There is nothing as exciting as an escapade – a spontaneous trip to a place of one’s desire. This year, my husband and I decided to get ‘serious’ about our escapades. We agreed to put aside one day a week for unplanned adventures (not that we really need to get away from our life in Ronda) . This time, we decided to explore some hidden alleys and forgotten corners of the old quarter of Málaga.


Why Málaga?

Though we have been in the city plenty of times, it is still one of our favourite urban jaunts. Although tourists sometimes favour smaller beach towns, Málaga is well worth a day of explorative free-style strolling. Plus, being the museum capital of the Spanish south, there are always fabulous art exhibits.

But, this time around, we intend to stay off the beaten track. After all, we are here as escapees, about to enjoy the city’s unknown vicarious pleasures.  For us who live in a quintessential big mountain village, an occasional city spree is a healthy diversion.

Málaga isn’t the metropolitan centre of the universe. Yet with near 600,000 people, it offers us a much-needed urban fix. The city is just the right size to get lost in and to find one’s way again. It has pretty much the right amount of pollution, city dust, shopping variety, ethnic diversity and population density to tempt us. Meanwhile also reminding us how lucky we are not to partake in its daily traffic jams.

Málaga is only 1.5 hours drive from Ronda, but we decide to leave the car and take a bus instead. Using public transport adds an extra dimension of freedom to our escape. Allowing us to enjoy the journey without thoughts of speed traps or parking fines. Getting chauffeured to our destination, and for a modest fee at that, we can be as reckless as we want to.

Neither of us being the designated driver. Should we loiter about the streets too long, we can always grab a later bus, jump on a train, or find a place to spend the night. Or maybe we just travel on? One doesn’t want to limit one’s options too much, does one, or it would not be a true escapade?

Blooms Abound

We had a shamefully cheap breakfast in a place that boasts about serving eight types of café con leche. All served in the same type of glass with varying degrees of milk and espresso. After that, we’re ready to roll. Our first stop is an unassuming park, which meanders along one of the main traffic arteries leading downtown.

It’s unlikely you’ll meet tourists here, as who else would insist on walking blocks on end just to see trees. But, it is worth taking this quick detour, as these particular trees are a sight to behold. While they have trunks covered in cone-shaped lethal spikes, their crown is a delicate filigree of pink blooms.

Málaga’s flora is something that always impresses, being so very different from what one will find an hour inland. Wherever you go, there are planters with crimson hibiscus flowers. Even the smallest balconies seem to manage to squeeze in half a dozen pots of geraniums or a trailing bougainvillaea. And rows of tall, slender palms line the city’s avenues.

One of my favourite squares here is Plaza de la Merced. You might have passed it on your way to visit the Picasso’s birthplace, another of the town’s many museums. The neighbourhood is admittedly becoming a bit worn around the edges. The garbage is not emptied so often and the street artists work faster than the town’s anti-graffiti squad. Yet, this cannot outweigh the almost childlike joy I feel standing in the middle of the square. As the jacaranda trees are in bloom the plaza becomes awash with purple flowers.

Popsicle Coloured Walls

Speaking as a designer, the colours of Málaga are one of the city’s true inspirations. Whereas Ronda is one of Andalucía’s Pueblos Blancos or White Villages, Málaga’s architecture is a lively contrast. The beautiful low-rise edifices in the old town can have the most surprising colour combinations. While most remain within the family of warm earth tones, other buildings combine egg yolk yellow with green or bright pink.

I stop and admire one of these 19-century classics with semi-curved walls. This one is facing a smaller plaza. It has six stories of flats, each with a French balcony embellished by art nouveau ironwork. The walls are sand dune coloured, with cool khaki green detailing and cream bisque shutters. It is a combination I would have never thought up. Seen apart, they could almost appear clashing, yet when combined, they look nothing short of spectacular. Particularly when augmented by the soft rays of late afternoon sun.

I walk on in awe, admiring the playful palettes of aubergine, champagne and over-ripe nectarine. Almost enough to make you hungry…


There is never a wrong time to stop for a tentenpíe . This is the Spanish slang for an appetiser or titbit to hold one-off until the next real meal. I walk on in awe, admiring the playful palettes of aubergine, champagne and over-ripe nectarine. Often, we stop in Málaga’s lovely old public market for this purpose. However, on this occasion, we want to escape the line-ups.

Possibly the best place to enjoy a drink and a couple of appies is in one of the city’s historical almacenes (warehouses). Nowadays, these traditional food vendors are more like a bar combined with a traditional deli. Their escaparates or shop windows, like the shelves inside, display a tempting array of local specialities. Wines, cheeses, meats, canned seafood, and other malagueñas treats. It is no better place to meet the locals while getting a taste of real Málaga.

We decide to plop ourselves down outside one of the almacenes for a well-deserved break. We sip a frosty glass of local Fino and tuck into wedges of to-die-for oveja (sheep milk) cheese. Hoards of tourists will come home from their Spanish holiday with typical tourist tat. An abanico (fan) that hardly opens, castanets that will be redundant, or an imitation flamenco apron Made in PRC. But how many will visit authentic delis and buy some smoked, ground Spanish red pepper to bring home instead?

Ribbons, Bowlers and Chokers

Between the chain stores selling cheap shoes and cell phone covers are still some traditional family-run shops. Some hidden away in secret alleys and squeezed between Italian lingerie emporiums and yoghurt outlets. Most have discretely faded signs and a dusty window display. But this is where you really can do some authentic shopping.

Forget about the Chinese dollar-stores that have everything – all poorly made. These stores are the mom and pop kind with over-the-counter service, specialising in one type of item. Their goods are of decent quality and might even be Hecho en España (Made in Spain).

One of my favourite examples of these is the traditional Spanish Mercería or Haberdashery. Here, the local housewives will line up to buy 20cm of three different kinds of ribbon. The process of purchase is painstakingly slow since everything comes out from the back room. But it is ever so interesting to observe the tassel-purchasing process from a socio-anthropological point of view.

Next are the traditional ferreterías (hardware stores). To be sure that your chosen location is authentic, small drawers will line the wall behind the counter. These could contain anything! From doorknobs and powdered chemicals, to curious looking rodent-traps and poisons outlawed in 1965.

Equally interesting are the old stores that sell church supplies and religious paraphernalia. This is where you go if you want to buy one of those silver incense burners suspended from chains.

As for my husband, he loves the small shops that remind him of visiting his family in Bilbao as a boy. We are talking way back in the last millennium, when Franco was the autocratic ruler. First, there are the little-old-lady owned perfume shops that sell weird brands of splash-on colognes that nobody uses anymore.

Fabulous Flamenco Finds

Then, there are the traditional linen stores, looking as far from Zara Home as you can imagine. These will usually have a crowded window display. Piles of hideous synthetic blankets, tablecloths and a selection of could be handmade doilies and baby bibs. Though we have never bought anything in the latter type of store, they are always cool to peak into. The prices are also a hoot. I once noted childrens’ cotton undershirts for €1,70 and baby shoes for a whooping €2,30.

Like most large Spanish cities, Málaga also has a couple of the traditional hat store. They will still measure your head and display hats on wooden cranium-shaped domes. The owners of these businesses tend to be far beyond retirement age. Hence it’s wise not to wait too long to visit these premises, or they might have closed down. Here is where you will find a Fedora or a genuine Panama hat. Or even brand new (not by the store owner’s intention), yet now vintage hats for any festive occasion.

I also enjoy visiting a Flamenco store. I am not speaking about the souvenir shops that sell poor ruffled imitation dresses. This is the real thing, where they design and sew the colourful flamenco gowns from scratch. Here you can find a genuine Manton or Manila shawl for several hundred euros. I love their ever so stylish Flamenco leather shoes, though I cannot for the life of me dance the Sevillana. But their outrageously huge loped Flamenco earrings are another matter…


Being quite shopped out, though we hardly have bought anything, it is time for some grub, of which Málaga has got aplenty. The old town is usually crawling with tourists, but you can still find decent restaurants with mostly local clientele, merely a couple of blocks off the main drag. Wherever you go, it is advisable to avoid places that hand you a voucher as you pass by, as well as those who offer a €10 daily plasticised menu written in seven languages with pictures of their sad excuse for a paella and canned rabo de toro.

Though we usually go for ethnic food when in the big city, this time we decide on a new organic place. Located on a corner in a residential street, we appear to be the only out-of-towners. I am certainly the only non-Latina.

From our street-side table, we are able to do some quality people watching, as the real malagueños – fashionable, traditional, risqué or retro punk – go about their daily lives. Business people bike back from work (some female lawyers with 8 cm heels), parents pick up the kids from preschool, workers deliver cases of wine and neighbours chat from one window to the next.

During another escapade here, we got to watch aspiring ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’ enter the casting session for what appeared to be a not completely legit adult movie. This time around, we are just as lucky, catching a band practice in a building across the street. Though we do not see the musicians, we get a free Spanish guitar concert, and this, just a handful blocks from Calle Larios, Málaga’s busiest walking mall.

Look Up, Look Down

I should mention that this very same pedestrian-only avenue, which crosses the Casco Histórico, has the most beautiful rust coloured marble paving (for those who manage to tear their eyes away from the wall-to-wall shopping bonanza). Each piece of marble is so remarkable that I would take any of them home and put it as art on the wall.

The stone looks particularly stunning when it has been recently polished, around Semana Santa and before Christmas. They also look great after a downpour, though water makes the stone lethally slippery, so consider yourself forewarned.

Actually, this is yet another great thing about escaping to a place where we usually do not trot daily. We tend to look up more, or down as in the case of the pavement. At home, walking the same old streets, I often forget to see what really surrounds us. During an escapade, on the other hand, my head continually swivels, enjoying both horizontal and vertical splendours. Escaping allows one to see life from a slightly different angle, inspiring one to observe and sense more intensely, even as one returns to familiar surroundings.

The evening has come upon us. Though there is still much urban exploring to be done, such as enjoying the sunset from Málaga’s Cathedral roof or watching a foreign movie in its original language. But we feel more than content. Filled with new sights, sounds and tastes, we wander back to the bus station, where the same driver chauffeurs us home.

As I watch the beautiful sculptural landscape of Andalucía flying by, I know that we will escape again a Friday or two from now. But where we will go is yet to be decided.

About the writer: Karethe Linaae is a Norwegian writer and author living in Ronda, Andalucía. Her book, Casita 26 – Searching for a Slice of Andalusian Paradise was published in the USA in 2019. For more information, please go to

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