A short break in: Malaga

Spain is my favourite country to visit, and I’ve seen a few different parts of it now, from the green mountains of Galicia and dramatic coastline of the Basque Country to the heat of Madrid and beautiful beaches of the Balearics. However this was my first trip to Andalucia, and it certainly won’t be my last.

We decided on Malaga as it had a good mix of beach and city, plus it was well located for a few different day trips, and only a short flight from Bristol at 2.5hrs.

We decided to stay in an apartment in the old city just by the Wine Museum (a happy accident, I promise!), but there is plenty of choice for accomodation around the city, and a lot of it was good value, although not many we could find had swimming pools – probably the issue of having a lot of old buildings and not a lot of space in the centre to build!

We stayed for 6 nights and absolutely loved it – we never ran out of things to do and found it a really reasonably priced city with friendly locals, gorgeous sights and fantastic food – plus the town was pretty easy to navigate within a day or two of arriving.

Food and drink

First things first, when ordering tapas here you can order three different sizes : tapa (small), media (medium), or racion (full portion). Tom and I kept forgetting to specify which so ended up with the larger plate, but I’d recommend ordering a tapa or media portion of the dishes you want and then decide if you need more – you can always add but you can’t take away!

I’ve split some of our favourite places out by the type of drinking and dining they offered, but needless to say we were spoilt for choice!

Bars & Nibbles

One of the first bars we visited and we returned a few times – Bar Jamones is a modern and cool bar on Calle Carretería just on the edge of the old city, a street where we found most of our favourite bars, plus some fantastic cafes and bakeries during the day, so definitely make sure you dedicate some time to this part of town!

The tapas here were absolutely delicious, especially the ox cheek croquetas, plus there was always good rock music on and a generally good atmosphere, it felt like the perfect spot to start any night out.

Croquetas at Bar Jamones

A few doors down were a couple more favourite bars of us – La Tranca is a more traditional style tapas bar, offering a range of great dishes, plus a few different vermouths and sherries. Colmado 93 across the road is smaller but just as charming, with great wines, vermouths and sherries.

La Tranca
Enjoying some delicious wine at Colmado 93

Located in the middle of the city is the Mercado Central de Atarazanas, perfect for stocking up on fresh fruit, veg, meat and fish, or stopping in for a delicious lunch.

I’d suggest getting there early if you want to get the fresh produce though, we arrived around midday and that side of things was already winding down to make way for the lunchtime crowd.

You can order yourself at the tapas stands or take a seat at a table and be served (although this will cost slightly more than doing it yourself). We took a table outside and were served by the Ataranazas Cafe team – again I messed up when ordering my portion sizes so ended up with quite a lot of seafood, including friend dogfish, clams with garlic butter, paella, grilled octopus and fried prawns.

Lunch at Atarazanas Market
Grilled octopus

One of the most repeated recommendations we had was for churros & chocolate at local institution Casa Aranda. The cafe has tables which take up most of the street, and I was prepared for the place to be overhyped, but the churros were tasty and crunchy, and the chocolate was creamy and silky smooth. Just the thing to start your day!

Chrros & chocolate for breakfast at Casa Aranda

An experience you have to make time for is eating at one of the chinringuitos (shacks) on Malagueta beach – you’ll spot the barbecues up and down the beach grilling sardines, squid and other marinated fishes caught just a stone’s throw away. We stopped into Chiruinguito El Cachalote about half way along the beach and enjoyed a selection of salads and those grilled sardines. Delicious!

Restaurants

Another Malaga institution is the maze-like restaurant El Pimpi, located just by the bottom of the castle in the old city.

The menu is a simple selection of local dishes, cooked well – nothing too fussy or unusual!

Our starter platter at El Pimpi

There are several sections to the restaurant and bar so it’s worth having a wander through; one area is decorated with a collection of wine barrels signed by celebrities such as Antonio Banderas, and another with photos of famous past diners. You can sit inside or outside on their vast plaza.

One of our most frequented restaurants was Los Gatos on Plaza de Uncibay close to the Picasso Museum. This bar served up a simple menu of tapas which even though it wasn’t the best we had in town was still very tasty, but the atmosphere in the bar was always buzzing, and sitting on the terrace outside the bar looking out over the plaza was the best spot for people watching with a Cava or caña!

On the terrace at Los Gatos by day…
…and at the bar by night!

If you’re looking for a more funky and moden twist on tapas that still feels casual, Wendy Gamba is a great spot, with a light and bright interior to match its fun and colourful dishes.

They’re particularly well-known for their mini oxtail burgers, but the ham, egg & chips is also gorgeous, and I couldn’t stop scoffing their tomato salad or patatas divorciadas piled high with two delicious sauces.

Another top recommendation to us was Méson Mariano, a traditional restaurant tucked into a side street just behind the square where you’ll find Los Gatos.

Specialities include roasted kid and grilled artichoke, and they served us the best jamón we had for the whole trip, which is saying something! Make sure you go early or book as it is very popular with locals.

That jamón!
Roasted kid – there were about 10 cloves of roasted garlic mixed in with the meat!

For me the most special meal we had was at Uvedoble, a sophisticated bar restaurant which does a great modern take on tapas in a more finessed style, but still affordable.

I particularly loved the fideos (squid ink noodles) with aioli and prawns, the grilled tuna and their mini burger, but it’s the sort of place I wish I could have ordered everything!

Bars

As you’ve probably gathered, Malaga is packed with lively and friendly bars, but here are a few of our favourite discoveries…

The area around the marina was mainly full of snazzy shops and a few pricey restaurants, but the bars on the upper terrace are worth stopping into for a sunset cocktail while you listen to music and try to guess the price of the yachts in front of you.

La Fabrica is a huge brewpub run by Spanish brewery Cruzcampo, there’s a good selection of their beers on tap and due to the size of the place you’re guaranteed a seat, althought I did find the food and drinks quite pricey compared to other places we visited. It’s big and modern and a nice contract with with most othe bars in the city, so worth look.

We visited Vinoteca Bouquet a few times for great wines & nibbles in their cute wine shop, the G&Ts also looked fantastic. The team here are really good at recommending wines if you’re not sure what to get.

Los Patios de Beatas is a wine lover’s paradise, with a huge selection available by the glass (over 50, plus 600 on their full wine menu by the bottle!) and a restaurant where you’ll be expertly guided through pairings with your food.

We just stopped in for a drink and read some of the displays on different wine varieties and regions – plus they have some very expensive bottles in the dusty cabinet at the back!

Los Patios de Beatas

Antigua Casa de Guardia is allegedly the oldest bar in the city, serving predominantly Malaga wines, but also a small selection of spirits and beer. The tab is chalked up on the bar top as you go, and all wines are poured directly from the barrels into little tumblers.

Barrels at Antigua Casa de Guardia
Our tab on the bar

Other places we were recommended but didn’t have time to visit:

  • Mason de Cervantes/Vinoteca de Cervantes for great tapas and wine.
  • La Tetería for a great pot of tea from their large tea menu.
  • El Refectorium behind the Cathedral is you’re looking for a fancy dinner.
  • La Parrilla de Mano for wonderful grilled meats , especially the secreto Iberico and the morcilla they are all served with chips.
  • Hierbabuena serves good egg and chips with Jamon Heuvos rotos con jamon and vast brandyies.
  • Araboka for more elaborate wine and food and fine dining.
  • La Cosmopolita for contemporary tapas, raved about by locals.
  • La Reserva 12 for modern, honest and tasty food with good ingredients.
  • KGB is a small and very modern tapas place recommended by the Michelin Guide.
  • Añil Croqueteria is a cool little place with 14 types of croquetas on the menu!
  • El Tres on Malagueta beach do a tasting menu which ia great.
  • Head to famous chiringuitos such as El Cabra and Maricuchi in the Pedregalejo area which used to be an old fishing village further along Malagueta. El Tintero II is also worth a visit – there’s no menu, they come round with plates of cooked fish and auction them off to you.

Things to do

With all the food you’re going to be eating, you’ll need some activities to burn it all off…

One sight you can’t miss is Gibralfaro Castle, which is situated just above the Alcazaba moorish fortress. Both are really interesting to explore – there’s a bit more to see at Alcazaba but you can get a combined ticket for them, or entry is free for both on Mondays.

It’s worth climbing to the top of the castle for the views across Malaga alone!

At the bottom of the castle and in front of the Alcazaba are the ruins of a Roman Ampitheatre, only discovered in 1951 and partly excavated, but with some interesting displays.

You can take a tour of the ampitheatre or just wonder around as part of your ticket to the fortress. There are also some displays on the main square and the ampitheatre is fully visible from there too.

Plaza de la Merced nearby is a great place to hang out, read and pretend you’re a local, but there are numerous other squares and side streets where you’ll find yourself wanting to take a seat and watch people go by.

We absolutely loved the Cathedral tour, you can go with a group but we decided on the headsets to do things at our own pace. Both the exterior and interior are worth taking time to appreciate, and the commentary on the headset was really informative and interesting. A great way to get out of the sun and cool off while learning something new!

Parque de Malaga is a gorgeous park area which runs from the old town alongside the port and along to the Malagueta beach, it’s full of beautiful tall palm trees, exotic plants and the bright green parakeets which you’ll hear across the city. It’s a proper oasis in the middle of the city.

As I mentioned, one of the appeals of Malaga is that it is a city which also has a beach, and as city beaches go, the Malagueta is a decent one, with lots of the aforementioned seafood chiringuitos, plus numerous bars and restaurants dotting the road which runs parallel to the beach.

We spent quite a few days doing the beach in the morning before stopping into one of the beach restaurants for lunch – next time I’d love to make it further along the beach to Pedregalejo as I’ve heard it still has the feel of an old fishing town.

One thing I wasn’t aware of was the amount of street art around Malaga – I didn’t manage to capture much of it, but we spotted a lot in the more modern area between Parque de Malaga and Alameda station.

Other activities we were recommended but didn’t have time for:

  • Kelipe is the place to go to see a flamenco show.
  • We Love Malaga is great for food and historic tours around the city.
  • Hammam Al Andalus are underground Turkish baths and a great way to unwind. Massages and other treatments are also available.
  • If you’re into shopping, the area between Calle Nueva and Calle Larios is filled with well-known brands and local shops.
  • Housed in a renovated palace, the Picasso Museum has several exhibitions and events on throughout the year.
  • The Wine Museum is fairly small but we found the displays interesting and entry was only 5 euros, which included a tasting of two wines.

Day Trips

There’s so much to see in the region around Malaga, it can be hard to pick where to go!

Ronda had been on my wishlist for years, and luckily we found an excursion that took in the town and two local vineyards with Tannin Trail – it wasn’t the cheapest day out at 150 euros per person, but when trying to cost up other modes of transport, lunch and wine tasting, this still came out as good value for the pair of us!

We were picked up from our apartment and driven to Ronda first, which took about 45 minutes, we were then given just over 2 hours to explore the town which was enough time to walk along the gorge, across the famous bridge and down into the valley below.

If you get time I’d definitely recommend Ronda for a quick visit – I don’t think there’s enough to keep me occupied for more than a day, but it really is a beautiful place with a fair amount to see.

Our guide gave us the top tip that if we didn’t want to pay money to visit the old bullring, we could instead go for a drink on the terrace of the hotel opposite and enjoy the view there!

We also found a shop selling some seriously good jamón sandwiches and snacks just off the main square!

Next it was time to move on the vineyards. First up was the Joaquin Fernandez winery, set in a stunning valley and run by a passionate family.

Their output is pretty decent for the area but fairly modest overall. All of their wines are organic and tasted pretty damn good – I bought a couple to take home!

After the tour of the vineyard and warehouse, the setting for our tasting and lunch was nothing short of dreamy.

After lunch we then headed on to Vetas winery, the project of Juan Manuel Vetas (pictured below), whose estate is much smaller than the Joaquin Fernandez winery but no less beautiful.

Juan worked in France for years so makes his wines in the fashion of the old school French winemakers, and they’re absolutely delicious – again I had to buy a bottle to take with me!

Despite being quite full from lunch, we were more than happy to be presented with a big plate of cheese and meats to go with our wines.

For other day trips from Malaga, I found this guide from The Crazy Tourist really useful, I’d say that Granada, the Alhambra and Seville deserve trips in their own right but it depends how determined you are!

Other nearby places I’d love to have visited if we’d had time included the quirky town of Setenil de las Bodegas, built into a cliff and full of cute little bars and restaurants, but only accessible by car.

I’ve also loved the idea of doing the Caminito del Rey but didn’t trust my vertigo on this occasion, it looks like an amazing day out though, and many excursions are available from Malaga throughout the year.

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