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Malaga in mode

February 10, 2011 – 10:00 am

If you’ve ever been to the Costa del Sol for a beach holiday, you’ll have been to Malaga, even if only to the airport. But what used to be simply a gateway city, glimpsed from the windows of your taxi, hire car or shuttle bus on your way to the Costa del Sol, is shaping up as the cultural capital of the region, especially when it comes to 19th, 20th-century and contemporary art.

It was Andalucia’s most-visited city last year, with foreign visitors up by a staggering 28.1% (domestic by 14.35%), and of those, British tourists increasing by 13.17%. New motorway links are being built to improve the city’s connections with nearby towns, offering an excellent infrastructure for visitors wishing to explore the rest of this beautiful province.

Until as recently as 10 years ago, this seaside city was best known as a stopping-off point where your charter flight landed and you collected your hire car, before heading off to your hotel or apartment on the coast.

Malaga can now boast two major art venues, with a third due to open shortly: the Picasso museum, which opened in 2003, as well as the Museo Casa Natal, birthplace of the famous 20th-century artist; and the Malaga Contemporary Art Museum (CAC Malaga), which regularly hosts exhibitions by British Turner Prize-winning names such as Gilbert and George and Simon Starling, as well as Robert Mapplethorpe and Louise Bourgeois. The “Tate of the Costa del Sol” is housed in a former 1920s market.

The Picasso Museum puts on shows of art related to Picasso and his contemporaries, as well as his lesser-know works – prints, ceramics, book illustrations, even toys he made for his children.

The new museum, which will be opening next month, is the Museo Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. After choosing between Malaga and other cities, including Seville, high-profile art patron Tita Cervera decided to open her new centre to celebrate Spanish painters on the Costa del Sol. Housed in the Palacio de Villalon, it will be a smaller version of Madrid´s Museo Thyssen, housing 358 Spanish paintings, including works by 18th and 19th-century artists such as Goya, Zuloaga and Sorolla, as well as modern works by Juan Gris and Saura.

In terms of cuisine, Malaga has always been well-known for its excellent dining. Now, it is a destination in itself, with some superb restaurants, including Jose Carlos Garcia’s Cafe de Paris.

If you’re thinking of visiting Malaga, but modern art – or any sort of painting – is not your thing, Malaga has two Moorish fortresses, or alcazares, offering outstanding city and sea views. Malaga´s massive Alcazabar dates from the eighth century, and houses the Archeological Museum, with Phoenician, Roman and Moorish artefacts, while the Gibralfaro, which means ´´lighthouse mountain´´, is a 14th-century ruined castle, with a small visitor centre.

I am ashamed to admit that I’ve never actually been to Malaga myself, one of two Andalucian provincial capitals as yet unvisited in my seven years living here. Now, with the high-speed Seville-Malaga AVE link, it’s easier than ever. So maybe this is just the time for an off-season family weekend break in Andalucia’s new cultural capital.

  1. 7 Responses to “Malaga in mode”

  2. Malaga is largely an ugly, ugly city.
    The town centre is full of nasty 1960s buildings.
    Mention Malaga and concrete multi-storey car-parks spring to mind, together with grubby beaches with plastic bags floating in the sea.
    It’s a place to fly through.
    And as fast as you can.

    By lesley on Feb 10, 2011

  3. Thanks for your comment, Lesley. As I’ve never even been to Malaga myself, not even to catch a plane, I can’t comment. I don’t know the beaches, either, but I can’¡t believe they’re that bad! What attracts and excites me is the thought of all those fab art galleries and museums in gorgeous buildings – as an art lover more than a beach-goer, they would be enough to get me there. Bilbao is nothing to shout about as a city (I can say that, having actually been), but the Guggenheim was enough to make it an art destination in its own right. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in Malaga (which suffered a blow when it missed out on European City of Culture 2016). I MUST go there, and then I can make my own judgement.

    By fiona on Feb 10, 2011

  4. Until four years ago, I lived 1.5 hours west of Malaga, on the Costa Tropical. We often made trips to Malaga and the coast around, as well as inland villages. Whilst not my ideal area for living (saw many expat communities), I found the beaches great – clean, tidy and user-friendly in general. I treated myself to a spa holiday at the AGH Estepona and the beach there was empty and pristine… and that was in the middle of June!
    Malaga itself has the ugly bits as well as the good bits… not unlike most other cities. Whilst not visiting the museums there, we have visited a few lovely areas with great parks.
    Inland villages in the vicinity are beautiful, and nearly all sporting wonderful vistas down to the sea…one of the things I do miss over here in the flat Costa de la Luz!

    By Karen on Feb 10, 2011

  5. Thanks for your comment too, Karen, good to get another opinion, especially from someone who used to live in the area. Glad to hear you had a better experience of the beaches than Lesley. I agree about the flatness of the Costa de la Luz, all the photos of people’s houses/b&bs/fincas/restored mills etc near the Costa del Sol always have great views! Good beaches here, it has to be said, but seldom such dramatic views from surrounding areas.

    By fiona on Feb 12, 2011

  6. Great culture blog. Am in the mood for Malaga now! I actually like the city – OK, it definitely has its ugly parts, but the casco antiguo is charming, (not as twee as Seville of course) – esp the part near the Picasso museum. Also, I think you really have to know where to go, it has hidden corners. The foreign influence there def gives the city a different feel to a city like Sevilla – the atmosphere is not so stuffy. (The Malagueños can’t stand the Sevillanos, as you prob know!). My favourite beach around there is Nerja. Beautiful!

    By Jo on Feb 13, 2011

  7. Good to hear another viewpoint, Jo. What you say about visiting Malaga makes a lot of sense, about knowing which parts to head for. I like the idea of the lack of stuffiness – I think I knew about the Seville-Malaga animosity, but always good to be reminded of these things! I know that their Semana Santas are competitors, and that as capital of Andalucia, Seville has always considered itself superior (well, we know what the Sevillanos are like about their city). Funnily enough, we’ve got a feature on Nerja next month – look out for it on the site from 1 March.

    By fiona on Feb 14, 2011

  8. I went to the Picasso Museum in Malaga a couple of years ago, and while it is not comparable with the Museo de Picasso in Barcelona, it´s worth a visit. It has an enchanting cafe with a beautiful secret garden.

    By Katie on Feb 15, 2011

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