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Travel: Ho-ho-hot! Malaga has sun, sea and St Nick

© Shutterstock / AlexeMarcelVisitors enjoy the Christmas lights on 
La Calle Larios.
Visitors enjoy the Christmas lights on La Calle Larios.

The skies may be blue, the sand of the beaches lining the Promenade of Pablo Ruiz Picasso warm to the touch, the palm trees barely troubled by the Levant breeze, but this corner of southern Spain is second only to Lapland when it comes to Christmas buzz.

Even the taxi journey from Malaga Airport is festive. My driver, called Omar, plays a host of Christmas songs, interspersed with some of his non-festive favourites, like Take That. Fifteen minutes after meeting we’ve bonded over the World Cup and are harmonising like Mark Owen and Jason Orange.

This is a flavour of the people in Malaga, and at this time of year their cups runneth over with cheer. In fact Malaga is famed for its Christmas celebrations throughout Spain, where folk from Andalucia, and beyond, descend on the coastal town. They buy presents on La Calle Larios, collect the turrón nougat that Spaniards eat at this time of year, and just bask in the festive vibes.

Molina Lario Hotel fancies itself as the first Christmas hotel in the city and, with Michael Buble songs playing in the splendid, festive rooms as you enter, you can’t really disagree.

The hotel restaurant, Matiz, is one of the top five eateries in the gastronomic capital of Andalucia; and it is here where we were served a frighteningly delicious menu. To the sound of Christmas flamenco music came a procession of plates. One was a green tomato gazpacho soup with enough zing to make you sing. Meanwhile the nutty Iberian pork shoulder croquettes were Christmas crackers.

Of course, Malaga has plenty of appeal all year round. There is the museum dedicated to Picasso which places his seminal work alongside just enough details around his admirably libidinous private life; a couple of hours here was its own artful sketch of the great man.

Speaking of sex symbols, afterwards we made our way to the amusingly titled El Pimpi, the bar named after a local figure who “enabled” sailors arriving in the nearby port; from wine to food to women. The walls are lined with wine casks, autographs sketched across their lids; El Pimpi is now an institution and is co-owned by local celebrity Antonio Banderas, who has a flat upstairs. He often pops in for a visit to sip on sweet muscat and nibble on manchego.

Afterwards we wandered to the Atarazanas Market, the bustling destination for the Mediterranean haul fishermen deliver: netfuls of bonito, dorada, lisa, rebozada, mejillones and many more. Unwise to cram it all into your suitcase perhaps, but sit outside in one of the adjoining restaurants and they’ll produce a selection of the catch for you to wash down with a glass of wine.

Treat yourself and squeeze some lemon over a mountain of anchovy-like fish fried in batter, alongside a Malaguena salad of potatoes, orange and olives in a simple dressing. The flavours are succulent and provide fuel for shopping; you can stroll between shops sipping an iced coffee with sweet turron nougat and ice cream in the 20C warmth. It’s outrageously relaxing.

The temperature dips a little in the evening when the crowds turn out for the centrepiece of this very Mediterranean Christmas. They gather on La Calle Larios to see the thoroughfare illuminated in hundreds of thousands of lights.

Speakers blasted out the Carol Of The Bells, leaving families to gasp in delight; I joined in, belly full of Malaguenan treats and my chest full of Christmas spirit, when everyone started dancing to a rendition of Feliz Navidad.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the festive season but already I’ve checked the prices at Molina Lario Hotel for Christmas 2023. From the Take That Taxi to the culinary treats to the wonderful residents, who knows? I may just go Back For Good.


P.S. 

Wander away from the main shopping thoroughfare and you’ll find the Cathedral of Malaga. The converted mosque was taken from the Moors in the 15th Century but was never finished; one of its two spires is half-completed, earning it the nickname of La Manquita, or The One-Armed.

Factfile: 

Christmas rooms at Molina Lario Hotel from €182. Christmas Eve pack for two (dinner at Matiz restaurant, bed & breakfast): €395.

New Year’s Eve Pack for two (dinner, accommodation and breakfast): €525. Book at galleryhoteles.com. Ryanair flies to Malaga with regular departures from around the UK. Flights from £14.99.