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Malaga: The forgotten city

Malaga is far more than just a portal to the costas, as Cathy Packe discovers


WHERE?

The capital of the Costa del Sol sits at the point on the Mediterranean coast where the Spanish peninsula begins to dip down towards the Straits of Gibraltar. The city is dominated by the Gibralfaro hill, from which there are superb views in every direction; on a clear day you can see across to North Africa. Immediately below is the bullring, and from there, heading west, is Malaga's main thoroughfare, the leafy Paseo del Parque, which leads into the Alameda Principal and, eventually, to the Guadalmedina river. North of the main drag is the old centre with its museums, pleasant squares and attractive churches; the beaches stretch for several miles to the east of the city.

The main tourist office is near the centre, at Pasaje Chinitas 4 (00 34 952 213 445; www.malagaturismo.com), an alley tucked away behind Plaza de la Constitucion. It opens 9am-8.30pm Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm on Saturday and 10am-2pm on Sunday. This is a good area for shopping, too, in the pedestrian streets between Calle Larios and Plaza Felix Saenz. If you want everything under one roof, try the vast Corte Ingles department store at Avenida Andalucia 4-6 (00 34 952 076 500; www.elcorteingles.es), which opens 10am-10pm Monday to Saturday.

The airport is 7km west of the city. The suburban trains on line C1 stop at the airport on their way from Fuengirola to Malaga's main station and on to the more convenient Centro Alameda stop. They run every half hour, take 15 minutes and cost €1.05 (75p) for a one-way trip. Bus 19 is also a possibility; it leaves every 20 minutes or so from the airport and runs into town along the main Alameda Principal, which is convenient for many places to stay. It takes around half an hour and costs €1.20 (85p).

Malaga has fewer hotels than many of the other places along the coast, so it can get very booked up. The Hotel Larios at Calle Marques de Larios 2 (00 34 952 222 200; www.hotel-larios.com) is on a pedestrianised street right in the city centre, and offers the personal attention typical of a smallish, boutique hotel. It has a stunning roof terrace, where there is nightly entertainment, ranging from jazz nights to film shows; these will move inside to the new L2 bistro lounge in the autumn. Rooms here start at €160.50 (£115), with €12 (£9) for breakfast.

On a more modest scale further down the same street, the Hostal Larios, on the third floor at Calle Larios 9 (00 34 952 225 490), has double rooms from €60 (£43), singles from €49 (£35), without breakfast. There are few hotels on the beach, but the Hotel Las Vegas is only a block away at Paseo de Sancha 22 (00 34 952 217 712). Double rooms are available from €94 (£67), singles from €76 (£54); breakfast is an extra €6.25 (£4.50).

Malaga is a lively city at night. Most of the late-night action is around Plaza de Uncibay, where there are lots of clubs and bars; Onda Pasadena on Calle Pallete is a bohemian jazz club that opens late and stays open until well after most people have had breakfast. For free entertainment, many of the locals take a bottle and sit chatting and playing guitars in Plaza de la Merced.

WHY?

Malaga is Andalucia's forgotten city. Those in the know have started to come here in preference to Seville, attracted by its architecture, museums, shops and, crucially, the lack of tourists. Although people flock into Malaga airport on their way to the Costa del Sol, most bypass Malaga itself, leaving behind a relaxed city whose inhabitants are happy to welcome visitors.

WHAT?

Malaga's main attraction is the Picasso Museum in the newly restored Palacio de Buenavista at Calle San Augustin 8 (00 34 952 602 731; www.museopicassomalaga.org). It contains more than 200 works by the artist, donated or loaned to the museum by members of his family, and representing every period of his work. The museum opens 10am-8pm from Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday, 10am-9pm Friday and Saturday. Admission is €6 (£4.30), with an extra €4 (£2.85) for the regularly changing special exhibitions; the next of these opens on 24 October and looks at mythology in the artist's work.

The house at Plaza de la Merced 15 (00 34 952 060 215; www.fundacionpicasso.es) where Picasso was born and spent the first 10 years of his life is also open to the public. Although its contents pale in comparison with those of the Picasso Museum, it contains some interesting sketches, ceramics and family photographs. It opens 10am-8pm from Monday to Saturday, and 10am-2pm on Sunday; admission is €1 (70p).

Elsewhere in the city are traces of Malaga's varied past. The ruins of Gibralfaro Castle, which was built by the Moors, are on a site once occupied by the Phoenicians. The museum inside the castle chronicles the town's history and opens 9am-7.45pm daily; admission costs €1.80 (£1.30).

Down the hill, and with walls connecting it to the castle ruins, is the restored Moorish fortress or Alcazaba at Calle Alcazabilla (00 34 952 227 230). It opens 9.30am-8pm daily except Monday, and 8.30am-7pm in winter. Admission is €1.90 (£1.35), but is free after 2pm on Sunday. In the heart of Malaga is its 16th-century cathedral on Calle Molina Larios (00 34 952 22 84 91; www3.planalfa.es/catedralmalaga). It is an imposing building with an impressive façade, notable for the fact that only one tower has ever been finished; this has earned it the nickname of "la manquita", or the one-armed lady. Admission to the cathedral is €3.50 (£2.50), and it opens 10am-6pm Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm on Saturday, and for mass only on Sunday.

British Airways, operated by GB Airways, flies to Malaga from London Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester. For more details visit ba.com

FIVE FOR FOOD AND DRINK

El Palo, east of the city centre, is the latest place to eat, and El Tintero (00 34 952 204 464), on Playa del Dedo at the point when the coast road comes to an end, is one of its most popular restaurants. Fried fish is served on different sized plates designed for sharing, with prices starting at €5 (£3.50) a plate. It opens every day from 1pm-4.30pm and 7.30pm until midnight or later.

The Café de Paris, at Calle Velez Malaga 8 (00 34 952 225 043; www.rcafedeparis.com) is one of the finest restaurants in the city. The menu reflects what is available locally, and there is a "market menu", varying every day, for €39 (£28). It opens from 1.30pm-3pm Monday to Saturday, and 8.30pm-10.30pm Tuesday to Saturday.

El Piyayo, at Calle Granada 36 (00 34 952 220 096), is a great place for tapas and is often packed late into the night. House specialities include fried anchovies, and cod in a tomato sauce. It opens 1pm-4pm and 8pm until midnight daily, and until 1am at weekends.

El Chinitas, at Calle Moreno Monroy 4 (00 34 952 210 972), is a long-established city centre restaurant serving a good selection of regional specialities. It opens 1pm-4pm and 8pm-midnight daily.

El Pimpi, at Calle Granada 62 (00 34 952 228 990) is a popular city centre venue and a good place to drop in for a drink; the tapas are also excellent. It opens from 12pm-2am Tuesday to Sunday, and from 6pm on Monday.

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