The Weekender: Malaga
What to see, eat and do on a weekend in Malaga, by Anwer Bati.
The Weekender: Malaga
Many people flying to Malaga tend to decide that the airport is all they need to see of the city. And, until four or five years ago, they were probably right: the place was uninviting and underwhelming. But go now, and rather than being in a port which has seen better days, you will be in one of the most exciting destinations in Spain. And, thanks to a lot of local imagination and investment, the fastest growing one.
It has everything you could want from a city break: three thousand years of history, year round sun, great food, an alluring old town, and an array of fascinating museums, most of them new.
There are numerous hotels, both boutique and chain in Malaga, but very few in or near the town centre have a sea view. The best combining both location and view is the modern AC Hotel Malaga Palacio, just by the city’s cathedral. It offers many well-appointed rooms with balconies from the 7th to 14th floors (make sure you book an external room), high standards of comfort and helpful service. Bathrooms are smart, and helpful extras include free Wi-Fi, bottled water and Nespresso machines. The 15th floor roof, with its pool, and Atico bar and restaurant – with unbeatable views of the sea and the city – is a popular local meeting spot. It’s a great place to relax with a drink or try the polished Spanish/Mediterranean cuisine. You can also get snacks in the ground floor café-bar. The breakfast buffet is generous and varied. There is no spa, but there’s a well –equipped gym. And, just on the edge of the old town, it is only a few minutes from the main sights and the seafront. It’s also easy to get to and from the airport by car or taxi – important given that the old town is largely pedestrianised, and central sections can only be reached on foot.
There’s a lot of choice, but El Pimpi is one of Malaga’s most popular tapas bars, part-owned by local boy Antonio Banderas – with good food, swift service and reasonable prices. It’s in an 18th century house, but there are plenty of outdoor tables.
And try El Tapeo de Cervantes. You sit on stools and it’s cramped, but serves some of the best tapas in town. If you can’t get in, try the very similar sister establishment, Vineria Cervantes, next door. The Argentine owner also has two other good places – with normal tables – nearby.
The stylish Los Patios de Beatas, in the heart of the city, is situated in two old houses and serves delicious and beautifully presented dishes. You can also buy local wine and olive oil there.
Go to Chef Daniel Carnero’s La Cosmopolita for smart, classy cooking, service and surroundings. The menu changes daily, and there are outside tables.
Picasso was born in Malaga and, in the old town, is the Picasso Museum, the city’s main attraction. In an old mansion, with a modern annexe, the collection changes fairly regularly. There are also impressive special exhibitions of work by major modern artists. Go to the basement to see Roman and Phoenician remains from Malaga’s earliest days. The museum’s café has a peaceful enclosed garden.
Also in the old town is the Carmen Thyssen museum, a collection of Spanish paintings, including old masters and later stars such as Sorolla, housed in the 16th Century Palacio de Villalón.
Another must-see is the offshoot of Paris’s Centre Pompidou, easily recognised by the multi-coloured cube above it, and entered via a nearby ramp. The large subterranean space displays both a permanent collection of modern and contemporary art and important temporary shows.
And go to the Museum of Malaga, occupying an 18th Century former customs house. It’s a big place where the former fine arts and archaeological museums have been merged. In the archaeology section, the strikingly displayed pieces take you from pre-historic to Moorish times. The fine art rooms include works by Murillo, Goya and Velazquez.
Get a cab (they are cheap) or Uber it to the Museo Automovilistico, in an old tobacco factory, to see a dazzling collection of rare old cars from the 1890s to the 1980s. A bonus is the fashion from each era displayed alongside.
Next door is an offshoot of the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, with a permanent collection and excellent temporary exhibitions of big Russian names such a Kandinsky and Chagall.
The Malagueños are nicknamed ‘Boquerones’ after the local white anchovy, such is their love of food, and the quality of the local produce. So head for the main Atarazanas market to sample and buy some of the items the region is famous for, including charcuterie, avocados, raisins, goat’s cheese, almonds, sweet wine and olives. Most restaurants serve lunch late so stop at one of the many tapas stalls for an early meal.
For clothes shopping it’s a short walk to the Calle Marqués de Larios, where you will find the top Spanish brands. And you might be tempted by the flamenco outfits and handmade fans found in specialist shops (avoid tourist outlets – which don’t specialise) dotted around the old town.
Find out more about tapas and local wine by booking a highly informative and tasty walking tour around the old town with Spain Food Sherpas.
Don’t miss the Alcazaba, an imposing palace built by the Moors in the 11th century, which dominates the old town. The fairly steep walk (though there is a lift) through courtyards and huge doorways, ends up rewarding you with panoramic views of both the city and the sea. At its foot is the 1st century BC Roman Theatre, another relic of the city’s rich history.
Visit the ornate Gothic Cathedral, dating from the 16th Century, and built on the site of the main mosque in Moorish times, but still not actually finished – a tower is missing, hence its nickname, ‘The One-Armed Lady’.
And stroll in the lush gardens parallel to the sea to get to the new Muelle Uno quayside (much of it shaded) and the shops and restaurants of the marina. Malaga also has beaches, but don’t expect glamour.
Sea view rooms at the AC Hotel Malaga Palacio start at £156 per night, including breakfast.
Featured image: © Malaga City Tourist Board.
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