Costa del Sol has it all, long sandy beaches, heart-stopping mountain scenery, vibrant city life and quaint peaceful pueblos blancos, the white villages. You might be reshuffling your winter wardrobe now, reaching for those fur-trimmed parkas and high boots, but in Andalucia, the Spaniards are still enjoying sangrias al fresco.
Get inspired by our recent trip to Costa del Sol with Jet2holidays to beautiful historic Malaga, chic beachside Marbella, mountainous Ronda and Antequera, awe-aspiring Camenito del Rey and El Torqual de Antequera national parks. And of course, straight to Andalusia’s tavernas and bodegas, tasting delicious food and wine of Spain’s sunniest coast.
Top things to see and do in Malaga
Malaga is more than a gateway to Costa del Sol – it is a lively city with an exciting gallery scene, a large variety of restaurants, Moorish architecture, a famous city beach and a lively port. Here is the perfect itinerary for your Malaga adventure.
If you are pressed for time, hire an electric bike or take a Segway Tour from the Segway Malaga Experience. Segways are legal on Malaga streets and they can go up to 20 km/h. It’s easy to master a Segway in just minutes and riding it is a great fun! Whizz your way around Malaga’s narrow streets, past Malaga Cathedral known as Le Marquita (The One Armed Lady) and all the way up to the ancient citadel complex of Alcazba that has traces of Roman, Moorish and Renaissance architecture fused in a beautiful harmony. Get to the vantage point and marvel at a Roman amphitheatre, the magnificent 14th century Castillo de Gibralfaro. Then ride down to the port, along the promenade of Malaga’s most famous city beach, Malagueta.
Exploring the museums of Malaga
In the autumn, afternoons are still hot in Costa del Sol, so museums are a perfect place to retreat for some shade and culture. Malaga, once Spain’s second largest industrial centre after Barcelona, has a fantastic modern museum –Museo de Malaga. With 18,000 sq m of exhibition space, detailing the region’s history and art, including references to its famous son, Pablo Picasso. Admission is free for EU citizens, and only 1.5 euros for everyone else. But a true Picasso fan should not miss a tour of the Picasso Museum. Tickets range from 4 to 12 euros, depending on exhibits and concessions, but the audio guide is included.
Flamenco and food in Malaga
Flamenco and food are two things Malaga is well known for. To experience both at the same time head straight to El Pimpi, a must visit place for any foodie worth his bacon. It’s one of the oldest and busiest restaurants and tapas bars in town, frequented by both locals and tourists. El Pimpi is a maze of corridors and private rooms, their walls adorned with pictures of celebrity patrons, from royalty and politicians to Hollywood stars and artists.
Grab a plate of jamon and a bottle of strong local wine, find a cosy table next to a collection of wine barrels signed by El Pimpi’s distinguished guests like Paloma Picasso or actor Antonio Banderas. By the way, the Hollywood heartthrob comes from Malaga and according to our waiter has a house close to El Pimpi. If you fancy a really local experience, take a tapas tour around Malaga.
There is no need to stalk Antonio, book dinner in a private dining room named after him, just like we did. There, surrounded by his numerous photos, we savoured traditional local cuisine under his steely gaze. Cured meats, prawns, crispy pan fried anchovies sprinkled with fresh lemon, baked cod, grilled octopus and a rich homemade desert, orange sorbet with a dash of olive oil.
Add a couple of glasses of strong “Malaga wine”, that’s how any local house vino is known here, and you are ready for a flamenco class. A local group of dancers treated us to a fiery performance; one more glass and we were dragged one by one onto a dancing floor. Malaga has its own version of flamenco, called Malagueñas and it is looks as seductive as it sounds.
To finish the night on a high note, we headed to another Malaga institution – Antigua Casa de Guardia, an unassuming local bodega that’s been running since 1840. This rustic place is just one narrow long room: behind the bar there is wine in massive casks and busy barmen in aprons. On the bar, big shots of amber yellow “vino blanco” and ruby red “vino tinto”. The local wine, served in tiny glasses, doesn’t have a complicated aroma, it’s straightforward and strong, and at 1.20 -1.40 euro a pop it is also rather dangerous. Make sure to off-set the damage by lining your stomach with tapas – traditional cheese and ham.
Next day, having fixed ourselves with a bit of local cerveza, we dared to take a full culinary plunge and cook the Malaga’s equivalent of Sunday roast -paella. A big pan of bright yellow rice paella with its zesty strong seafood smell is a centrepiece of a local Sunday afternoon. To get things right, we turned to professionals at a proper cooking school for a three- hour class of paella cooking and a market tour of Mercado Artazanas.
My guides were chefs from Spain Food Sherpas, a company, that takes foodies off the beaten track and teaches them about Spanish food culture. Every cook thinks that his paella recipe is the best, the tastiest and the most authentic, so don’t be surprised if you come across dozens of different ways of how to cook the perfect paella. When starting from scratch, it is worth remembering that stirring is an absolute no-no, rice quality is vital (choose a short-grained variety, preferably Spanish bomba), after arranging seafood over rice let it rest under foil.
Day Trips Around Malaga: Antequera and Ronda
Malaga is a great base to discover nearby towns of Ronda and Antequera. The former is famous for its jaw-dropping bridges that look like frames straight out of Lord of the Rings. Antequera is dubbed as “The City of Churches” and is full of small-town charm. A guided tour of Ronda will ensure that you won’t miss anything and be taken to the most scenic spots.
Ronda sits in the heart of Serrania de Ronda, on top of El Tajo gorge. It’s about a 1.5 hours drive from Malaga and the views are really worth a 100 km journey. Its most famous sights are Puento Viejo (Old Bridge) and Puento Nuevo. The Old Bridge is the original bridge that linked two sides of Ronda, the circa 15th-century Moorish town and the newer El Mercadillo neighbourhood.
Puento Nuevo is an engineering marvel built around the 18th century, as the city expanded. Ronda’s location atop a deep ravine means that once you get to a viewing point, you face endless vistas of surrounding valleys, highly instagrammable!
A visit of Ronda is not complete without stepping inside Casa don Bosco, an old house, previously owned by the Granada family. They gifted it to the Selesian Priest Order as a nursing home for ill priests. Casa don Boco boasts a collection of ceramics and furniture, as well as a beautiful courtyard decorated with flowers and Arabic ceramic tiles.
Ronda is also home to the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain, Plaza de Toros. The son of Ronda, Francisco Romero, is responsible for drawing-up the set of original bullfighting rules back in the 17th century. His grandson Pedro founded the Ronda School for Bullfighting, that is still operating in the city.
It takes less than an hour to reach the historic city of Antequera, somewhat of a hidden gem of Andalusia. A wealthy city that has long provided a link between Granada and Seville, and between Cordoba and Malaga, it never relied on tourism as a source of income. Its rich citizens were religious and prosperous in equal measure, which resulted in a proliferation of Christian churches, that are true works of art. If you want to experience some of the Andalusian’s unspoilt charm, look no further. The city’s architecture combines prehistorical Dolmens, Roman villas, Middle Age Moorish Alcazba, Baroque and Renaissance churches alongside contemporary mansions and civil buildings.
One of the city’s landmarks is a brick 60-meter tower of the Collegiate Church of San Sebastian in the centre of town. The best church is from the highest point of Antequera the Royal Collegiate of Santa Maria. The viewpoint near Santa Maria church allows you to see most of the town’s 33 churches and a rock of Pena de los Enamorados, or the Lovers’ Rock. Shaped like a human face, the rock is connected to a romantic legend about two young Moorish lovers from rival clans, who shared a forbidden love affair. Chased by their nemesis, they preferred to jump off this rock, hand in hand, than to separate.
Where to stay in Malaga
You’d struggle to find a hotel with a funkier contemporary design than at the Barcelo Hotel. Let me tell you just one thing – this hotel has a slide. Yes, you can slide right from the first floor restaurant to the reception in a matter of seconds! Seriously, who needs a lift? Just don’t eat too much, although Barcelo’s delicious breakfast buffet might be a temptation too hard to resist. Another great thing about Barcelo is its location right next to María Zambrano train station, the main hub for high-speed trains, and a short walk to a big shopping centre, the El Corte Engles. The C-1 bus route from the airport also stops right next to Barcelo.
To find out more about similar tours of Costa del Sol, check out Jet 2 Holidays.
EatCookExplore was a guest of Jet2 Holidays