Stay a while
CITY BREAK MALAGA:IT’S A SMALL town with big ideas. Not so very small, actually: with a population of more than 550,000, Malaga is currently the fifth-biggest city in Spain. Once known mostly as the place people flew into before heading straight for the distinctly inauthentic Costa resorts, it’s now on a mission to persuade visitors to stay a while and experience a slice of authentic Andalucia – with a modest but satisfying helping of culture on the side.
Culture, you ask? What culture? Well, it may not be Madrid or Barcelona, but Malaga unquestionably punches above its weight in the culture department. The city already has two top-notch art venues in the Picasso Museum and the Carmen Thyssen Museum, and work is well under way on an enormous new fine arts museum at the Palacio de la Aduana, which will bring visiting exhibitions from the Prado in Madrid.
Add a graceful Arabic fortress, a great hunk of cathedral right out of Spanish Inquisition central casting, a museum of contemporary art and an up-and-coming football team whose blue-and-white striped jerseys will be competing in next season’s Champions League pre-qualifiers, and you’ll find all the angles are covered.
And that’s without even mentioning the pleasures of browsing through a maze of pedestrianised streets on warm evenings, stopping here and there for a glass of wine and a plate of tapas. Or strolling through the park to the port for a café solo with the beautiful people on brand-new Muelle Uno, a gleaming modern harbourside location which, up until a few years ago, was a rusting, unloved eyesore. Now lined with shops and restaurants – there’s everything from a sandwich place to a Michelin-starred joint – it has a vibe which is uncannily like that of Sydney’s fabled Circular Quay, except without the jetlag.
The combination of cultural chutzpah with geographical compactness makes Malaga hugely attractive as a weekend citybreak destination. A two-and-a-half-hour flight gets you there in the blink of an eye. Hop on the train at the airport and you’ll arrive in the city centre in less than 10 minutes, having paid the princely sum of €1.30 for the privilege. There is a brace of hotels within five minutes’ walk of the Centro Alameda station. After that, everything you’ll need is accessible on foot – and for the rest, or when the sun-drenched local microclimate makes walking too bothersome, there’s the hop-on hop-off bus.
First port of call, even for those who don’t profess to be mad about Picasso, has to be the Museo Picasso Malaga on Calle San Agustin. You’ll find paintings here which have never been displayed elsewhere, as well as some fantastically funky ceramics. The building itself, meanwhile, is a treat; light and airy inside, its 300-year-old mahogany ceilings are intricately carved, and the modern architectural touches — a courtyard filled with bamboos, windows dressed with simple but elegant blinds made from local reeds, an outdoor café where single pots of massed red geraniums glow in the sunshine, a gift shop crammed with tasteful Cubist knick-knacks — make it an uncommonly pleasant place to spend a couple of hours. Be warned, though, everyone else has the same idea, including the hordes who arrive from the cruise ships which glide into Malaga’s harbour at the crack of dawn. Book before you go, or wait until the afternoon, or both.