I was studying at a language school in Malaga, Spain when September 11, 2001 occurred. A German student approached me that morning. “Your Twin Towers, they’ve fallen down,” she told me.
After that moment, my first solo travel experience abroad, and everything I thought and felt about Malaga was overshadowed, a blur. I returned home a week or so later. I did make lasting friendships with a few of the international students I met there — awfulness yields exceptional kindness, I learned.
Nearly 14 years later, I returned. After spending a few days in Marbella, on the Costa del Sol, Ayaz and I made a side trip to Malaga to explore the city. I wanted to see what I might remember, and what might have changed.
I only remembered generalities. Fourteen years ago, I firmly believed Malaga to be wildly underrated by tourists visiting Spain. In fact, most travelers use it as a transportation hub (there’s an international airport here), and bypass it entirely.
But Malaga actually has a helluva lot to offer. It’s filled with culture — museums, Picasso’s birthplace, churches out the wazoo, a Moorish fortress. Plus, it’s a university town, which means cheap, tasty food.
I was super impressed to see vast renovations to the old city’s infrastructure, as well as the addition of a sprawling harborfront filled with boat tours, shops, restaurants, and bars — plus the opening of the Centre Pompidou Malaga. It all made significantly more sense when I realized that Malaga has been designated Spain’s European City of Culture 2016. Whatever the reason, visitors benefit.
We found a gem of a hotel/hostel, the tiny and funky Dulces Dreams Boutique Hostel, which also houses a great bakery and a rooftop bar (open on weekends). I’d like to make special note of the absolutely uh-maze-ing soundtrack playing in the lobby/bakery. Bangin’!
While there is beach in the town’s center, there are better spots further afield. We took the bus from the town’s center to Pedregalejo, a neighborhood near where I studied. The beach here is lined by a promenade filled with bustling seafood restaurants, which dish up tasty grilled fish and my new obsession, coquinos, or tiny clams in a heavenly buttery, garlicky sauce.
So, heck yeah, Malaga is worth more than a stopover en route to your Costa del Sol vacation. It’s actually way more interesting than a lot of other towns (I’m looking at you, Marbella). Plus, there’s a heckuva lot going on here in terms of food, drink, culture, music, and general cool vibes. In fact, after a few days, Ayaz and I looked at each other knowingly.
Don’t be surprised if in a few months we’re calling Malaga home for a stretch. It’s just that awesome.