with Heidi Fuller-Love
Once the hometown of Pablo Picasso, this compact Spanish seaside city is now favoured by Hollywood stars. Here are the best places to see and be seen in.
1. Feria Hans Christian Andersen, Danish author of grisly fairytales and whose statue stands in the city's main plaza, said he'd like to die in Malaga. Visit this Costa del Sol city during its 10-day annual party, or feria, inaugurated in 1487 to commemorate the Catholic conquest of the city, and you'll probably start to feel like death yourself. You may struggle to keep up with an endless round of feisty flamenco spectacles, blood-curdling bullfights and heady street fun, which all starts at the beginning of August with a huge firework display in the park. Live to tell the tale and you'll find it easy to get your bearings in this compact seaside city. But if you want a quick fix of the main sights, take the city's open-deck tour bus, from Euro20 (HK$210) per person (www.malagaturismo.com).
2. Hotel Larios With deluxe double rooms from Euro109 and fine views of the Gibralfaro Monument, Hotel Larios (www.hotel-larios.com) is the way to do Malaga in style. Built in 1891, when the city was a popular winter resort for the wealthy, this recently renovated boutique gem stands tall at the heart of Malaga's historic quarter and overlooks the main, marble-paved artery, which is home to the most exclusive shops.
3. Picasso The artist (below) was born in 1881 in a tall ochre house on the corner of the Plaza de la Merced. This pretty cobbled square, which was surrounded by terraced vines when Picasso was a child, is now a hectic plaza buzzing with scooters and bordered by tapas bars, and the artist's childhood home has become the Picasso Foundation (entry Euro1; www.fundacionpicasso.es). The first floor houses works by the artist and his father, Jose Ruiz Blasco, as well as an album of Picasso family photographs, and the ground floor is used for temporary exhibitions. A stroll away, along Calle Granada, is the recently inaugurated Picasso Museum (entry from Euro4.50; www2.museopicassomalaga.org), housed in the 16th-century Buenavista Palace. It contains a collection of drawings, sculptures and ceramics spanning Picasso's career that were donated by Cristina Ruiz-Picasso, the artist's daughter-in-law. There is also a bookshop and a cafe with a cool, shaded terrace ideal for footsore sightseers.
4. El Hammam Malaga's Arab baths (www.elhammam.com), which are tucked down a side street in the city's historical Jewish quarter, look dingy on the outside, but step inside and you'll be greeted by fluffy towels, the sweet perfume of honey soap and three, steamy, candle-lit vaults where you can get physical with a vigorous Turkish massage from Euro34. Alternatively, simply stretch out and relax on one of the heated marble benches.
5. Gibralfaro Named after the Arab gebel-faro, meaning 'rock of the lighthouse', the Gibralfaro (entry Euro1.80), the site of a three-month siege by the citizens of Malaga in 1487, when they stood against the Catholics, stands tall as a beacon behind Picasso's Plaza de la Merced. To find the narrow path that leads to this site follow Calle Alcazabilla to the horseshoe-shaped ruins of the city's amphitheatre, built when the Romans colonised Spain in 218BC. From there the trail leads up, past landscaped gardens and bubbling fountains, to the 14th-century Gibralfaro and its neighbour, the Alcazaba fortress (top right), built in the eighth century, when the Moors invaded and transformed Malaga from a backwater into a major port renowned for figs and wine. With vistas over Malaga city and the Mediterranean Sea stretching to Africa, photographic opportunities abound.
6. El Pedregalejo fishing district (above) This area lies east of Malaga's busy port and far from the city's madding tourist crowds. This long strip of sand, dotted with palm trees and beach bar chiringuitos such as the Banos del Carmen (tel: 34 95 222 7639) and El Refugio (tel: 34 95 222 1659), is where Malaguenos savour sardine espetas (grilled sardines) and gambas pil-pil (flash-fried prawns) before taking their 2pm to 5pm siesta on the sand, surrounded by fishermen hauling in nets.
7. Antigua Casa de Guardia Only wines aged in casks within the perimeters of Malaga city are awarded the 'Malaga wine' appellation. A 150-year-old bodega on the leafy Alameda Avenue called the Antigua Casa de Guardia (tel: 34 95 221 3445) is the best place to taste Malaga's finest finos (sherry) straight from the barrel and served with delicious tapas, including sea urchin and spiced squid.
8. Antonio Banderas Born along the coast in Benalmadena, a 10-minute bus-ride from Malaga, Antonio Banderas was recently named the city's favourite son. The Hollywood actor started out as a footballer and played for Malaga until a fractured ankle forced him to turn to acting. Banderas often returns to Malaga to visit friends at the Cervantes Theatre (www.teatrocervantes.com), where he trained. He and wife Melanie Griffith hang out in El Pimpi (tel: 34 95 222 8990), a bustling bodega whose barrels are covered with signatures scrawled by the famous names who have flocked there. The couple are also often spotted at La Casa del Angel (www.lacasadelangel.com), an atmospheric after-hours eaterie.
9. La Manquita Built from 1528 to 1782 on the site of a former mosque, Malaga's cathedral (tel: 34 90 120 0020) was affectionately nicknamed 'La Manquita' (the one-armed woman) because 'she' is missing one of her towers. Renaissance and baroque styles abound on the ornate facade of this 16th-century shrine and 40 statues of the saints whittled by Pedro de Mena, one of Spain's finest wood-carvers, make stepping inside essential.
10. Mercado de Ataranzas A melange of 14th-century Moorish architecture and 19th-century industrial design, Malaga's main market is also a feast of fresh fruit, perfumed spices and exotic delicatessen items. Here, you can wander and work up an appetite before heading for the Bar de los Pueblos opposite to sample fluffy potato tortillas and albondigas (meatballs) served in a creamy almond sauce.