Brits, Germans, and many other foreigners have been flocking to the Costa del Sol’s largest city since the 1960s mostly for its sun and sea, but once there (if they can be pried from the lovely beaches) they discover a right gem of a town – cultural, dynamic, and transforming itself in surprising ways of late.
A great way to start getting to know Malaga is to get an overview – literally – from Mount Gibralfaro, crowned by the old Moorish fortress, part of which has been turned into the local parador, one of Spain’s quasi-publicly owned chain of inns. From there the views are sweeping: the distinctive silhouette of the bullring, the many trees along the waterfront, the old town, the harbour and the wide expanse of the impossibly blue Mediterranean beyond.
Heading down into the thick of the city, an excellent first stop is in the Plaza de la Merced site of the Picasso Museum, which has been housed in the 16th-century Buenavista Palace since 2003. Because in case you’ve forgotten, this giant of modern art was a son of Malaga before traipsing off to Barcelona and France. In fact, his birthplace is also a must-visit museum in the same square, the Museo Casa Natal. If all this art has you wanting a bit more, it’s an easy stroll onward to the CAC (Centre of Contemporary Art), which besides an impressive permanent collection of Spanish and international luminaries since the 1950s also showcases today’s cutting-edge work.
And while you’re strolling in this gracious, leafy cityscape, the inevitable sunshine cannot but put you in a good mood. Improve that mood even further with a plate of tapas and some sweet local Malaga fortified wine at a beloved local institution, El Pimpi (right; Calle Granada 62), which is charming enough by day but several nights a week also stages some amazing flamenco guitar and singing performances (and no, the name doesn’t mean what you might think; rather it refers to young men who once guided the passengers of visiting ships as well as other visitors).
After sufficient jollity has been achieved, a bit a sightseeing is in order, perhaps heading toward Calle Alcazabilla to have a look at the Roman theatre, one of the remains of ancient Malaga. Other historic highlights include one of the city’s most imposing monuments, its proud 16th-century Renaissance cathedral dubbed “the one-armed lady” because one of its two towers remains unfinished. There, too, you’ll see the impressive likes of the Bishop’s Palace and the Iglesia del Sagrario (Church of the Tabernacle). Lose yourself in the sidestreets full of grande manses and balconeys built during the 19th century, when Málaga se became a maritime power. Calle Granada is a marvel, with its artisan shops as well as the Church of Santiago, whose belltower was once part of a mosque. The pedestrian Calle Larios is a vibrant shopping thoroughfare that’s one of Spain’s most upmarket. Larios leads into Plaza de la Constitución, where we’d recommend a bite or a bit of refreshment at the popular and historic Café Central.
Now we’re getting closer to the sea. The Alameda Principal (Main Promenade) and the Paseo del Parque – the source of all the greenery we saw earlier from the fortress above – are refreshing and reinvigorating. There’s nothing more malagueño than going to La Malagueta beach, pulling up a chair at some beach bar, and enjoying local favourites like espetos de sardinas (grilled sardines on a stick) and pescaíto frito (fish fry) – so simple, yet so scrumptious. The Mediterranean that stretches before you is calm, beckoning for a swim. And it’s a great place to hang out till sunset, too – the reds, oranges, pinks, and yellows will move you deeply.
Then, of course, there’s the night! But that’s another post. In the meantime, let me leave you with a little video tour below from Iberia’s local “Iberia Mayor” of Malaga, Noemi Carbonero (be sure to switch on the English subtitles!)
- Malaga has a bit over a half million inhabitants, and is Spain’s sixth most populous city.
- The climate is of course Mediterranean, with mild winters and summers that aren’t excessively hot, though humidity can be on the high side. You can count on some of continental Europe’s best weather, with more than 300 days of sun per year.
- Iberia deals from the UK, from the USA.
- More information: www.MalagaTurismo.com (in English).