Malaga. Uurgh. I let out a soft sigh.
I was planning to spend a month in Andalucia and the cheapest flight into the region would land me in Malaga. Brits Abroad Central.
Brits Abroad: The (embarrassingly accurate) stereotype
It’s fair to say that I’m not a fan of my countrymen and women who meet the sadly stereotypical but embarrassingly accurate set of characteristics that mark them out as Brits Abroad.
I wouldn’t deny anybody the luxury of a 2-week break defined by sun and fun but why do some people feel the need to pack their culture with them?
The sunburned skin, I can overlook. As a nation we have a complete inability to apply sunscreen in any way other than patchy. But demanding a steady flow of Sky Sports? Roast beef on Sundays, despite the 30 degree heat? Shouting s-l-o-w-l-y and l-o-u-d-l-y at the locals instead of learning the basics words: please, thanks you and can I have ketchup with that? The greatest foray into foreign being Happy Hour sangria?
In an ideal world, Brits Abroad wouldn’t have to go abroad at all. They would be able to benefit from the Spanish sun in their own back yard, but failing that, they seem set on covertly colonising the parts of Spain that they like to frequent, turning tapas bars into fish and chip shops and demanding fry-ups all the way.
The adventure level is low, too. Leave the hotel – why? Skip the all-inclusive buffet for some local food – that foreign muck, no thanks. See the sights – what, where…why bother?
I know these people. I’ve been on more than one package holiday with them. In short, they drive me wild with frustration.
Exploration. Adventures. Culture. New food. Different people. It’s the heart of why I travel, and I’m confident none of these things can be found around the pool sipping beer and chomping on chips with a hundred other Brits.
Yet, this is what so many British trips to Malaga entail. In 2013, Andalucia saw nearly 8 million international tourists and although that will comprise visitors from all over the world, nearly 40% of that number arrived in the region for the sun compared to just 17% to explore the culture. With those numbers in mind, Malaga, known mostly in Britain for its beaches, promised travel hell. But, it was fine. I’d fly in. And get the hell out.
Except, it turned out I was the one who had my stereotypes all wrong.
Malaga: Two sides to every trip
I was due to arrive after dark, so for convenience sake I needed to spend at least one night in Malaga. My assumptions, based on years of seeing cheap package holidays advertised in travel agent windows, told me I’d be looking for a beach-side hotel run by an ex-pat who was bound to be closely related to Basil Fawlty. My research, however, told me something different.
Yes, there was a large stretch of Costa del Sol that had been seized by the Brits Abroad, but there was an entirely separate side. An older core of the city that was filled with history, a magnificent cathedral, age-old Moorish fortress, home of Picasso and more tapas bars than there were days of the year. This was Malaga? Why had I not heard of this alternative version before?
Ashamed by my assumptions, I booked a three night stay in the old city with one purpose in mind – to discover the other side to Malaga. By the time I left, I knew only one thing – Malaga and I were not done. There was too much to see, and so, for the last 5 days of my trip, I returned to the city to complete my exploration. Out of all of Andalucia (that I saw), I expected to love Sevilla, I presumed I would be wowed by Granada – and I was, but Malaga was my surprise find – the place that captivated me enough to pull me back; the place that was the highlight of my month in Spain; the place that wants me to implore every Brit Abroad to explore further and see more in the Costa del Sol; to see Malaga because I’m prepared to give a tapas-back guarantee you won’t regret it.
Not sure what to do in Malaga? Here’s my list of 30 Best Things To Do In Malaga – written just after returning from my 3rd return visit.
And here’s my guide to what to eat in Malaga (not just tapas), which I wrote after my 4th visit.
Malaga was a complete surprise during my time in Spain. I did, as promised, fly in. What I failed to do was “get the hell out” and I’m all the happier for it. Some places have the power to captivate me in a way that I know I will be promoting them for years to come. As the sun rose blindingly on my final day in the city, I knew that Malaga, for me, is once of those places.
UPDATE 2019: I’ve revisited the city a few times since and have pulled together a sightseeing and a food guide here:
Have you ever visited Malaga – were you surprised by the city? Are you a Brit Abroad? What do you think about exploring a different side to Malaga?