Spain’s reborn hotspot for culture
Malaga has shaken off its reputation as being merely the gateway to the Costa del Sol. Revamped and revitalised, the city now boasts a sleek port, an exciting culinary scene and a rapidly growing clutch of artistic attractions. In fact, it’s quickly becoming recognised as one of Spain’s cultural hubs, bursting at the seams with places to explore from the attention-grabbing Pompidou Centre and ever-popular Museu de Picasso – which celebrates Malaga’s most famous son – to the street-art-cloaked streets of its edgy Soho district.
But it’s not all new. This is one of the oldest cities in Spain and hallmarks of its rich past are scattered across Malaga: the cobbled streets of the old quarter, its mountainside Roman Amphitheatre, the Moorish citadels of the Alcazaba and Gilfarbaro. And even once the sight-seeing is done, there’s still a city full of rooftop bars, gleaming boutique stores and nearby beaches to explore.
Olivia Rawes, our destination expert, offers her top tips on the best things to do and the hottest places to eat and stay this season.
In Málaga’s historic centre, a wonderfully restored 18th-century former palace crammed with original features has opened its doors as the boutique hotel Palacio Solecio (Calle Granada, 61; 00 34 952 222 000).
Ocho (Calle Pedro de Toledo, 2; 00 34 654 90 19 44) – a Malagan restaurant with Argentine flavours at its heart – is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in the region. Think full-flavoured cuts of steak and a fantastic selection of wines from independent, organic wineries.
The week before Lent Málaga is gripped by Carnival (22nd February–2nd March), which sees the city centre whipped up in a frenzy of parades and events, a celebration that culminates with the rather bizarre “Burial of the anchovy”: a sombre procession that accompanies a giant anchovy through the city streets to be burned at Malagueta Beach.
48 hours in . . . Malaga
Start your day in true Spanish style with a breakfast of chocolate con churros – sugar-crusted, deep-fried donuts dipped in chocolate sauce – at local favourite Casa Aranda (Calle Herrería del Rey; 00 34 952 22 28 12).
Take advantage of the sugar hit and begin your explorations with the cathedral (Calle Molina Lario 9; 00 34 952 22 03 45), Malaga’s most conspicuous building. Affectionately nicknamed “La Manquita” – the one-armed woman – the cathedral owes its lopsided appearance to the absence of a promised second tower. However, what it lacks in symmetry it makes up for in its wealth of influences, from Renaissance and Baroque to Gothic. Take a guided tour of the cathedral’s recently restored rooftops, the two-hundred step climb is rewarded by panoramic city views.
After the cathedral, make your way towards the Mercado Central (Calle Atarazanas) through the streets and plazas of the historic centre. Wander through Málaga’s fashion heartland, the marble-laid Calle Marqués de Larios, while is lined with big brands like Massimo Dutti, & Other Stories and Mango, while the surrounding streets bristle with boutiques by Spanish designers such as Adolfo Domínguez (Calle Ascanio 2; 00 34 952 21 61 88) and Purificacion Garcia (Calle Dr. Don Felipe Sánchez de la Cuesta y Alarcón, 1; 00 34 952 60 90 77).
On reaching the Mercado Central glance up at the southern façade, which features a 14th-century Moorish arch that was once the gateway to the city. The market – housed in a striking wrought-iron building – is the ideal place for a cheap lunch; grab some tapas or pull up a chair at a stall serving freshly grilled fish and seafood. On leaving the market, duck into La Mallorquina (Plaza de Félix Sáenz 7; 00 34 952 21 33 52), a little deli that’s perfect for loading up on Spanish delicacies to take home.
Walk off your lunch with a steep stroll up Mount Gilbralfaro to the Alcazaba (Plaza de la Aduana, Alcazabilla 2; 00 34 630 93 29 87). Another hallmark of Malaga’s Moorish past, the citadel dates back to the 11th century; as you arrive don’t miss the Roman Amphitheatre by the entrance.
Stroll back down into the city and round-off the day by sampling a favourite Andalucian tipple, vino dulce (sweet wine). For this, head to the history-steeped Antigua Casa Guardia (Alameda Principal 18; 00 34 952 21 46 80), Malaga’s oldest bar, which dates back to 1840 and once counted Picasso amongst its regulars. These days, it’s a simple yet atmospheric place with a chalk-etched counter and stacks of richly stained barrels.
Next, experience another malagueño institution, El Pimpi (Calle Granada 62; 00 34 952 22 54 03), a restaurant that sprawls through an 18th-century house. This is the place to indulge in Andalucían cuisine such as salmorejo (similar to gazpacho) or oxtail with creamed potatoes and leek ash. Book a table on the terrace, which boasts stunning Alcazaba views.
Pay homage to the city’s most famous son at the Museo Picasso (Palacio de Buenavista, Calle San Agustín 8; 00 34 952 12 76 00). Housed in an elegant 16th-century mansion the museum charts Picasso’s career through 120 works and puts on various temporary exhibitions – an upcoming one explores the influence Southern Spain had on the artist.
For die-hard fans, the house where Picasso was born (also a museum) is just a stone’s throw away on Plaza de la Merced. Afterwards, take a break from sight-seeing at La Tetería (Calle San Agustín 9; 00 34 952 21 53 86), a tearoom that harks back to the city’s Moorish roots. Indulge yourself fully in this heritage with a sweet mint tea and flaky North African pastry.
A trip to Malaga wouldn’t be complete without escaping the concrete for a spot of golden sand – after all, this city boasts 300 days of annual sunshine – come in spring and you’ll get the pick of the beach, without the crowds, or opt for autumn when the Mediterranean reaches its balmiest temperatures.
Make it an adventure and rent a bike from the Recyclo Bike Café (Plaza Enrique García Herrera, 16; 00 34 951 353 716). En route stop off for one final cultural hit, the unmissable Pompidou (Pasaje Doctor Carrillo Casaux s/n, Muelle Uno; 00 34 951 92 62 00). Topped with a striking multicoloured glass cube, this gallery is home to an impressive array of modern art with big-name artists like Bacon, Kahlo and Picasso.
Now on to the beach. The closest, Playa de la Malagueta, is a long sandy sweep but carry on to Pedragalejo, home to some of the province’s best seafood restaurants. Maricuchi (Paseo Marítimo El Pedregal 14; 00 34 952 20 06 12) is perfect for lunch, a buzzing local haunt where you can devour the catch of the day with views of the sea.
Once back in the city, wind down for the evening with a trip to the Hammam Al Andalus (Plaza de los Mártires 5; 0034 952 215 018), a Moorish-styled spa where you can dip into thermal pools surrounded by flickering lanterns.
End your trip by splashing out with a meal at the Parador de Malaga-Gibralfaro (Monte de Gibralfaro; 00 34 952 22 19 02). Perched on the mountain beside the castle, the terrace of this parador’s restaurant boasts sweeping views of the city’s rooftops and the distant coastline.
Where to stay . . .
Grand style meets contemporary luxe Gran Hotel Miramar which has a rich history and dates back almost a century. A host of famous names including Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, Jean Cocteau, Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway have graced its corridors. It’s all about the full-on seaside grandeur here, with an array of services including private butlers, a spa, water activities and day excursions.
Doubles from €200 (£170). Paseo Reding, 22-24; 00 34 952 603000
The Teatro Romano’s crisp, creative, Scandi-inspired look is distinctly contemporary, with a clever use of mirrors and natural light, textured walls and oversized rattan lamps that dangle from the ceiling. Hints of Spanish design creep in too. Rooms make the most of their Alcazaba and Roman theatre views, while the bright lobby/breakfast area has potted palms and splashes of bold distressed metal.
Doubles from €103 (£90). Calle Alcazabilla 7; 00 34 951 20 44 38
Overlooking an atmospheric pedestrian street in the heart of old-town Málaga, Dulces Dreams is packed full of creative character and loosely themed around cakes (‘dulce’ means sweet). It calls itself a hostel, but really it’s more of a budget boutique hotel (no bunk-bed dorms, just stylish rooms for up to four people). Downstairs, there’s a bubbly café, while a rooftop terrace and bar crowns the building.
Doubles from €46 (£41). Plaza de los Mártires 6; 00 34 951 35 78 69
What to bring home . . .
Malaga’s the food hub of Andalucía, so don’t leave without a suitcase stuffed with local produce. From the city’s famed anchovies to bottles of silky olive oil and slices of jamón, grab the best at La Mallorquina (Sagasta 1 esquina Plaza Félix Sáenz; 00 34 952 21 33 52).
Vino dulce – or sweet wine – is Malaga’s favourite tipple, grab a bottle or two for home from Ultramolinos Zoilo (Calle Granada 65; 00 34 952 21 24 65).
When to go . . .
It rarely gets really cold in Malaga, and it is often warm enough to sit at pavement cafés during the day even in December and January. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit. Although not as well known as Seville Holy Week, the Easter processions are among the most important in Spain.
Know before you go . . .
Emergency services: Dial 112
Local laws and etiquette: You must carry your passport with you by law. Locals usually leave very small tips – just odd change for drinks and snacks, and often nothing at all. A 10 per cent tip for a meal is considered generous and 5 per cent is more the norm – unless you are somewhere really upmarket, where international rules come into play.
Time difference: +1 hour
Flight time: Malaga is approximately two-and-a-half hours from UK airports
Olivia Rawes first fell in love with the city while on a road trip across Andalucía. And she’s been revisiting ever since, to explore street-art-splashed Soho and gorge on seafood at the beach.
Experience Malaga with The Telegraph
Telegraph Travel’s best hotels, tours, cruises and holidays in Malaga, tried, tested and recommended by our Malaga experts.