Back to Malaga again. Its a place I return to when in need of a certain type of solace. Last year I went simply to feel the sun on my skin, to be warm through to my bones following our ghastly spring. This year, whilst that would have been reason enough, I went to have a period of adjustment following my elder daughter’s departure for Seattle with her husband and my beloved grandchildren.
My first trip to Malaga was about 20 years ago. When I mention I’m off to Malaga most folk think I mean I’ll fly into the airport before turning right and heading along to the many beach resorts on the coast. But I’m talking about the city here, not the region, the beautiful old town centre, sitting as it does on the shores of the Mediterranean with miles of sandy beach and a wealth of history etched into it’s streets and buildings. We stayed, on that first trip, at the Parador, perched high on the hills overlooking the town centre, the bull ring and the harbour. I was enchanted. Unused to Spain I found the easy way of holidaying addictive. You can have a long leasurely breakfast, a late morning snack of churros and chocolate and still not be the last to sit down for lunch mid afternoon. Think on this France, with your 12.30 lunches and your snotty staff, sniffing when you enquire whether an omelette might be possible, as it’s 2pm and the kitchen is closed. I’m on holiday I don’t want to have to force down a croissant at dawn.
Breathe. So back to the lovely city of Malaga. Founded by the Phonecians in about 700 BC it is the sixth largest city in Spain and the birthplace of two seriously hot men: Pablo Picasso and Antonio Banderas. Packed with roman, moorish and christian buildings you can stand at the foot of the amphitheatre and look up to the Alcazaba so taking in a good 10 centuries of culture and architecture in one glance. In the civil war Malaga was on the side of the Republicans, with the Republican navy based in the harbour, thus it suffered severe bombing which accounts for some of the brutalist architecture to be found around the docks. But now the old city of Malaga is a charming place, much of the centre pedestrianised, it’s marble streets overhung with recently restored, balconied buildings that almost make me weep at their beauty. Museums there are aplenty and of all shapes and sizes. Love Flamenco? Yearn to know more about Spainish costume? Have an abiding interest in European crystal and glass? You’re in luck, there are museums for each and more. Plus of course many, many museums dedicated to the rich heritage of this important city port, it’s architecture and to the art of their most famous son Picasso.
There are small orange groves scatted about, lovely shady public gardens, miles of walks for the obligatory evening paseo and now a wonderfully revitalised harbour where a dozen or more differing gardens line the waters edge offering everything from a sound garden for children to a scented one to be enjoyed not only by those who are visually impaired but all who love to sit and breathe in the soft perfumes of thymes, orange blossom and Alyssum. Enough delights then to tempt anyone back time and again And I’ve not even mentioned the food!!!
Malaga has become, in the years I’ve been visiting, one of the most wonderful places to eat. Whatsoever you want, you can find. At almost any hour day and night your every need is catered for, from churros to tapas, from simple, age old, beach restaurants where you eat freshly grilled sardines with sand between your toes to Michelin starred places where the touch of El Bulli and Ferran Adrià can be felt as strongly as the whack on your credit card when you pay for the meal. The food is little short of amazing.
It has not always been this way even five or six years ago you would mainly eat traditional, good but uninspired, Andalusian dishes, where chunks of chorizo and cheese would be the tapa most often served alongside a slice of pan con tomate or the Malaga fish fry and hearty stews or large steaks of pork or beef would be served as main courses with either hake and bacalao representing the fish.
Not a thing wrong with this but today, today you can feast on morcilla made with tuna blood, aijo blanco whipped to a froth served with a scoop of highly flavoured almond ice cream floating in the centre of the soup giving one of the most delicious sweet/salt combinations I’ve eaten, whisper thin slices of octopus with mango and croquettas that are exploding mouthfuls of meaty or fishly loveliness, light as an angels kiss and I would imagine just as wonderful.
The wine too has undergone a complete transformation with new winemakers making a range of wines from traditional grapes that are light, fresh tasting or deep and complex. We drank Ribera, Albariño and many more served by the bottle or glass. Sherry was notably hard to find but the local sweet wine the Malaga Virgin is experiencing something of a surge in sales due in most part to the extra finesse show by the modern wine makers with Jorge Ordonez No 2 being served at the prestigious Nobel dinner recently.
As anyone knows to have local knowledge is to be king and we had so much help from the delightful Michael (British) and Laura ( Canadian) both Malaga residents who run Tapas in Malaga, guided tours that take you to the places only local folk know, They will organise pretty much anything and offer advice on restaurants, flamenco and wine tastings as well as the Tapas mention in their name.
For a different slant on this lovely city I also highly recommend We Love Malaga run by the delightful Malaga born Victor Garrido. I’ve done a tapas tours with both these companies and enjoyed every minute, learning so much about this city I have grown to love.Don’t miss the central market, churros at Casa Aranda and the walk, about 40 minutes, along the beach front to Pedregalejo for Sunday lunch at Andres Maricuchi.