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Adventures in Andalusia - Malaga and its barren hinterlands is destination which has it all

Whether it’s the urban life or the rural idyll you’re after, Malaga and its barren hinterlands is the destination which has it all

By Claire Cromie

Published 10/11/2016

Sebastian Souviron, a newly constructed two-bedroom apartment in the heart of Malaga
Sebastian Souviron, a newly constructed two-bedroom apartment in the heart of Malaga

Around-the-clock party or rural isolation? What would you choose with four days in southern Spain and a hire car? Both, of course.

Once known for high rises and cheap package holidays, the Andalucian province of Malaga is on the up again — and ticking off items on every experiential traveller’s to-do list.

The Caminito del Rey, once known as “the world’s most dangerous walkway” has reopened after a €2.7m safety revamp. Toss in an ancient Moorish palace, a remote lake district and stunning accommodation and you have one of Europe’s most satisfying holiday destinations.

Malaga is vibrant at the best of times, but especially during the August festival, when thousands flock to the city to celebrate Assumption Day.

The atmosphere is not unlike St Patrick’s Day, but the Malagueños could teach the Irish a thing or two about partying — they’re at it for 10 days. Groups of friends parade under lights strung from rooftops and the streets pound to Spanish rhythms all day and night. During one of our stops at a tapas bar, a rock band suddenly appears beside us — guitars and amps pulled out of a shopping trolley and hastily plugged in to electric sockets at a grocery store. Soon the street is filled with the deafening vibrations of an electric guitar, the singer belting out ‘Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ as the square fills up with revellers. Luckily Andy and I are Rolling Stones fans, so we knock back our sangria, pay the bill and join the party. It’s the only way to do Feria de Malaga — go big or go home.

Thankfully our home for the next few nights, a rental from Spain-holiday.com, is far enough away to get a good night’s sleep. But it’s perfectly positioned just a few blocks from Calle Marqués de Larios, the main shopping street in the historic centre.

The sleek two-bedroom apartment has balconette windows which bathe the space in light and overlook the quiet Plaza de Camas. A spacious living room with a huge HD television makes me wish I had booked a week here so I could enjoy a night or two curled up inside without feeling guilty about missing the party.

It’s right beside the local food market, Atarazanas, so the next day we make a beeline for the stalls of fresh fruit, veg and fish. Huge stained glass windows above the market’s Arabic archways feature the ships of Malaga’s days under Moorish rule, when this area was a shipyard with the sea lapping right up to its door.

Filled up with coffee and churros, we climb the hill up to the Alcazabar, the best preserved Moorish palace in Spain, for panoramic views across Malaga. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world and this viewpoint gives you a sense of the rise and fall of numerous civilizations. High-rise apartment blocks built during the 1970s Costa del Sol travel boom abut Roman amphitheatre ruins and the 19th century bullring, La Malagueta.

At the port, the cruise ship crowd fill harbour restaurants serving boquerones (fresh anchovies), prawns and Russian salad.

A train passes through a tunnel as tourists walk along the 'El Caminito del Rey' (King's Little Path) footpath on April 1, 2015 in Malaga, Spain.
A train passes through a tunnel as tourists walk along the 'El Caminito del Rey' (King's Little Path) footpath on April 1, 2015 in Malaga, Spain.

After lunch we bar crawl our way back through the centro historico. It appears everyone in Spain is drinking at Bar El Pimpi, where an enormous beer garden and seemingly never-ending maze of quirky rooms are crammed with festival-goers. Waiters produce tray after tray of impressive cocktails and plates piled high with fresh tuna, calamari and meatballs.

Fast-forward 24 hours, and it’s like we’ve been transported to another planet. We are standing between the steep walls of the Gaitanes gorge, a huge granite canyon, and the only sound is the distant echo of our guide’s voice.

Below our feet is a 101 metre drop to the Gualdalhorce river, a mesmerising jade green. Above us are circling vultures, casting shadows as they fly beneath the midday sun.

This is the infamous Caminito del Rey, a pathway pinned to the sides of the cliff face — and once dubbed the most dangerous walkway in the world.

The original concrete path was built in 1901 to provide workers at power plants with a means to cross between them. But it deteriorated and three workers died in 2000. Even after the council closed the entrances, four rock climbers lost their lives attempting to scale the cliffs. Now it has reopened after a huge safety refurbishment and rebranding as a tourist attraction.

We walk, with trepidation at first, along the new boardwalk of wooden slats. It feels perfectly safe until we take a longer look down and realise we can see remains of the original pathway below, huge chunks of concrete having collapsed entirely. There are breathtaking views at every turn of this 2.9km walkway. It’s  a hikers’ paradise — now accessible for anyone with a head for heights.

Hot, weary and jelly-legged, we grab a drink before setting off to find our accommodation for the night.

“Don’t use Sat Nav,” the directions instruct, adding ominously: “Everyone who does gets lost”. A few twists and turns along the road from the Caminito del Rey, with crossings over a dam or three, and we arrive at El Arpa finca.

Now this is a place to be at one with nature. Our apartment is one of only six, converted from a 1900 stone farmhouse overlooking an electrifying aqua-blue lake. Views stretch across the plains for miles but there isn’t another building in sight and the only sound is the trill of crickets in the surrounding trees.

Hidden underneath the calm waters, I find out from El Arpa’s Dutch owners, is the ancient village of Gobantes. The area was purposely flooded to create three reservoirs, and now it couldn’t seem more removed from civilization.

There’s no phone signal and only a weak wi-fi connection. Electricity is run off their own solar power, which I’m warned can be shut down by the use of hairdryers. No problem — going off the grid is exactly why we came here.

For two days we swim in the lake, read books on sun loungers and drink wine from our welcome basket of goodies. We cook dinner in the rustic kitchen, adding herbs from the garden, and eat dinner on the balcony as the sun goes down on the lake.

Calle Marques de Larios Malaga
Calle Marques de Larios Malaga

The air is clean and smells of pine and eucalyptus. Iberian goats, wild cats and geckos prowl the landscape. There are kayaks to hire at the next lake, which we have to ourselves for tranquil paddling.

Malaga — as a province — is the perfect two-centre destination. No more than 45 minutes from Malaga Airport are both complete rural isolation and a bustling capital city.

But whereas Malaga city showcases every time period in the history of Spain, at El Arpa, time has been standing still for decades.

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Stay at:

Sebastian Souviron, a newly constructed two-bedroom apartment in the heart of Malaga city, close to the historic market Atarazanas with air conditioning, parking and free wifi. Book at Spain-holiday.com from £549 per week.

El Arpa Finca Malaga, a converted farmhouse in the Ardales area of Malaga province, near the Caminito del Rey, with stunning ‘lake district’ views from the balcony. Book at One off Places from £258 per week.

Factfile

Aer Lingus (Belfast City Airport) and easyJet (Belfast International Airport) both fly direct to Malaga.

  • Stay at: Sebastian Souviron, a newly constructed two-bedroom apartment in the heart of Malaga city, close to the historic market Atarazanas with air conditioning, parking and free wifi. Book at Spain-holiday.com from £549 per week.

     

    El Arpa Finca Malaga, a converted farmhouse in the Ardales area of Malaga province, near the Caminito del Rey, with stunning ‘lake district’ views from the balcony. Book at One off Places from £258 per week.

  • Malaga Feria - The festival takes place each year in August, running for 10 days and nine nights.
  • Caminito del Rey

Book in advance at http://www.caminitodelrey.info/en/

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