Malaga: in search of winter sun 1

view of cloud from plane window

Ice gathers as we head north

I am gazing out of a Boeing 737 window, punctuated with ice crystals, gazing over the clouds which the sun is highlighting, aware from the sun’s angle that setting point will soon be reached. Yes we are literally flying into the sunset. I feel such a sense of gratitude that this is even possible: that I have been given the time, technology, wherewithal and confidence to venture across the world into another land, another language, and witness other traditions.

I think of my timid mother, shocked that I would consider going away alone and that I could feel safe doing so. Even 10 years ago it is true that I would not, but time and friends are great healers. Witnessing the goodness in the world rather than the negative, choosing to move towards kindness has moved the direction and whole quality of my life.

I am grateful too to those who care for my animals and business at home, that I can walk out of my door to adventure and gather stories.

Grateful also to those who encourage me to write, as they wish to read and value my stories. Thank you.

orange tree

I was sitting next to orange trees in fruit

Three hours ago I stood in a square with orange trees, still in fruit and the temperature, comfortable for most of us at 17C and rising. Now our aircraft captain tells us we are above Wexford in Ireland and patches of frosty ground are evident. Its quite a drop, it was quite a week.

orange tree and church

Orange tree in Malaga

Two years ago, a weeks retreat in southern Spain showed me the benefits to my mental and physical health of even a brief period of sunshine within our long northern winter darkness. I have promised myself whenever possible to repeat this as a necessary part of being healthy. Last year work commitments constrained this and I used Lightbox therapies, which helped to avoid an inclination to hibernate but gave me no noticeable glow.

So as soon as work commitments permitted and with the goodwill of my family, I headed via a cheap airline from my local airport (there has to be some benefit of living on a flight path) on a ridiculously cheap flight to Malaga in southern Spain. The Costa del Sol lives up to its name. Average yearly temperature is 22C, winter days usually hitting 16C or so by the afternoon, quite a blessed relief to a body recovering from chest infections like mine.

little girl in pink cloak

All dressed up for Epiphany

I was a little worried about arriving on 5th January as this is the eve of Epiphany which is a public holiday, equivalent in Spain to our Christmas Day and I was concerned I might find no places to eat or that they may all be pre-booked. I was also a little disappointed that my flight would bring me in after the processions in town had ended. Fiesta de los Reyes is a family occasion all over Spain, on the day we call Twelfth Night. It celebrates the Magi arriving in Bethlehem and recognising the Christ child. Is this so special here because the kings were of Arabian descent and this area was ruled by moors for centuries? It is the Magi here who bring children gifts and tokens are left for the kings and their camels instead of Santa and reindeer.

On 5th January the streets are lined with children eagerly awaiting the kings to process past and with their helpers throw sweets and confetti by the kilo in a massive wrapper shower. Walking along the city streets that night, taking in the happy atmosphere, the stacks of wooden chairs left for those who waited long (civilised- we should try that) and empty wrappers showed the route the ‘kings’ had taken. Bakers were still open, doing a roaring trade in large flat boxes of ring-shaped cakes covered in candied fruits.

boxes of cakes

Roscón de Reyes cakes on sale on 5th January

These are the Roscón de los Reyes which are often sliced open and filled with cream or chocolate truffle. Every cafe I saw was selling pieces to accompany coffee or beer next day. These cakes conceal trinkets, a bit like our traditional Christmas puddings. If you find a little king, you will be lauded as the king of the family for the next year. If its the faba (broad) bean well you may be asked to pay for the (10-15€) cake!

On 6th January cafes were indeed open to my relief, taking advantage of so many being on holiday. The cries of delighted children and their parents trying out new scooters and other toys filled the air.

Little girls dressed as princesses trailed behind parents struggling with battery powered cars. I wandered the walled town taking in the happy sounds. I bought cakes to try, fresh fruits, avocados and local pecan nuts.

carrot and ginger soup

Organic carrot and ginger soup

aubergine dish

Local marinaded aubergines with ewes milk cheese

I then found the organic cafe was open, and sun was shining, so time to stop for a leisurely lunch and a glass of vino tinto in the sunshine. I enjoyed carrot and ginger  soup and baked aubergines with ewes milk cheese.

Malaga came to prominence as a sea port where salt fish was traded in Roman and Phoenician times. This fish can still be found in the market-place today, as can the night’s catch fresh from the Mediterranean, which is sold grilled from under upturned boats at the beach and in the numerous restaurants in the old town.

meat market

Malaga meat market

fish on a market stall

Fresh fish on sale in Malaga market

fruit and veg at market

Malaga market for fruit and vegetables

Malaga has roman ruins, a moorish fort and town castle and a grand cathedral. It also has 2 museums to Picasso, one at his birthplace and the other of his work as donated by his family. It also has several other museums worth a visit. Some like the Museum Carmen Thyssen were even open on the holiday. If you have the inclination and balance there is a Segway tour of the town which might orient you and certainly looked fun.

Its a small enough city to wander about and safe and pleasant for this. The main shopping streets are busy till after midnight, the side street bodegas are full of laughter and family groups, stalls of nut sellers and ice cream shops stay open till after 11pm. Gluten free food was turning out to be no problem. Malaga has a supportive community of shops catering for this option. I did find it useful to have an explanatory sheet ready for chefs and waiters saying what I could and could not have.

One of my travel loves is visiting markets as I feel this is where you see how people really live. I had chosen a hotel close by the moorish style indoor market. It meant I could buy strawberries, cheese and salted almonds and a bottle of water and feel ready for my journey onward to Granada. I really wished later I had bought some of the fresh asparagus that was on offer too.


Cheeses in Malaga market

mushrooms at market

Fruit and fungi in Malaga market

My hotel offered to store my luggage for me if I liked which was kind, but I was travelling light. I chose this hotel (Trebol) as previous experience there showed them to be helpful and the 24 hours reception staff who all speak English are good at advising where to go and when, ranging from the 24 hour supermarkets to cafes and wholefood stores, all found nearby. I spotted the folk museum was just across the square, even nearer than the museum of glass which also sounds interesting and noted the opening times for my return trip.

Now I was heading inland on a fast bus towards the Sierra Nevada mountains. The just under 2 hour journey was for meeting a promise made to myself 35 years ago: I would finally see the Alhambra palaces and gardens.

(to be continued…)

bus station departure board

Next stop Granada