Hot summers, balmy winters: The climate of Europe’s southernmost metropolis is virtually unrivaled. Hence the enduring popularity of this 2800-year-old human settlement. Ancient cultures have left their mark all around the city, making today’s Málaga a cultural center, the unsung capital of the much-frequented Costa del Sol – and the gateway to the mysteries of the Andalusian hinterland
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Culture & beach
Ancient legacy: Founded by the Phoenicians in the 8th century B.C., Málaga was later ruled by the Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors. The mighty fortresses of Alcazaba and Gibralfaro remain the city’s most popular tourist attractions, along with the Roman amphitheater at their feet. Many archeological relics from bygone ages give parts of Málaga’s old town the feel of an open-air museum.
Alcazaba: Calle Alcazabilla, +34-630/932 987. Opening times: Winter Tue-Sun 8:30am-7pm. Summer Tue-Sun 9:30am-8pm. Admission: €2.10.
Picasso Museum, Málaga:
The city is visibly proud of its most famous son, Pablo Picasso, who lived here up to the age of nine. More than 200 of his works have been on display at the Picasso Museum in Málaga since 2003. These span all of the world-renowned artist’s creative periods, including some early Cubist studies and late works. The museum building, a villa dating from the 16th century, stands just 200 meters from Picasso’s birthplace.
Museo de Picasso Málaga: Calle San Agustín 8, +34-952/127 600. Opening times: Tue-Thu 10am-8pm, Fri+Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 10am-8pm. Admission: €4.50-6.
The city’s white sandy beaches (here: La Malagueta) stretch several kilometers along the coast – and are within easy walking distance of the historical center. In winter they are a wonderful place to stroll, while in summer, when the thermometer climbs to around 40 degrees, the waves are marvelously cool and refreshing. The traditional beachside chiringuito snack bars are a genuine institution here, providing beachgoers with freshly grilled and deep-fried fish and large families with a popular place to dine on weekends. These days, more exclusive beach clubs offering relaxing massages and a lavish selection of cocktails served to the cool strains of lounge music are increasingly springing up alongside the chiringuitos.
Nerja/Costa del Sol:
Málaga – seaside and more: The Costa del Sol is one of Europe’s most popular vacation areas. It also boasts a number of cities, each with its own distinctive atmosphere. Nerja, 50 kilometers east of Málaga, is a small town that has changed comparatively little down the centuries. Its beaches are sheltered by pretty little coves, while on the landward side, the mountains of the Sierra de Burno invite hikers and climbers to come and explore. The impressive Nerja Caves extend for almost five kilometers and are among the most famous attractions here. Archeological evidence indicates that this cave system was used as a human habitation 30,000 years ago.
Andalusian magic: Beyond Málaga lies a particularly charming, wild stretch of country – famous among other things for its “white villages.” Casares, home to some 5000, is possibly the most beautiful of these. From a distance, the whitewashed houses look like a handful of sugar cubes scattered at the foot of a majestic Moorish fortress and a medieval church. Each step through the steep, narrow streets of Casares is a step on a journey back through time.
Almost worth a vacation in its own right: Granada, the enchanting former capital of the Emirate of Granada in Moorish Spain and the site of its final heyday, is a good hour’s drive from Málaga. When the ruling Nasrid dynasty built the Alhambra, it created a symbol of power that was visible from afar. The imposing ensemble of buildings comprises a citadel, several palaces, a palace city and lush gardens. From the 13th century to the present day, the Alhambra’s mysterious beauty has been an inspiration to many authors (among them Heinrich Heine and Federico García Lorca).
Alhambra: Due to great demand, it is a good idea to reserve tickets (€9-13) well in advance. Tickets are always issued only for a specific day and period (morning, afternoon or evening). Full details at www.alhambra.org
Pictures: Jupiter Images, Cristofori/Rossenbach/Harper/Corbis (3), Kaiser/laif, Richter/look-foto, mauritius images