Lose yourself in Malaga's old quarter and relax in the atmospheric Arab baths before venturing to the historic botanic gardens. Here is how I would spend three days in the Costa del Sol's capital
OK, you've got three days in Malaga; perhaps a mini break to catch some winter sunshine or you have decided to extend your Costa del Sol holiday. A vibrant port city with a mix of old and new, it is easy to get around and enjoy life at your own pace. So if it is serious shopping you want, some culture fix or just to sit in a tapas bar and watch the world go by, Malaga is recommended. Yes, there are the obvious places to visit such as the Alcazaba or the Picasso Museums but why not be a little bit more adventurous?
Day 1 - Spend three hours being pampered in an Arab bath
Unwind in an Arab bath. El Hammam in Old Malaga is the place to find - hidden down Tomas de Cozar at number 13. Being central, it makes a welcome interruption to sightseeing or shopping. If you have never been to an Arab bath before, don't worry, there will probably be others in the same situation. The receptionist will explain what to do and what the options are (in English) or simply watch what others do!
Sitting on the marble steps our inhibitions were soon gone and, with the small bowl provided, we doused ourselves with warm water from the fountain. A wrap is provided; this is a mixed establishment after all. Feeling more at ease we then moved to a small room and relaxed on a circular slab staring at the coloured glass in the ceiling. Be careful not to fall asleep.
In addition to the bath (€20) you can opt for a bath and massage (€48.00), aromatherapy (€33) or some 10 other treatments. We opted for a massage which was both professional and calming. Look out for discounted rates outside the peak season. Open every day from 10.30am to 10pm; www.elhammam.com.
Where to stay
Old Malaga is an excellent area to stay in. Our base was a small private apartment with a roof top terrace. The perfect way to end the day was to enjoy a glass of local Pernales - Syrah, watching the changing colours bounce off the cathedral, forts and surrounding mountains. Expect to pay around €300 per week for a small apartment in the low season through www.holiday-rentals.co.uk. If you would like a little bit more luxury why not check into the Barcelo Malaga. With direct access to the railway station it is very convenient if arriving by train and only about 10 minutes' walk into the old town.
Day 2 - Discover the botanical gardens on the outskirts of Malaga
Relaxed and feeling invigorated, why not hop in a taxi (around €10) or catch bus 61 (€1.10) from Ave. de la Aurora (Post Office), on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays, to La Concepcion - Historical and Botanical Garden. Situated on the outskirts of town the gardens are open from 9.30am to 5.30 pm (October to March) or 8.30pm the rest of the year. The entrance fee is €4.20. I find it more of a winter activity when the sun is not that extreme. Established in 1857 as private gardens, they were taken over by the Malaga City Council in 1990.
We spent around four hours in the garden. If you want to stay for a shorter or indeed longer period, there are several walks of varying lengths. Look out for the fruit trees and see how pomegranates, custard apples and various citrus fruit thrive in this area. It isn't just plants; there is a 19th century mansion, an old school and a small open air collection of Roman statues. For a view back to Malaga and the sea, don't miss the viewpoints along the way. A small café near the entrance sells drinks and light snacks which is very welcome as some paths involve a climb, albeit gentle (laconcepcion.ayto-malaga.es).
Day 3 - Wander through a museum that really does sparkle
Head for Plazuela Santisimo Cristo de la Sangre 2, in the old craftsman's neighbourhood. You are after the Museo del Vidrio y Cristal. Opposite the church, you cannot miss this restored 18th century house. Open Tuesday to Sunday 11.00am to 7.00pm, entrance €4, the exterior hides a gem behind its doors. With no crowds and a conducted tour (available in English) it seems more like a private invitation. Arts and crafts, English furniture, stunning Lalique glass, 16th century Venetian glass and Spanish furniture spanning several centuries are just some of the jaw dropping items on display in well thought out rooms. Allow two hours (www.museovidrioycristalmalaga.com).
Where to eat
Malaga boasts a wide range of eating establishments. Try Las Carrafas Bodega (Calle Mendez Munez, 7) with its traditional tiled interior. Here they serve dishes as diverse as meatballs with almonds to octopus or the smaller Taberna Mitjana (Calle Caldereria, 7; tel 952 22 73 27) with its fried prawns (popular in Malaga) and patatas bravas. For two people, expect to pay €30 on average for four tapas, coffee and a bottle of wine. Enjoy, you have deserved it!