If you’ve ever been to the Costa del Sol for a beach holiday, you'll have been to
Malaga, even if only to the airport. But what used to be simply a gateway city, glimpsed from the windows of your taxi, hire car or shuttle bus on your way to the Costa del Sol, is shaping up as the cultural capital of the region, especially when it comes to 19th, 20th-century and contemporary art.
It was Andalucia’s most-visited city last year, with foreign visitors up by a staggering 28.1% (domestic by 14.35%), and of those, British tourists increasing by 13.17%. New motorway links are being built to improve the city’s connections with nearby towns, offering an excellent infrastructure for visitors wishing to explore the rest of this beautiful province.
Until as recently as 10 years ago, this seaside city was best known as a stopping-off point where your charter flight landed and you collected your hire car, before heading off to your hotel or apartment on the coast.
Malaga can now boast two major art venues, with a third due to open shortly: the Picasso museum, which opened in 2003, as well as the Museo Casa Natal, birthplace of the famous 20th-century artist; and the Malaga Contemporary Art Museum (CAC Malaga), which regularly hosts exhibitions by British Turner Prize-winning names such as Gilbert and George and Simon Starling, as well as Robert Mapplethorpe and Louise Bourgeois. The “Tate of the Costa del Sol” is housed in a former 1920s market.
The Picasso Museum puts on shows of art related to Picasso and his contemporaries, as well as his lesser-know works – prints, ceramics, book illustrations, even toys he made for his children.
The new museum, which will be opening next month, is the Museo Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. After choosing between Malaga and other cities, including Seville, high-profile art patron Tita Cervera decided to open her new centre to celebrate Spanish painters on the Costa del Sol. Housed in the Palacio de Villalon, it will be a smaller version of Madrid´s Museo Thyssen, housing 358 Spanish paintings, including works by 18th and 19th-century artists such as Goya, Zuloaga and Sorolla, as well as modern works by Juan Gris and Saura.
In terms of cuisine, Malaga has always been well-known for its excellent dining. Now, it is a destination in itself, with some superb restaurants, including Jose Carlos Garcia's Cafe de Paris.
If you’re thinking of visiting Malaga, but modern art – or any sort of painting – is not your thing, Malaga has two Moorish fortresses, or alcazares, offering outstanding city and sea views. Malaga´s massive Alcazabar dates from the eighth century, and houses the Archeological Museum, with Phoenician, Roman and Moorish artefacts, while the Gibralfaro, which means ´´lighthouse mountain´´, is a 14th-century ruined castle, with a small visitor centre.
I am ashamed to admit that I've never actually been to Malaga myself, one of two Andalucian provincial capitals as yet unvisited in my seven years living here. Now, with the high-speed Seville-Malaga AVE link, it's easier than ever. So maybe this is just the time for an off-season family weekend break in Andalucia's new cultural capital.