Malaga reborn

Spain’s sunny southern city on the Med has reinvented itself. Michael Edwards enjoys the chorizo, museums, tapas and wine.

Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica de la Encarnación

Malaga airport has always been the gateway to the Costa del Sol – and there are dozens of bargain flights from the UK everyday – but millions of tourists ignore Andalucia’s elegant capital and head west to the likes of Fuengirolla or Torremolinos. For just a few Euros either a spotless bus or rapid train will quickly deliver you from the airport to the heart of thriving Malaga.

Once-upon-a-time Malaga was rather shabby but this easy-going city, sat in a sub-tropical climate with around 320 sunny days a year, has cleaned up its act, investing millions of Euros along the harbour front and becoming a very chic destination.

Having Picasso’s birthplace undoubtedly gives Malaga a head start and the Picasso Museum is just 200 metres from his former home. Converted from a 16th Century Palace, the Museum, with an audio guide, introduces visitors to nearly 300 of Picasso’s pieces. Although there is an emphasis on his early work and Blue Period you can still track his progress towards Cubism.

Pompidou centre, Malaga

But the high-vis symbol of Malaga’s arrival on the global cultural scene is a €5m multi-coloured Glass Cube down by the harbour – an off-shoot of Paris’s Pompidou Centre, all part of the stylish Muelle re-development. Once you’ve ticked off the latest art exhibitions there’s a charming up-market display of stalls selling men and women’s fashion and jewellery. Then there countless sophisticated cafes and restaurants to choose from with stunning waterfront views.

Whilst the likes of Torremolinos and Benalmadena try to shake-off a reputation for English breakfast fry-ups and fish’n chips washed down with a pint of lager – Malaga’s cuisine has headed upmarket. In the old town of narrow lanes and red geraniums on balconies there are countless taperia where you can sit on the terrace and study the tapas menu.

Although Malaga has plenty of welcoming hotels, self-catering, particularly in some of the high-ceilinged apartments in the Old Town, is very appealing. It’s easy to drop into the local habit of calling into a cafe for an early morning coffee and churros, they are small sweet donuts perfect for dunking into chocolate sauce. Then as soon as the doors of the Food Market open, a vast building with Art Deco windows, you are ready to shop for the freshest produce. Try-before-you-buy is all part of the shopping experience so try anchovies, manchego cheese, olives, Iberian Ham and chorizo. Obviously fish and shellfish are a speciality too.

The Costa del Sol’s gentle winters guarantee a profusion of asparagus, artichokes, aubergines, beef tomatoes and market garden produce, so there’s plenty of crisp salad and intensely fresh vegetables to accompany your meal. Although sherry travels cross country from Jerez on the Atlantic coast, a glass or two is very popular in Malaga, as is a chilled white Rioja.

View over Malaga

A strenuous ascent to Malaga’s castle is a great way of orientating yourself to Malaga’s geography. You see a white toytown stretched below: a cruise liner arrives and a car ferry departs for the Canaries. Way below is the sand of a bullring, frequently blood-stained in the past. Now it is a legacy of a disappearing world. In days gone by a matador, even without his gold braid and red cape, was recognised more readily than a La Liga footballer.

After the climb to the castle, call into the neighbouring elegant hill-top Parador for a cool drink on its shaded terrace. Savour the views east along a succession of sandy bays. Refined service and antique decor remind visitors of the birth of the Paradors in the 1920s: historic and stylish hotels separated by a day’s comfortable driving in the recently invented motor-car.

It ain’t Bondi or Malibu or Rio but Malaga has a functional beach, ideal for cooling off in the scorching heat of mid-summer: realistically Malaga is probably most comfortable to visit in the shoulder seasons of April / May and September / October but many visitors remember some Decembers so warm that they could stroll along the beach.


Malaga’s beach even has a chiringuito, a beach-side restaurant. Locals frequently scrape away at the bottom of the paella pan for the soccarat – that’s the rich, slightly burnt crispy rice which many consider the best bit of a paella. Sardines, usually cooked on a decorative mini fishing boat BBQ, are always a favourite too.

A few years ago Malaga was a great weekend break but it has filled out, become more substantial. Book just 48 hours in Malaga and you’ll head home frustrated and wanting more.

Travel tips

There are many flights from the UK’s regional airports to Malaga. From Gatwick it is just under 3 hours flight to Malaga.

From the airport take the train into the City Centre, it is quicker than the bus. For information about taxis, buses and trains to help you get the most from your stay vist Malaga Turismo.

There are numerous self-catering apartments available on


Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 10:32 am Europe