In search of Malaga


From Nerja to Manilva, this part of  Spain on the Mediterranean is blessed with a wonderful climate and first class facilities, making it a worldwide tourist destination. Thanks to the gentle climate and 320 days of sunshine a year, this stretch of Mediterranean coast in southern Andalusia is an ideal holiday spot.


The capital, Málaga, was first a Phoenician colony and later came under the control of the Greeks, Carthagians, Visigoths, Arabs and Christians. Today it is a maritime city rich in culture. A visit to the Archaeological Museum is a fascinating way to spend a day. The friendly people and street scenes encourage a stroll through the old walled city. The incredible ruins of the Muslim palaces of the Alcazaba fortress with its gardens next to the sea, full of palms and citrus trees  interspersed with colourful jacarandas, are as fascinating as discovering the house where Picasso was born or taking in the view of the city from the top of the Gibralfaro Castle.


Málaga's old city is charming, with narrow little streets that still have a distinct Moorish air, complemented by Baroque facades and tiny little squares preserving a nineteenth century air. There is plenty to see, too, in the modern part of the city, next to the port or the beach at El Palo.


Torremolinos, more than any other seaside city, represents the tourist boom along Málaga's coast. Its name comes from a series of windmills, several of which are still standing though they are now threatened, and in many cases hidden, by new buildings and apartment blocks. From the mouth of the Guadalhorce River to the city of Benalmádena, there are eight kilometres of beaches with fine sand, facing southeast and protected from the northern winds, which are cold in winter and hot in summer, by the Sierra de Mijas. This means that the water is a constant 22C in summer and around 16 C even in the middle of winter.


The beaches of Bajondillo and El Lido are wide, with designated areas for windsurfing and water skiing and with beach bars and restaurants a-plenty. La Carihuela beach is considered the most typical in the Torremolinos area. A narrow path linking it to a string of beachfront bars each with its own restaurants and showers. Old fishing boats, dragged up on the sand alongside these restaurants, deliver the fresh seafood, eaten on the spot, on comfortable terraces facing the sea. The road from Torremolinos to Estepona, stretching over some 70km is Europe's longest avenue.


There still are many remnants of that past, old Andalusian villages complete with winding streets, whitewashed houses, barred windows and balconies overflowing with geraniums.


Benalmádena Costa, although still a tourist destination, has one of the best harbours on the coast and a wide harbour-side promenade, the Paseo Marítimo, but the old town of white streets conserves its original Arab layout.


Just a few years ago, Mijas, hanging like a balcony off the mountain range by the same name, was just a poor, remote farming village. Today it is one of Spain's richest towns, with nearly 75,000 residents. The old town has become a showcase, attracting tourists along this part of the Costa del Sol. Mijas is picturesque and charming.  As the burros were no longer needed to bring marble and lime from the quarries down to the coast they have been converted into "taxis" for the tourists. A few years ago, they constructed a bull-ring, square as they used to be, not round as the modern versions all over Spain.  Also located in Mijas is Byblos Andaluz, a well-known hotel-spa noted for its architecture and decor and a welcome resting-place for therapeutic bathing.


Marbella is probably the most prestigious spot on the Costa del Sol ever since, half a century ago, Max Hohenlohe, married a woman from a wealthy Málaga family, and invited his European friends to his seaside house, which was later transformed by his son Alfonso into the exclusive Marbella Club. Marbella boasts luxury estates, private harbours, stately residences and palace-like villas. Stroll through Marbella's old town and delight in the narrow streets around the Orange Square, full of lively bars and sidewalk cafes. By night, one sees Marbella in all its splendour. At sunset the nearby harbour of Puerto Banús, becomes a magnet for gourmets with its unbroken line of restaurants and tantalising cooking smells. 


The cuisine of Málaga is light, healthy and typically Mediterranean: Shrimps in all variations, roasted or boiled, and Pescaito Frito, fried fish, are among the major attractions. A regional speciality is Chanquetes, a whitebait variety from the family of anchovies. Boquerones are tiny fish marinated in vinegar for a day or so, a delicious and very refreshing dish. In the mountain ranges near Málaga, on the other hand, you'll find game dishes, sausages and the famous "Rabo de Toro a la Rondeña", bull's tail prepared in the style of the small town of Ronda.  Vegetarians appreciate the very fresh vegetables of the region.

But Málaga's perhaps most famous recipe is another variation of those cold soups or Gazpachos, which are so typical for all Andalusia: Ajo Blanco. It is a refined cream of almonds, garlic and olive oil.

The sweets mostly show Moorish influence and are frequently prepared with almonds and honey. Among the best known are the popular Christmas cakes, Alfajores and Polvorones, and a regional speciality with a quite promising name: "Bienmesabe" which simply means “good taste”


The area produces the famous wines of Málaga. Although some dry wines are made, it is the sweet wines that had a world-wide reputation for excellence. Made mainly from pedro ximénez and moscatel de málaga grape varieties, they can rival any Jerez or Port in quality and depth.


Málaga was being shipped from the port of the same name as early as 1500 and was first sold in Britain as “Sack” then as “Mountain”. In the 18th century when sherry fell out of favour and the British turned to port, the harbour town of Málaga lowered its export duties and effectively stole the London “Sack” market from Jerez. But everything went wrong late in the following century, when the phylloxera louse made Málaga its first Spanish port of call. The vineyards were never properly replanted: today, they cover just 3,000 ha compared with 112,000 ha before the arrival of the louse. The wine has gone out of fashion too, and standards of winemaking have often dropped to accommodate a small, undemanding market. Unlike their counterparts in Jerez the Málaga bodegas have mostly turned their backs on tradition and make little effort to attract the attention of tourists. But when Málaga is good, as it was from the now sadly defunct Scholtz Hermanos, it can be a wonderful, molasses-rich wine. The solera system is used here, on wine that is often a mixture of dry wine and grape juice, part of which has been boiled until it has turned into sweet treacle (arrope) and part (the vina maestro) fortified in a very similar way to sherry. Málaga can vary enormously, both in colour, which ranges from white (blanco) through  rough golden (dorado), tawny (rojo-dorado) and dark (oscuro) to black (negro), and sweetness (from seco to dulce). Bottles labelled dulce are pretty simple in their syrupy style, ones that describe themselves as lagrima ought to be of far higher quality and are made without the use of a press from free-flowing juice. The difference in flavour between a good example of lagrima and a basic Málaga is as great as that between a top-class Bordeaux and a house claret. The finest Málaga have an intensity of flavour and a balancing acidity which combine to prevent the sweetness being in any way cloying.

“Solera” wines are common too; examples like the excellent Scholtz Hermanos Solera 1855 proudly proclaimed the year in which their particular solera was founded. Unfortunately, none of the other Solera Málagas are of as high a quality as the Scholtz Hermanos.


Málaga’s wines, specially the sweet ones, must be consumed cold (recommended 9ºC to 10º C). They work equally well as an aperitif and as a dessert wine.


Here’s a list of the current wines available, the winery and the classification:


WINE                                                                                    Winery                                   Classification:

BENEFIQUE SOLERA 1866                                          Larios                                                    Oloroso

CARTOJAL PALE CREAM                                            López Hermanos                                Dulce

FINO GOMARA                                                                Gomara                                                 Oloroso

GRAN GOMARA                                                               Gomara                                                 Dulce

LACRIMAE CHRISTI                                                     Gomara                                                 Dulce

MALAGA DEL ABUELO                                                López Madrid                                      Dulce

MALAGA CREAM                                                            Gomara                                                 Dice

MALAGA DULCE                                                             Gomara                                                 Dulce

MALAGA LARIOS                                                            Larios                                                    Dulce

MALAGA VIRGEN "SWEET"                                      López Hermanos                                Dulce

MONTES DE MALAGA MEDIUM DRY   Hijos de José Suarez Villalba           Oloroso

MOSCATEL IBERIA                                                       López Hermanos                                Dulce

MOSCATEL MALAGA                                                    Gomara                                                 Dulce

MOSCATEL PICO PLATA                                             López Hermanos                                Dulce

ORO VIEJO GRAN RESERVA QUITAPENAS        Hijos de José Suarez Villalba           Dulce PEDRO XIMENEZ                                                              Gomara                                                 Dulce

QUITAPENAS DORADO                                               Hijos de José Suarez Villalba           Dulce

SOL DE MALAGA                                                             López Hermanos                                Dulce

SOLVIÑA MOSCATEL                                                   López Madrid                                      Dulce    

TRAJINERO DRY                                                            López Hermanos                                Olororso

TRASAÑEJO                                                                      Gomara                                                 Dulce


The majority of Spanish wines are produced from native grapes and there is a D.O. system in place. The list of all the known native varieties would however be impractical here, as there are literally hundreds of recognised grape varieties.


Due to Málaga’s fall in popularity you can pick up a top class wine for less than $30.00 and they are eminently drinkable. If you like to cook and want to impress your guests with a wonderful sauce try reducing a whole bottle of Málaga to about 100ml, stirring in a little palm sugar just before service and seasoning the sauce with freshly cracked white pepper. This is a fabulous accompaniment to roast duck, duck liver or goose liver.