‘Don’t go to Malaga, there’s not much to do there,” was the response I got almost every time I told anyone that I was going to Malaga. To be honest, I didn’t really want to go to Malaga – but it was where I was getting picked up and dropped off for my paragliding course and I thought I might as well spend a day there either side of it. But, as luck would have it, I ran into an old childhood friend of mine – Olivia Raddochia – who’s currently there with a Spanish family and who helped me appreciate a little more about this quaint little town.
Malaga has immense historical significance. I hadn’t known this before I arrived there, but Malaga is one of the world’s oldest cities and, given it’s strategic location at the South of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea, it’s had a very rich (and at times terrible) history of both conquests and prosperity.
The Phoenicians settled there first, and Carthage afterwards, then Rome, the Visigoths, the Byzantines, the Muslim Arabs, and finally the Catholics. Malaga was a key point for getting into Spain because whoever controlled it controlled a key access point to Africa.
What’s so fantastic about this is that, unlike in many other places around the world, a lot of that ancient architecture from different periods is still intact in Malaga, and you can see it when you walk around – the Alcazabar for example, which served the purpose of a palatial fortification was made by the Muslims, used materials from the old Roman theatre that the Moors found at its foot, and was later used by the Catholics, who maintained it in the mujedar style.
Mujedar, I learned, is a word that means ‘tamed’ and refers to buildings that combined a Western and Islamic style. There are a lot of these around Malaga because when the Catholics came in, they were so awed by the Moorish architecture that, rather than destroying it, they just kind of converted it – so you see all these mosque-like structures with crosses on top and other pieces of traditionally Moorish architecture with Western touches. The Moors, too, didn’t just destroy what they had found when they conquered Malaga, but reused lots of building materials and incorporated existing structures and mechanisms into their own – so for example the original Roman acqueducts were still in use until just a few centuries ago.
It’s very cool getting to walk around and see things like the garum pits (from Roman times), and the Castillo de Gibralfaro (from Muslim times) and realise that these very structures, more or less in the form they exist now, have seen so much history. That here walked soldiers and Kings, that it was from here that conquests were launched and kingdoms reconquered, that people prayed and danced and fought and were killed on the same steps you’re walking on now. Very humbling.
Malaguenos are also sometimes known as Boquerones, after the anchovies that are supposed to be the city’s delicacy. These are usually served fried with lemon. Don’t worry if you don’t like anchovies on your pizza – these are completely different and not at all salted and smelly. You can eat these at El Pimpi, one of the most famous Spanish restaurants located right in front of the Roman ruins, which is still quite cheap, or down by the beach. If you go down by the beach, also look out for old boats in which they’ve put coals and cook sardines over, on a stick.
Other things to try in Malaga include ice cream – just because there’s so many ice-creameries around and some of them had a truly impressive range of flavours. I got this fantastic Ferrero Rocher ice cream that was more Ferrero Rocher than ice cream. Liv and I also tried out some bunuelos at the Christmas markets, which were these cute little deep fried donuts that we got topped with caramel (which they completely soaked up like a sponge) and then proceeded to wolf down, significantly raising our risk of diabetes. Food in Malaga is generally cheap – even in the touristy areas – compared to places like Granada, but not as cheap as in little towns like Algodonales.
Malaga’s beaches are totally where it’s at. Apart from its historic center, which is absolutely gorgeous, Malaga’s other treasure is its beaches. The one closest to the city center is a wide expanse of flat, dark sand, but there’s cute little bars and restaurants wedged between the beach and the road every hundred meters or so, and the beach itself is full of lovely thatch roofed beach umbrellas, playground equipment and exercise equipment. It’s such a hive of activity, but it’s so wonderfully inclusive, with even old people going down just to perform gentle stretches.
Liv also assured me that further on the water gets much clearer and the beaches more beautiful, so if you have some time definitely head a little ways off from the main beach – and the best part is that you don’t have to worry about rips or sharks the way you do back in Australia.
Malaguenos have some interesting ideas. Their Christmas markets, for example, were a bunch of stalls along the main road that were full to the brim of tacky figurines and souvenirs, with no breads, meats or cheeses in sight (although there were a plentitude of bunuelo stands).
Then again their ATMs – the Caixa ones at least – let you buy tickets, pay bills, and put through heaps of other transactions at the same time as you’re withdrawing cash. It’s super convenient.
Their Christmas lights last year cost around 800 000E, I was told – although I didn’t check the veracity of that claim – and this year they’ve made them even bigger and more impressive, with cathedral-like arches going through the main streets of the historic center.
Malaga has some fantastic bars, but isn’t really the kind of place you can find house music. I did hear of a place called Benal Bass, 30min train ride out of the city, which has drum and bass on Thursday nights but unfortunately I wasn’t there any Thursday. Club music in Malaga was generally very pop, commercial, or sometimes Spanish/Flamenco – especially Tiesto and Pitbull.
Some of their bars do have very cheap drinks though – my favourite was 1E shots at Monkey Bar, where they had about 100 different shots on the menu: we got these amazing strawberry ones that actually just tasted like strawberries. There were a lot of other places, however, with 40c serves of beer, so that’s cheaper still. Needless to say, Malaguenos do seem to drink a lot.
Quaint little place. One thing Liv said to me, which definitely stuck, was that Malaga’s not such a great place to visit, but it is an amazing place to live. You’ve got all these ruins to explore, gorgeous expanses of garden and beach, and it’s all so walkable. I’m really glad I got to see so much of it.