Málaga, as I remember it years ago, was something of a B-List destination, an unreconstructed harbour town that just happened to have an airport and a high speed train connection to Madrid. However, much has changed since the beginning of the century. Intrigued by a recent Financial Times article on the city’s makeover, claiming that “Málaga is on a roll”, I decided to tuck my scepticism away and go on a weekend exploration of the city that is, in fact, the capital of the Costa de Sol.
Article by Anastasia Sukhanov
As I quickly realised, the city situated only one hour drive from Marbella, has plenty to offer. To begin with, at the heart of its “Strategic Plan”, first outlined two decades ago under mayor Francisco de la Torre, was the idea of culture as a force for Málaga’s urban renewal. Below are some of the city’s museum musts:
The two Picasso Museums of Málaga
Picasso might have only lived in Málaga until the age of ten, but the colours of southern Spain transpire in many of his works, along with the basics of painting he learned from his father, then a professor of art at the School of Crafts in Málaga.
Not to confuse one with the other, there are now two museums dedicated to the Malagueño artist in the city. Fundación Picasso is essentially Picasso’s birthplace, offering a glimpse of a bourgeois life in Málaga at the beginning of the 19th century. Museo Picasso Málaga, on the other hand, is a stunning modern museum space that contains a collection of Picasso’s work throughout his life.
Pompidou Centre Málaga
For a piece of Paris and that puzzled feeling one gets after interacting with modern art, head straight to Pompidou Centre Málaga. Its colourful glass structure stands out from the otherwise white-washed promenade scenery and is a work of art in its own right. Inside, one finds avant-garde paintings, sculptures, and performances – on loan from the Pompidou itself.
Carmen Thyssen Museum
Opened to the public just over a decade ago, the museum is a stunning, centrally located conversion of a 16th-century building. A collector in her own right, Carmen Thyssen was striving to house her collection of Andalusian art separately from the rest of the family’s cultural wealth in Madrid, so this branched-out Thyssen feels intimate and serene. Don’t miss the museum shop – it’s as dangerous for book lovers as its Tate Modern counterpart, or escape to the museum’s own patio cafe, a perfect respite from the midday heat.
MIMMA, the Interactive Music Museum
MIMMA is a participatory, interactive museum that generates new experiences for its visitors following the principles of the new museology. It houses one of Europe’s most comprehensive private collections of musical instruments and welcomes children from the age of six. Thanks to the in-house Living Lab Kids Unicaja Foundation, experiences of the museum have been adapted or tailor-made for kids, making sure the youngest audience make the most of
Russian Museum Málaga
The Russian Museum of Malaga is no less than a branch of the State Russian Museum of St Petersburg, one of the largest museums in the world, that houses the biggest collection of Russian art globally. With this reputation to sustain, it’s no wonder that it has an impressive permanent collection including works by Chagall, Kandinsky and Rodchenko. The museum grounds are nothing short of imperial grandeur as well: it is a 2,300 metre-squared space in the old tobacco factory, known as Tabacalera.
A BIT OF FLAMENCO
As a smooth transition from a day of museum-hopping to an evening of wine-tasting, one shouldn’t look further than Málaga’s several acclaimed flamenco spots. Same-day tickets are often available at Kelipe, an unpretentious venue that offers raw flamenco in the darkness of a charged intimate space, served up by local dancers with the casual passion that only a true southerner can master. Thankfully, individual fans are offered to the audience along with a free drink, helping one to deal with all this pasión.
FROM CULTURE TO CUISINE
After having established its reputation as the museum hub of the Costa del Sol, Málaga is now becoming a gastronomic destination too. First and foremost, there is the Michelin-starred José Carlos Garcia, a restaurant located in the port of Málaga with a contemporary design and a stunning terrace. Concentrating on Andalusian cuisine, it honours local tradition and sources its produce mostly from the greater Málaga area.
Another rising star of the local food scene is Dani Carnero, who runs Kaleja and La Cosmopolita, both on the Michelin guide of recommendations. While Kaleja offers a full “degustation” menu experience that should be booked in advance and taken on an empty stomach, La Cosmopolita preaches a more casual take on cuisine. Situated right in the middle of Malaga’s old town, it’s a lunch spot that will provide not only an excellent selection of seasonal dishes, but a great terrace location for people-watching.
For those who prefer a less orchestrated approach to eating, there is the Mercado de Atarazanas – the local market that dates back to the 14th century and was originally occupied by a Nasrid boatyard. With its impressive stained glass and a myriad of fresh produce stalls, it is the perfect place to get lost in the smells, sounds and textures of Andalucía. Open every day (except Sundays) from 8am to 3pm, it is also home to a market bar (facing the side of Palaza de Ariola), where one can always find essentials like Pimientos de Padron or Calamaritos fritos, happily consumed by locals with plenty of accompanying cañas.
As for evening drinks, don’t miss El Pimpi, a bodega that is part-owned by Hollywood Malagueño Antonio Banderas, who is also rumoured to have spent lockdown in the penthouse of the neighbouring building. It’s hard to say how many types of local sweet wines it really offers, but don’t even try counting after the second glass…