Phil and I left Gijón on April 1st and headed for Andalusia. Our plan for sometime has been to spend the month of April here in the south of Spain exploring Andalusia. We have never been to the south in any previous travels and it offers cultural experiences unique to the region.
The Moorish influence is seen in the south much more than in the North; in the architecture, mosques, mosaics, and even the food. In fact, Asturias is the only region of Spain that the Moors did not conquer. Some consider The Battle (and victory over the Moors) of Covadonga, led by Asturian king, Don Pelayo, as the beginning of the reconquista (or reconquest) of Spain from the Moors.
We’re excited to experience Andalusian culture during our month here in addition to the unique features of each city we stay in. Currently, we are in Málaga, on the Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun) of the Mediterranean Sea. Málaga’s history spans almost 3,000 years and is considered to be one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities in the world.
We’re staying in old town Málaga, which luckily means we are near a lot of the historic and cultural tourist attractions and also, unfortunately, means we are near a lot of the historic and cultural tourist attractions. We love taking in cultural sites but really dislike the crowds and hubub of major cities. But wait, Jess. Didn’t you live in Los Angeles*? I know. I know. But LA is spread out. European cities are not.
If money were no object and we could always travel exactly as we want to, we would stay in a small town near the big city and take a cab to and fro in addition to renting a car and exploring the countryside. Driving and parking in a big city can be expensive and frustrating and often, public transportation may not be an option to take to small, country towns. *This is actually quite a lot like Los Angeles (and why we lived in Long Beach).
Money, is an object (what does that saying even mean?), however, so we are staying in the city center which allows us to walk to almost all attractions we want to see and also provides easy access to public transportation for things that may lie on the outskirts of town.
Málaga has a lot to offer. Sixteen museums/historic/cultural attractions just within walking distance (this may vary depending on what you consider to be walking distance) of our Airbnb. We have decided since we are going to be doing a lot of traveling in the coming months, we would give ourselves at least the first day in any new location to do absolutely nothing and feel ok about it. Since we aren’t going to have a home base for quite a while, we need to give ourselves some down time as if we are in our home. No one can maintain a vacation-level travel itinerary for months without suffering extreme burn out. We don’t want to burn out. We want to enjoy our lives. We don’t have to hurry and we don’t have to see everything that any one destination has to offer.
So, our first day in Málaga, we didn’t do a darn thing except go to the grocery store right next door to our apartment. The next day, we slept in and decided to go out exploring around lunch time. We walked through the super busy and touristy old town dining area, passed some places our airbnb hosts had recommended (they were all packed).
We happened down a little, narrow street and onto a place called Restaurante La Valiente Málaga. It was totally dead inside but super cute and a quick Google search revealed good reviews. The waiter was nice and the menu selection was good. We chose to split a dish of Migas (stale bread crumbs, seasoned and cooked in oil) topped with [ethical] foie gras. A pair of Spanish farmers are producing foie gras without the standard practice of force-feeding the animals. The menu detailed this and our waiter informed us as well(I even found an NPR article about it). We also enjoyed a dish of ravioli stuffed with pork, ricotta, and parmesan in a white wine, saffron, and parmesan sauce. It was amazing and tasted like very fancy mac-n-cheese. We finished by sharing a postre of layered short-bread cookies with mascarpone cheese, sherry wine cream, and candied figs. It was a-mazing. Rich and not too sweet. Everything was really delicious and quite reasonably priced.
After lunch, we decided a nice, long walk was in order so we headed toward the beach. It was a little chilly and a lot windy but the sun was shining so off we went. There is quite a large park, Parque de Málaga, that runs parallel to the beach. It’s a large, 33 hectare green space that includes gardens, fountains, and sculptures.
After exiting the park, we continued along the beach. In the weeks before our arrival, Málaga had experienced the worst train storms they’ve seen in 50 years. Most of the buildings are covered with a reddish-orange film of sand because of this. Some of the beach front looks a bit disheveled as well. Many of the chiringuitos (beach bars) that line the water have been in a rush to repair and rebuild from the damage. We saw many chiringuitos open for business and a few closed and others hurriedly making repairs in preparation for Semana Santa (holy week) that attracts many tourists from throughout Spain and the world.
After walking along the beach, we took a path a bit in and up toward a lookout point. El parque forestal de El Morlaco is a large, hilly park that felt like a forest within the city. There were several dog parks within the larger park and I always love seeing dogs so, bonus!
After our walk, we decided to check out the CAC (Contemporary Art Center) Málaga. We really enjoyed their collection. I’ve shared a few of my favorites below.
The next day, we decided to check out Alcazaba. The name of this fortress-palace means citadel in Arabic. It was built between 1057-1063. Below the citadel sit remnants of a Roman theater dating back to the first century BC. Some of the Roman era materials were reused by the Moors in their construction of Alcazaba. Alcazaba is connected, via a walled corridor, to the castle of Gibralfaro; which sits even higher on the hill, overlooking the city. The site dates back to the Phoenicians around 770 BC and was fortified by Calif Abd-al-Rahman III in 929.
One can purchase entrance to Alcazaba for €3.50 or entrance to both Alzacaba and Gibralfara for €5.50 so we opted for the two-fer. Alcazaba is incredibly well preserved and huge. It was easy to get a bit turned around walking through. It was crowded but very worth the nominal entrance fee.
Although the two fortresses are connected, the public must access the sites separately. Gibralfaro is quite a climb so we opted to head back to the apartment for lunch and see it later in the day.
We returned, re-fueled and ready to climb; and climb we did. Up, up, up to the castle ruins. Sturdy ramparts are all that are left of the castle but one can climb and walk along them and check out the great views of the city, and the plaza del toros.
There is a Parador (private/public hotel chain in historic Spanish buildings) near the castle. I’ve written before that whenever Phil and I are in a city with a Parador, we like to go have a coffee there. The coffee did not disappoint and the large patio off of the hotel offered a nice spot to take a rest.
The next day, we were off to visit the Russian Museum of Málaga, the first Russian state museum in Western Europe. The museum’s collection is comprised of selections from the Russian state Museum in St. Petersburg and is renewed every year. The space also hosts temporary exhibits. We were lucky to see the exhibit War and Peace in Russian Art. The exhibit has been on display since before the war in Ukraine began but felt particularly poignant because of it. Russia has a long history of war. The exhibit certainly does not glorify war but depicts the toll on individuals, families, and society. It also depicts the joy and relief experienced in times of peace.
After our long walk to and from the Russian Museum, we decided to head to a wine cellar, named El Pimpi, to see if we could get a table. El Pimpi has been in business for over 40 years and is beloved by Malagueños and tourists alike. In fact, one of the most famous Malagueños, Antonio Banderas, became a shareholder in the bar in 2017. The owner of our apartment informed us that when Antonio Banderas is in town, it is very common for him to have a drink in the bar and talk with folks. He also told us he is very involved in Semana Santa, so we had reason to believe he was, in fact, in town.
As we entered, a large group of tourists were exiting, snapping photos of the photos of famous people on the wall. There happened to be two empty seats at the bar, which we jumped on. We figured the bar suited our needs just fine as we only wanted a couple of drinks and a snack. We had tried unsuccessfully, early in the day to get a dinner reservation. The bar was definitely the way to go and we enjoyed our spot perched near the entrance and the bar tender. We noshed on the absolute best croquettes I have ever had. Grandma’s stew croquettes they were called and they did in fact taste like a delicious stew of roast pork with onion, carrot, potato, and spices had been simmering on the stove for hours, then breaded and deep fried. We also tried the local dish of berenjas fritas con miel which is fried eggplant served with dark honey. They were also delicious. We finished everything with a coppa of the local sweet, red wine of Málaga that is taken after meals as a digestif. Everything was delicious. No sign of Antonio though.
The next morning I got up a bit early (well, earlier than usual) to go down to the nearby bakery and grab a slice of cake for the birthday boy! Carrot cake is one of Phil’s favorites (red velvet is his very favorite, FYI just in case you are ever in a position in which this information could save your life) so I grabbed one plus a slice of chocolate because it’s nice to have choices.
I called and made a reservation for us at Restaurante Gabi, a beach-side chiringuito, that our airbnb hosts had recommended to us. It was a beautiful, sunny day so we decided to walk the hour and half down the beach to the restaurant, as opposed to taking the bus. On the way, we passed many beach front homes and bars along the paseo maritimo that reminded me of the area near Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach in Los Angeles County that the locals call “the strand.”
We were tired and very hungry when we finally arrived at Gabi. It was well worth the wait. The waiter provided excellent recommendations. We dined on prawns, salad, and the fried eggplant with honey dish we had the night before. A large sea-bream cooked on an open grill was the star of the show. Almost all of the chiringuiots we passed have large, outdoor grills made out of old, metal boats. It is cool to watch the fish being prepared near the open flame, plus the wood-fire and cooking fish smell amazing.
We took our time on the long walk back, stopping for a drink and then again along the paseo to sit and look at the beach. Some cat friends joined us, louning in the sun.
We wrapped up the day with gelato in old town. I had the best pistachio gelato I have ever had. On our recent trip to San Sebastian with my family, I had tasted what up until this point had been the best pistachio gelato I had ever had. I really hope (and plan to do my absolute best to ensure that) this trend continues during the remainder of our travels. Stay tuned for more from our next stop in Andalusia, Frigiliana!
Be sure to check out Phil’s blog about our travels here!