36 Hours of Christmas Shopping in Málaga
In the middle of December, Andrew and I were starting to go slightly mad, cooped up as we were in our damp and chilly little rental house. I, of course, developed a cold as soon as December arrived and it lingers on as I write, probably due to the fact that it is often warmer and drier outside than it is within.
With a fair degree of foresight, Andrew had booked a little Airbnb in Málaga under the pretext of a last minute Christmas Shopping expedition and a jolly little break for both of us. It came at just the right time. Now, clearly, we didn’t actually shop for a whole 36 hours, despite the title of this post, but we did manage to fit a lot in.
Málaga is a lovely city, and we are beginning to get to know our way around, little by little. That said, we have really only scratched the surface, and every time we visit the city we promise ourselves another trip to explore further. Having rediscovered itself as a centre of culture, Málaga has over 30 museums and art galleries and a historic city centre that is compact enough to discover on foot. In fact, on foot is really the only way to get to know the place, allowing yourself to get lost in the little mazes of lanes that criss-cross away from the cathedral, over the elegant boulevard that is Calle Marqués de Larios and into the Entorno Thyssen, the charming area that surrounds the Museo Carmen Thyssen. It’s strange that, as this latest visit was in the middle of December, we felt no desperate urge to nip down to see the sea, a mere stone’s throw from the centre. Normally, this would be one of the first things we would do: trot down to the harbour and grab something to drink while gazing at boats coming and going. I think it says something about the undiluted charms of the regenerated city centre that it can hold its own without relying solely on the lure of the Mediterranean.
So, what did we manage to do in our 36 hour whistle-stop Christmas shopping visit?
We stayed in the temptingly-named Málaga Hostel Boutique. If any of you ever watched the ghastly series of ‘Hostel’ horror films back in the early 2000s, you will understand why I would naturally shy away from any lodging that bears the title ‘hostel’, but the establishment was very reasonably priced and very central. We think that it may well be a recent opening, as everything was pristine. The building next door was also in the process of being refurbished which meant that we were woken early in the morning by the relaxing sound of pneumatic drills. The room was fine for our short stay - a very comfortable bed which provided some much-needed respite from the bed we currently have in our rented house, and a large ensuite shower room. The reception area for the hotel (I can’t bring myself to refer to it as a hostel, sorry) was odd. The process for checking in was to arrive, then call a telephone number and wait for someone to appear to check us in, despite the fact that there was a small bar in the reception area where a member of staff busied herself with bags of groceries. The reception area also seemed to be kept in a state of semi-darkness, with the front door invariably kept closed to keep daylight out. Everywhere else is light and airy, and the rooms are arranged off a central atrium. Apart from the price, the main advantage of this place is its location, in the historic area close to the Museo Picasso and a short stroll from the cathedral.
As I had been teaching in Granada in the afternoon, we didn’t arrive in Málaga until around 20:30, so we just had time to dump our bags and then venture out for dinner. We had already decided that we would return to a favourite little restaurant that we had previously visited with our fabulous friends, Sarah and Tania, in June. Kortxo is tucked away in one of the narrow lanes leading off the Calle Marqués de Larios, and it contains probably no more than 6 or 7 tables for dining, all set out in a quirkily shaped space right next to the open kitchen. The Maitre d’ is a character, and an essential part of the Kortxo experience is to engage with him when it comes to selecting something to eat. The menu has all sorts of tempting delights, from tapas through to much larger plates, all perfect for sharing. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations, but keep the number of tapas plates to around 3 or 4 (for 2 people) and perhaps one large plate of delicious meat. We had artichoke flower, a yummy grilled cheese lollipop and, if I recall, Secreto Iberico finished with a blow-torch at the table. The wines are yummy too.
After dinner, we took a stroll to see the wonderful light display that runs down the entire length of Calle Marqués de Larios. Every year, much is said and many photos taken of the dazzling lights, and it is easy to understand why. Each evening, there is a ‘turning on’ display, before the flashing comes to an end and the lights remain fixed casting a magical glow over the wide avenue and reflecting off the shop windows. Evening, after dinner and when the shops are closed, is a great time to wander through the city, as it is quiet and uncrowded, even in mid-December.
The next day was our shopping day. We woke to find that there was no hot water in the hotel so, having alerted the staff to this slight issue, we set off to look for breakfast with a view to returning for a shower after we had looked after the inner man. We had read that one of the places to have breakfast was the Cafe con Libros in Plaza de la Merced, an interestingly bohemian square on the edge of the old city. Sadly, we were a tad too early for the Cafe con Libros to be open (I think we were there at 10am!), but the side of the square where the cafe was located was lined with restaurants, most of which were starting to stir from their nighttime slumbers. We nipped into Calle de Bruselas, styled in a boho-chic manner and certainly welcoming enough, for great coffee, orange juice and tostada/croissants by way of fortification for the day ahead.
We returned to the hotel, had hot showers and then set out into the Christmas shopping frenzy. Except there was no frenzy. What a far cry from the absolute horrors of Oxford Street, Regent Street and surrounding areas in the run up to Christmas. This spree was positively pedestrian and wholly enjoyable. I think we were both fairly inspired by the experience, and in the lovely little lanes in the Entorno Thyssen I managed to find a fabulous antique shop (La Casa del Cardenal) where I picked up six 19th Century German liqueur glasses as one of Andrew’s Christmas presents from Father Christmas! Not excessively priced, either, and the shop had many, many delights.
Málaga has its share of high street stores - L’Occitane, Benetton, one of our favourites El Ganso, and many more, but it is almost imperative to poke around in the narrowest of streets to see what you can find. We managed to combine a visit to the Museo del Vino, plus wine tasting, with the opportunity to buy some great Málaga wines as Christmas presents - culture and practicality!
We went to the Mercado de Atarazanas, Málaga’s great covered market, to buy all sorts of goodies to make up a hamper for our friends, Nick and Richard - our lovely hosts for Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
It was a pleasure to wander around, unhindered by grumpy and harassed fellow shoppers. It was easy to take breaks, sitting at a cafe and having an unhurried coffee whilst watching the world go gently by.
That evening, we met up with another couple of friends who have recently moved from the deepest countryside to Benalmadena in order to be nearer the city and the rail links to Madrid. Dani and Guy were guests at our wedding; indeed, Dani conducted our ceremony and made it such a special occasion, so it was lovely to catch up once again. Having seen the lighting-up display, we settled down at D’Platos for a drink and ended up staying there for dinner. D’Platos has a restaurant in Granada, too, so we knew that the tapas and wines would be fairly good, and we did have a very tasty meal, sitting outside, around the corner from the cathedral and the Museo Picasso, in a lovely little square.
Having said goodbye to Dani and Guy we went back to Plaza de la Merced and managed to get into Cafe con Libros for a nightcap (I actually had coffee). As the name suggests, this is a Cafe with books - a stylishly battered little place, where you can sit and read, play a board game or chat away a few hours quite happily.
On our final morning, we had breakfast at Casa Aranda, something of an institution in Málaga as being one of the best places to go for churros for breakfast. Casa Aranda, due to expansion, straddles a narrow street, and when we arrived the place was already buzzing. You simply choose how many sticks of churros you want, have a hot coffee and sit back to enjoy the hubbub. It’s all chat, people on their way to work, delivery men scuttling around with trolleys, ladies in warm coats meeting friends or family. From Casa Aranda, it was but a short walk to the CAC Málaga - the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo - one of Málaga’s many art galleries. So refreshing to walk right in, no queues, no entrance fee and a rather lovely exhibition space. The works on display included some great photographs by Dionisio González of architecture, particularly Le Corbusier-influenced design (when I studied architecture, I hated Le Corbusier’s design with a passion and little has changed….), and a space filled with works by José Maria Baéz. There were also some dubious works by other artists but as José Maria Baéz himself said ““el arte siempre es un documento de nuestro tiempo”, and we certainly live in some strange times right now.
Before leaving, we returned to one of our favourite tapas bars in Málaga, La Tranca, to find that it had moved! La Tranca used to be housed in a really traditional bar, where the walls were lined with the sleeves of old vinyl albums, and the music of 1950s songstresses was broadcast via a screen in the corner. The staff knew the songs so well that they invariably sang along as they dished out great tapas. The bar is still there, but under a different name, and La Tranca has moved, album sleeves and all, further down the road and on the opposite side. They have tried to replicate the style but we are not sure that it has worked that well. Both bars, it seems, are owned by the same people, but we have a feeling that they might have changed hands. I am sure someone will know the story. The tapas is the same, but the atmosphere felt slightly inauthentic and the singing waiters were nowhere to be seen.
We know that the Christmas season is nearly over for another year, but don’t let that ever put you off visiting Málaga. This is a city for summer and winter and it wears the fashions of every season pretty well.