For millions of Brits, Malaga is too often just the gateway to Marbella or Torremolinos – but get past the airport arrivals lounge and you discover a beautiful city that is rich in art, history and culture. You get a real flavour of Spanish life here and, although the population is more than 500,000, there is no sense of walking in a crowd. Strolling around the streets on my first day, I came across an artist who embodied the creative side of this southern Spanish city – in just a minute.
Stood by his easel, Fabian Marcel Gaete was showing off how unbelievably quickly he did his “pinturas al dedo” – finger paintings. Selling the miniature landscapes on perspex in a city square, he claimed they took three minutes. By my timing, it was actually less than 60 seconds. But Fabian’s is far from the only impressive artwork to be found here.
The Museo Carmen Thyssen Malaga, set in a 16th century palace, is filled with beautiful scenic oil paintings (€6, free admission from 5pm on Sundays).
Of course, one of Malaga’s big claims to fame is as the birthplace of cubist pioneer Pablo Picasso – and the city’s Picasso museum (€9), has become its most well-known gallery in the 15 years since it opened. Ranging from earlier to more mature works, the collection is all the more special for being in the city of his birth. And for a fantastic view of the museum itself – and of the whole city, including the cathedral – head to the Alcazaba Moorish citadel. Reminiscent of the famous Alhambra in Granada, the 10th century fortress (€2.20) has a central palace surrounded by patios, fountains and gardens full of orange trees.
It is an extraordinary space, with vintage cars displayed alongside mannequins dressed in exquisite outfits and eye-catching haute couture pieces. Who knew mixing vehicles and fashion could work so well?
This is one of 36 museums the city offers – but for me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the holiday was simply wandering the streets and appreciating how authentic Malaga remains. You get a real flavour of Spanish life here and, although the population is more than 500,000, there is no sense of walking in a crowd. We joined the Maligeños, as the locals call themselves, to people-watch over a drink along the waterfront – lined with restaurants, bars, shops, cultural centres and museums.
There are plenty of tempting places to eat, and we chose lunch at El Pimpi – in the heart of Malaga, and one of the city’s most popular spots. At this iconic bodega bar set within an 18th century mansion, we attempted to eat our weight’s worth in fresh fried fish. And we still had room to enjoy a delicious dinner at El Palmeral on the promenade, with the sea in full view and under the watch of the ever-present palm trees. I chose the ensalada Malageña – a salad of potato, salt cod, onion, orange pieces, olive oil and salt. It sounds an odd combination but, trust me, it works.
Its quirky feature is the EDHA (Sliding Structure for Daring Humans), a huge steel slide which takes you from the first to the ground floor. It’s a fast option to get out to one of the charming beaches on either side of the city, including family-friendly San Andres just 500m away. And it’s certainly another twist to Malaga’s cultural mix – and one Picasso would be sure to get squarely behind.