Instead of Málaga, it would have been more obvious to do a blog entry on Valencia at the time of the America’s Cup, being won by that infamous sailing nation, Switzerland. Well, I didn’t. I suppose I simply am not enough into sailing myself for having thought of the obvious choice. But don’t get upset. The Swiss Alinghi team’s win was the second triumph after 2003, as you all know, and thus, another Valencia regatta, this time the 33rd America’s Cup, will be raced in 2009. I will do a virtual visit of that Mediterranean city before the next competition. Promise.
But today, it’s Málaga’s turn. And hardly any sailing will be mentioned.
Málaga is a city full of history and tradition, but it is also the capital of the Costa del Sol. That’s in Andalucía, as far as Spanish provinces go. Andalucía’s capital is Sevilla, but again, that would be a different entry for some other time. The Phoenicians founded the city of Málaga, then called Malaka, around 1000 B. C. That was way before Moors or Arabs or Islam were thought of, or Alinghi or the Emirates Team.
After the Phoenicians came the Romans, to be followed by the Visigoths. The Moors came to Malaka in the 8th century A. D., and with them the Caliphate of Córdoba. During that time, Malaka became the capital of a distinct Kingdom, dependent on Granada. By now, the city was called Mālaqah.
Málaga today is rather cosmopolitan, making you feel welcomed wherever you might hail from. The locals are friendly and have a deep sense of hospitality. I am sure you will want to come back after your first visit.
The many natural scenic lookouts offer stupendous views of the bay, especially from the Gibralfaro Mount, next to Gibralfaro Castle, which once was a Moorish fortress. There is a Parador (hotel) right next to the castle, which is where I stayed with my family on a recent visit. Our journey centred on experiencing the unique gastronomy, history and culture of this part of Andalucía. The whole city is dotted with typical Spanish bars, some in the style of rustic tavernas, and others in the style of bodegas where you can try the typical local Los Montes wine, sweet, dry or semi-sweet. Try a dish of the local cuisine along with it, like tapas or seafood.
The Museo Antropológico (Anthropology Museum) is located in the Historic Centre, right in the Parque Natural de las Contadoras. Here you can view old wine presses and oil mills, and if you are lucky enough to arrive during grape harvesting, like during the next fortnight to three weeks, you might be able to join in the treading of the grapes, that will later become the exquisite Málaga Muscatel.
As well as the Paseo del Parque, which began as a carefully tended botanical garden, you can visit the Finca de la Concepción in the vicinity of the city. It belongs to the city council these days, although in the past it was the property of a renowned local couple. These are picturesque gardens, that at one turn make you feel as though you are in the tropics, and at the next, as being in a desert. Many beautiful and significant botanical species grow here. The whole area, including gardens and mansion, was built in the middle of the 19th century, and it has retained the beauty and learned atmosphere of its former owners.
The Retiro contains a bird park which is unique in Europe, with more than 300 species. It also has a beautiful historical garden that represents the period from the Middle Ages up to the 18th century.
The main museums are located in the city’s old town: Bellas Artes (Fine Arts), Arte Sacro (Religious Art) and Arte Contemporáneo (Contemporary Art). You will be going back a few centuries when you visit the Museo Arqueológico (Archaeological Museum) in the Alcazaba, the Teatro Romano (Roman Theatre), the Cathedral, with its one tower unfinished, and the Palacio de la Aduana (Customs House) near Paseo del Parque.
The pride of the locals is Málaga’s prodigious son, one Pablo Ruiz Picasso. You might want to visit his Casa Natal (birth place) in the Plaza de la Merced, or else the newish Museo Picasso Málaga which is housed in the exquisitely reformed Palacio de Buenavista, a nobleman’s palace dating back to the 16th century and lovingly restored and amplified, and re-opened in 2003. This museum is a mere two minutes walking distance from Málaga’s Cathedral. The Picasso Museum’s permanent collection centers around some very impressive works donated to the Spanish nation by the widow of Picasso’s oldest son, and in part on some very generous long term loans, also from heirs of Spain’s most famous painter. Admission was 6 € when we went. For tickets and reservations it is best to telephone 901.246.246.
Apart from Picasso, the most symbolic experiences you can have in Málaga are a visit to the Cenachero (the bronze sculpture of a young fisherman carrying his cenacho or basket of fish), and then to have a generous helping of fresh anchovies.
The whole of Málaga is a never-ending beach, stretching from Misericordia, which goes as far as the port area, to the beaches of Peñón del Cuervo near the hamlet of Cala del Moral. Take a walk along the Paseo Marítimo Antonio Machado (promenade), and pause for something to eat or drink in one of the many refreshment stands along the way.
For younger visitors the main areas of attraction are a short ride away: Benalmádena’s Puerto Marina and ’24 hour square’ and Marbella’s Puerto Banús are both out of town, some 20 kms and 40 kms to the west. Both are very trendy and chic, but be warned that bars, clubs and discos don’t get busy until near midnight and stay open till dawn.
If Picasso is of serious interest to you, and you have not been to Paris or Antibes, France, there are some other important Picasso places in Spain for you to see. The Museo Picasso in Barcelona is as much worth a visit as is the Museo Nacional Reina Sofía in Madrid, which houses Picasso’s Guernica masterpiece.
But Paris, Antibes, Barcelona and Madrid are all a long way away from the Costa del Sol and Málaga, I am afraid.