At time of writing, I’ve been home for three days after a twelve-day whistle-stop tour of some of the major sights in Andalusia, the southern region of Spain and location of my last spanish trip. There’s just so much to see and do there that you could spend months visiting every city, every Arabic fortress, every pueblo blanco, but I really enjoyed a brief visit of each city (although it wasn’t what you’d call a relaxing trip). We spent two nights in Malaga, then three in each of Granada, Cordoba and Seville. It was only a few days ago, after revisiting my travel bucket list post, that I realised I’ve now ticked off more or less everything that I wanted to visit in Spain. Obviously I knew I’ve wanted to visit these cities for a while, but I hadn’t remembered putting it in writing.
Here is a brief overview of my thoughts and experiences of the city of Malaga, with separate posts for the other three cities to follow…
Staying in Malaga
After three separate short trips to Malaga, I’ve decided that a few days is the perfect amount of time to spend there. It’s a cosy coastal city steeped in history, but at the same time a popular holiday destination for those looking for sun and sea with all the choice of bars of a big city. Hilariously, after visiting the glistening city of Seville, Malaga, which I’ve always loved, simply didn’t seem so impressive. Unless you want to see absolutely everything the city has to offer, including the multitude of museums, it’s possible to do the essentials in just a couple of days, so after flying into Malaga airport and getting settled in our hotel (affiliate link) at around midday, we spent two nights in the city. It was what I’d call a “deluxe hostel” – a very stylish space right in the heart of the city, with lots of people coming and going at all hours, and a trendy cafe bar downstairs. I’s not the sort of place I’d recommend to a family with young children, perhaps, but for us it was perfect. We could come and go at any hour and didn’t mind hearing a bit of a buzz from downstairs or the street. Most importantly, it was clean and comfortable (and cheap!) and the staff were very friendly.
In the past I’ve also stayed in Residencia Universitaria San Jose (affiliate link), where a twin room with a shared bathroom and kitchenette cost something ridiculous like eighteen euros. It was basic, but clean and very quiet, especially given that there were several rooms to one corridor.
Shopping & Museums
Malaga is the sort of place I’d be happy to visit for a quick weekend away if I have time and money; it’s filled with tons of small cafes, museums and restaurants, and I’ve noticed a few hipster-looking coffee and juice places popping up. As with most Spanish places, I also enjoy it for a spot of shopping. There are plenty of trendy shops – Stradivarius is a Spanish favourite of mine; if you can’t get abroad anytime soon, TK Maxx occasionally have the brand! If you don’t mind walking just to the very edge of the city centre, there is also a huge department store, El Corte Ingles. I’ve seen these shops in cities all over Spain, and they never cease to amaze me because for some reason I seem to rarely set foot in similar stores at home.
The list of Musesums seems to be almost endless, especially if you enjoy art. Several museums are dedicated to local artists, including, most famously, Pablo Picasso, who was born in the city and whose birth house can be visited. But it doesn’t stop there: there’s an automobile and fasion museum, a wine museum, an interactive science centre, the Museum of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, a Flamenco museum, a marine conservation museum (Aula del Mar), an interactive music museum…and definitely many more. The first time I visited, I found the museum of glass and crystal, which is less “museum” and more “private collection in a private home with a personal tour in your chosen language”. It was quite intimate, the objects on display as well as the house were beautiful, and the insight into the history of glass and its use in homeware was very interesting. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting!
It was interesting, in light of the knowledge I gained on other Spain trips, to revisit the Alcazaba after several years – the ruined fortress on the hill overlooking the city that once served as the Muslim citadel. The word comes from the Arabic qaṣaba, which is also related to the Turkish word for fortress, kasbah – that’s not very interesting unless you’ve been (un?)fortunate enough to visit Coventry’s nightclub of the same name. Back in Malaga – right next door to the remains for the fortress is a Roman amphitheatre (the on-the-nose combinations of eras don’t stop – but you’ll have to wait for my next post for more on why that is!).
It was at this point that one of the most bizarre aspects of this particular trip kicked in: the orange glow cast over everything by the Sahara dust in the air. What began as a slight yellow haze, visible as you looked out over the sea, got darker and darker, and by 3 in the afternoon, the the sky was bright yellow and everything was downright surreal. We were lucky to be exploring the Alcazaba as this progressed, meaning panoramic views of the approaching clouds. Despite the Alcazaba being worlds away from that of, say, Seville, or the Alhambra in Granada, I still have a soft spot for it. Perhaps because it was strange to return to it after three or so years, but also because there’s something quaint and idyllic about the way it’s full of tropical plants and houses a little cafe with fresh orange juice and sandwiches.
Later on, sky still aflame, we checked out the Cathedral, which I’d never been inside before. It is truly beautiful, as they all are over there, although it was unfortunately overshadowed by some clashing organ notes. We’re not sure exactly what was going on – our only theory is that they were testing the pipes? The discordant tones certainly didn’t bring me any closer to Jesus, but it would take a lot more than that to detract from the beauty of the place.
Food & Drink
There’s something you need to know: I live for food. I simply adore it. And for someone who loves good food, Spain is a good place to be.
I am also not above sneaking some fast food when travelling – sometimes you simply have to eat and move on. This happened a lot during my recent trip, mostly because we were up early, skipping breakfast to catch trains, and three hours later when we reached our destination we were starving, dragging heavy suitcases and only biding our time until we could check into our hotel. There’s something quite fun about trying out international fast food menus though! The first time I visited Malaga I discovered the (Mc)goat’s cheese and caramelised onion (!!) burger. Three years later, it was still fresh in my mind. So, tired and hungry and just landed, I ended up in the very same McDonald’s eating the very same thing. They also serve potato wedges and nachos over there, but I’m not sure they’re worth giving up the UK’s breakfast menu (the hash browns are amazing and that’s a hill I will die on).
We ate in L’experience restaurant on our first night in Malaga, aptly overlooked by the cathedral, where we discovered the apparent Spanish affinity for bao bread. This is also where we found flamenquin, a traditional dish consisting of various meat and fillings rolled into a huge sausage, breadcrumbed, and fried. I’d never heard of it before, but it was on almost every menu throughout the trip. The atmosphere at this restaurant was lovely, with much-needed glass-encased burners to take the edge off the evening chill (the temperature hovered around 15 degrees for much of our time there).
On our second night, the heavens opened and all that lovely dust in the air fell as thick drops of rusty red mud. Everything was covered, including the poor restaurant staff serving the customers who braved it. We, with all of our infinite wisdom, ventured out in lovely white trainers in search of food. Brolly or no, the dusty mud hung in the air, splashed from the ground, fell from the sky and smeared over surfaces. Even during the day, it left a thin film of dust over everything, clothing included, leaving my hands feeling dry and forcing me to wipe my phone screen every time I wanted a photo. During this deluge, we traipsed around in search of an Italian restaurant we’d already passed, eventually finding it and ordering deliciously fresh pizza and pasta.
Those aforementioned coffee shops include El Ultimo Mono, a grungy cafe serving coffees and smoothies, and Mia Coffee Shop, a poky little coffee bar right next door to our hotel. They serve you through a hole in the wall and have, like, two and a half seats inside. While we took coffee to go, businessmen in suits stood in the street downing espresso, before handing back the cup and sauce and carrying on to work.
Getting to (and around) Malaga
I keep singing praises for Spain’s public transport. In my experience it’s always been amazing – although I’m sure it has its flaws. As a tourist who wants to get to very specific places, I can’t find fault (perhaps I’d think different as a commuter). Malaga is an easy airport to use, as there is a regular shuttle bus between the airport and the city, which passes the nearby Holiday Inn. I’ve used it for both destinations! The city is small enough that I don’t know much about local bus services, as I’ve usually walked around the centre, but in the past I’ve caught a regular bus between Rincon de la Victoria and the city centre, as well as a longer service between Nerja and Malaga. There are buses servicing the coastal road, with stops at all the major costa del sol destinations, and it’s not too difficult to find tickets online. A visit to the bus station is also useful, as often they still have ticket offices open.
I made use of said bus network to leave Malaga on my most recent visit, continuing onto Granada. We left our hotel painfully early (politely waving off offers of a taxi, which we regretted) and trekking through the streets flooded with orange rain water to the bus station. The journey to Malaga took around an hour and a half, on a 40-seater coach (school trip throwback style) and tickets were just less than twelve euros each on Omio. On our final day, we caught a train back to the city to fly home. From Seville, the high speed train cost around twenty euros and took two and a half hours. Flights are less practical from Seville airport, you see. By chance they worked for us on our last visit, but this time it was cheaper and easier to return to Malaga.
Malaga off the beaten track
If you want a break from the city and are comfortable trying something a bit different, hop on that airport shuttle bus I mentioned, and get off at the Villa Rosa/Avenida de Velasquez stop, which is next to the Holiday Inn. You might have to ask the driver to be sure, as sometimes shey zoom past it before you’ve realised where you are. It’s out of the city, on a dusty road of car garages and the occasional diner, but from there you can enter the Guadalhorce natural park, which features a nice walking path to the beach, via the Guadalhorce estuary. The site is subject to conservation measures, so as well as the beach and scenery, it’s a great place for birdwatching. Flamingoes, spoonbills, white headed ducks, the squacco heron and various types of tern can be seen, and you can watch them from the bird hides dotted around.
Have you ever been to Malaga, or do you have plans to? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts! You can use the search box above to find your perfect hotel or apartment in Granada (affiliate).