For the first time in over two years we hopped on a plane and went off on holiday. I’ve been feeling for some time as though I needed a change of scenery and a proper break; I have weeks of unused holiday days to spend before the end of June which itself tells me how little I’ve been away from work. Finding somewhere that was guaranteed to be warm in April, wasn’t too far away from the UK and wouldn’t cost the Earth was a tall order. We found ourselves crossing our fingers and heading to Málaga, a city on Spain’s south coast that was previously only familiar to me through the pages of my ¡Vaya! Libro 1 textbook at school. We had a rough sketch of a plan for the week but I was keen to not book in too many activities, fearing that a plan would detract from taking things easy. We had a wonderful time.
Although we live close to London, we thought that we would experiment with flying out of Birmingham Airport as it is only 90 minutes north of here. The experience was excellent — the airport is smaller and much less busy than those that we normally use and we were through the check-in and security processes in no time. We were travelling with Jet2.com; I’d never heard of them before, but apparently they are the UK’s third-largest scheduled airline with 94 aircraft in their fleet. For a short-haul flight they were fine. The staff were super friendly and helpful, and the aircraft itself was sparse but functional. We didn’t need anything else.
Our base for the week was the Barceló hotel, located above the central train station. We managed to get two interconnecting rooms, which allowed us to go to sleep while our two (almost) teenage boys could stay up and turn their light off when they were ready to do the same. The room was fine, although it had a strange view over the gigantic rooftop of the station. Most of the old town with its sights and restaurants was located a short walk away, which we ended up being grateful for after our evening meal. The hotel didn’t seem to quite know who it was pitched at. We didn’t see many other families there and there were a few businesspeople at breakfast, but it also had a slide going down from the dining area into the lobby which the kids loved.
Almost every time we went out we had to cross the dry river bed of the Guadalmedina. It divides the city in two and the concrete channel looks quite an eyesore; from what I could tell it is used a place for people to take their dogs to use the toilet. But it serves a bigger purpose. Back in 1907 Málaga suffered devastating floods; presumably this construction would prevent something similar happening in the future.
For a working port city, Málaga is beautiful. We acquainted ourselves through an evening walk on the day that we arrived as well as a run the next morning. The port area has been made attractive by all kinds of lovely architecture, from the Centre Pompidou to the wonderful zig-zagging pergola (‘The Palm Grove of Surprises’).
All of the buildings, windows and pavements were covered in a fine red dust, the consequence of gigantic Saharan dust storms that had engulfed the region a few weeks before. We had some rain for the first few days that we were there but it didn’t seem to do much to shift it.
The meals we had throughout the week were excellent, and great value when compared to the UK. We had a few adventures with churros and chocolate, as well as tapas, and dinner at a wonderful homely restaurant that was recommended by a friend.
Religion seems to play a major part in the life of the city. The cathedral is breathtaking in its size and ornateness. While we were there, the city was getting ready for Holy Week, erecting portable stadium seating and laying out thousands of chairs ready for a week of parades.
The city is also famous as the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. In the centre of the old town is a lovely museum of his works. There is plenty to see, covering his paintings, drawings and sculptures broadly in chronological order.
My eldest son and I hired some road bikes from bike2malaga. Along with our wonderful guide, we had a great day puffing our way out of the city and into the mountains. My son had never been up a proper mountain pass before but he seemed to love it. We had a comedy moment where one of us fell off on a climb, causing the others to stop and check they were ok, and then struggling to get back into the pedals and get going again. The day started a little cloudy, got very hot on the way up the first pass and then was freezing on the descent. We wisely decided to avoid the village we were heading for when we could see it getting rained on from our view on the other side of the valley. By the time we got back to the city the sun was shining and I was ready for an ice cream.
We hired a car for a couple of days and made a journey out to Ronda. (No, not that one. Similar.) The town is divided in two by a deep chasm which has been bridged by a magnificent construction. It is stunning. We spent most of the day wandering up and down the various paths, getting different views of the town and its surroundings.
On the way back, we stopped at the town of Setenil de las Bodegas, famous for its houses that have been built into the sides of overhanging rocks. It was strange to peer into some of the empty dwellings to see literally one room, with a back wall made up of the rock face. Leaving the town was terrifying; our sat-nav took us on a route through the narrowest of side streets, underneath rocks and passing by people atop ladders that were painting their houses. I felt like Clark W Griswald in European Vacation as I edged the car forward, expecting an accident at any moment.
On the second day with the car we ventured to Marbella to take a look around. Although the sea front was pretty, it wasn’t worth the visit. Being there would be great if we were in our late teens as there were plenty of bars to hop around, but it didn’t seem as though it had anything that central Málaga couldn’t offer.
To cap our week off we booked tickets to watch Málaga CF play Real Valladolid CF at La Rosaleda Stadium. Sitting in the afternoon sun was such a treat. The atmosphere was brilliant despite the stadium not being full. There seemed to be so many more families at the game than I’ve seen at other places. Málaga went 2-0 up before the visitors pulled it back to 2-2, with the second goal happening right in front of us. We loved it.
We all had such a lovely week, with plenty to fill our time. I’ve returned home not quite as rested as I expected, but this was self-inflicted through early morning starts for running, cycling and watching the Australian Grand Prix, as well as tons of walking every day. Malaga was well worth a visit.
Next week: Another week off, this time at home. Catching up with sleep and eyeing up my personal to-do list.