Chasing the Sun in Málaga, SpainMonday, July 18, 2016
Europe, early this year. Sole Sister Julienne from the far east was freezing her a** off in Madrid, so she decided to escape to the warmest place she could think of in Europe - Costa del Sol, in the southernmost tip of Spain.
I found myself flying back into Spain last February to continue my Spanish studies in preparation for an exam I had to take this year. I was due to start a new full time job in Hong Kong, but while waiting for my employment visa to get transferred, I decided to return to Madrid - one of my favourite places in the world.
It made sense since I have a tita (aunt) based in Madrid, as well an amazing Madrileña girlfriend with a spare room in the city (lucky me!). Covering utilities like water, cleaning, wifi, electricity etc. I basically paid 350 euros a month for a room in a sunny and sizeable apartment in the north of Madrid. It took me around 35-45 minutes to get to the city centre, but that was a great time slot to cram in my homework while on the metro.
First photo of my workspace in the dining / living room area
Temperatures refused to go over 10°C when I first arrived, and freezing my miserable butt off, I searched for a warmer and sunnier escape before school began. In 2015 I had hit the major cities of Andalucía with my family (Granada, Sevilla, Córdoba), so this time I had to venture further out to find something different.
It was a toss-up between Cádiz (Costa de la Luz), Almería, and Málaga, but in the end I chose the latter because of its easy access from Madrid (it’s also an international hub for those flying in). Plus, upon further research Málaga seemed to pack far more punch in in terms of options (culture, nightlife, cuisine, activities) beyond the beach. It was sunny (isn’t it always here?) but there was no way I was swimming in the frigid Mediterranean in the throes of winter.
Málaga’s is the largest city in its province, and the sixth largest in Spain
with a population of approximately 570,000
Travel Tip! Booking train tickets last minute in Spain / Europe can be very expensive (ie. more than twice the original price). I was able to get “resold” tickets through the website Truecalia where people can super efficiently search, buy and sell train tickets in Spain. I got mine at a good price (30-40 euros) as if I had bought it weeks in advance. The private seller just sent me the QR / bar code after I transferred the money, and that’s all RENFE needed - no paper copies required.
And so I boarded the high-speed train from Madrid Atocha one morning and took off for Málaga. Less than three hours later, I was at Estación de Málaga-María Zambrano, stepping into the sun! It felt so good after dreary Madrid, you could not imagine how my whole sun-loving yet sun-deprived being was rejoicing.
At Madrid Atocha Station; it takes only 2h40 on average
from Madrid by train while driving would take 5-6 hours
from Madrid by train while driving would take 5-6 hours
On my first night there, I went to a resto-bar that all the websites had recommended: Bodega Bar El Pimpi. Apparently, it’s a “malagueño” institution sitting at the foot of the Alcazar: a massive 11th century Moorish castle in the city centre. The location was fantastic - it was also right in front of the ancient Teatro Romano de Málaga (Roman Theatre) - but the food was sub-par. I was a little bit disappointed, since many articles had hailed the city as an emerging gastronomic hub.
The Alcazar: a massive 11th century Moorish castle in the city centre
Best Restaurant: El Tapeo de Cervantes
Being the belligerent foodie that I am, I doggedly searched for the best places to eat in town (that wouldn’t break the bank). Luckily, I struck gold a few times after that. Tapas restaurant El Tapeo de Cervantes had absolutely mouthwatering dishes, and for someone who can’t eat big portions (like me!), they offer their plates in THREE different sizes (and prices!) so you can have more variety and share as much as you like.
But to get to the best food experience in Malaga, you'd have to bicycle out (or commute, if you can’t cycle) and head east along the waterfront towards the fishing village of Pedregalejo. From Plaza de la Marina, it’s an easy 25 minute flat cruise along several interconnected beaches to get to the most famous chiringuito* around: El Tintero II.
Towards the end of my ride, I was enigmatically pulled by the crowded establishment, the servers walking around with several of the same dish in their arms, shouting their specialities in Spanish. You don’t order from a menu, you just catch one of the waiters walking around if you like the plate they are carrying - mostly freshly caught seafood, cooked to perfection. But of course I had paella.
*Chiringuito: bars selling drinks and tapas along the beach
Rent a bike in one of the shops around Plaza de la Marina - ask the Tourist Information centre in the middle of the square for directions.
I didn’t mean for this post to be a food-focused one, but going through my photos I found so many food shots which brought back too many delicious memories for me not to share:
When in Spain, the typical breakfast is churros con chocolate
and the best in Malaga is the 84-year-old churrería Casa Aranda
Fresh finds: Mercado Central Atarazanas
Piping hot fish adobo and croquetas
Coming from the tropics (where we hardly have any surviving monuments dating before the 16th century), I find myself awestruck at old-world relics such as Malaga’s Moorish Alcazaba and the even-older Roman Theater (circa 1st century AD). The city’s big three are so closely situated you can even hit the third major site on the same day: the Castillo de Gibralfaro. The latter is set on a higher hill and thus harder to get to, but the views make the trip well worth it.
Get a glimpse of a time when Spain was ruled by enlightened Muslims
who built grandiose and striking palaces and fortresses
For me a huge part of Andalucia’s beauty - its architecture, culture, music, people - is thanks to its exotic Moorish heritage, giving it a mysterious and passionate-romantic fusion that sets it apart from the rest of Western Europe.
Other cultural sites I wish I had hit:
- Malaga Cathedral - It was closed for the siesta when I went… beware the siesta! Most things close down during the hottest hours of the day.
- Picasso Museum - Malaga is the birthplace of one of Spain’s (and the world’s) greatest and most visionary artists: Pablo Picasso, inventor of cubism. You might want to escape the heat in here, but I was trying to soak up as much sun as I could in March so I skipped it…
Some Roman-era materials from the ancient theatre were reused in the construction
of the Hammudid dynasty Alcazaba (from the Arabic al-qasbah, meaning "citadel")
Sleep: Room Mate Larios
I couldn’t have found a more perfect place to stay in Malaga. This boutique hotel I found online had windows overlooking the pedestrian shopping street of Calle Larios - the city’s main artery. And of course it sits on the corner of Plaza de la Constitución, the main square where most major events are held.
View of Málaga’s main square, Plaza de la Constitución, from my hotel room.
The most beautiful room in the city - mine!
Everything was walking distance from the hotel,
which was at the heart of the shopping and nightlife district as well.
They even give you free pocket wifi to roam the city connected
Room Mate Larios’ rooftop terrace was apparently the hippest in town
Shopping in Malaga: I didn’t have much cash to blow on shopping but I couldn’t resist trying on practice skirts for my flamenco classes - after all, the dance was born in this region of Spain!
Finally, one last “wish-I-did-this” that I was unable to check off my list: the Caminito del Rey, dubbed “the world’s scariest footpath” and “Spain’s most dangerous hike”. I love all kinds of walks and treks, and this one promised to be exciting, heart-stopping, and breathtaking. Unfortunately, it was a few weeks short of opening when I went, so I had to save it for another day. But just in case you’re reading this and it’s open when you are going - I would love to know how it went!
Signing off for now (and missing Spain incredibly!),
Sole Sister Julienne of Morena Travels is a 27 year old Manila-but-not-so-Manila girl who's lived in Hong Kong for five years as an editor of a tourism magazine. She loves board games, adventures, getting lost in the great outdoors, karaoke, trying new things, dancing, good food, meeting amazing people and having intelligent conversations. Currently based between Manila and Hong Kong (but earlier this year between Madrid and Berlin, her two favourite cities in the world), Julienne is getting ready to hustle in the corporate world once again after over a year of travelling. Stay tuned for her latest at IG @morenatravels.