A disarming beauty at the heart of Malaga
MANCHÁN MAGAN'stales of a travel addict
I owe Malaga an apology. Glimpses of the city on buses from the airport or from the ring road in rental cars suggested a grim, concrete dead-zone. I imagined the furniture megastores and tile warehouses coiling inwards towards smaller, equally ugly versions of themselves and shuddered at the thought. The grim, dirt-clad apartments in the suburbs that one sees flying into the Costa del Sol seemed soulless and barren.
I only flew there to get to Granada, where the Alhambra palace and fortress wooed me with its mesmeric beauty. I had no option but to spend a night in Malaga on my way home and it was there I experienced my true revelation. Malaga offers a welcome that is fathoms deeper than the aloof aura of entitlement of more eminent Andalucían cities like Seville, Cadiz or Granada. Lacking any vestige of pretension, it seems almost coy about its beauty.
But let’s first address its ugliness. There is no denying that parts of it are disfigured. It was badly bombed during the Spanish Civil War and then rebuilt in Franco’s most obnoxious utilitarian style.
The one precious jewel it could cling on to was its status as Picasso’s birthplace, yet even this was soured by the knowledge that Pablo last visited when he was 19 and never returned.
Nowadays, the first landmark an Irish person sees is a Dunnes Stores near the train station, not the most presupposing of impressions. But, persevere, as only at its very heart does it reveal its disarming beauty and the genuine sincerity of its citizens who lack pretension and reserve.
The elegant 19th century shop-lined boulevards and mansions of mercantile prowess are a testament to the city’s pre-tourism affluence when it was a centre of textile factories, steel mills and shipyards, and a hub for galleons returning from the New World. Intertwined with these streets are the winding Moorish and Medieval lanes lined with blue-tiled tapas bars and old-fashioned restaurants. An evening stroll when the locals are promenading will make your heart beat faster.
Make sure to drop into the Picasso Museum in the 16th-century Palacio de Buenavista. As a museum it is low-key and accessible, which make the works even more overpowering.
Leaving the museum, it is impossible not to be aware of the 11th century Alcazaba fortress dramatically floodlit overhead and the sea washing on the shore beyond the marina a few blocks away, but what I had no expectation of was to stumble upon an entire Roman amphitheatre right at the very heart of the city. The delirious surfeit of culture, history and gastronomy made my skin tingle and I ended up retreating to a bodega to just sit and consider it all.
If you love architecture (and delicious free tapas in every bar) you ought to visit Granada, if you love life, don’t ignore Malaga.