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Málaga - Familiarity breeds content

Travel journos on both sides of the Atlantic rave about it. It's a favourite city break destination for Northern Europeans... and a port of call featuring on the itineraries of virtually every luxury liner cruising the Med. And Vicente Aleixandre - a Spanish poet born in Sevilla and Nobel Prize laureate in Literature in 1977 - famously dubbed it the Ciudad del Paraiso, or 'Paradise City'...

Yet the funny thing is that while so many expats and holidaymakers on the Costa del Sol are well-acquainted with Andalucia's other stunning cultural hotspots - cities like Sevilla, Granada and Cordoba - apart from passing through the state-of-the-art Málaga Costa del Sol airport, and maybe making the occasional trip to Ikea, not a lot of people know the joys of exploring our very own captivating provincial capital.

“So where to begin? Well, with just a Little bit of background to get you started…”

Caressed by the silky waters of the Mediterranean and with the fragrant pine-clad slopes of the Montes de Málaga forming a spectacular backdrop, Málaga is Spain’s sixth largest city, after Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla and Zaragoza. Founded around 770BC by the Phoenicians  - who called it Malaka - it's one of Europe's oldest cities with a turbulent history later passed into the hands of the Carthaginians, Roman Republic, Roman Empire and the Moors, before eventually returning to Christian rule in 1487.

Impressive ancient monuments include the 11th century Alcazaba, built by the Moors and reminiscent of Granada's world famous Alhambra; the enchanting 14th century Gibralfaro Castle which adjoins it; and the Roman Theatre dating from the 1st century AD, which was discovered by chance in 1951.

The Cathedral, since it was built during the 16th to 18th centuries, is a fascinating mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, and because its second tower was never completed, is affectionately known as la Manquita' - 'the little one-armed lady'. Less well-known historical treasures are tucked away throughout and beneath the busy city streets. But let’s move on to Málaga's other major attraction: art.

One of Málaga's two most famous sons - the other is of course blockbusting movie star Antonio Banderas - cubist maestro, sculptor, ceramicist, printmaker and stage designer Pablo Picasso was born here in 1881, so it's no surprise that the city punches well above its weight when it comes to art.

The Casa Natal, Picasso's birthplace on Plaza de la Merced - and celebrating its 25th anniversary this year - provides an unusually intimate glimpse into his early life. With family photos, memorabilia, sketches and some of his lesser-known paintings on display, it's well worth a visit.

But as with the well-documented 'Bilbao effect' - where the opening of the Guggenheim Museum transformed Spain's rather grim northern industrial city and financial centre into the cultural, chic and übertrendy provincial capital it has since become - Malaga's Picasso Museum, founded in 2003, was the catalyst that did precisely the same for the capital of the Costa del Sol.

If you have a penchant for art that's rather more cutting-edge, then you'll love the Contemporary Art centre (CAC Malaga), which also opened its prestigious doors 10 years ago and has showcased works by the likes of Tracey Emin, Gilbert & George, Anish Kapoor, Bill Viola, Ron Mueck, Julian Opie and Roni Horn.

Then there's the brand new La Termica, launched in January of this year with its inaugural Lady Warhol exhibition by US photographer Christopher Makos; and the renowned Carmen Thyssen Musuem which opened in 2011 and has a fabulous collection of Andalusian and Spanish art mostly dating from the 19th century; not to mention various other fascinating art museums and eclectic private galleries dotted around town.

"Founded around 770BC, Malaga is one of Europe's earliest cities."

A true city of museums - there are no fewer than 23 in all - it's no exaggeration to say that there really is something for everyone. Petrolheads will lap up the Automobile Museum, housing more than 80 vintage and modern cars together estimated to be worth around €25 million, while fashionistas will head for the stunning parallel collection of 300 vintage designer hats, handbags and luggage. Then there are the Interactive Museums of Music and Science, the Museum of Wine, the Museum of Glass and Crystal, the Marine Centre and even a Museum dedicated to Dolls' Houses...

If shopping is your bag, you'll be spoilt for choice. Head for Calle Marques de Larios for designer labels, or Calle Granada for independent one-off boutiques, delicatessens and quaint grocer's stores. You'll find high street brands in the Málaga Plaza shopping mall, the Larios Centre, Vialia (next to the Maria Zambrano train station), and the city's newest commercial centre - swish Muelle Uno - opened just last year right on the waterfront, next to the port and cruise ship terminal. If you have the kids in tow, the landmark Plaza Mayor -on the outskirts of town near the airport - combines shopping with family fun, including a multiplex cinema, 10-pin bowling, an amusement arcade, children's area and a gym.

For the freshest of blooms, you won't be able to resist the Flower Market on the Alameda Principal, and for the very best local produce plus an overwhelming choice of fish and seafood, then don't miss the Las Atarazanas food market, housed in one of Málaga's architectural gems occupying the former site of a 14th century naval shipyard, though the sea which once lapped at its walls has long since receded.

“Warm, welcoming & spontaneous, the vibrant  capital of the Costa del Sol”

And talking of food, eating out is a pleasure that even the most dedicated of gourmets will enjoy, especially since prices are generally much cheaper than elsewhere on the Coast. Gastro bars, bistros, chic eateries and traditional tabernas, bodegas, bars and pavement cafés abound in Málaga. For authentic atmosphere and flavour, try these: El Pimpi - always busy, said to be a favourite haunt of Antonio Banderas whenever he's in town, and sporting a signed photo of a young-looking Tony Blair on the wall. The Antigua Casa de Guardia, dating from 1840 and according to the staff, nothing has changed over the years, except for themselves! And Café Central, a lunchtime must on Málaga's main square, Plaza de la Constitucion.

As you've probably come to expect, the Brits have made their mark in Málaga, too. I'm not talking English Breakfasts and Fish 'n Chips because refreshingly you won't find either here! But with its ´three springs and a summer' climate, Málaga was a favourite 19th century destination for well-heeled convalescing Britons, while many enterprising merchants also set up businesses in the city, with several streets - Calle Strachan for example - still bearing their names.

Founded in 1841, the English Cemetery, next to St George's Anglican Church, is the oldest non-Roman Catholic Christian burial ground in mainland Spain, while the La Concepción Jardín Botanico-Histórico - one of the finest botanical gardens in Europe - was created in 1855 by Jorge Loring Oyarzabal and his British wife Amalia Heredia Livermore.

Germany also has enduring bonds with the city. The 20th century Santo Domingo bridge was a 'thank you' gift in recognition of the many brave Malagueños who lost their lives as they struggled tirelessly to rescue sailors on the German frigate Gneisenau which foundered on rocks during a stormy winter night in 1900.

An easy city to get to know, many of the principal attractions are in the compact and mostly pedestrianised Old Town. But to help you get your bearings further afield, there are elegant horse-drawn carriages for hire, you could hop on an open-top double-decker Málaga tourist bus, or take a guided tour on an environmentally friendly Segway.

However you choose to do it, take some quality time out to become better acquainted with the vibrant capital of the Costa del Sol. You'll love it, and you know what? With its warm, welcoming and spontaneous nature, Málaga will love you right back!

Please note: Every effort was made to check the accuracy of the information contained within our archived HOT Properties Magazine articles at the time of originally going to press, but may well have been superseded over the ensuing years. They are now made available as historical archival information only. The said information has not been reviewed subsequently for present day accuracy nor has it been updated and we expressly disclaim any duty or obligation to do so. VIVA cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, nor for the authenticity of any claims or statements made by third parties. We therefore strongly recommend that readers of these archived articles make their own thorough checks before entering into any kind of transaction. Prices were correct at the time of publication but may now vary due to circumstances beyond our control. The views and opinions of editorial contributors do not necessarily reflect those of VIVA .

HOT Properties Magazine Issue 95 - 2013

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