Road Trip Adventures 7: Magic around Malaga
This is the seventh post in our series of Adventure Ideas for European family road trips, brought to you in conjunction with Avis Car Hire. This time we begin in a historic port that’s the gateway to some of Southern Spain’s most distinctive towns and cities. Beyond Malaga’s beaches you’re never more than a few miles away from world class art, architecture and the countless gems of Andalucia…
Malaga is full of surprises
If there’s one Spanish city that is likely to surprise you, it’s Malaga. This historic city is often overlooked by tourists on their way to somewhere else. If you are one of those who have passed it by on the way from the airport to a beach on the Costa Del Sol, then you can be reassured it is far more than lilos and mojitos. (Although it does get almost 300 days of sun a year so your lilo and mojitos will be undoubtedly sun splashed.)
But dare I suggest you skip the beaches? Or maybe leave your sunbathing until the end of your trip, as there is so much to see and do in this area that’s more interesting than sand. But before rushing off, take a little time to linger in this visually attractive city in the the South of Spain.
A mix of old and new
Like many Spanish cities, Malaga is a mix of old and new, with smart shopping areas giving way to interconnected alleyways that were made for a time before cars. On this note, the city centre is always quite busy with traffic, so leave your car at your hotel for now and take a day wandering around and orienting yourself in the old town. Look up at the shuttered windows and see if you can catch the eye of a local or an unusual angle for your photo. We had fun doing this in a recent Cadaques Instagram competition.
But you won’t just want to wander aimlessly all week. There are a handful of historic ‘must see’ places in what is the largest city in the Costa Del Sol.
Begin with the best of them
La Alcazaba is probably the best-preserved Moorish fortress palace in Spain with centuries old ceilings, patios and pottery in abundance. And behind it, with its watchtowers and parapets, Gibralfaro Castle is nothing short of magical. 130 metres high above the Med, it gives you views of the bay, the cathedral and bullring that are well worth the strenuous but steady climb to the top. It is especially beautiful at night so don’t forget your camera. On Sunday afternoons you can enjoy both of these attractions for free.
If you’re in the city centre it’s also worth checking out the Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square) where the city celebrates festivals like the Feria. If you don’t mind the crowds and can come for this festival in August, then it’s a great atmosphere and a chance to see some bullfighting.
You can’t do Spain without doing its art. I recently fell in love with Salvador Dali on a trip to Costa Brava and Malaga is home to a museum dedicated to that other eccentric genius; Picasso. You can visit the house he was born in and then take in more than 150 of his works at the Picasso Museum; housed in a 16th century mansion in the old quarter. On the last Sunday of every month you can get in for free. You can spend the whole day there if you please, but it probably won’t be long before your head is spinning with all those surrealist images!
In search of more Spanish treasures
Now it’s time to spin the wheels instead. If time is short and you can only do one thing then I recommend you head north east to Granada. It contains, amongst many things, the Alhambra Palace; fortress of the Moorish monarchs. Built in the 9th century and converted into a royal palace overlooking the city in the 13th, it is well worth devoting a whole day to this gem of an attraction and its lovely gardens filled with wild-flowers, English elms (provided by Wellington) and the sounds of running water and birdsong. It is one of those bucket list places, with all its grand decorations, huge reception rooms and elaborate architecture. If you are staying the night, have a drink in the Alhambra Palace Hotel; a building that looks like God stuck it on the nearby rock himself.
The hedonist’s playground
But if you prefer the high life to high culture, just 40 minutes down the coast is Marbella. Domain of the ex-pat, this holiday destination has alluring beaches, a string of established golf resorts, and one of the most exclusive marinas in Spain; Puerto Banus. If you’ve never been, it’s well worth a day at this hedonist’s playground to people watch as pretty people sail by in their super yachts, or take up the same table space as the rest of us, but sipping on better quality wine.
(If you are a golfing fan and are travelling off season, it’s worth a call to the Parador de Malaga Golf, set on a golf course to see if they can fit you in for the night. There you can enjoy a game of golf vicariously before you even get out of bed.)
The more simple life
Then you can calm it all down by taking in a typical whitewashed Andalucian village. Two hours and about 100 km west of Malaga is Ronda. Actually it’s not ‘typical.’ It’s outstanding. And unmissable. Why? Well this mountain town is dramatically split in half by the gorge of the Tajo river. In spring the hillsides are packed with flowers and the houses that have been around for centuries look like they’re about to topple over the edge at any moment.
Ronda gets very busy with day trippers on coaches but if you hang around and stay the night, you’ll pretty much get it to yourself. We stayed in the excellent Parador de Ronda; a luxury hotel next to the Puente Nuevo which looks down into the 120 metre deep gorge.
And now off to the beach?
Ok, I said beaches weren’t on the agenda of our cultural ride around this part of Southern Spain. But Malaga does have a fine coastline of them and if you steer clear of the peak summer months you can usually find a space for your towel. If you fancy venturing up to a beach bar between sun and snoozes, try the local chiringuitos, located on beaches throughout the Costa del Sol. They serve freshly caught fish, home-made paella and gazpacho. Or wander down to one of the quieter fishing bays and supper on sardines. You can then drop your car off with a full stomach and a head full of Spanish sights and delights.
Have you been to Malaga? Got an idea or suggestion for a place to eat or visit, something interesting to see or do? Why not share it with us as a comment.
Disclosure Note: This post was brought to you thanks to the support of Avis Car Hire. All the research, ideas and opinions remain, as ever, entirely our own.