It was our final day in Andalucía. The sun was shining. We debated changing our plans. We decided to stick to the agreed itinerary and drive to Málaga. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and headed south to the city which happens to be the birthplace of the artist Pablo Picasso, the actor Antonio Banderas and the golfer Miguel Ángel Jiménez.
It took about an hour to drive to the city and when we arrived I was horrified to discover just how big it is and difficult to navigate. Málaga is the sixth largest city in Spain and the biggest most southerly city in all of Europe (apologies to Valletta which is slightly further south but only half the size). Eventually we found a parking space in an underground car park and emerged from subterranean level blinking into bright sunlight somewhere close to the old town.
The journey had been stressful. We needed a drink. We found a pavement bar close to the centre and found a vacant table where we could examine the city map and get our bearings.
It was Saturday and Málaga was busy. There was a cruise ship in the harbour and tourists were wandering around like a plague of locusts, local people were out shopping (Kim reliably informs me that this is what people do on a Saturday morning) and the area was well provided for by roaming street entertainers. We stayed for a while and after paying the staggeringly high bill then wandered off in the direction of the cathedral but we didn’t go inside because having just spent so much on a beer we were put off by the cost of admission so instead we made our way to the harbour and after that the beach.
It has to be said that this is a very good beach indeed and we walked for a couple of miles along a promenade which ran adjacent to a crescent arc of lush caramel sand and gentle blue water that softly caressed the inviting shoreline. As we walked we assessed the beach restaurants where fresh fish and bubbling paella was being prepared on flaming barbeques and made a decision where we might eat.
Unfortunately we left this a bit late and by the time we had decided our first, second and third choices were all full up with no prospect of available tables for at least an hour or more. So we walked some more and then some more again and when we guessed that the time might be right we returned to our first choice and luckily there was a table free and we enjoyed a meal of fresh red snapper and a house salad. It tasted divine.
After lunch we walked back to the city centre and while Kim went to the shops I returned to the cathedral. There was a service in place now which meant there was no longer an admission fee and because that is the sort of good luck that I really appreciate I took advantage of my good fortune, wandered inside and mingled with the worshippers until it was all over and then spent an agreeable thirty minutes exploring the church and the side chapels before stepping back into the sun-splashed streets.
I confess that I hadn’t been absolutely sure that I would like Malaga, it once had a reputation for boozy Brits and cheap holidays but this is a city that has thoroughly reinvented itself. Gone is its seedy reputation as a playground for misbehaving tourists and instead the capital of the Costa Del Sol has been revived as a cultural destination only narrowly missing out to Donostia-San Sebastián as the 2016 European Capital of Culture. As I stepped out of the Cathedral I knew that I liked it here.
Malaga is a business hub and a tourist city now but it has a long and varied history. The Romans built a city here and we walked alongside the ancient theatre, the Moors were here of course before the Reconquista and then the Christians built a castle on the site of an abandoned Alcazaba.
Málaga was one of the locations where Muslim rule persisted the longest, having been part of the Emirate of Granada. While most other parts of the peninsula had already been won back the Moors still occupied Málaga. It was finally retaken by Christian forces in August 1487, only five years before the fall of Granada. The Muslim inhabitants resisted assaults and artillery bombardments before hunger forced them to surrender – virtually the entire population was sold into slavery – that is Christian charity for you!
We paid the modest admission price and then climbed steadily towards the top. The lower areas of the castle are functional and militaristic but at the top there is a Palace almost as good as that at the Alhambra with shaded gardens where sunshine was trying to break in like a thief, fine Moorish architecture and a sense that this was once a place not just of military muscle but also of intellectual appreciation of the finer things in mediaeval life.
When we arrived six hours earlier we wondered how we would fill the day as we waited for our flight home but as it happened the day was slipping away rapidly now as we left the castle and returned to the car park along a busy street that was filling up with local people out for a wander around the Saturday night streets.
We stopped at a bar for a final drink and watched the evening entertainment and then reluctantly paid up, left, returned to the car and drove to the airport for our late night flight back to UK.
We had enjoyed our few days in Andalucía but with so much more to see we agreed that we would surely have to return.