Since I'm only in Spain for a relatively short amount of time (four and a half months isn't that long really), I've made it my mission to be out doing things around Spain for as many weekends as possible and this weekend was the first of hopefully many weekend jaunts about the countryside. It was also a long weekend so it would be a shame to waste it. My original plan had been to head to Cadíz for Carnaval but unfortunately that was considerably out of my price range. Failing that, I decided to still head South (for warmth, if nothing else) and check out the Costa del Sol region, basing myself in Málaga.
Firstly, some geography lessons on Spain because I'm sure it'll come up in future blog posts. Thing of Spain/Portugal as a big square (because it kind of is shaped like a big square). Portugal is the leftmost third, except for a small strip of Spain at the very top. The top of Spain is usually raining so I'm saving that for the summer when it stops for a month or so. In the top-right corner is Barcelona and the French border. Halfway down on the right is Valencia. Málaga, and the Costa del Sol (or Coast of the Sun) is in the bottom-right corner. Down the very bottom is Cadíz and Gibraltar and Madrid is in the very centre of everything. There's also some islands but they're not important *spoilers* yet.
Spain is also divided up into 17 "Autonomous Communities" (similar to states) which are then subdivided into provinces, usually named after the largest city in that province. Some Autonomous Communities are just the one province ("Madrid" is a city, a province and a Community) and Andalucia (the biggest Autonomous Community which takes up essentially the entire lower third of Spain) has 8 provinces, one of those being Málaga province. Got that? It might be easier if you just get a map.
I should also mention how I'm getting about as well because it's really cool. There is a website that operates in Europe (and parts of Latin America) called BlaBlaCar and it's awesome. Essentially, it's a cross between hitch-hiking and Uber-style ride-sharing. If someone with a car is doing a long drive and has some seats, they can sign onto the BlaBlaCar website and post the details of their trip and a price to come along and people who want to get around cheaply can pay to tag along. I'm paying €20 each way for the 6 hour trip between Madrid and Málaga.
Anyway, I didn't know much about Málaga but I had heard about a few of the towns around it before I even got to Spain, in particular the town of Ronda. My understanding of Spain is that the further North you go, the more conventionally European things are but the further you head South down the Iberian peninsula, the more 'Spanish' things become. This weekend certainly affirmed that theory.
I caught a BlaBlaCar to Málaga Friday morning and instantly loved the city when I arrived. Where Madrid is a big, modern, Western city, Málaga was all old buildings, winding cobble streets and marble everywhere. Although it is definitely a tourist town, being a major holiday destination for Brits trying to escape the British weather, Málaga itself seems to have struck a balance between an old city and a new tourist metropolis. Or at least, they've done a good job of making the city look that way. It reminded me a lot of the South of France. It might have also helped that being so far South, the temperature was a lot more pleasant than Madrid.
Sunday I planned to have an easy day, just exploring Málaga. I did half that, because I did explore Málaga. On the hill overlooking the town is the old Moorish fort, today known as 'La Alcazaba'. I decided to go check it out and climbed the hill to have a look. For the princely sum of €0.60, I had a good few hours exploring around the fort which has been immaculately maintained. La Alcazaba was a palace as well as a fortress and the architecture and design was breathtaking.
It was only after I explored La Alcazaba that I learned there was a second building. If La Alcazaba was on a hill overlooking the city, El Castillo del Gibralfaro was on a mountain overlooking the city. It was 2o'clock by the time I got to the top of the mountain which was convenient because the castle was free after 2 on Sunday's. Also, there was a man with a cart selling cold beers for €1 on the way into the old castle because Spain is awesome. El Castillo del Gibralfaro was much less ornate than La Alcazaba but the views out over the old stone walls of the rolling hills in one direction, the blue ocean in the other and the white city (Málaga is also largely painted white) in the middle were second to none.
After a well deserved late lunch, I checked out the Pablo Picasso museum, in which I wasn't allowed to take photos but enjoyed.
Monday, my last day, I caught another early bus up into the mountains to the small Pubelo Blanco of Mijas. Although there is not really any particular tourist attraction per se, Mijas is possibly the most beautiful of the white towns I saw and its position, perched halfway up an enormous mountain range, meant it too provided some beautiful scenery which, again, was difficult to capture on an iPhone.
After an hour or two in Mijas, I caught a bus down to the seaside down of Fuengirola where I spent a few hours enjoying sitting in the sun, on the beach, drinking cheap, cold beers. This is the Europe I remembered from my last trip. What a way to while away a few lazy hours! I'm sure it won't be my last on this trip.
Anyway, from Fuengirola I caught another BlaBlaCar back to Madrid, where I'm writing this in the backseat. Unfortunately no one else in the car speaks English and I've exhausted all my Spanish so I'm just staying quiet while they talk amongst themselves.
The south of Spain is incredible and I can't wait to get back down there and see more, hopefully before it gets too hot.