05.06.2019 - 05.20.2019
Málaga may be the stepchild in Andalusia after the "Big Three" of Seville, Cordoba, and Granada but it is the southernmost large city in Europe and positioned perfectly on the Costa del Sol with a ton of history, culture, and ambiance all it's own AND ABOUT A THIRD OF THE TOURISTS! We've been trying to balance just enjoying the city and the beaches here with day trips. Our eldest daughter Morgan was here this past week so that gave us an excuse for a few more than normal.
LA CONCEPCÍON HISTORICAL-BOTANICAL GARDENS
Málaga is surrounded on three sides by the Montes de Málaga, low green hills. There is some development in them but mostly are still untamed. One exception is the botanic gardens that were the created in the mid-1800's. From their website:
The origins of La Concepcion Estate can be traced back to the joining together of several smaller estates along the banks of the River Guadalmedina to the north of the city of Malaga. Used for agricultural purposes, they were home to cereal crops, olive and almond trees, vines, and, most notably, citrus trees. The garden was created by the Marquis and Marchioness of the House of Loring, Jorge Loring Oyarzabal and Amalia Heredia Livermore, both of whom were born to well-known businessmen who came to the city to make their fortunes. According to the jurist Rodriguez de Berlanga, the idea for the garden originally came to them after they had visited a series of palaces, villas, parks, estates, and botanical gardens during their honeymoon in Europe seven years earlier. To bring it to life, they enlisted the services of a French gardener, Jacinto Chamoussent, whose skilled selection and acclimatisation of exotic plants was subsequently rewarded with numerous prizes.
It's a beautiful garden with many different zones, from desert to tropic, and lovely overlooks of the city. Easy to get to by bus and a short walk, it makes a great outing from the city.
There are water courses, water falls and pools throughout and a hundred year old olive tree!
Of course after that hot day, it was time for cocktails and complementary tapas, this time watermelon on ice and some papas.
You may notice I had my binoculars out at the gardens. All in all, so far, birding here has been a disappointment. We did see four new birds in the gardens including this one.
The other thing that's fun is there are a ton of parakeets in the palm trees here. Although not native, and very noisy, they sure are pretty.
There is an estuary south of Málaga where the Guadalhorce River empties into the Med, and yes it actually still flows, so I'm hoping to see more birds there!
Our big trip with Morgan was an overnight to Seville, one of the big three and the largest city in Andalusia. I had an ulterior motive for the trip in that my great friend Tania was visiting also with her boyfriend. We had drinks in the afternoon and had a chance to catch up. It was so awesome to see her on this side of the pond and I'm grateful she made time for me.
Seville is an ancient city with a ton of history and three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I won't recount it here as it's all in Wikipedia for your enjoyment. I was there almost 30 years ago and remember it fondly but this time after comparing it with Málaga I was less impressed. It was overrun with tourists, even in mid-May, which makes it hard to enjoy. But wandering the ancient quarter and seeing the sites is still really great.
One of the most impressive buildings I've ever seen is there - the Alcázar. It is a wonder of moorish craftsmanship.
And it's where I fell in love with Spanish tile.
Perhaps the highlight though are the magnificent gardens that surround it.
And thanks to having Morgan with us we can actually get some good pictures of us together!
Morgan and Scott got a table at the garden cafe so we could have some refreshments after the tour.
CATHEDRAL OF SAINT MARY OF THE SEE AND THE GIRALDA TOWER
The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, the third largest in the world, is truly gigantic and both the outside and inside feature incredible gothic ornamentation. The inside however, has been broken up with a great choir loft and organ and it is poorly lit so it's hard to appreciate how grand it is. There are 80 individual chapels in addition to a chapter house (small cathedral off to the side) that is bigger than many churches.
It contains the remains of Christopher Columbus in a beautiful tomb borne by kings of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Navarre.
The highlight though are definitely the remains of the mosque that the cathedral replaced, the Patio de los Naranjos and the Giralda.
After relaxing in the Patio of Oranges, we climbed the bell tower. It's different than climbing many towers in that you ascend on ramps that turn at 90 degree angles as they climb the square tower. There are views from the windows on the way up and then an open bell tower with views at the top.
Here's a view from afar to give you perspective.
And from the way up.
And from the top.
LAS SETAS DE SEVILLE
Las Setas de Sevilla, otherwise known as the Metropol Parasol, is a bit off the beaten path and more modern than the other sights but well worth it. It is a huge wooden sculpture with a walkway on top that has great views of the city.
Here's a pic I stole off the internet to let you see the whole thing.
And some of ours from the top.
And of course, while in Seville, we took in a flamenco show. I was definitely more interested in it than Morgan or Scott but they were nice enough to indulge me!
FRIGILIANA AND NERJA
On both Morgan's bucket list and mine was a trip to one of the white towns of Andalusia. Spread throughout the hills behind the coast, they are reminiscent of greek villages but actually date back to Moorish settlements. We picked Frigiliana, which is an easy bus trip from Málaga.
The old town is amazingly picturesque with winding streets inlaid with stonework designs, tiny doors, beautiful flowers, and views back to the Med.
And of course amazing outdoor cafes with views.
Cold gazpacho, sangria, and sherry on a warm, sunny balcony. All the reasons we love Spain.
As I've said, living in Málaga has made me fall in love with the Costa del Sol. The idea of being able to straddle the best of the things we love - city culture, beaches, amazing food - all in one place is an awesome combination. As we travel up and down the coast, there is town after town, some small and some larger, that provide this mix. There are endless possibilities here. And then we saw these white villages and, for me, I was all in. Of course we expect to find the same feelings in Portugal and France so no "decisions" are being made but I can say this is a truly wonderful part of the world. Scott, I think, is holding out to find a more tropical place that fits the bill.
NERJA AND FUENGIROLA
Nerja and Fuengirola are coastal towns, the first north and just below Frigiliana, and the second south, outside Málaga. They are first and foremost beach resort towns. They have the feel of a Miami Beach or Jersey Shore but with European flare and a bit of history. Filled with pedestrian-only shopping streets, tons of cafes and restaurants, and beach front esplanades, they are really vibrant and fun.
Nerja's coastline is rocky with a great headland that has a lookout just off the center of the old town. It's beaches are smaller and darker.
Fuengirola, on the other hand, has 8 km of beach stretched out along the city and it's "suburbs". The beaches are very nice and all along it there are restaurants and shops. But head back into the city and you find the beautiful churches and plazas with people gathering in the afternoon and the quintessential old men sitting together one benches.
Everyone told us we needed to make time to get to Gibraltar and it turned out to be an easy day trip. Since Morgan was up for it, we did it with her.
It's about a two hour bus ride to the station in La Línea de la Concepción, which is on the Spanish side just adjacent to the border crossing. After walking across the border, you're in Great Britain!
Then you walk across the airfield on which only flights from Great Britain land, and you're in the old town.
We took a mini-bus tour of the main sights "on the rock" as it's either that or walking to the top. No cars or public buses are allowed.
The first stop is to view across the strait to North Africa and the other half of the Pillars of Hercules.
Then it's on to the Cuevas de Gibralter, a large cavern with amazing geologic features. Unfortunately, they play a light show inside constantly that makes photography challenging.
Next stop is to play with the Barbary Apes that colonize the rock. This is the highest point you can drive to and has amazing views of the front of the rock.
And finally, the Great Siege Tunnels that were dug into the rock during the 1800's when the French joined with the Spanish to lay siege to the British. On the side of the rock facing Spain, it also had great views.
After the tour we visited Europa Point for views of North Africa, the lighthouse, and the mosque from ground level. The spring flowers are out so I was especially happy!
Then it was a stroll through the old town with an obligatory stop off at a pub for Shepard's Pie and their Sunday Carving.
It was a great trip and definitely worth the effort.
Still on our bucket list are Cordoba, one of the big three, and maybe Ronda, another white town in the hills.
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