justcrossing the border for 36 hours to renew yourvisa, remember to say goodbye to your friendsand loved ones before traveling to Granada.You may stay here longer than you anticipated.FOR more info, contact The Gran Franciaat (505) 552-6000 or visit its Web site atwww.lagranfrancia.com. Contact El Club at(505) 552-4245 or www.elclubnicaragua.com. Casa San Francisco can becontacted at (505) 552-8235 or www.casasanfrancisco.com.
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