Malaga: more than a gateway

By | Category: Travel destinations

There’s more to Málaga than sun and sand, says Anna Maria Espsater

Málaga, on the Andalusian coast of southern Spain, has long been considered the gateway to the Costas, ever-popular with assorted sun-seekers and until recently comparatively few visitors ventured into the city itself. This is now changing and for good reason – with a history stretching back almost 3,000 years, mouth-watering cuisine, delectable wines, over 2,800 hours of sunshine annually and fabulous beaches within splashing distance, Málaga has come into its own as a city break destination.

Visitors throughout history
The northern Europeans who flock to Costa del Sol these days are hardly the first visitors these shores have seen. The Phoenicians got here first and founded the city, then known as Malaka, around 770 B.C, making Málaga one of the oldest cities in the world. The Romans spent some quality time here until the Moors conquered this part of Spain and they in turn liked it so much they stayed for 800 years, only leaving in 1487, when Málaga was re-conquered and returned to Christianity after its long Islamic rule. All these visitors have of course left their mark on the city and Málaga’s living history is arguably its greatest draw.

Moors and Romans

The place where Málaga’s imposing history is the most visible is on and around Gibralfaro Hill, in the centre of town. This is where the Moors built the Castle of Gibralfaro and the Alcazaba, a fortress and royal residence. Both buildings date from the 11th century and are open to the public Tue-Sun. The castle is in fact, also in part a parador (a government-run hotel) and restaurant, for those looking for an unusual place to stay or dine. The hike up the hill to the top is steep, but well worth it, not just for the castle and fortress, but also for the splendid views across Málaga and the sea below. The Moors weren’t the only ones to appreciate the strategic location of Gibralfaro – just below the Moorish buildings lies the Roman amphitheatre, another interesting relic of the past, attesting to the city’s fascinating history.

Malaga Cathedral

The heart of Málaga is the historic centre – a warren of winding streets and alleyways leading north from the harbour area, just west of Gibralfaro Hill. Many of these have been pedestrianised or are simply too narrow for modern vehicles, making this a lovely, stroller-friendly part of the city. This is where you’d find the charming one-towered cathedral, nicknamed 'La Manquita' (The One-Armed Lady) – although the north tower reaches a height of 84 metres, the south tower has never been finished. Sleepy-looking horses wait below its imposing steps to take visitors on picturesque trips in quaint, but sturdy, carriages – a touristy, but nonetheless pleasant, way to experience Málaga’s harbour, nearby beaches and the parts of the old town open to traffic. The best way to see the old town, though, is on foot. Calle Molina Lario, a broad, pedestrianised avenue, runs right from the harbour, past the cathedral, to the very centre of the old town. Lined with shops selling the latest fashion, this is a rather upmarket side of Málaga compared to the rest of the old town, complete with five-star hotels and chic boutiques. Not far from Calle Molina Lario lies another great draw – the Picasso Museum. This museum was long-awaited by Picasso’s city of birth and plans for it were afoot as early as 1953, but it wasn’t until 50 years later, in 2003, that the Picasso Museum Málaga finally opened its doors. Housed inside 16th century Buenavista Palace, the collection encompasses 233 works of art and various temporary exhibitions – a must for art lovers.


Plaza Obispo

Andalusian cuisine
History, culture and good weather already make Málaga a great year-round destination, but to these draws can also be added great food and increasingly good wines. Andalusian cuisine has a very wide variety of different dishes to choose from. As is usually the case on the coast, there is a strong emphasis on fish and seafood, but there are plenty of meaty dishes, as well as fresh vegetables and tropical fruits from further inland. The old town is the place to go out and eat at lunchtime or in the evenings. Spaniards love to eat late, so don’t be surprised if it’s hard to get dinner before 8pm. Once night falls though, the bars and restaurants open up, tables are set up outside (sometimes with blankets provided if it’s a bit nippy) and the tapas start to arrive. Tortilla española (Spanish omelette), chorizo al vino (chorizo in wine), gambas al ajillo (prawns in garlic) are just some of the lovely tapas on offer. Then there’s the ubiquitous cooling gazpacho soup, hearty stews, every part of the pork, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and all manner of other fish. Málaga is a good place to eat and drink and Malagueños love to eat out, even if it’s just a small snack or a full hearty meal with all the family, washed down with local wines.

Málaga wines
The municipality of Málaga has all of five wine-making regions and 32 wineries. Originally famed for sweet wines such as Málaga Virgen, in recent years the regions’ wine-makers have been branching out and it’s now possible to get good quality reds, whites and rosés from Málaga. However, don’t knock the sweet wines until you’ve tried them. The perfect place for an authentic Málaga wine experience is old-fashioned Antigua Casa de Guardia, on Alameda Principal near the harbour. Here old gristled locals jostle for space with cruise passenger day-trippers and intrepid travellers, all of them after the same thing: a few glasses of delightful brownish-looking liquid and a plate of fabulously fresh and tasty seafood. The place dates back to 1840 and contains one long bar with endless barrels behind it. Hand-written scribbles proclaim their contents – everything from the sweetest of sweet wines to a variety of sherries from nearby Jeréz. Getting the waiters’ attention is an art form, but once you’ve been spotted and acknowledged you’ll be looked after and, unless it’s packed solid, they’re happy to make time for a novice and recommend a beverage depending on your degree of sweet-tooth. How many glasses you have are then jotted down in chalk on the bit of bar in-front-of you (so don’t move around). A lovely place to glug or sip, while tucking into delicious mussels, prawns or clams.

Playa dela Malagueta

Winter sun
Despite its reputation as a sun and beach destination, Málaga has plenty of other attractions and, best of all, they can be enjoyed any time of year. Winter still has 5-6 hours’ sunshine a day and the city is much quieter than during summer. Hotels offer better deals and many of the sights can be explored at a leisurely pace without too many cruise passenger hoards. And when it’s cooler in the evenings, perhaps they might even start making mulled Málaga wine if asked very nicely.

Getting there:
There are very few regional airports in Ireland or the UK that do not have flights direct to Málaga. Airlines include Aer Lingus, Air Europa, British Airways, easyJet, Flybe, jet2, Monarch, Ryanair, Thomas Cook and Thomson. From next March, Vueling will fly from Cardiff.

Getting around:
The centre/old town of Málaga is best explored on foot, but horse-drawn carriage is another more romantic option.

Places to stay:
Silken Puerta Málaga, Calle Héroes de Sostoa, 951 010 150,

Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro, Castillo de Gibralfaro, s/n, 952 221 902,

Hotel Petit Palace Plaza Málaga, Nicasio Calle 3, 952 222 132,

Hotel Molina Lario, Molina Lario 20-22, 952 062 002,

Further information:

Images © Turespaña

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