In the late 19th century, Málaga’s fortunes changed, as an outbreak of phylloxera destroyed the region’s vines, and then the economic crisis and war took their toll. By the time of Picasso’s death in 1973, the excesses of package tourism were beginning to blight the coastline, and, as the century drew to a close, parts of the city were scruffy and dangerous. At the dawn of the new millennium, however, the mayor, Francisco de la Torre, took steps to reverse the decline. The center was pedestrianized, allowing children to run free again. The CAC, a new hub for contemporary art, was a shot in the arm for the neighbourhood of Ensanche Heredia, midway between the Guadalmedina riverbed and the port. In October 2003, the Museo Picasso Málaga opened in the Palacio de Buenavista, a Renaissance palace that had previously housed the province’s fine arts collection. Málaga was recast as a city of art, with Picasso as the catalyst. And the rest is history.
Where to stay in Malaga
This 18th-century palace was built for a Genoese merchant, who exported Macharaviaya playing cards to America, and sat abandoned for many years before its meticulous renovation in 2019, overseen by Antonio Obrador (Mallorca’s Cap Rocat and Son Net). Now Moorish touches abound, from the patterned headboards in the 68 rooms to the splendid internal courtyard with its porticoed patio, chequered floor, and esparto grass blinds. The grand arches lead to José Carlos García’s Balausta restaurant, where seven-course feasts might include spider-crab croquettes or cod with pintarroja stew.
Halfway between Málaga and Marbella’s Golden Mile, and named after a freewheeling flamenco dance, this is one of the newest creations from the Marugal hotel group. Its former incarnation, Byblos in Mijas, was a ’90s icon with a celebrity following that included Princess Diana and Julio Iglesias, but La Zambra, which opened last summer, is less showy. Mallorcan architecture firm Esteva i Esteva has pared back the original Moorish design to create a minimalist sanctuary of peace and privacy, with faint echoes of earthy early Tulum in neutral rooms and one of the biggest spas in Andalucía, all white and aquamarine. The four restaurants are overseen by chef Iker González Ayerbe, who brings his Basque background to the best Mediterranean ingredients.
The best restaurants in Málaga
Mercado Central de Atarazanas
Málaga’s central market was a shipyard in the 14th century, and this late-19th-century building in wrought iron and stained glass still has its original Nasrid arch. The variety of produce—custard apples from the Costa Tropical, pata negra ham from Ronda, strawberries from the Guadalhorce Valley—is equally fascinating, and Spain Food Sherpas runs excellent tapas tours. Ours started with market classics pescaíto frito (fried fish) and boquerones al limón (fried anchovies with lemon) before moving on to ebony-hued vermouth at the Almacén del Indiano and wraps of pil pil prawns at Uvedoble restaurant.
Address: Mercado Central de Atarazanas, C. Atarazanas, 10, 29005 Málaga
In November 2022, Dani Carnero won his first Michelin star for Kaleja, a gastronomic restaurant in Málaga’s Jewish quarter that honors the tradition of cooking over embers. A local chef, Carnero trained with Martín Berasategui, Ferran Adrià and Manolo de la Osa before opening La Cosmopolita, also in the historical center. His newest restaurant, La Cosmo, is fun and informal. When he’s not at Kaleja, diners get a front-row view of the chef directing the flow of dishes, from his own take on ensalada rusa (with hake) to conchas finas (giant clams).