Malaga – an Andalusian gem

Since my recent trip to Malaga, I’ve discovered that a lot of tourists pass through on their way to the airport from other locations dotted around the Costa del Sol and throughout Andalusia. This is a pity. When I set out for Malaga, I expected a ‘nice’ Costa del Sol city; more to offer than the resorts and less to offer than, say, Granada or Seville. Glad to say I was wrong. Malaga is an Andalusian gem. I had a fabulous two and a half days and could easily go back for more. I’ve visited about ten Spanish cities, as well as many regions and pueblos of Spain, not to mention its islands, and Malaga certainly holds its own against them all.

So, why Malaga? Unlike Barcelona or Madrid (and equivalent cities all over Europe), it hasn’t been spoilt by mass tourism. There were plenty of tourists everywhere I went, along with many cultural attractions, but its people are still welcoming, rather than dreading, tourists and everything is still very affordable – even cheap – to visitors. I’ve no doubt that this is not the case for all locals; Spain is still struggling economically and what seems cheap to an Irish tourist like me can be prohibitive to locals who are still scraping by on low wages so I try not to rave about how ‘cheap’ everything is.

Autumn sunshine, the beach and Arab bath house

Playa de la Malagueta

Hammam al Andalus

I went for some autumn sun to help brace myself for the winter ahead so, at the end of October, it was 24 degrees Celsius which allowed me to have a beach day on Malagueta with sunny strolls on the marina. I followed this up with a visit to the Hammam al Andalus (Arab Baths in Malaga) on Plaza de los Martires. Well signposted, it’s still a little hard to find but finding it was such a pleasure as it’s tucked into labyrinthine alleyways around the San Juan Baptista church. I don’t normally like to be indoors when the sun is shining but the baths are gloriously cooling and calming after a dusty day on the beach. You’ll also find the Casa Aranda bakery in that district, renowned for its churros. Established in 1932, it’s still got a lovely traditional tone to it, with professional waiters bringing hot milk in big, silver kettles for your cafe con leche. Their terrace is a sun trap and they sell bocadillos in half portions so you’re not confined to pastries or churros. https://malaga.hammamalandalus.com/en/

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Malaga Free Walking Tours

Free walking tours have become a bit of a habit for me when I visit a new city. They are professionally run with a good balance between learning and entertainment, not to mention local knowledge and insider tips. (They go a bit over the top with corny gags and very random fun facts but I can’t really fault them.) They tend to gather quite a crowd – I’d say there’s been an average of 30 customers on any tour I’ve done. You pay what you think it’s worth at the end and they estimate the average payment ranges from ten to fifteen Euros. https://www.freetour.com/malaga/free-walking-tour-malaga They also do a free tour of the Alcazaba in the afternoons.

Architecture and culture – the Moors, the Romans, the Christians

Malaga is very proud of the Alcazaba, its Moorish fortress, along with its ancient Roman ruins and Gibralfero Castle at its rear. Its history is fascinating and was well narrated at the free walking tour. I recommend researching the Alcazaba well or getting a decent tour in order to appreciate its rich and brutal past. It’s well worth climbing Gibralfero for its city vistas – comfy footwear essential. You can also view the Alcazaba from a rooftop bar on Alcazabilla. You can’t miss it – I found it by accident – and the vista went really well with a mojito.

The Malaga Cathedral (not its official name but that’s what everyone calls it) is very impressive. Just when I think I’ve seen enough cathedrals for one lifetime, and really don’t need to see another one, I see one that arrests my attention and feels wonderful to look at. Mind you, my favourite church in Malaga was the Juan Battista, which I found while looking for my Arab bath house. Its colourful murals were hidden beneath years of whitewash but now they’re restored and revealed in their scorched, peachy tones, and they are utterly gorgeous.

Eating and drinking

El Meson de Cervantes is a long established dining institution and it’s on every ‘Top Ten’ list for Malaga. However, on a Monday night in October, it was impossible to get a table without a 90-minute wait, so do book ahead. Directly opposite is its sister restaurant Taberna de Cervantes which is excellent. While it serves tapas, it is more creative and visually pleasing than the standard tapas offerings which are often hale and hearty in presentation and content. They also offer a choice of wines by the glass, unlike many taperias which offer only house wines by the glass. It fills up fast but I was first in the door at about 8:15 and didn’t need a booking.

Other down-to-earth taperias with lots of local flavour include: Los Gatos, Cortijo de Pepe and Casa Lola. These are all cheap and cheerful, buzzy eateries.

Atarazanas Food Market

Finally, the food market. I’ve become addicted to food markets and no trip is complete without one. I never get tired of photographing everything from cork handbags to prawns with bulbous black eyes leering at me. Atarazanas market is an adorably gritty, noisy, pungent affair that’s largely untouched by gentrification. While you might not want to take oysters and octopus home with you, you can easily pick up some vacuum-packed Jamon Iberico and Manchego that will survive the journey home.

Picasso and Malaga

The birthplace of Picasso, Malaga has a rich artistic and cultural heritage. As my focus on this trip was on sunshine, food and wandering the streets, the Picasso Museum was the only one I ‘needed’ to see but I ended up missing it due to a minor catastrophe before I caught my plane. This means I’ll have to go back to Malaga – and that’s just fine.

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