MÁLAGA… Sun, sea and history

MÁLAGA, the capital of Spain’s sunny Costa del Sol and one of the oldest cities in the world!

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Photo Kalizamar

A typical Andalusian city, Málaga is bathed by the Mediterranean Sea, still fairly untouched by tourism and, to a large extent, the passage of time. It is quite fascinating to wander around the narrow streets of the old quarters.The Moors occupied the city until the mid 15th century, after which it prospered to become one of Spain’s foremost merchant centres. This illustrious past has left its imprint on the historic centre, particularly around the Alcazaba, a fortress which dates back to 1065 and is now a fascinating archaeological museum.

During the 19th century, Málaga was a popular winter resort for the wealthy famed for its elegance and sophistication. The impressive park on Calle Alameda dates back to this era and is recognised as being one of the most celebrated botanical collections in Europe. During the winter, open air concerts are held here every Sunday.

Málaga also prides itself on being a modern city with the heart of commerce dominated by Calle Larios. This was ideal place to start exploring the city as it is surrounded by attractive small streets and plazas.

The major sights in the old city centre include the magnificent Renaissance style Cathedral with a Baroque façade which offers daily guided tours. A number of ancient churches, each with its own distinctive style, are all located within a small area. The Castle of Gibralfaro was rebuilt by the Moors and is today a traditional Parador Hotel with amazing panoramic views over the town and bay. The name comes from the old lighthouse (“faro”) which used to stand on the hill to guide vessels into the harbour and also to warn of attacks by pirates.

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Plaza de la Merced. Photo Kalizamar

Spain‘s celebrated painter, Pablo Picasso was born in 1881 in the corner house of an elegant yellow-toned building on Plaza de la Merced. His birthplace was declared an historic-artistic monument in 1983 and in 1991 it became the headquarters of the Fundación Picasso. The centre has been created to further cultural activities including the promotion of contemporary art. There are several galleries showing Picasso’s work, including the 16th century Museo de Málaga (Fine Arts and Archeology museum) adjacent to the Cathedral.

As well as being a cultural centre, Málaga is also a great place to eat out. The Malagueños love their food and the bars and restaurants here are where the real social life takes place. Tapas are an Andalusian tradition and a wonderful way to try a variety of local food. The best known local fare in Málaga is pescaito frito, an assortment of fried fish, including red mullet and small sardines, best washed down with a glass of ice cold fino at one of the many old fashioned bodegas in town.

Discovering the Málaga countryside and surrounding villages was a pleasant change and contrast to the city itself.

Axarquía is just to the east of Málaga city, a rich area for its historical interest. From the sea up to the high mountain the landscape is full of contrasts and has its own identity. It passes from the relaxing Mediterranean to deep valleys, high cliffs and steep clefts. One of its acclaimed characteristics is the brightness that attracts numerous artists from all over the world. The climate is tropical throughout the year with mild winters and hot summers.

There are several different itineraries recommended to get to know the region; the route of sun and wine, avocado, raisins, mudejar (Arabic art) and the route of oil. Discover valleys full of vineyards, farmhouses where sweet wine is made, picturesque white painted villages and the Montes de Málaga Natural Park to the north of the city of Málaga, almost completely surrounding the city.

Rich in vegetation and fauna, it is also renowned for its country restaurants serving cured meats, local wines or the typical mountain dish of migas – breadcrumbs with spicy pork sausage.The Park comprises an area of abundant mountain streams, unusual landscape of hills and the small valleys which have formed between them, normally populated by pine trees, confer upon the area a special beauty rarely found in other mountainous regions. This is one of the few enclaves where the chameleon is still to be found. The polecat, weasel, badger, wild cat, marten and wild boar also inhabit the area; the many birds of prey include the sparrow hawk, mouse and snake eagles, goshawk and golden eagle.

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Vélez-Málaga. Photo Kalizamar

The Route of Sun and Avocado is largely a coastal route of surprisingly unspoilt sea-side villages between Rincón de la Victoria and Torre del Mar, where the cultivation of sub-tropical products such as avocado, mango and sugar cane plantations can be seen. It crosses Rincón de la Victoria, the hamlet of Macharaviaya, Vélez-Málaga, Benamargosa, Benamocarra and the village of Iznate.

Vélez-Málaga enjoys a privileged hillside enclave, which was already appreciated by the prehistoric inhabitants. The first settlement was possibly Iberian, later recuperated by the Phoenicians, and after consolidated by the Romans and Moors. The Villa is the original nucleus of the city, with an evidently Arabic rooted architecture. Of the four doors which gave access to the city, only two remain: the Real and the Antequera. Near the first is the beautiful fountain of Fernando VI from 1758.

Ancient houses are still conserved, with three-storeys, yards, tower, archways, and roofs with large wooden eaves, probably built by people from Vizcaya and Asturias who arrived after the Catholic kings’ conquest. Among the many historical buildings to be visited in Vélez-Málaga, the most outstanding are the church of Santa Maria la Mayor, in Mudejar style, which was a mosque during the Arab rule, and the Municipal Palace, which dates from the 16th century and was once the high court and the Granada captaincy.

The convent of San Francisco is important, founded by the Catholic kings, later erected in the Convento de Observantes, which is situated in the Jewish quarters of Vélez-Málaga. The convent’s cloister is composed by Mudejar archways on the ground floor and top floors. This suburb was first a residence for craftsmen and bourgeois and later for noblemen and royal officials. There are still a few palaces and ancestral homes, such as the Plaza de las Carmelitas, and the Casa del Mercader.

Tower of ruined castle at Vélez-Málaga. Photo Kalizamar

Tower of ruined castle at Vélez-Málaga.
Photo Kalizamar

There are historical references of the fort in Vélez in the 13th century which is perched high above the town. Only the tower, Torre del Homenaje, of the castle still remains commanding a spectacular view for miles around.

Rincón de la Victoria, situated just 12 kilometres east of Málaga, makes a convenient base for those who prefer sea breezes and beaches, and the relative tranquillity of an overgrown fishing village.

Rincón’s greatest asset is its lively sea front and beach. From the westernmost cliff top marked by a Moorish watch-tower, the view sweeps down the length of the sandy beach, past the clutter of blue and white fishing boats, chiringuitos (fish restaurants on the beach), palm trees and clusters of thatched sunshades towards the bustling promenade.

The sea front itself stretches from one end of the town to the other. Two popular walks are along the sea front to La Cala, and to the shrine of the town’s patron, the Virgin del Carmen, embedded in the rock at the westernmost tip of the beach. The route to La Cala cuts through the cliff-side, going through three rock-hewn tunnels which have recently been improved to allow walkers and cyclists easy access.

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Seafront at Rincon de la Victoria. Photo Kalizamar

Apart from sea, sun, sand and succulent seafood, Rincón de la Victoria has sights worth seeing. The fortress, Casa Fuerte, is set in one of the town’s few green spaces and doubles as an art gallery. Dating back to the reign of Carlos III, the fort was built in 1733 as part of the coastal defence against English pirate attacks.

Man first settled here in the Palaeolithic period, between 35,000 and 10,000 years ago. Sites have been discovered from which a collection of tools and Stone-Age art have been recovered. The remains of Roman settlement and a third century Roman fortress are also located in the area. The Roman writer, Plinio, refers to a temple built here that was dedicated to the moon. During the 12th century the town was known as Bezmiliana.

There are interesting caves at Las Cuevas del Tesoro, the famous Treasure Caves where gold was reputedly hidden by the Moors. A series of underground caverns has Palaeolithic wall paintings, stalactites, stalagmites and underground pools. These are the only visible marine caves in Europe and are believed to be the prehistoric sanctuary of the goddess Noctiluca.

We had thoroughly enjoyed our short break and we had packed a lot of sightseeing into a couple of days but it was time to leave as home, family – and work – were waiting for our return.

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