Malaga is more than the gateway to the glittering Costa del Sol. The Spanish port city and the hometown of Picasso is a historical and cultural gem and far more genuine than the nearby party town of Marbella.
Bodegas are plentiful around Malaga, but the Antigua Casa de Guardia has one of the best muscatel wines around. For delicate cakes and coffee, posh Malagueños go to Lépanto but if what you’re after is the ultimate guilty pleasure, go for thick hot chocolate and churros (fried doughnuts) at Casa Aranda.
The Michelin-starred Café Paris is the place to enjoy a long and lazy lunch.
You could easily dedicate an entire trip to Malaga on Picasso. Showcased in the somewhat austere museum (2.museopicassomalaga.org) are some 200 sculptures and paintings by the late artist. His home, ‘Casa Natal’ is on the trendy Plaza de la Merced and now serves as a ‘shrine.’
Its proximity to the city centre makes La Malagueta the top beach. The fine sand may not be so authentic (it’s imported from the Sahara Desert), but the atmosphere is. Bustling beach cafes, known as ‘Chiringuitos’ abound. For a more bohemian beach setting, head over to Baños de Carmen, a small and secluded bay or Playa de Palo, a fisherman’s neighborhood.
Use the cathedral as your compass and discover the old town centre. Construction work on the cathedral (referred to as ‘La Manquita’ the one armed because its southern tower was never completed) lasted two centuries. The result is a swagger of Renaissance/ Gothic interiors and a Baroque style exterior. Shop for local cheese, ham and strawberries at the Mercado de Atarazanas (mercadosmalaga.com), where the Arabic influence is palpable.
Islamic influences are embedded in Malaga’s everyday life. Perched atop a jagged cliff is the Alcazaba, a Muslim fortress dating back to the 11th century. Walk through the shady patios and galleries as you take in the powerful scents of jasmine and orange blossom. Back in town, book a session at the hammam baths, ‘Baños Arabes’ and choose from a myriad of treatments including chocolate oil massage (elhammam.com).
Some 5 km outside of the city centre is the exotic botanical gardens of La Concepción (laconcepcion.ayto-malaga.es). Created in the mid-19th century by a wealthy Marquis and his wife whilst on honeymoon, they are the perfect romantic getaway.