Forget the cultural treasures of Barcelona, the stylish stores of Madrid or even the gourmet gems of San Sebastian. More port of cool than port of call, the Med-side town of Malaga is fast becoming a stylish Spanish city break in its own right. Which is why I found myself here, down a cobblestone alley sinking an ice-cold San Miguel and sucking on a roll-up.
Earlier in the day I'd checked into the recently opened Vincci Posada del Patio (00 34 951 001 020; vinccihoteles.com) – the city's first five-star stay – with my designer luggage in tow, pretending all the while that I hadn't just arrived on a budget flight along with a pack of football shirt-clad stags heading for two-for-one drink deals in Benidorm.
After entering the sleek, sumptuously designed confines of the hotel's luxuriously appointed lobby – all sand-coloured marble and glossy glass – the Blahnik-wearing, pencil-skirted check-in girl showed me to one of the plush property's 109 rooms. "Numéro dieciocho," she had informed me as I was handed a shiny plastic keycard. The room wasn't as arty as I'd been expecting in the city that gave birth to Picasso, but it certainly did the trick with an inoffensive colour palette of beiges and browns and more mod cons than any gadget geek could ever possibly get through in any one stay.
But now I was here, in an anonymous bodega in the bowels of the city sinking yet another of Malaga's home brews way before would be socially acceptable back in the UK. The bar itself epitomises Malaga's old-world character, with little pretence, a boisterous atmosphere of carefree regulars and drinks so cheap you're practically stealing them.
Nevertheless, it was time to check out the city's more contemporary offerings – places that lure hedonists such as myself. I head to La Moraga (00 34 952 22 68 51) off the pedestrian-packed stretch of Marqués de Larios. Here, in a thoroughly modern space, king of invention Dani García heads up a mouthwatering menu of traditional tapas with a twist; the croquetas filled with pork loin instead of ham are a treat, washed down with yet another bottle of the gorgeous golden stuff. The sleek, streamlined crowd lunching beside me matches the interiors perfectly, and lunch here – as it is in any part of Spain – is an unapologetically languid affair, and lasts until diners are forced to go back to work or risk being fired.
Feeling drunk on too much tinto de verano, I take a stroll to one of Malaga's undisputed must-sees; Casa Natal, Picasso's birthplace. It's not much to look at from the outside – a towering townhouse on Plaza de la Merced – but it's the inside that truly inspires, with the artist's famously lopsided paintings still furnishing its tired-looking walls. Far more important, though, is El Pimpi (00 34 952 22 89 90; bodegabarelpimpi.com), found directly behind the museum, which is one of the best drinking dens in the city.
I'm dressed reasonably well – polo shirt, tailored shorts, espadrilles – so I head straight for dinner instead of returning to the hotel to shower and change. I know if I hit those fine thread-count sheets, even for a minute, I'll never get up again. And missing dinner in this city, where there's new-found excitement for its culinary offerings, would be a sin of epic proportions.
For evening dining, there is only one: Café de Paris (00 34 952 22 50 43; rcafedeparis.com), the only restaurant in Malaga to lay claim to a shiny gold Michelin star. Fabulous four- and seven-course tasting menus lure foodies from around the globe, with everything whipped up by man-of-the-Malaga-moment José Carlos García. Later this year the restaurant is moving to Muelle Uno in the port, but for now normal service resumes nightly on Calle Vélez Málaga. And what service it is; the Málaguenian salt cod with citrus fruits and black olives is to-dine-for.
Afterwards, I hop a cab and forgo high-octane clubbing in favour of a low-key tipple at Atico (00 34 952 215 185; marriott.co.uk), a restaurant/bar combo crowning the super-stay that is AC Hotel Málaga Palacio. Fifteen floors up and I waste no time in ordering my final drink of the day, a crisp gin and tonic accompanied by a pot of perfectly plump black olives soaked in oil and garlic.
With 360-degree views spreading out before me, and some of Malaga's highest-fliers congregating in all their Carolina Herrera-clad glory, this posy place proves that the capital of the Costa del Sol is firmly on the map when it comes to cool cocktailing and – dare I say it? – credible cuisine. And having flown solo all day, I can also say that Malaga is the perfect place for getting away from it all without the need for company. The city, with its ever-expanding portfolio of suitably hedonistic bars, restaurants and hotels, is company enough.
A 'Hedonist's Guide to...' (Hg2) is a luxury city guide series for the more decadent traveller. For more information, see hg2.comReuse content