Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure

Rosie Carbo's picture

Last spring, I discovered the beautiful port city of Málaga. On previous solo and group trips, I had visited Seville, Granada, and Cordoba. But this city is unlike any other in Spain. And it’s not just because it’s the birthplace of artist Pablo Picasso.

Anchored on the “Costa del Sol” in the southern Andalucía region, Málaga is a beacon for all those yearning for the “beach-bum” lifestyle but also want history, culture, haute cuisine, and safe evening outings. 

The combination of sand and sea is hard to beat, especially if you’re sun worshippers. I’m a history buff who loves archaeological sites and museums. My husband loves fine restaurants, flamenco music, dance venues, and upscale shopping. That’s why Málaga was a perfect fit for both of us. 

Still, I have to admit, this trip was actually his brainchild. Unlike me, he had never experienced Seville’s Holy Week or its April Fair. He had never seen the gold-domed Cadiz cathedral. So he devised an itinerary, some would say “bucket list,” that fulfilled his desire for a taste of Spain.

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure

Meanwhile, my inspiration for visiting Málaga, founded by Phoenicians in the 8th century, came from an article about Astillero’s Nereo shipyard using Texas live oak to build a replica of “Galveztown,” a 1779 Spanish brigantine. 

I’m a former newspaper reporter who can’t resist a good story. But when I saved the brief clip from the Houston Chronicle, I never dreamed I’d visit Málaga - or the shipyard - and see the brig’s finished hull firsthand.

My secret wish came true when my husband had an epiphany: “It’s time we lived life to the fullest,” he announced. Thus began our 15-city tour from March through May through most of Andalucía and northern Spain. 

In the past, I had stayed in “paradores,” castles, convents, and monasteries that have been converted into state-of-the art luxury hotels. My husband had never stayed in a parador. So he included six in our ambitious itinerary. 

What neither of us knew when he made our hotel reservations through was that Málaga has two distinctly different paradores: Parador de Málaga Golf and rustic Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro.

The actual parador is adjacent to the 14th century Castillo de Gibralfaro (Castle of Gibralfaro) high on a hill overlooking the city. Panoramic views include one of two bullrings, cruise ships, and miles of aqua-blue water. 

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure

Gibralfaro Castle sits above the Alcazaba, a fortress built in 1040 by Berber King Badis of the Zirid Dynasty. The castle and 11th century Alcazaba, which towers above the ruins of a Roman Theater, are popular tourist attractions.

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure

But the Gibralfaro parador is not where we stayed. Instead, we spent three days at the Parador de Málaga Golf, aimed at golf-lovers. Situated about 15 miles outside the city, this two-story hotel lies on the shores of the Mediterranean, surrounded by palm trees. 

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure. At  the Parador de Málaga Golf

Arriving in early April when it was still cold and wet, plus being non-golfers, we quickly realized Málaga Golf was not for us. Then a desk clerk said we could have stayed at Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro in the heart of the city.

“The website I used to make our reservations didn’t specify that Malga had two paradores. We have never been here and now we’re too far from the city,” my husband told the hotel’s desk clerk in a measured tone.

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure. At  the Parador de Málaga Golf

“No problem. The Plaza Mayor shopping and entertainment complex across the street has a Renfe station. Trains depart for the city center and other towns daily. You can buy a ticket for under two euros. The train runs continuously until 10 each night,” the clerk said.

Needless to say, we breathed a sigh of relief. Now we didn’t feel as isolated as we had felt upon our arrival amid a spring downpour. More importantly, the 10-minute ride into the city via Renfe’s train service enabled us to explore the city and its beaches.

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure

Our first stop was Gibralfaro Castle and Alcazaba. Challenging enough with proper shoes, I wore boots. That’s because we had not researched enough to know the sites required climbing a steep hill. Still, as we trudged higher and higher up, we marveled at the beauty of this pedestrian-friendly city.

In addition to Málaga’s proximity to beaches, such as Malagueta and La Carihuela, another thing we loved about this city is that restaurants, bars, boutiques, museums, and historic places are all within minutes of each other.

The Plaza de la Merced has a larger statue of Picasso in the center. We saw it the minute we left Museo Casa Natal, Picasso’s birthplace museum. 

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure

Interestingly, a second Picasso Museum is just minutes away. Visitors often miss the newer one after visiting the birthplace museum. That’s what happened to us. But this city has more museums than any other in Andalucia, another reason we plan to return.

Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnacion is a Renaissance catedral built where a mosque once stood. Construction began in 1528 and continued until 1783. Since one of the towers was left unfinished to this day, locals refer to it metaphorically as “la manquita,” Spanish for “disabled lady.”

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure

While in Málaga, food and drink were always within easy reach. A few yards from the Roman ruins, Alcazaba and Giralfaro Castle, we dined at El Pimpi Bodega/Bar. This landmark gets its name from “el pimpi," Málaga’s first tour guides. Opened in 1971, El Pimpi offers an array of traditional Spanish favorites. Iberico-ham artisans slice tapas-portions while you watch. Famous visitors, such as Antonio Banderas, have left their mark on the many wine barrels that line El Pimpi’s walls.

Slicing Iberico ham at El Pimpi Bodega. Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure

Curiosity is the best guide; that’s how we ran into another landmark. La Antigua Casa de Guardia is one of Málaga’s oldest taverns. Its focus is fresh seafood tapas. “Antigua” means old-fashioned, so the ambiance is 19th century furnishings and black-and-white photos on the walls.

Another stalwart bar is El Cortijo de Pepe. Opened in 1971, it uses local ingredients and offers delicious tapas and beer. La Tranca is another centrally located bar. La Tranca focuses on delicious tapas amid Spanish music and ambiance.

Many restaurants offer a “menu del dia,” or menu of the day lunch special. It usually consists of three courses, an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. A glass of wine or beer is standard. And total cost is about $10 euros. La Taberna del Pintxo, with delicious tapas and entrees, was one of our favorite places.

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure. At La Taberna del Pintxo

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure. At La Taberna del Pintxo

Our final day in Málaga was an unexpected maritime adventure. We hoped a city bus to Pedregalejo beach, home of Astilleros Nereo shipyard and Ecomuseum Etnografico del Patrimonio Maritimo deAndalucía. This is a treasure trove of the region’s fishing and maritime history.

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure. At Astilleros Nereo shipyard

Alfonso Sanchez-Guitard, owner and “Galveztown” project director, greeted us warmly as we entered into the world of hand-crafted wooden boats and ships. He proudly showed us the brig’s hull, painstakingly built from Galveston Island trees choked by Hurricane Ike’s salty water.

Malaga fulfills bucket list for sun, culture, and adventure. At Astilleros Nereo shipyard

Aside from learning about the Phoenician heritage of wooden shipbuilding, we discovered a world of small, non-chain eateries. With front-row seats of the gorgeous Mediterranean, these mom & pop businesses specialize in preparing all sorts of fresh fish, including shellfish, sardines, and the popular boquerones. 

“Come with me, I am going to show you the real Málaga. In this neighborhood, you will find the best fried fish and all kinds of seafood. This is the best Málaga has, and it’s sort of a secret,” Sanchez-Guitard said as we followed him to his favorite.
While savoring our feast of local seafood favorites with Alfonso and two “Galveztown” student volunteers, my husband whispered: “If this were my last day, then I‘d die happy because it doesn’t get better than this.”
He’d reached that stage in life where he yearned to experience Spain for himself, rather than through my anecdotes and articles. Now, I too can die happy knowing his long-held dream came true.


For more information:

For travel to Málaga, check these websites: and www.má 

Interested in ship building? or contact asguitard[at] 

Restaurant information:,,, and

Information on the Casa Natal Picasso is at




Rosie Carbo is the Lifestyles Editor for Wandering Educators, and is a former newspaper reporter whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines nationwide. Some of those publications include People magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle, and San Antonio Express-News. Some of her features were redistributed by The Associated Press early in her career as an award-winning Texas journalist.

All photos courtesy and copyright Victor Carbo