Last Saturday, seeking sunshine and tapas, I flew to Malaga, Spain to join Jon for the tail end of his work trip there. Although Malaga gets 300 days of sunshine a year, I managed to arrive on a rainy afternoon. But despite the damp weather, I had plenty of tasty tapas and managed to catch a few translados processions (in which religious statues are moved from churches to the houses of brotherhoods who will end up carrying the statues on elaborate floats during Semana Santa), so on the whole, an excellent 24 hours in Malaga.
Where to Eat:
Although I wasn’t in town for very long, because tapas lends itself to progressive eating (i.e., hopping from one place to another), Jon and I managed to try five different places in town, and of these, the two we liked best were Marisqueria Casa Vicente and La Moraga.
A marisqueria is a seafood restaurant/bar, and we were drawn to Marisqueria Casa Vicente by the long queues of Spanish families that Jon had spotted there at lunchtime. There was no space at Casa Vicente’s small bar when we arrived at 10 pm, so we took a seat at one of the many plastic tables in the charmless dining room (across the alley from the bar and kitchen).
None of the waiters spoke English, (and in case pointing at dishes at neighboring tables is not your thing, the menu has photos, though the photos are pretty bad) but happily, Jon and I knew what we wanted before we even sat down: the boquerones frito (fried anchovies). Even more happily, Casa Vicente’s were great. Meaty, juicy anchovies encased in a light, crispy batter. Squeeze of lemon. Done. 9 euros got us an enormous pile of these. We liked Casa Vicente’s no-frills charm so much that we went back the next day for a late lunch.
La Moraga Gastrobar was in many ways the polar opposite of Casa Vicente. Where Casa Vicente served traditional, no-fuss seafood snacks, La Moraga aspired to be 100% creativity and trendiness. Croquetas with ham in the middle? So two centuries ago. At La Moraga, croquetas were filled with pork loin or Cartama blood sausage. The crowd was trendy and Spanish-speaking, and wines-by-the-glass included several quality Ribera del Duero offerings.
We had to throw a few elbows to get a spot at the bar, but that’s part of the fun, lol. Best of all, the majority of dishes cost less than 5 euros, so with three tapas and a glass of wine, we were in and out for 25 euros, total. A great place to be at 10:30 on a Saturday night.
Worth a stop for drinks:
Bodegas El Pimpi. It’s in all the guidebooks, and the barrels of house wine are signed by celebrities (i.e., lots of bull fighters and the occasional local boy made good – like Antonio Banderas), so it can feel a bit cheesy. But it’s centrally located; prices are good, and the interior is, overall, atmospheric. Jon and I tried a few Malaga sweet wines here, and none cost more than a fiver, so that was also a plus.
Two places to avoid:
We stopped off at Pepa y Pepe (because I’d read this description on Lonely Planet suggesting it was a chill, typical tapas bar) and waited ages to be served even though the waiter passed by us a million times. He kept giving us the universal “I’ll be right with you” gesture, but after the sixth or seventh one of those, we just got up and left. Maybe the food is good, but oh well.
Bar Orellana is across the street from La Moraga, and although it looked a bit seedy, we dropped by because this March 2009 Guardian article talked it up. The place was packed so Jon was the only one strong enough to push his way to the bar and I hung back near the door, trying to avoid being trampled to death. He ordered a stuffed squid tapas that really looked and tasted awful. Slathered in a goopy brown sauce, the squid had been filled with minced pork, sliced, and served room temperature. I longed to be back across the street at La Moraga.
Things to do in Malaga:
Malaga had plenty to keep us entertained for a weekend. Picasso was born in Malaga, and the city’s Picasso Museum is peaceful and manageable, showing works he painted from as early as 1894 through to the 1970s. After an hour, I felt like I understood the ways his work changed over time.
Feeling a bit bored, we undertook the steeper climb to Gibralfaro Castle, which was nice for the exercise, but an otherwise unimpressive destination. The only reason to make the climb is for views of the city and port. Eh.
If the weather had been nicer, the beach would have been appealing, too. It’s not white sand (this is Europe, after all), but it’s long and there’s a pretty, tiled boardwalk running alongside, which I could see being pleasant.
Overall, Malaga was worth visiting (perhaps as part of a tour of Andalucia, generally), but I liked Granada and Seville more.
Marisqueria Casa Vicente, Calle Comisario, Malaga; +34 952 225 397
Flights from Malaga to London take just over 2 1/2 hours, and Malaga Airport has recently opened a snazzy, gleaming new terminal that includes an outpost of La Moraga (which wasn’t bad). To reach Malaga center city, I caught the no. 19 public bus for 1.10 euros right in front of the arrivals building. It couldn’t have been easier (or cheaper).