Is Málaga set to become the new Barcelona?
For decades Málaga has frequently been viewed by international visitors as simply a gateway to the likes of Marbella and other popular destinations along this iconic stretch of coastline. However Málaga is making waves in its own right in every way, from gastronomy and architecture to art and culture.
Founded almost 3,000 years ago, Málaga is one of the oldest cities in the world and has mastered the art of understated reinvention, thoughtfully honouring its eclectic heritage whilst continually looking ahead. Despite this exciting evolution, laid-back Málaga remains rooted in tradition, a quintessentially Spanish city, with a relaxed pace, excellent cafe culture, beautiful urban beaches and a host of lifestyle benefits. Malagueños are known for their warm, welcoming demeanour and are jubilantly passionate about their city.
A discerning, international crowd have taken note, with tourism figures increasing year-on-year. Latest data shows an almost 4% increase in visitors who travelled to the Costa del Sol for the period from January to May in 2018, compared to the same period in the previous year. Just over 8.6 million passengers arrived at Málaga-Costa del Sol airport in the first six months of 2018 (Aena).
Increasing numbers of visitors are making the most of the region’s out-of-season climate, and the region is becoming more of a year-round destination than ever before. Málaga boasts the warmest winters of all European cities thanks to a unique microclimate, and an average of 300 days of sunshine each year.
A vibrant multinational community are choosing to make Málaga their home too, snapping up magnificent homes at a fraction of the prices seen in neighbouring Marbella and other resort towns. With such an attractive quality of life, it is no surprise that many are asking: Is Málaga set to become Spain’s new Urban Resort, rivaling the likes of Barcelona?
LFStyle spent some time exploring Málaga’s pastel-hued old stone streets, to find out what makes the city so unusual and appealing. From world-class museums to architecture from almost every period in history, the best places to eat, drink and sleep, this is the LFStyle guide to what makes Málaga so wonderfully liveable.
Málaga boasts an incredible variety of cultural offerings, with over 30 museums alone celebrating history and the arts. While he may be known for his time spent on the French Riviera, Pablo Picasso is a son of Málaga and spent the first 11 years of his life in the city. Picasso’s birthplace, Casa Natal, is open to the public and gives a view of the artist’s early years in Málaga. Several rooms of the Picasso family’s apartment have been recreated, with personal memorabilia on display. It is easy and actually almost moving to imagine a young Picasso playing in the square outside. A short distance away on Calle San Agustín, the Picasso Museum celebrates the artist’s later achievements, boasting over 200 pieces housed in a beautifully restored, palm-tree fringed palace.
The Carmen Thyssen and Contemporary Art Museum (CAC) showcases some of the best 19th century Spanish art. With a tranquil courtyard café and a particularly wonderful gift shop selling unusual items, this is a peaceful space in the bustling historic former Moorish quarter.
Just around the corner, harking back to the city’s time under Moorish rule, Hammam Al Andalus is a magnificent ode to the region’s Moorish roots and lasting influences.
A series of ornately appointed rooms house thermal baths of varying temperatures, with treatments and massages available. The Hammam is a decadent, relaxing escape with discounted rates for local residents.
Housed within an eye-catching brightly coloured glass cube, the Pompidou Centre is the iconic French museum’s first venture outside of France. With striking permanent and temporary exhibitions showcasing some of the best modern art (including works by the likes of Antoni Tàpies, Frida Kahlo and Francis Bacon), the museum’s location is testament to Málaga’s growing reputation as a standout cultural hub in Spain.
Next door, in a converted tobacco factory, the city’s Automobile Museum showcases unique vintage and modern cars alongside beautiful and thoughtfully curated collections of high fashion from the 1920s to the 1950s.
The brilliant Contemporary Art Centre in the up-and-coming Soho neighbourhood is one of the city’s boldest galleries and has very much contributed to the creative regeneration of the district, which has become synonymous with literary, art and underground culture in Málaga. Soho itself is a vibrant area with a plethora of creative spaces, exciting events, and eateries. CAC director Fernando Frances also created Málaga Arte Urbano Soho (MAUS), an innovative new project repurposing public spaces to showcase the most exciting street artists. Many of the works are by renowned artists such as Obey (creator of the now iconic Barack Obama “Hope” campaign poster). More details on the artists and a map of their works throughout the neighbourhood can be found on the MAUS website.
The Museo de Málaga is located within the majestic Palacio de Aduana (originally the customs house of the port of Málaga) and recently reopened following an extensive renovation. Housing significant archaeological collections and fine art, the museum is a celebration of the city’s unique history.
On the top floor, the rooftop terrace and restaurant La Terraza de la Aduana boasts some of the best views in the city – directly overlooking the historic Alcazaba Fortress. Definitely costly in the context of the city’s generally more modestly priced dining scene, but a fantastic spot to enjoy a coffee or aperitif with uninterrupted views of such an iconic monument.
Top Tip: Entrance to almost all of the city’s museums is free on annual “International Museum Day” (18th May).
From the contemporary structure of the Pompidou centre to 18th century palaces, ancient roman ruins and a Moorish fortress, Málaga’s eclectic architecture belies its unique history through numerous civilisations. Rarely do structures from so many distinctive eras stand intact, side by side with so much visual harmony.
The Alcazaba is Málaga’s most impressive reminder of the many centuries that the city spent under Moorish rule. Often compared to (though more modest than) Granada’s Alhambra, this magnificent 11th century palace and fortress is located in the city centre, within lush, fragrant gardens and terraces.
Extensive renovations are ongoing and the site is one of the best preserved Moorish military installations in Spain. Although the interiors are relatively sparse, the views from within the grounds are magnificent. There is an entrance beside the Roman amphitheatre, where a steep path climbs to the top through the magnificent gardens. On a hot day it is wise to avoid the walk to the top and seek out the hidden lift entrance. Tucked behind the Ayuntamiento (town hall), at the end of a cool tunnel, the lift or Ascensor a la Alcazaba, opens directly into the heart of the palace above, leaving you to enjoy the walk back down at your leisure (or vice versa). For the best views of the fortress itself, head to the aforementioned Terraza de la Aduana for a relaxed drink overlooking the ancient structure.
Dating as far back as the Phoenician period, the Gibralfaro Castle is located at the top of a steep hill overlooking the Alcazaba, the sea and entire city below. Originally a lighthouse and then military barracks, not much of the original castle remains today. However there is an incredible walkway along the castle’s ramparts, offering panoramic, sweeping views as far as the eye can see (though the walk to the top can be challenging in the warmer months, especially as there is no secret lift).
Accidentally uncovered in the 1950s by workers building a new cultural centre and with ongoing excavation all the time, Málaga’s Teatro Romano or Roman Theatre dates back to the 1st century. Originally surrounded by white marble columns and pillars, many of the original stones from the theatre were used to construct the Alcazaba. Today the site is fully open to the public and hosts plays and concerts throughout the summer months.
Málaga’s Cathedral is one of the city’s most striking monuments, built over a period of 250 years (until a lack of funds halted construction). The second bell tower was never completed, hence the affectionate nickname ‘La Manquita’ (the one armed woman). In the shadow of the Cathedral sits the Patio de los Naranjos, shady gardens with Moorish style fountains and giant perfumed hibiscus trees, perfect for enjoying a tranquil break in the busy old town.
Muelle Uno and subsequent Muelle Dos are the result of a contemporary rethink of the city’s previously rather run down port area. Initially conceived to cater to the influx of cruise ship passengers arriving into the city, the stylish palm and orange tree lined quayside walkways are some of the buzziest in Málaga. This chic waterfront area boasts magnificent panoramic views of the city’s Alcazaba and other historic monuments, and borders the up and coming art district, Soho – home to the Centre Pompidou among other galleries celebrating modern art. Muelle Uno hosts many exhibitions, concerts open air cinema screenings and a monthly zoco (or market) on the second Sunday of each month, with stalls selling everything from food to jewellery and vintage clothing.
At the far end of Muelle Uno sits La Farola, a historic lighthouse built in 1817, then rebuilt in the 1940s following the Spanish Civil War. Just around the corner, on Malagueta beach, Chiringuito La Farola serves fresh seafood at the foot of the lighthouse, ideal for sundowners with picture perfect seaside views.
While the region has always been famed for its delicious cuisine, Málaga has remained modestly under the radar compared with several other Andalucian cities. Rooted in the region’s culinary traditions, an exciting new wave of contemporary cuisine is drawing plenty of attention – reinterpreting classic dishes for a new, hungry audience.
The annual Málaga Gastronomy Festival showcases the highlights of local gastronomy and food culture via exhibitions, demonstrations, workshops, films and debates. It is a wonderful celebration of the best elements of Malagueño and Andalucian cuisine.
Another great way to discover Málaga’s foodie hotspots off the beaten track is the immersive three-hour Tapas Tour by Spain Food Sherpas. They organise walking tours and gastronomic experiences from a unique perspective, meeting local people, exploring the city’s history through its family-owned taverns and tapas bars as well as sampling the forward-thinking, innovative cuisine that is becoming increasingly acclaimed in the city. Three-hour Tapas Tour €65
The city centre is home to a plethora of exciting markets, including the historic Mercado Atarazanas. Originally a 14th century shipyard, this majestic building with its grandiose Moorish archway, wrought iron structure and impressive stained glass window is home to some of the freshest sea food and local ingredients in the region.
The daily market is a cacophony of sound, with animated sellers vying for trade and many fantastic tapas bars in the surrounding streets. Mercado de la Merced in the heart of the old town is a recently renovated space dedicated to eating and drinking, with 22 unique stalls offering a variety of local and international cuisines. With a buzzing atmosphere, this is one of the trendiest and most mouthwatering spots in Málaga.
José Carlos García is the city’s first chef to receive a coveted Michelin star. His self-titled restaurant is set on the waterfront in the chic Muelle Uno marina, serving contemporary Mediterranean fusion with a surprising, creative twist.
El Pimpi is one of the city’s oldest and best loved establishments, and one of the few popular with tourists and locals alike. The original “Pimpis”, as they were affectionately known, helped newly arrived sailors find the best places to eat and drink in the city. The enormous, labyrinthine space is composed of a series of intimate, interconnected bodegas leading to a vast, cavernous hall with wine barrels piled to the ceiling (many of which have been signed by past patrons including Paloma Picasso and Antonio Banderas).
The setting and atmosphere leave little indication that it isn’t 1878.. Although relatively pricey for traditional, Andalucian fare, many of the portions are enormous and beg to be shared with friends and family. There is also an extensive terrace with views of the Roman Theatre and Alcazaba.
Situated in the heart of the old town, La Cosmopolita is one of the best places to eat in the city. With cosy, vintage-style decor, their menu changes each month and features creative dishes with the freshest seasonal ingredients.
Casa Aranda is one of Málaga’s most iconic traditional cafes. Renowned for their delicious churros con chocolate since 1932, this authentic cafe was for many years a meeting place for intellectuals and writers in the city. With friendly, formally dressed waiters and a sunny terrace, this is fantastic spot for a traditional Malagueño breakfast or an afternoon break.
Cafe Central is also something of a Málaga institution, serving strong coffee and delicious churros as well as savoury tapas. The outdoor terrace is fantastic for people watching on the Plaza de la Constitución.
Restaurante Meson Mariano is another great local bar serving traditional Malagueño tapas (including perfectly executed local speciality “boquerones”) since the 1970s.
The oldest wine bar in the city, Casa Antigua de Guardia is another quintessentially Malagueño establishment, where countless wines and sherries are poured directly from the enormous barrels piled high to the ceiling. An atmospheric spot ideal for a glass (or four) of sweet Málaga wine and simple tapas bites.
Mamuchis is one of a number of super cool restaurants in the creative Soho neighbourhood, behind the port. With mismatched furniture and a cosy, welcoming atmosphere (it almost feels like being in someone’s home), they serve healthy small plates inspired by the owners’ travels around the world.
Noviembre is a trendy spot for breakfast and lunch in the city, serving fantastic coffee and healthy dishes with organic ingredients and plenty of vegetarian options. They also cater brilliantly for coeliacs.
El Rincón del Cervecero is the home of the craft beer movement in Málaga. Serving almost 200 varieties of beers (including some home-brewed ales), this welcoming, minimalist space is ideal for craft beer aficionados in the city. They also host tastings and workshops.
Room Mate Valeria is one of the coolest hotels in Málaga, on the edge of the city’s edgy Soho district and close to the Plaza de la Marina. The interior (by Malagueño design studio Melia Randolph) has been inspired by the blues and greens of Málaga’s sky and lush greenery, with mid-century and art deco details. This boutique design hotel also boasts a chic rooftop with a chiringuito style bar, a Miami Beach vibe and sweeping sea and city views.
Hotel Molinario is a 103-room four-star hotel opposite the cathedral and a short walk from the waterfront. The bedrooms have a distinctive boutiquey feel despite the hotel’s larger size, with neutral tones and tasteful prints.
From morning coffee to sundowners, their beautiful rooftop terrace, swimming pool and bar The Top, directly overlooking the cathedral offers breathtaking views and the perfect place to cool off in the summer months.
Gran Hotel Miramar is a luxurious five-star hotel set on the seafront in the desirable upmarket Caleta neighbourhood. This historic establishment exudes glamour, having hosted the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Ernest Hemingway, with a magnificent interior and elegant palm tree courtyard.
Hotel Boutique Teatro Romano is a beautifully designed, wonderfully located 13-bedroom boutique hotel in the city’s most historic neighbourhood, overlooking the Roman theatre and Moorish Alcazaba. With a minimalist, Nordic inspired interior, and thoughtful nods to the hotel’s ancient surroundings (such as Roman numeral room numbers), this is a fantastic hideaway in the city centre.
Hotel Mariposa is a stylish four-star boutique hotel in the heart of creative hub Soho. The monochrome interior is popular with design aficionados, and it provides a fantastic base for exploring the city in a coveted location.
A luxurious countryside retreat just outside the city, Hotel Villa Guadalupe is around 20 minutes by car from Málaga and the coast. With 11 bedrooms and thoughtful design touches reflecting the Dutch heritage of the surrounding El Atabal neighbourhood (formerly a Dutch colony), this boutique hotel is an idyllic hideaway a stone’s throw from the city centre.
Málaga’s start-up scene
Málaga is home to a burgeoning start-up scene, with more entrepreneurs than ever before choosing to start businesses in the city. The city boasts a thriving start up eco system, with many inspiring examples and success stories of small (and not so small) businesses founded by locals and international residents. Founded in Málaga, online media company Freepik was recently listed as the 23rd fastest growing start-up in Europe by the Financial Times.
#OMGMalaga is a useful hashtag for members of the start-up, creative and tech community to keep track of goings on, stay connected and share ideas with other like-minded entrepreneurs in the city.
Start Up Málaga is an initiative and online platform for the dynamic community of entrepreneurs in Malaga, with a blog and website sharing resources and up to date information on events, training, accelerators and incubators in the local area, to maximise opportunities for business growth.
Málaga Makers is another fantastic organisation for creative professionals in Málaga to meet, share ideas and inspiration. From digital nomads to graphic designers, investors, journalists and founders, this is a fantastic support group for creative professionals to network with potential collaborators and strengthen ties within the city’s growing international community of entrepreneurs. They organise a series of meet ups and events in English.
The property market is very much on the move in Málaga too. According to official statistics, the number of properties being bought and sold in the Málaga Province remains over 30% lower than the 2007 peak prior to the economic recession. However, that figure has increased by 8% in the first quarter of 2018 according to Spain’s Institute of Statistics (INE), compared to the same period in the previous year (with an average of 2,786 sales per month). There was a dramatic increase in the value of these transactions too, which grew by 21% in the first quarter of 2018 (including a substantial 61% increase in the value of new homes sales). This shows that the region is once again on the radar of local and international buyers (who accounted for 31% of all the sales in the first quarter of 2018, up from 27% for Q1 in 2017).
Property prices in Málaga Province increased by 12% throughout the year to the middle of 2018, with an average price of €2,034 per square metre, according to property portal idealista. This compares favourably to Marbella’s current average of €2,766 per square metre. Rental prices in Málaga and its surrounding areas have also increased, by 11% this year to €10.2 per square metre, which should also encourage investment in the region.
For a more detailed look at the current properly market on the Costa del Sol, please see Lucas Fox’s latest market report.