28 Mar Sun, food & wine in Malaga
In need of sunshine and good food? The Spanish city of Malaga is blessed with 300 days a year of sun.
The city, set between the Mediterranean & the mountains, is closer as the crow flies to the Saharan deserts of Mali than the green hills of England.
First, the Romans planted olive trees and vines in the Malaga region; then the Moors came with their exotic spices & the likes of saffron, rice, coriander, artichokes, apricots & peaches; while at the same time, the coast offers some of the best seafood in Europe.
Malaga’s surrounding hills remain arid apart from a short spring respite when rains trigger the wild flowers into bloom. The vibe of the city, meanwhile, is one of happy abandon; it flows, it’s relaxed.
I spent 3 days in Malaga in early March, & each day the sun’s rays went from one side of the horizon to the other, with temperatures up to 23 degrees. Glorious! Especially when I had been diagnosed earlier in the winter as one of the 1 in 5 people in England with a vitamin D deficiency.
The bliss about Malaga is that everything is within easy walking distance, as long as you choose a hotel between the river Guadalmedina, which had no water when I was there, and the base of the hill that goes up to the Moorish Gibralfaro castle.
So this is what I did…
Food & wine in Malaga
- Shopping in the Moorish-style Atarazanas food market, where I bought local, seasonal specialities of dried figs, Moscatel raisins, pecan nuts, as well as a packet of cola de caballo, or horsetail, tea, said to cure eczema, which I had been having on my hands… it is yet to work, but maybe I haven’t drunk enough.
- Spent all afternoon enjoying the 23-course tasting menu at José Carlos García Restaurant, the city’s only Michelin-starred restaurant.
- Breakfast at Casa Aranda, a Malagan institution, near the Atarazanas. The tradition is chocolate, but I took coffee, and churros, but I had porras, thicker & lighter than the churro madrileño. I never did find the tejeringo, the Malagan form of churros.
- Seafood lunch at El Caleño, in Pedregalejo, about an hour’s walk maximum east along the coast, either paddling in the sea or walking along the promenade. Sitting on the terrace, I had a little gem & tomato salad, a whole grilled squid with boiled potatoes, and a glass of Botani, a nice dry Moscatel, a denominación de origen of the Sierras de Malaga fron Bodegas Jorge Ordóñez… oh, how I liked those dry Moscatels! Together with a coffee, and olives & bread, this came to €33.30. The restaurant had its own place on the beach, in an old fishing boat, to cook the traditional espetos, sardines first salted & then barbecued on a stick, a practice said to have been introduced by the Phoenicians. Unfortunately the season is May to August – the months of the year without an ‘r’.
- A late-afternoon glass of Pago El Espino 2013 (a full red wine of petit verdot, tempranillo & merlot) from local bodega Cortijo Los Aguilares at the Vinoteca Museo Los Patios de Beatas. I wanted to try the Sedella (romé & grenache) but it was only available by the bottle… 5pm was far too early to get through a bottle.
- La Cosmopolita for my first dinner, where I ate fresh, seasonal artichokes cooked in butter and with thinly sliced raw tocino, or bacon, from the belly… not a dish pretty enough to Instagram, but delicious.
- I never eat on planes, so for my return flight I made sandwiches out of a delicious Rueda goat’s cheese from La Mallorquina & the typical Malagan cateto bread, a white, round rustic-style bread, from one of the best bakeries in town, La Canesta … while at La Canesta, I succumbed to the local speciality of torta loca, translated as the ‘mad tart’, which makes for an excellent pick-me-up sugar boost.
- Met up at the Café Madrid with Abby who, together with her husband Pedro, are the names behind Malaga-based bilingual blog El Boquerón Viajero, as well as publishing a very successful Spanish-language blog on New York. Thank you Abby for the inside track on your beautiful adopted city!
Here I would like to also make special mention of the usefulness for wine amateurs like me of www.jancisrobinson.com. The monthly membership allows me to read up about the best of the local wine while preparing for my travels as well as posting any wine & restaurant travel queries on the members Board.
Art, walks & scrubs
- The Pompidou Centre Malaga down in the harbour blew me away, both the design of the iconic ‘Cube’ by French artist Daniel Buren & the nearly 90 works loaned from the Pompidou Centre in Paris in the levels below. The centre opened last year & is a pop-up Pompidou Centre… hopefully it will carry on. The 20th & 21st art collections include works by all the greats… Francis Bacon, Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, video installations by Tony Oursler… & the list goes on, & on.
- The Picasso Museum, housed in the old palace of the Count of Buenavista. Well worth a visit. Of special significance for me as Picasso & I share the same birthday, 25 October. I just had to take a picture of myself outside where he was born, opposite the Merced food market.
Walked up to the Gibralfaro Castle, with a fabulous view across the city, and where I stopped in the cafe for a glass of fresh orange juice… found in most bars & cafes in the city.
- Had a scrub down and massage at the Hammam Al Andalus with oil of jasmin, the traditional flower of Malaga, & introduced by the Moors. So many white candles & beautiful, Moorish-inspired interiors.
- Malaga’s hotels still need to do some catch-up to become a city destination. I stayed at a ‘luxury’ hostel Dulce Dreams – a very convenient base, behind the Thyssen Museum and next to the Hammam. Each room is themed according to a dessert, and mine was Tiramisu. Go for a room on the second floor, as the first floor can be noisy. Downstairs is a café. My double room with own bathroom was a reasonable €58 a night.
- There’s also the 4-star Room Mate Larios – brilliant location on the main pedestrianized shopping street & with a rooftop terrace overlooking the city. This Spanish boutique chain of hotels also opened Room Mate Valeria, closer to the harbour, this March.
- Malaga’s first 5-star resort & spa is due to open this year: Gran Hotel Miramar overlooks the beach, so more for beach rather than city lovers.