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A Cruise to Malaga

Malaga, Spain

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Malaga is worlds away from the adjacent Costa del Sol. You'll be captivated by the sheer “spanishness” of this Mediterranean port. The atmosphere and swagger of the city will impress you as soon as you leave your cruise ship, and you'll know you're really in Spain. Life here is colorful, bustling and just a little crazy. The city itself is a charming mixture of leafy avenues, historic old buildings and some impressive monuments. Picasso was born here and he reckoned the stark beauty of the place: strong shapes and clear light made him the artist he was.

When you leave your ship, start by wandering round the Old Town. This clearly bears the imprint of the fifteenth century transformation of what had been the Islamic province of Andalucia into a part of Catholic Spain. The Cathedral took two hundred years and five architects to construct, so you'd be within your rights to expect something pretty special. Unfortunately this is a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. There's a fabulous domed ceiling, but the rest of this intended epic building is a monument to over ambition. The second bell tower was left unfinished when troubles with Spain's American interests started eating the cash; it gives the cathedral its nickname: la Manquita, the one armed lady. Maybe they should have left the original mosque in place - the courtyard of sweetly fragrant orange trees which is all that survives is a lovely retreat.

The Cathedral looks out onto the sumptuous Plaza del Obispo and the dramatic blood red Bishop's Palace where the atmospheric Inquisition burnings in Robert de Niro's film 'The Bridge of San Luis Rey' were filmed - it's easy to see why.

Malaga is well and truly on the map as a top Spanish destination thanks to the brand new Picasso Museum, only a short walk from the Cathedral. Here you can view over two hundred works including oils, sculptures, sketches, drawings and ceramics; by the man many rate as the twentieth century's greatest artist. Most of the works have been donated or loaned by Picasso's family and many are on public display for the first time. The chronological collection gives you a feel for the artist's personal history as well as his artistic obsessions. You'll see numerous paintings of his various female muses and lots of doves of peace. The terrace café at the museum is under the direction of a Michelin starred chef and serves up the richest, darkest coffee in Malaga, accompanied by exquisite cakes so even reluctant art lovers should enjoy themselves.

If the Cathedral disappoints the craggy ramparts of the Castillo de Gibralfaro may be more rewarding. Once upon a time this ancient lighthouse and military barracks would have housed the beacon that guided your ship safely into port. The airy walkways give the best views of Malaga, so it's well worth the hike up the hill. You'll also get to see Alcazaba, the Muslim palace-fortress. The lovingly restored leafy terrace gardens, alive with birdsong, the elegant archways and fountains and the complex irrigation channels give an insight into why ancient Malaga was one of the most beautiful cities in Andalucia. A stroll here is the perfect respite from the heat of the Spanish summer.

If you're not sated with art after the Picasso show then make your way to the ultra-funky Centro de Arte Contemporaneo. The Cubist-inspired building is the real star: it's all in pristine white and based on a triangular floor plan. Another good bet is the Museum of Popular Art and Costume, filled with farming and fishing regalia it's a very accessible history of the everyday rural folk of Andalucia and a pleasant change from the grand and rather stuffy costumes you usually find in such museums.

No shore leave on a cruise is complete without sampling the local cuisine and in Malaga, as so often the seafood is star of the show. Strange though it may sound the cold soups are also pretty good. As well as classic gazpacho try garlic soup, or creamy almond and grape soup. You could easily while away an afternoon at the el Pedregalajo beach with a plate of sizzling fish and a cold beer. Towards evening the irresistible smell of frying fish, grilled seafood and zesty lemon is sure to tempt you into one of the bodegas or taverns. It's a fine way to end your time in the city: sitting with a glass or two of one of the very fine Andalucian sherry to accompany some tapas: Fino is most usual. It's served chilled and is very dry - worlds away from the 'cream sherry' sold for export.

Wherever your cruise takes you, you'll find few cities as full of glamour and life as Malaga. There's no artificiality and no holding back, sometimes you'll be overwhelmed by it all, but in only a short time you'll experience a slice of real Spanish life, as highly spiced as any Spanish chorizo sausage.

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