🇪🇸 April 5, 2022 - Travels around Spain - Part 2, Málaga

Written By Amanda

Our travels through Spain continued from Barcelona to Málaga, a beautiful and historical city located on the Alboran Sea. Our family, plus the addition of two dear traveling companions, spent four days exploring the area.

This week we started to incorporate school into Evelyn’s day while also mixing in some sightseeing. We chose Málaga as our home base for a few days because of its affordability, proximity to a major train station, availability of outdoor fitness opportunities, and connections to a local family. A bit tired from our high speed tour of Barcelona, we looked forward to our time in Málaga to relax and recover.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to look back on our time in Barcelona. In future posts I will detail more of our travels from Barcelona to Madrid via southern Spain (Barcelona → Málaga → Sevilla → Granda → Madrid)

Day 4

Our group flew into Málaga from Barcelona, arriving midday. Despite having relatively smooth travel, we did come to regret our decision to fly rather than take the train. Initially, we decided to fly because costs were comparable to train tickets, but the flying time was significantly shorter. When making this assessment, we didn’t factor in the time and effort it would take to travel to the airport and through security versus simply hopping on a train. This is something we will keep in mind for future journeys.

We were still a little frazzled when we arrived in Málaga after our morning struggle to get to the airport in Barcelona via public transportation. That shook our confidence a bit and led to some confusion on the best form of public transit we should take to get to our rental apartment located just outside of the city center. After making our way to the train station and further evaluating the situation, we decided that the bus would be the best option. This led to a quick dash to the bus stop and a frantic search for change. Never a fun task when hauling all that luggage! It was helpful to be in a Spanish-speaking region of Spain. By no means am I fluent, but I know more Spanish than Catalan.

The bus dropped us off relatively close to our rental apartment. It would have felt closer if we hadn’t been lugging all of our belongings. We chose to rent a house on the outskirts of Málaga’s historic center so that we could be close to the beach. Our host met us right on time for check-in outside of the apartment. Following a tour, we were all excited to make this spacious apartment with ocean views and easy access to the beach our home for the next few days. Evelyn was ecstatic to be sharing the apartment with Jason and Melissa but had to learn the hard way that she had no claim to the largest room or one with an ensuite bath. I was just happy to have access to a washing machine! The furnishings were sparse and in much need of updating, but the space was liveable.

Once we were all checked in, Tommy and Jason immediately went downstairs to the small corner grocery store to grab some heavy snacks for a late lunch. We forgot to factor lunchtime into the day and were way overdue. Unfortunately, it was too close to dinnertime to overindulge, and everyone wanted to spend as much time as possible settling into our new space. The snacks the boys picked up were just what we needed to tie us all over. We unpacked and settled in quickly, allowing us enough time to squeeze in an hour siesta before heading into town.

After another scramble for loose change, we caught the bus into town. There we met up with Pablo, his wife, and their three lovely children. Tommy had met Pablo through work and had always promised to pay him a visit to his hometown. Tommy and Pablo were both ecstatic that he was able to make it happen after just communicating through video conferences! Pablo, and his family, were all born and raised in Málaga. Our group thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Spain and Málaga from a local family. After a few days with only adults, Evelyn was ecstatic to be around other kids. Although the kids were slightly older and there was a language barrier, they all got along great and the group was full of giggles. I was grateful that the family was ready and willing to practice their English with us because our Spanish was far inferior.

Pablo and his family guided our group around the historic core. Everything in the city was so pretty lit up at night especially as they started to decorate for Christmas. We saw the birthplace of Picasso and the current residences of Antonio Banderas. During our time in Málaga, I was constantly on the lookout for Antonio Banderas, but I was never lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him.

We saw the stunning Cathedral of Málaga and learned of the elaborate parades during Holy Week. We got a glimpse of the Castillo de Gibralfaro and the Alcazaba which was beautifully lit up at night. We saw and learned about the recently unearthed Roman Theatre. Hearing Pablo tell stories of it being discovered and unearthed during his boyhood was fascinating. Being from the United States of America, the amount of history in Europe continues to astound me. The kids also introduced us to the store Ale Hop, which Evelyn (and occasionally the adults) enjoyed shopping at for the remainder of our trip to Spain.

Before dinner, we stopped at Pepa Revuelo Centro for a small pre-dinner drink. The children got to sit at their own table, and Evelyn was overjoyed to be around other kids. The giggle continued as she made attempts to speak and understand Spanish. I admire Evelyn’s joy and adaptability, and I was so grateful to Pablo’s children for being so welcoming. It reminds me of something I learned when working as a Speech Pathologist: “Eighty percent of communication is nonverbal”.

After drinks, we headed to El Pimpi for dinner. El Pimpi was a fantastic traditional Andalusian-style tapas restaurant. On the second level, facing the plaza and the Alcazaba, they had a huge table set up for our large group. We enjoyed a meal of family-style tapas. Evelyn had a great time eating at the kids’ table and learning how to eat Boquerones fritos without the bones. We all were growing a love and appreciation for Carrillada de Cerdo. We also enjoyed the sweet wine made from moscatel grapes. Immediately following the meal, the laughter from the kids’ end of the table fell silent. Their bellies were full and it was as if they were suddenly aware it was 10 pm and time for bed.

As we were leaving the restaurant and preparing to say our goodbyes, the kids were treated with ice cream from Heladería Freskitto. As soon as we arrived back at the apartment, no one wasted any time getting straight to bed!

Day 5

After a late night and 4 very active days of travel, we all decided to take the morning to sleep in and recoup. The adults slept in until 10 am and Evelyn 11 am! It was apparent we were all in desperate need of sleep.

Before Evelyn woke up, Tommy snuck out to the grocery store to get all of us a small breakfast of croissants and ham to help get the day started. After we were all up and moving, we ventured out to the boardwalk and walked along the beach towards the city center. On the beach, there were playgrounds every quarter mile or so, and Evelyn had to stop and check them all out!

We explored Paseo del Muelle Uno, which is the area of the harbor that is outfitted with lots of stores and restaurants. Hungry for lunch, we were on the lookout for a place to eat. Hunger got the best of us and we finally settled on Gaucho Grill, Steak House Restaurant. We were wary of the restaurant hawker standing outside encouraging us to come in and eat, but reviews didn’t look bad. The final selling point was that we could select a meal from any of the adjoining restaurants. Meaning we could choose a Mediterranean, Argentinian, or a Mexican meal. In addition, children eat for free, and adults receive a complimentary glass of champagne with their dinner. Despite our reservations, we were all pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food!

Following lunch, we took a quick peek at Playa de La Malagueta before Evelyn and I boarded a bus back to the apartment for the start her school day. Jason, Melissa, and Tommy hung out a little longer to explore more of old town Málaga and visit the Málaga CF Official Store Historical Center for gear for the game that night.

Pablo surprised us by obtaining five additional soccer (or fútbol in Spain) tickets for a local team match later that evening. During past trips, I have always hoped to see a fútbol match somewhere in Europe. In Europe, they are far more interesting to watch than they are in the United States or on television. We had all considered going to a match in Granada, but tickets were expensive, and it was difficult to find seats together. Pablo helped make our dreams come true! Well, at least my dream. Not sure Jason, Melissa, Evelyn, and Tommy were as ecstatic as I was, but they certainly appreciated the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Unfortunately, Jason, Melissa, and Tommy had difficulty finding a store not closed for a midday siesta. They stayed out much later and walked far further than they had planned. They were able to locate team scarfs for everyone, as well as, Evelyn a soccer ball.

Tommy and I took Evelyn for a little dip in the ocean during her school lunch (her dinner) break that evening. Our rental owner had warned us that the water would be freezing, but Evelyn was adamant, as any kid would be. Tommy kept an eye on her as she tried to splash around, while I went for a nice, flat run along the boardwalk. Even though the water was frigid, Evelyn, of course, had a great time.

We cooked dinner that evening in the apartment while Evelyn finished school. Around 8 pm we caught a bus and headed out to the La Rosaleda Stadium where we met Pablo, his father, and two of his children. Evelyn was so happy to meet up with Pablo’s children again! This time they taught her how to eat sunflower seeds and she shared some of her candy from back home (leftovers from Halloween). Evelyn claims that she loves soccer matches now, but it is more likely she liked the company and the snacks.

We all enjoyed the thrill of seeing a live soccer match! Nothing can describe the excitement and the energy in the crowd! It is unquestionably an experience we will never forget! Fortunately, Málaga won. I would hate to witness the crowd’s reaction if they did not!

Day 6

Today we had plans to drive out to the The White Towns (or Pueblos) of Andalusia.

As we were getting ready that morning, there was an angry gentleman that kept buzzing our apartment. We didn’t open the door because we didn’t know who he was, so we called our rental host instead. Turns out it was a worker from the business below complaining that water from our apartment was rushing out of one of our windows and downstairs into their business. Our host made it seem like we were to blame for not correctly setting the showerhead, but following closer inspection, we discovered a large hole where the shower window had been busted. We contacted our host again, who was fully aware of the break and claimed to be working to resolve it. When we looked at the other shower window, it was also damaged in such a way that it couldn’t be closed. After that, I didn’t fully feel safe in the apartment. The windows were not secure and the opening was large enough that someone could break-in. Fortunately, we were on the 4th floor. After this event, we started to look at the apartment with new eyes. Following this occurrence, we began to examine the apartment with fresh eyes. On the surface, everything appeared to be fine, but overall the apartment was in desperate need of major repairs and modifications.

We made arrangements to meet up with Pablo later that morning and borrow his car. We drove a little over an hour outside of the city to our first stop Setenil de las Bodegas. Driving out of Málaga was initially tough and a little confusing, but nothing like driving in Ireland. Tommy was understandably apprehensive about driving someone else’s car.

We only stopped at the overlook in Setenil de las Bodegas for a brief moment. I would have liked to explore more if we had the time, but we were eager to get to Ronda. I also had to use the restroom urgently, so I hurried us along as well.

Tommy drove us into Ronda city center, parking at Plaza del Socorro. We quickly admired the plaza before I rushed us off to the nearest tourist attraction for a restroom.

Our first stop was the Plaza de Toros de Ronda because what trip to Spain would be complete without a visit to a bullfighting ring. In Spain, there is a long (and controversial) history of bullfighting. Bullfighting is seen as an art form and a cultural event in this country, rather than a bloodsport. I struggled with this visit as a lover of all animals (except snakes), but I felt it was vital to learn more about this component of Spanish culture. The Plaza de Toros de Ronda is Spain’s oldest bullfighting ring and one of the most famous bullfighting schools. A museum dedicated to the sport is also located there. Unfortunately, some members in our group were having difficulties getting the audio guide to work during the tour, so we meandered about only getting tidbits here and there. During our visit, I experienced a mix of emotions. It was astonishing to walk out on the ring and have that feeling of being surrounded by so much history, but also sobering. The museum was very well done. I loved seeing how the elaborate uniforms of the matadors changed over time. The continuation of this sport is being battled over on the political stage. Whatever the outcome, there’s no denying that the sport is losing popularity and funding with growing awareness and concern regarding animal rights. It will be interesting to see how this part of Spanish culture evolves over time.

Before we left, Evelyn found a version of her favorite activity book in the gift shop, but in Spanish. That didn’t stop her from making the purchase and later having Papa struggle through a translation of the book for her over FaceTime.

We went straight to lunch after our tour of the bullfighting ring. We ended up at a local restaurant nearby, Taberna la Merced. Fortunately, they had a table for us, and we arrived just before the afternoon rush. It was a small establishment with a restricted fixed menu, but everyone seemed to enjoy their meal and the costs.

From there, we walked along the Alameda del Tajo admiring the mountain scenery over the cliff-side while following a city guide from our Rick Steve’s Spain book. I didn’t realize the town was so high up on a plateau until that point! We walked towards the New Bridge, which crosses over a gorge and joins the two parts of town. The magnitude of the bridge, as well as, the natural beauty of the gorge with the Guadalevín River running through it astounded me.

We crossed over the bridge and hiked down into the gorge for a look up at the New Bridge from the Mirador del Puente Nuevo. This vantage point was the perfect photo spot! We next toured the old town before crossing the old bridge and walking along the gorge’s rim before returning to our car. As an added bonus we came across peacocks and several cats while exploring the town.

Everyone in the group loved Ronda. It was a stunningly beautiful place with breathtaking views. We all agreed we would love to stay overnight here. I would highly recommend a visit here during a trip to Spain.

On our way back to Málaga, we took the more scenic route south to Marbella, driving along the outskirts of Parque Nacional Sierra de las Nieves. The scenery along the way was breathtaking. It is amazing how quickly you get from the mountains to the sea. Unfortunately, the sun had set by the time we had reached Marabella, but as we drove into town, we could tell we were passing by some enormous and gorgeous mansions.

Back at the apartment, and with the car safely parked, we walked along the boardwalk hunting for dinner. We had a difficult time locating a spot to dine because many establishments were closed likely due to the fact that it was off-season. We attempted to avoid it but eventually found ourselves at Florida Huelin. We were skeptical of a place with “Florida” in the name but ended up enjoying our meal! We had a fantastic waiter. Tommy, Evelyn, and I shared a Fiduea with meat (no shellfish for Tommy), while Melissa had chicken and veggie skewers displayed on a flamingo rack. Everything was so delicious we forgot to get pictures before it was all half-eaten.

Day 7

I can’t speak too much about this activity because Evelyn and I were hanging back at the apartment, but Tommy, Jason, and Melissa were able to hike the Caminito Del Rey. The Caminito Del Rey is one of the most famous hikes in Spain, as well as one of the deadliest. The three of them all had an amazing time and felt totally safe after the recent safety modifications were completed and the trail was reopened in 2015.

Unfortunately, you have to be eight years old to do this hike and Evelyn was just seven and a half at the time. For additional information, I’ll need one of them to write a guest post, but I do know they hiked approximately a mile to the gate before even knowing if they could get tickets! It is recommended that tickets be purchased in advance or through a tour operator but everything they could find beforehand was all sold out. They had no choice but to take a chance on one of the few remaining same-day tickets. They got up early and drove an hour from Málaga. When they completed the hike to the entrance they luckily had no trouble getting tickets and equipment to continue.

Evelyn and I spent the morning sleeping in and playing on a few of the beach playgrounds. Fortunately, Jason, Melissa, and Tommy were able to make it back into town for lunch and we were able to meet at a highly recommended restaurant, Málaga Restaurante Vicen-Playa, that serves paella. We had already been told that it wasn’t paella because it wasn’t from Valencia, but we wanted a taste of anything that was at least close. I was looking forward to the paella experience with Jason and Melissa as Tommy does not eat shellfish. We enjoyed a wonderful meal while they recounted their Caminito Del Rey adventures.

Tommy and Jason returned the car to Pablo in one piece and went on a excursion to locate some local sweet wine to take home. We spent a nice calm evening in the apartment. While Evelyn completed her schoolwork we packed up to leave town early the next morning.

Day 8

Today we were traveling via direct train from Málaga to Seville. With all of our luggage, it felt like an extremely long journey to the metro and then the train station. Once there, we rushed to grab coffee and breakfast before security because we were not sure what was available on the other side. Turns out there was no need to rush because our train was 40 minutes behind schedule. Although the announcements were only in Spanish, we felt no need to worry while waiting out the delay. Everyone around us waiting seemed calm, and the staff was walking around available for questions. Once finally on the train, we had smooth travels into Seville.

Looking back on our stay in Málaga, it seems like it flew past. I didn’t get to see as much of the historic center as I had hoped, but the rest we got was necessary to keep up with the rest of the trip.