A local’s guide to Málaga: five great things to do

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A fter moving to the Costa del Sol six years ago, Mark Holness opened Café de Estraperlo, close to the harbour in Málaga, with his associate José Luis Gallardo. A popular meeting point for malagueños and visitors alike, the cafe also exhibits works by local artists.


Málaga is full of wonderful tapas bars and restaurants, as well as food markets such as the dazzling Mercado Central de Atarazanas. But for a less touristy experience and a true taste of local life, I prefer Mercado El Carmen in the Perchel district, near María Zambrano station. You would probably walk straight past the uninspiring building, but inside there are stalls showing off Andalucía’s fabulous fruit and vegetables, as well as butchers and fishmongers where you can choose your produce and have it cooked straight away, then eat it at tall tables or on a terrace outside.
Calle la Serna 3, open Mon-Sat 8am-4pm


A view through an ornate window in the Alcazaba. Photograph: Getty Images

I often head to the Alcazaba (adult entry €3.50, book online), the old Arab fortress, for a contemplative walk. The gentle climb from the old town, through the gardens with their soothing fountains, transports me to Moorish Andalucía. The view across the city and the Mediterranean from the top is definitely worth the climb. Another surprisingly interesting place is the Bishop’s Palace, in the square in front of the cathedral. Devotional customs form part of the fabric of life in this city. A member of one of the cofradía (lay brotherhoods) took me to see an exhibition of the artefacts that are carried around during the Easter week processions. Getting up close, I was awestruck by the volume, intricacy and sobriety of the figures.

Quick Guide

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It’s a bit like gaining access to a private club when you go to the Cobalto 15 rooftop cocktail bar in Soho – you have to take the lift in the hallway right next to the Soho Nono Charming Stay tourist apartments. The crowd in there is usually a mix of expertly coiffed señoras and casually well-groomed types in their mid-30s to 50s. But despite its swanky pretensions, the vibe is laid-back and I have gone in slightly dishevelled on more than one occasion and still felt just as welcome.
Casa de Campos 15

Green space

Lakeside House of the Engineer (Casa del Ingeniero) on the turquoise waters of the Embalse del Conde de Guadalhorce. Photograph: Rod Jones/Alamy The Guadalhorce estuary is home to 200 bird species … including the white-headed duck. Illustration: Hennie Haworth

It’s a very outdoor lifestyle in Málaga, with miles of beaches to the east and west, and good weather for most of the year. A quick escape for me is the Guadalhorce estuary nature reserve, which attracts more than 200 species of bird (including the white-headed duck) to the delta formed by two branches of the river where it flows into the Mediterranean. I cycle there along the promenade – the Paseo Marítimo Antonio Banderas – then follow the riverbank and cross a new bridge. There is a bike park at the entrance, and a choice of several walking routes inside the reserve. When customers at the cafe ask us about hiring bikes, we recommend Málaga Bike Rentals just round the corner from us.


I live and work in the Soho barrio, where there is a lot of dramatic street art, but I also like to look at the graffiti in El Ejido, the university quarter just north of Plaza del Merced, where Pablo Picasso was born. Interesting places to eat there include the highly regarded Restaurante Alexso on Calle Mariblanca, but I usually end up in Fonzo, a tiny place up the road on Calle Peña, where they use mostly local and organic produce in dishes influenced by lots of cuisines: the Moorish lasagne (€14.50) for example, is a spicy, aubergine, vegan version. It is probably best to go during the day, though – it’s not a dangerous area but after dark it’s easy to get lost in the crisscross of little streets.


Near Café de Estraperlo in the Soho neighbourhood, Room Mate Valeria (doubles from €130 room-only) is an elegant, fun place to stay with a great roof terrace with plunge pool.