Originally published in July 2016.
Nacho Sánchez lives by the beach in Malaga, a region with a strong wine tradition and some of the most interesting Spanish wines. As a journalist, he has worked in a variety of media with a focus on wine and local cuisine.
Málaga’s bay is surrounded by mountains. They are not extremely high, but they are indeed high enough to create some of the best climatic conditions in all of Spain. When there is rain in the forecast for the Iberian Peninsula, the sun is usually shining in the capital of Costa del Sol. That fact makes this one of the nicest spots in the entire country.
It is a varied province in terms of its weather, scenery and relief, which also influences this historic city. The highest Málaga peak can be found just to the east. La Maroma is over 2,000 meters high. At the foot of the mountain there are many small white villages where tradition still endures and along whose mountainsides some of the most inaccessible vineyards in the entire world are cultivated. These vineyards are grown within an amazing subtropical climate alongside mango, avocado or kiwi trees, along whose branches chameleons can be seen slowly walking. In the north you can visit the El Torcal Natural Area—an impressive labyrinth made of stone. This area marks the limit between the Mediterranean and continental climates. The latter of these prevails in municipalities such as Antequera, where huge areas of vineyards are grown in valleys of rich soil.
The fact that this province has so many interesting and varied areas allows it to produce a wide variety of wines. Altogether, there are five wine producing regions that hold Málaga’s Designation of Origin and Málaga Mountain Range. In all, 45 certified wineries produce its wines. These traditional houses bottled 2.3 million of litres of wine in 2015 from nearly 4,000 hectares of vineyards.
If you don’t have time to visit the whole province, in the city of Málaga there are plenty of wine shops, restaurants and businesses where you can go to discover Málaga’s wine culture and to try all the local varieties. Many of these wines are not typically exported. For instance, it is not easy to find these wines in the United States. Málaga exported barely 21,500 bottles of wine to the U.S. in 2015.
Museum of Wine
The Museum of Wine is without doubt one of the best places to discover more about Málaga wine and its ancient tradition. You will learn that vineyards have been cultivated in Málaga since the arrival of the Phoenicians more than 3,000 years ago. You will also be astonished that the province had 112,000 hectares under vine by the middle of the 19th century. Wine was exported from the local harbor to the entire world. Decades later, of course, phylloxera ruined all of the wine stock, which is why less acreage is cultivated today. Nevertheless, the quality of the wines produced within these five different areas is quite high.
You will also discover the most important grapes cultivated in Málaga and a number that can only be found locally, like Paxarette, Trasañejo, Guinda, Lágrima Añejo, Dorado, pale dry or dulce crema. For the cost of the 5-euro ticket you can also taste two local wine varieties. You might want to try Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel, which are two of the most typical wines.
Tradition and the Sea
The capital of Costa del Sol offers a great number of places where you can try its tasty wines. La Casa del Guardia is one of the most traditional and appealing for both tourists and locals. It is an old winery, which opened in 1840 and you can taste some of the best local wine varieties. All of these wines are served directly from ancient barrels along with seafood and local specialties like mussels, marinated anchovies or grilled prawns. Your bill will be recorded on the bar in chalk just as they have done for generations.
Nearby you will also find the Mercado de Ataranzas (Ataranzas Market), a great place to discover a lot of products local to Málaga. You might even stop by some of its small stalls where you can try cooked fish and vegetables from the market served with Málaga’s tasty sweet wine.
Málaga’s harbour is also right around the corner, where you can find the only branch of the Pompidou Centre outside of France. You will find artworks from Matisse, Frida Kahlo, Bacon, Magritte, Chirico, Giacometti or Chagall and, of course, the local genius Pablo Picasso. This is a place where you will have a chance to walk by the recently built Palmeral de las Sorpresas and the Muelle Uno, which is a shopping centre full of restaurants shops and leisure activities beside the sea. Some small boats, commonly known in Spanish as ‘golondrinas’ (swallows), leave from this shopping centre and offer you a unique look of Málaga from the sea.
A few minutes away from the harbour, you will find La Malagueta bullring, where most of the bullfights take place during the Feria de Málaga in August. Alongside the bullring you will find La Manzana de Oro. It is an old grocer’s shop, which was set up in 1950 by Salvador, who at age 80 continues to be at the counter to this day. Seasonal fruits and vegetables along with other local products are sold. This includes 150 different wines from Málaga and the rest of Spain. Just a few meters away you will find outdoor seating, where you can taste the wines at La Odisea’s. La Odisea is the only business in the city that specializes entirely in Málaga wine.
A Walk around the City Centre
You will find many different options, if you want to explore the city on foot. Take a stroll through Pedro Luis Alonso’s gardens or along the beautiful path of La Coracha, an old Málaga neighbourhood. Both of these are connected to La Plaza de la Merced, one of the city’s most representative squares, as well as the Roman Theatre and the Arab Alcazaba that overlooks the city. From there, Císter street takes you to Málaga’s Cathedral, commonly known as ‘la manquita’ (the one-handed), since only one of its towers is completely built. It also takes you to San Agustín street and the entrance to Museo Picasso Málaga (Málaga’s Picasso Museum). Here you can find a very interesting collection by the great malagueño artist.
Exploring local food
You will also want to explore the cities rich gastronomy. Bodega El Pimpi is a traditional spot for Málaga food and wine. Wandering about the streets, you will also come across the French restaurant La Brujhada, the tasty Taberna Uvedoble or Los Patios de Beatas, where there are more than five hundred wines. You should pay special attention to a new and fashionable restaurant where you should slow down, turn off your phone and linger. El Mortal (The Lethal), is named after a typical Málaga expression. When one loves something, it is customary to say, “It is lethal”. This space has no kitchen so its menu is made up of cold meat, Spanish cheese (primarily from Málaga), sandwiches and salads served with nice local wines. The bondiola (fatless loin) is one of its delicacies. Bondiola is a specialty of Cortes de la Frontera, a small village located northeast of the capital. This meat dish combines perfectly with Ronda’s powerful wines.
A Tip—Forget about a Strict Itinerary
Just two minutes away from El Mortal, you will find La Mallorquina. Tradition endures in this great grocer’s shop, where you can find typical products such as salt cod, Iberian ham or a wide variety of cheeses. There is also a liquor store inside the shop full of wines from Málaga and the rest of Spain. You should totally wander around this area and get lost in Málaga’s narrow streets, where you will discover buildings like the Palacio Villalón, which currently houses Málaga’s Thyssen Museum. You might also find the Bodegas Quitapenas, where a refreshing white wine is combined with pescaíto frito (fried fish) like anchovies, red mullets, squid or the tasty marinated dogfish.
This becomes a walk around the main shopping streets of the city centre, including Calle Larios. This street will take us back to Plaza de la Merced, where Mercado de la Merced was inaugurated less than a year ago. This market will allow you to discover much of the local gastronomy. Taninos has a great selection of wines and cavas, including those from Málaga and other parts of Spain. These wines combine perfectly with croquettes produced at La Croquetería, as well as other products sold in the many stalls. There is even a stall representing La Casa del Guardia in the market so that you can sample once again the typical wines of Málaga. It is the perfect place to make a toast and maybe keep discovering the wine-lover’s soul of Málaga.
BOOKING A WINERY VISIT
There are no wineries at the city centre, but you can get a lot of information about Málaga’s wine world at the Museo del Vino (Museum of Wine). Individual tickets cost 5 euros and include a tasting of two local wines. There are also guided tours for groups with discounts and you might want to ask for special group activities. You can contact them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +0034 952 22 84 93
PLACES TO BUY WINE
Plaza de Félix Sáenz, 7
Every wine lover must visit this liquor store. The shop assistants really know their products and will suggest the most suitable wines for an occasion or based on individual taste. You will find a great variety of wines. ($)
Paseo de Reding, 16
It is a traditional grocer’s shop where you can feel the famous Málaga hospitality. Here you can find fruits, vegetables, cold meats and an endless range of local and worldwide products, as well as 150 wine brands. ($)
Calle Granada, 65
This is an establishment right at Málaga’s centre, where you can find traditional products from around the province; such as ‘tortas (cakes) de María Mannin’, fig bread, ‘borrachuelos’ (a pastry soaked in liqueur), olives with almonds, mango jam… and, of course, good wine. ($)
Calle Segura, 3
This is an interesting wine cellar where you will find a huge variety of wines. Wine tastings are held on a regular basis and it is the perfect place to discover new varieties. ($)
You will discover a nice wine catalogue and sample some of the best Spanish gourmet products presented as tapas. Tastings are also frequently conducted. ($)
PLACES TO STAY
Pasillo de Santa Isabel, 7
This is the only five-stars hotel in Málaga. It is located right in the city centre and just a few minutes away from some of the city’s best spots. The 106 rooms and rooftop swimming pool will not disappoint you. ($$$)
Calle Molina Lario, 20
This 103-room hotel is located next to Calle Larios and Málaga’s Harbour. It is also a superb place to taste the delicacies prepared by famed Málaga chef, Marcos Granados. ($$)
Calle Casas de Campos, 17
This modern hotel is located within Málaga’s Artes Neighbourhood, which is commonly known as ‘Soho’, very close to the historical centre and in a quiet area. ($$)
San Agustín, 11
These great suites are located on the superb San Agustín Street, opposite the gardens of the 16th century-Convento De San Agustín Church and Málaga’s Picasso Museum. They are decorated in Picassan style and are located very close to every stop in Málaga’s centre. ($$)
Plaza de los Mártires Ciriaco y Paula, 6
This beautiful hostel, located at Málaga’s historical centre, has only eight nice rooms. You will also find a wonderful café where you sample tasty homemade cakes from which the rooms take their names. There is also a bike rental service and a quiet terrace where you can enjoy your coffee. ($)
WHERE TO EAT
Plaza de la Capilla, Málaga’s Harbour
This restaurant belongs to the chef José Carlos García, holder of a Michelin star. Its high-quality menu includes some Málaga’s finest delicacies. Since there are only six dining tables, it is quite important to book in advance. ($$$)
Calle Beatas, 43
With over 500 varieties, this is a superb place to taste wines from around the world. There is also a wine tasting room, a small museum and plenty of references devoted to the world of wine. ($$)
Calle Varadero, 11
This interesting establishment has a menu devoted to sushi and another to Mediterranean cuisine. You can try tasty dishes like cod ‘buñuelos’ (fritters) or ‘huevos rotos’ (broken fried eggs). It also has a varied wine list (most of them from the region) which is elaborated by the expert Alejandro Contento. ($$)
Calle Císter, 15
This tiny wonder is located just at Málaga’s heart. The chef Willy Orellana is at the front of the kitchen preparing outstanding tapas, some of them are an update of traditional recipes such as the mini-kebab made of pawns in pil-pil sauce or the swordfish ‘morrillo’ (top of the head) with red lard. So tempting! ($$)
Calle Nosquera, 2
In this small grocer’s shop, you can eat what you buy and you will find delicacies like payoya goat cheese, jams or cold meat from the Ronda Mountain Range. You will definitely have fun in this nice, modern gourmet grocery. All its products originate in Málaga, including wines brands like Andresito, El Lagar de Cabrera or Botani. ($)
Plaza Enrique García
This fantastic restaurant specializes in light foods. It has a fantastic Spanish cheeseboard and delicacies made in Málaga. ($)
Paseo del Pedregal, 1
This establishment is located next to the sea in the neighbourhood of Pedralejo. It is just a few minutes away from the city centre and specializes in Mediterranean, local dishes and tapas. ($)
WHEN TO VISIT
Visiting Málaga a pleasure in any season, but especially during spring and autumn. Temperature at this time is not too high and you can walk all day long while enjoying the city under the sun. Winters are mild and it seldom rains, so it is also a great time to visit. The summer can be very hot, but luckily you can find several beaches to help forget the temperature. Also, during August, the Feria de Agosto takes place, which is a great fair celebrated all over the city over a ten-day period. During June, the Virgen del Carmen festivity takes place. The Virgen del Carmen is the sailors’ saint and curious parades are celebrated in many city neighbourhoods.
The best way to arrive in Málaga is by plane. Since the region receives large numbers of visitors, the airport is connected to many parts of the world. From the airport you can easily travel by taxi. Better yet, a bus or train will take you to the city in 20 minutes for less than two euros. You can even rent a car, which is a great way to see more of the province. The city, however, is best explored on foot. There are many pedestrian-only streets, little room for parking and the traffic can be chaotic.