‘…the oldest and most famous Spanish seaport on the Mediterranean, is picturesquely situated on the last spurs of the mountain-ranges…and at the foot of this hill is the beautiful harbour on which lies the city with its 12,580 inhabitants’
‘Malaga seems at first an uninviting place. It’s the second city of the south (after Seville), with a population of half a million, and is also one of the poorest. Though the clusters of high-rises look pretty grim as you approach, the city does have some compelling attractions.’
Malaga then and now. The first quote taken from my 114 yr-old Baedecker guide to Spain and Portugal and the second from a recent Rough Guide. The century that separates the books has clearly altered the city somewhat. Not only in the enormous population – modern Malaga is now forty times fuller – but also in the visual aesthetic and the city’s reputation. From the quiet old seaport that was hoping to become a winter resort to the giant Costa del Sol behemoth of today, the city has undergone a huge transformation – and not necessarily a good one.
I was unperturbed. I had been in similar cities on the coasts – Alicante, Barcelona, Cartagena – and even when the stereotypes of drunken English holidaymakers crisping under an Iberian sun whilst hunting out tapas in the form of fish and chips were present, there was always a part that forever remained Spanish. I wanted to find that in Malaga. What I discovered was that Malaga itself still remains a rather charming and well-to-do Spanish city with fine monuments, beautiful people and delightful cuisine.
The old town was singularly charming, well kept and full of welcoming
and restaurants. The streets curled away from the bay through warm early-summer corners that would often lap the shores of ancient buildings or flirt with the ugly new town. Fine town flats with embossed glass balconies shone under a cloudless sky and yanked the viewer’s eyes here, to the vast and imposing but unfinished cathedral, and there, to a mossy mountain at whose base was a Roman theatre and at whose middle and top were Moorish fortress and castles.
Palm trees lined the promenades and seafront where wealthy locals and tourists sauntered, stopping now and again to admire a colourful nook or an extravagant square. A flurry of photogenic streets than knotted behind the Picasso Museum also hid some wonderful food and cutesy tapas bars. This was not the grim and depressing pub-ridden Costa del Sol I had been expecting. But I was here to eat. What of the food?
Three gastronomic moments endeared Malaga to me in a way that only food can. Food, that universal peacemaker, that instigator of human evolution, always helped lift any place to a position higher than it may have otherwise have deserved.
Malaga wine at Casa de la Antigua Guardia
– sat on a main thoroughfare, though inconspicuous with its simple wooden front door, this little bar was the type of place that always called out to me. The oldest tavern in Malaga; a headline I couldn’t ignore. Opened in 1840 they have been serving sweet Malaga wines at knock down prices ever since. Inside was a long wooden counter behind which, and along whose length, numerous rotund barrels ran. The place was musty with the smell of wine and oak and it was narrow. A couple of glasses of
were ordered and the old boy in his white shirt clipped a ‘
’ and about turned to twist the little tap on one of the barrels. Golden, tart, slightly fiery but with an inescapable sweetness, this was a wine to make good friends with. He wrote the order down on the counter with an old piece of chalk. I smiled and ordered another. I would have been very happy to have tried each one of the many wines, or at the very least have had a stab at finishing a barrel, but the call of the
stole me away.
Malaga Feria de Tapas
– There is nothing I like more than when a city gets together with a regional beer and promotes local produce and bars with appealing prices at a tapas festival. Fun and financially viable. Under a large tent in the handsome old bullring the San Miguel beer company was plugging its drink as well as the city’s food. Around 25 bars were present fr
. The way Spain rallies around its cuisine at every given moment is something the rest of world needs to pay attention to. A local is never prouder than when exalting his gastronomy.
om around town, each offering a variety of three tasty morsels. The range was bewildering and intoxicating. I settled – for the sake of my ever-waxing belly – on a small plate of slow cooked pork cheek in red wine and a green gazpacho served with melon caviar, Malaga cheese with
Seafood at Pedregalejo
– A day that initially started as an attempt to escape the city to a suburb village and sit on the beach quickly descended into a hedonistic afternoon of consuming quite the finest seafood, drinking an unnecessary amount of wine and gawping dumbly at both the women and the natural, and base, beauty of the moment we were sharing. Once an unassuming fishing village Pedregalejo has long since been consumed by the broad arms of Malaga, yet it is still distant enough to have retained its feel of separateness. In essence it is a long and unbroken stretch of small square houses that comprise dinky little flats. All the doors are different colours and the walls are a limited range of hues from peaches to lemons and whites. Where there isn’t a flat there is a restaurant. These dribble out from the buildings, onto the promenade’s terraces and then often over onto the sand itself.
We chose one where the far off rises of the Sierra de Mijas could be seen shimmering under a hot sky, wedged between the duck-egg blue of the heavens and the glittering turquoise of the Mediterranean. Between us and the sea and sands was something particular to the region – an
. Under a little hut providing shade was an old propped up rowing boat; the kind you’d find in a boating lake. It was filled to the brim with sand and on it was a fire with lots of ash. A man, dressed as they always are in Spain in a smart white shirt, was taking fresh fish and skewering them. He then stuck the skewers into the sand upright and roasted the fish on either side.
-cooked sardines were perfect; juicy and smoky and with that always-welcome factor that you
it was just cooked fresh for you. Next came plates loaded with breaded
rosada en adobo
– the former being pleasingly muscly rings of fried squid and the latter being small chunks of kingklip marinated in a sweet vinegar with cumin and paprika, breaded and fried. Another glass of white Barbadillo wine. Then a dish of
– absurdly delicious and sweet-fleshed little red mullets, cooked whole like the sardines; followed by another plate of
- tiny little whitebait that were deep-fried and eaten by the handful. Another glass of white wine. And a coffee. Paradise, I decided right there and then, is a beach under the sun with a selection of marine life cooked quick and shovelled into the face with something alcoholic in a glass.
Malaga had won me over. The Costa del Sol’s largest city still acted like an old Spanish town.