Wednesday, September 30, 2020

A Mini Travel Guide for 2-3 days in Malága

Sunny weekends in Spain.

Sigh, I miss hopping on a plane from London and whisking off to Europe for a weekend. It used to be so easy, but that was 2019. Nearly all of our travel plans for 2020 were cancelled or put on hold because of the international pandemic that is Covid-19.

 So, I’ve been using some of my furloughed/lockdown time to organize and edit photos from previous trips. In mid-May 2019, we went to Malága for my birthday weekend. This part of southern Spain, known as the Costa del Sol, has more than 320 sunny days each year, according to The Local Spain and confirmed by the national meteorological agency. It’s no wonder that this area sees so many British tourists as well as people from France, Germany and Italy.

And we were desperately seeking sunshine.

Malaga, Spain
Malága, Spain, and its port area, as seen from the Alcazaba fortress.  

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly, weekend-get-away from the dreary UK weather, then Malága is a splendid option! 

One Night is Enough in Benalmádena

After picking up our rental car, we drove a short 15km to our hotel, the Sunset Beach Club in Benalmádena. It’s a very family-friendly hotel typical of British package holiday-goers. Not our usual cup of tea, but the hotel’s pool was wonderful and the view from our room wasn’t too shabby either. Suitable for one or two nights.

Sea and pool view from the Sunset Beach Club in Benalmádena, Spain.

Not surprisingly, given its location and climate, Benalmádena is one of the most popular holiday resorts on the Costa del Sol of Spain. This area has a subtropical Mediterranean climate, with summer temperatures an average of 30 ºC and a mild 17 ºC in winter. If you’re seeking solitude, this is NOT the place for you, but in mid-May, the beaches weren’t too busy.

A Spanish Birthday Lunch

After soaking up some sunshine, we went looking for lunch nearby and found a cute seaside place called Restaurante La Cala. After seeing the grill master tend to his espeto outside, we had to order these grilled sardines. Espeto is a traditional dish of Malága – the sardines are skewered and roasted over a barbecue pit.

We ended up over-ordering for two of us – a fresh tomato salad, roasted peppers, grilled calamari, grilled octopus and, of course, the espeto. Add in a bottle of chilled, white Spanish wine and a healthy dose of sunshine and I had a superb birthday lunch. The portions were generous, and the prices were reasonable – especially for a touristy area.

Seafood Dinner for Two

After a long nap (we had a 6:30 a.m. flight, so it was justified), we set out for a nighttime stroll in Benalmádena. We passed a few beaches as well as the intriguing Castillo De Bil-Bil, a former country villa built in 1927. The Moorish-style villa is usually used for exhibitions, concerts and civil weddings – hosting the most civil weddings in the entire province of Málaga.

Along the boardwalk (Paseo Maritimo), you’ll find several fish restaurants as well as British-themed bars that cater to the tourists. Some of the places seemed a bit tacky, but we finally settled on Restaurante Santa Ana. Although paella is a specialty of Valencia, it’s a dish we don’t often eat in London, so we ordered the seafood paella. It was HUGE!

Dinner was very reasonable – paella, wine and melon con jamon for dessert totaled just 44 euros.

Exploring Malága’s History

On Sunday, we moved on to Malága – a city with a multi-layered past – entwined with the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors and Spanish Catholics. I fell in love with the view from our hotel’s rooftop bar and swimming pool, which I don’t have a photo of unfortunately. We stayed one night at NH Málaga Hotel, a Spanish chain hotel that is comparable to a Hilton.

Wandering into the city center of Malága, we found an electic mix of architectural styles – many of the buildings were built in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I loved the Art Deco facades and the small balconies stretching out over narrow, paved laneways.

One of my favorite buildings was the ornate Palacio Episcopal de Malága situated in the Plaza de Obispo. Parts of the building’s complex date to the 16th and 18th centuries. The complex houses the seat of the Archbishop of Malága, government offices and art exhibitions.

Must-see: Teatro Romano

Literally in the city center is the Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) dating to the 1st century and built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus. Surprisingly, the theater was only re-discovered in the 1950s and was excavated. I’d highly recommend going inside the Alcazaba next door, so you look down into the ancient theater.

Must-see: Alcazaba de Malága

The Alcazaba is a hilltop fortress built in the 11th century by the Moors who ruled the Malága area for more than 400 years. We explored many of the fortress’ defensive towers, inner rooms and landscaped gardens and fountains. This gorgeous building reminded me of a smaller version of the Alhambra in Granada, which unfortunately, we haven’t seen in person yet.

If you visit during spring, you can look out from the hilltop and see the vibrant purple blooms of the jacaranda trees in the city.

Must-see: Catedral de Malága

Also located in the city center is the Catedral de la Encarnación de Malága, which was built on the ruins of the former mosque of Aljama. This enormous cathedral was built over the years of 1528-1782 in the Renaissance style and is divided over two floors. We didn’t peek inside this cathedral because we’ve seen so many impressive European churches these past few years.

Eat Turrón

If you have a sweet tooth, you cannot miss out on trying Spanish turrón! Turrón is a traditional sweet made from almonds, sugar and honey – similar to almond paste. Torrons Vicens, a family-owned company in Malága, sells dozens of varieties of turrón as well as nougat and chocolates. Delicious!

Oh, there’s also jamon! We ate two sandwiches with jamon and some jamon for dinner one night.  

Street Art in Malága

Finding a bit of street art in Malága was just a bonus. We love exploring European cities and discovering street art, especially from some of my favorite artists such as the Invader.

Visit Museo Picasso Malága

On Monday morning, my husband left early to take a train to Madrid for work and I went on my final day of sightseeing. I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and coffee at an outdoor café. Then, I went to the Museo Picasso Malága, which houses more than 280 works donated by members of Picasso’s family. Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born in Malága in 1881 but lived most of his life in France. I cheekily snapped two photos while inside the museum, which also is a 16th-century palace.

Last Beach Day

After my museum visit, I decided to soak up some sunshine on the beach. There’s a popular city beach called Playa la Malagueta near the port. The only issue is parking. I went round in circles trying to find a parking spot, which avoided parallel parking, and finally found a parking garage. The beach is full of pebbles, but it’s nice enough for a bit of sunbathing.

Since I had a late flight back to London, I drove back to one of the sandy beaches near Benalmádena and spent the afternoon here under the palm trees.

Overall, I would say that Malága offered something for everyone – a bit of history, architecture, beaches, good food and sunshine. Definitely a good escape from London for a couple of days! But obviously, only travel to this part of Spain when travel is safe to do so.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Driving down the tiny, rural lanes in Cornwall means you often end up reversing or finding a spot to pull over when you meet another car in the road.

But sometimes, you might end up reversing because you saw the most incredible burst of color and you just had to find out what it was. Luckily, I had checked in my rearview mirror before doing this.

In early August, during our UK staycation in Cornwall, I was driving near Penzance and happened to see this flash of color which turned out to be a field of dahlias by the National Dahlia Collection. This garden features more than 1,600 different varieties of dahlias and is free to visit from June to September. It is impressive!

You can even see St. Michael's Mount located in Marazion in the distance here.

This collection was first established in 1983 in Oxfordshire by a private collector, David Brown, who wanted to preserve dahlias when the flowers were growing out of fashion in the 80s and 90s. Over the years, the collection moved until it happened at is current location. If you are a keen gardener, you can even order dahlia tubers and garden ready plants online or at the collection when it is open.

Dahlias are one of those flowers that blooms prolifically from late summer to autumn. I’ve always admired these flowers, but I don’t have much room at our London flat to grow much more than some potted herbs and veggies.

But the English have long loved dahlias especially during the Victorian era. When the Horticultural Society (later RHS) started regular flower shows in 1831, its September event was dedicated entirely to dahlias. In 1881, the National Dahlia Society was started in the UK.

  • Did you know that by the 1930s – at the height of their popularity – there were 14,000 named dahlia varieties?
  • And did you know that dahlias are the national flower of Mexico? Dahlias are wildflowers in Mexico and Central America but were brought to Europe by a Spanish expedition in the late 1700s and later cultivated.

·      On our trip, I spent about an hour at the garden taking dozens and dozens of photos of the colorful blooms and trying to capture the honeybees in action. Now, if only, I could have my own garden like this.

Pompon Dahlias

Decorative Dahlias

Waterlilly Dahlias

Misc Dahlias


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Day Trip from London

Even though I love living in a city like London, I do miss my country roots at times. 

So to recreate my Nebraska life, I recently gathered a few girlfriends and we set off for a pick-your-own farm about an hour's drive southwest of London for a day trip. Without having hired a rental car for an entire month due to Covid restrictions, we never would have reached the Crockford Bridge Farm, a family farm near Weybridge, Surrey. But what a delightful farm! 

We had a small map of the farm and the different crops we were able to pick that day. I ended up with a kilo of plump raspberries, some strawberries and 6 ears of corn. I also helped my girlfriends pick runner beans and I bought a few other goodies at the farm shop. 

We had a fun day out from London and brought back some farm goodies to cook with at home.
Homemade gelato for lunch and plenty of jams and spreads at the farm shop.