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Monday, 26 September 2016

Malaga

How many thousands of people pass through Malaga Airport every year and never, ever give the city a second glance as they head towards Torremolinos and Fuengirola and then further west to Marbella and Estepona?

Yet the siren call of Picasso’s birthplace has been getting louder and louder over the last few years as Spain’s sixth largest city adds a wealth of cultural attractions and a vibrant foodie scene to its multi-layered history and sun-drenched location.

Founded by the Phoenicians in about 800BC, Malaga - for a start - is home to more than 20 museums and galleries, including the Picasso, Carmen Thyssen, Automobile, Russian Art, Contemporary Art, Flamenco Art, Glass and Crystal, and Wine museums.

It has a branch of the Pompidou Centre, Paris, a cathedral (built between 1528-1783 and noted for its two organs and missing tower) a Roman amphitheatre, two Moorish fortresses (the Alcazaba and Castillo de Gibralfar), a wonderful food market called Atarazanas, several beaches and a busy working port.

It was near the port in an area called Soho where we based ourselves, heading out each morning past the street art - for which Soho is well known - to explore the city. Much of its historic centre is pedestrianised and many streets, by the looks of things, are washed down every morning, despite the arid looking landscape to the north.

Malaga’s grandest thoroughfare is the few hundred metres of the marble-paved Calle Marqués de Larios, protected from the sun by huge shades when we were there in early September. The street runs south/north and at its northern end meets the Plaza de la Constitución.

Head in any direction from here, though the streets and small squares, and you’ll delight in the experience. There are a huge number of small, independent shops, cafés, bars and restaurants which makes a refreshing change from the uniform, chain-stored high streets of many places in the UK.

Look out for the ironwork balconies on buildings, the attractive street lanterns, the almond sellers, the fountains and the odd sculpture, and just listen to the noise of people ceaselessly chattering, amplified on weekend evenings when so many families are out walking the streets.

For many visitors the most visible evidence of change in Malaga is probably down at the port where the Palmeral de las Sorpresas is now the most beautiful of promenades. On one side is the sea, on the other are palm trees, gardens, water features and children’s play areas and above is an elegant, elongated canopy/pergola, offering shelter from the sun. You could stroll along here every day of your life and never tire of it.

At the eastern end of this promenade is the large, multi-coloured cube of the Pompidou Centre and then stretching south from that is the wide Muelle Uno - Quay One - where a grimy old harbour area is now home to a range of bars, shops and restaurants. Across the way were moored a few smallish yachts and a couple of considerably bigger fish as well. The fortress of Gibralfar sits on the hill directly to the north.

From Muelle Uno you can cut through to the Malaga beaches, nothing to go wild about but still enjoyed by thousands. Take a stroll (going east) on the path which follows the beaches and the road, past the impressive Gran Hotel Miramar (opening late 2016), and watch the parakeets fly in and out of the trees. Even at eight or nine on a summer’s evening, the water can be warm enough for a quick swim.

More to follow on the Picasso Museum, the Alcazaba and Castillo de Gibralfar, the Atarazanas Market, where to stay and where to eat and drink.

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