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9 City Break Ideas: Eat, Drink, Do


Since starting to contribute some of my travel articles to the GPSmyCity app a couple of years ago, I’ve been a bit more organised about how I write up city breaks. It’s been a really positive step in helping me develop my writing and also great to know that some of it is published and reaching a wider audience.

I like to look at why you would choose a particular city to travel to for a short break. Apart from obvious sights to visit, for me, good travel is intrinsically linked to good food. Hence, the ‘series’ has become ‘Eat, Drink, Do’. Although I haven’t used that title for all the following guides, they’re all the same format giving you a lot of information about why to go, where to stay, what to do and where – of course! – to eat.

I’m listing the cities in order of the date the article was published – not an order of preference, as that would be too difficult as I love them all!



I went back to Nice for the first time in many years in September 2015. I hadn’t taken in before the close connection to Italy – I don’t mean in geographical terms as that’s more obvious, but the language and food as Nice was once part of Italy. It’s just a fabulous destination for great food and wine, climate, art and beauty. Click here to my full article.



As regular readers of the blog will know, it’s becoming a regular thing for me to go to Amsterdam in the spring – usually January. I know the city well, am not seeking sun (though it’s nice when I get some!), but simply to soak up the wonderful atmosphere in one of Europe’s most laid-back but culturally vibrant cities. Click here to read my guide.



Vienna had been on my ‘bucket list’ for some time but it was thanks to my daughter I made it to this great city. She was going there for work and invited me to join her for a weekend. It was great to see it with her and Vienna has so much to offer the traveller that a weekend wasn’t really long enough – so sometime I’ll have to go back to see more. Click here for my guide.



I’d been thinking of going to Turin for a while as my Italian teacher suggested I’d enjoy it because of its great gastronomic heritage. Some of the best food and wine in Italy comes from Piemonte, of which Turin is the capital. I fell in love with the city immediately, went back the following year and have a third trip booked for next spring. Click here for my guide.



When I went to Florence last June, it was the first time in many years, though I had been before a few times. I loved it all over again. Yes it gets very busy – so try to avoid July and August – but there’s so much to do and plenty of places to escape the crowds, like taking a bus up to Fiesole or going to the Boboli Gardens. Click here for my guide.



I’d been wanting to go to Granada for ages and when I finally got there last September it was everything and more than I’d hoped for. Of course you just have to visit the incredible Alhambra (make sure to book well in advance or you won’t get in) and the views from there and other hills are stunning. But I also loved the vibrancy of the city with Flamenco on the streets, gorgeous food in fabulous tapas bars and the Moorish heritage still evident throughout the city. Click here for my guide.



The least touristy of these city break suggestions and, it has to be said, not my favourite, but I did like it a lot. The non-touristy aspect has pros and cons but the pros are it’s a lived in city full of locals and not tourists. You will find some of Italy’s best food here and eating out is much cheaper than other popular cities. Everyone I met was wonderfully friendly and it’s also a great base to explore the beautiful Cinque Terre. Click here for my guide.



I’d been close to Siena so many times over very many years, but had never made it there – until June this year. And I’m so glad I finally got there for it is a beautiful city, quite extraordinary because of the preservation of its medieval historic centre. Many people go for a day’s visit but do stay for at least a night or two. It calms down a little in the evening and is just the most beautiful place to be. Click here for my guide.



I’ve only been back a few days and have just published my guide to this beautiful city but I certainly couldn’t leave it out of my suggestions for a great city break. It has everything you could want from a short holiday: a wonderful city with all that a great city has to offer and then the beach and marina. Even in the winter the weather is reasonably warm so it’s a city to head off to at any time of year. Click here for my guide.


If you’re thinking about where to escape to next for a great city break, then I hope this post has given you inspiration. And do please let me know your favourite place to go for a wonderful city break.


Five Nights in Malaga: Eat, Drink, Do



Why go?

It turned out there were lots of good reasons to go to Malaga. But I was attracted initially by a 2-day art tour there with Hotel Alphabet and as some friends had previously told me that Malaga is a great city and I would enjoy it, it seemed a good idea to take a chance to go. Thus I booked the art tour and added on another 3 days for relaxation and exploration.

I’m a summer person and like to seek a last dose of warm sun before winter takes hold and this makes Malaga an ideal destination in October when the average high is 24C. In fact, it’s never really cold; in the coldest months, December and January, you can expect highs of 17C and the lowest low is 8C.

Another great bonus for me is the combination of city and sea – all in one! You can enjoy all the benefits of a great city – museums, art galleries, historic sights, great restaurants – with long beaches and the blue Mediterranean glistening in the sun. And all of it within an easy walk.


How to get there and where to stay 

I booked my hotel, as I often do, with my flight. Generally – though not always – the deal with British Airways gives me a good saving on the hotel. I like to stay very central. If it’s just a short trip and you want to be in the city and see the sights, it’s nicer to be able to walk everywhere rather than rely on public transport to take you into the centre. My hotel – Hotel Salles Malaga Centro – was an ideal location. It was just outside the historic centre because it was situated the other side of a bridge from Puerta Nueva, but I only had to cross the bridge – Puente de la Aurora – to be in the old town. I could walk everywhere easily, even right across to the other side of the city where the port and beach were – about half an hour’s walk.

I flew British Airways to Malaga from Heathrow but plenty of airlines fly there and it’s Spain’s 4th busiest airport. It’s been very much a gateway to more popular resorts in southern Spain up until now but more and more is becoming a destination in its own right. It’s only a few kilometres from the centre and you can either take a taxi (about 20-minute journey for €20-25) or there are buses and trains.


Getting around the city 

It’s easy to walk everywhere, wherever you are in the centre. The heart and hub of the historic centre of Malaga is the beautiful square, Plaza de la Constitucion. It was just a 5-minute walk from my hotel and wherever I went, I had to walk through it, but often I wanted to stay, find a bench to sit on, and people watch and simply enjoy its beauty.

From the square a major pedestrianised street, Calle de Marques de Larios, with lots of shops and cafes, runs down to the port and beaches. And there are busy offshoots – more streets and alleyways running from it, also full of cafes and restaurants.

It may be easy to walk everywhere in distance terms, but walking has its hazards. Yes, it’s mostly pedestrianised so you don’t have to worry about traffic, just the occasional taxi, but many of the streets are paved with marble. It looks beautiful but it’s also very slippery. It rained a bit while I was there, and also each morning when I went out I would see large trucks from which thick hoses were used to spray the streets clean. Despite taking great care, I slipped over a couple of times and took to wearing some walking-style sandals with a good grip.


The main sights

For the art lover

It was because of the art tour that I discovered how much Malaga has to offer anyone interested in art. There’s the CAC (Contemporary Art Centre), Picasso Museum, Museo Carmen Thyssen, State Russian Museum (a branch of the famous St Petersburg museum) and Centre Pompidou (a branch of the Paris one).

For all the fine art to see in Malaga, there’s no doubt that the real highlight for many will be the Picasso connection. Picasso was born in the city in 1881 and, although he left at the age of 19 to go to Paris and never returned, despite living to the grand old age of 91, the city makes the most of its favourite ‘son’. Apart from the Picasso Museum, you can visit his birthplace – the house, on a corner of Plaza de la Merced, is now a museum. I enjoyed the main Picasso Museum, which has over 200 of his works, though not the most famous, but the birthplace was disappointing, apart from a handful of lovely drawings on the ground floor, it had the feel of a fairly soulless museum rather than family home. Many restaurants and cafes are named after Picasso and there’s inevitably a lot of marketing in his name with souvenirs to buy.

The Cathedral

The cathedral is truly stunning, as much by night as by day. It took two and a half centuries to build, from 1528-1782, and like many churches in Spain, was built of the site of a former mosque due to the long rule of the Moors. I didn’t get to go inside – there were always long queues – but I just loved walking by it and frequently did as it’s in the heart of the historic centre and its tower can be seen from other places, like Plaza de la Constitucion.

The Moors

Like other parts of Andalucia in southern Spain, the Moors are in great evidence in Malaga. A nomadic north African people, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 711AD and ruled until 1487 when they finally lost their last stronghold – Granada – to the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Although the Alcazaba Fortress, dating from the 8th and 11th centuries, is nowhere near so glorious as the wonderful Alhambra in Granada, it’s still worth seeing and costs only a couple of euros to enter (free on Sunday afternoons). Here you will get great views over the city and harbour and see those elements so typical of the Moors, the water features, courtyards, arches and mosaics, making it a peaceful and lovely place to spend some time.


For more dramatic views, go further up the hill to the Gibralfaro Castle, which dates from the 14th century. It’s a very steep and long climb – but definitely worth it to look across the harbour, the city and down to the fortress (click here for more info).

The port and beach


The Port of Malaga is one of the largest and oldest ports in the Mediterranean. The far western area is very industrial and you see large cruise ships coming in. To the east you’ll find the Marina and then round a peninsula, with a lighthouse visible at the end, there is the beach of La Malagueta.

This part of Malaga has undergone major renovation over the last 20 years and is a wonderfully attractive area to spend time with lots of cafes along the front and quiet green spaces to sit, with play areas for children.

At first glance it reminded me of Genoa with its modern architecture but while I didn’t much like Genoa’s harbour and seafront, I really loved Malaga’s and sometimes would just walk down and sit there for a while, either looking out to sea or in one of the green garden spaces.



Food & Drink

Breakfast & Morning Coffee

I love coffee and can’t go far into the day without some. I prefer it a bit later in the morning, after a simple breakfast, and I like to find a nice cafe when on holiday to enjoy a good coffee with a pastry. I have to say I didn’t find anywhere truly great – an excellent coffee + an excellent croissant – but then Spain isn’t renowned for its pastries in the way France is, and even in northern Italy I’ve enjoyed some of the best pastries anywhere. However, I did find a great coffee stop near the cathedral – El Ultimo Mono Juice & Coffee – in Calle Sta. Maria. It was a funky modern place and they really know their coffee. For something more traditional, go to Cafe Central in Plaza de la Constitucion, an historic cafe that prides itself on serving good coffee.

You’ll find lots of breakfast deals in cafes and need only pay somewhere between €3-5 for fresh orange juice + coffee + pastry.

Of course the thing to eat in Spain is churros – deep fried, choux-type pastry sticks which you dip into thick hot chocolate. You’ll find them on offer in most cafes and while popular for breakfast, you’ll see people eating them late at night too.

Tapas bars 

You need look no further than a good tapas bar to fit all your eating needs – lunch, snack or dinner. I didn’t go to any restaurants and just ate in tapas bars. Tapas are traditionally just a small snack to eat with an early evening drink; dinner is served late in Spain, maybe as late as 10.30pm. However, in all the tapas bars I ate in, there were three sizes of dishes on offer: tapas (small), raciones (half portion) and full portions. It’s therefore possible to order a large ‘starter’ and follow it with a ‘main course’. Some bars, like Vineria Cervantes, don’t sell the small tapas-size portion later evening. I found all sizes very generous throughout Malaga. You’ll find paella on offer in most restaurants and bars but it’s not actually a local dish and comes from further north, in Valencia. I enjoyed it a couple of times at lunch, but it was wetter than the traditional Valencian paella so while you might enjoy it, it’s not the ‘real thing’.

The places I ate in and liked are: Vineria Cervantes, El Pimpi, Los Gatos, Casa Lola and a stall in the market. Particularly look out for and try: Iberican ham; Manchego cheese; boquerones – anchovies; patas bravas – fried potatoes with spicy sauce; fried aubergine slices drizzled with honey; espartos de sardinas – skewered charcoal grilled sardines.

Ice cream, Almonds and Turron

Wherever I am, I like to find some good ice cream. I read about Casa Mira, one of Malaga’s best ice cream shops, a little before travelling and made a note of it and went there on my first full day. I also went to Freskitt, another with great reviews. I had good ice cream but then came to the conclusion that no one makes ice cream like the Italians! I therefore had my next couple of ice cream treats in the Italian Amorino, which I’d spotted in Calle Granada. Calle Granada, leading from Plaza de la Constitucion up through Plaza Carbon, all the way to Plaza de la Merced, is the best place to look for somewhere to eat. It’s full of restaurants and bars and cafes.

Almonds are a big thing in Andalucia with great expanses of almond trees across hillsides. The blossom in the spring is said to be so beautiful that people make special journeys to see it. Thus it’s not surprising that you will see almonds everywhere – in fact, whole shops selling them in a variety of ways, and stalls selling toasted almonds, almonds in savoury dishes and the famous turron – a kind of soft nougat made from almonds, honey, eggs and sugar. Casa Mira is famous for its version as well as their ice cream. I find it far too sweet but many people love it.



Atarazanas Market

This is Malaga’s biggest and most famous food market, open every day until 2.00pm, except Sundays. It’s a glorious place for anyone who loves food to wander about it, not just for the wonderful food but the delight of the great stained-glass window at one end.


I also had one of my best plates of food here at a bar with seating outside. Where better to eat the freshest seafood? Pescaito frito or Fritura Malaguena – mixed fried fish, is a speciality of the city.


To add to the perfection, a couple of guys playing Flamenco guitar and singing Flamenco came to entertain us.


Dancing and music in the streets


I loved the Flamenco playing and singing pair at the market, but it was quite common to find other Flamenco buskers in the streets, and on one evening I saw a couple with the woman dancing Flamenco and then another couple dancing Argentine Tango near the cathedral. Flamenco isn’t such a big tradition in Malaga as further north in cities like Granada and Seville, but it’s still fun to see and enjoy. Malaga is such a lively and exciting place by night.


Away from the crowds

The most obvious place to get away from the crowds is to head down to the beach. Yes, parts of it will be crowded but it’s just brilliant to take a walk along the front and enjoy the sea air and sit for a while in the sun. The sand is quite coarse and grey – not soft and golden! – but there were plenty of sun bathers and people stretched out on sun beds so you really can combine beach and city well.


On the way from the historic centre to the marina and beach you walk through gorgeous gardens – Paseo de Parque. I found them by chance on my first morning, heading to the Centre Pompidou. But also, as I said above, you’ll find nice green areas to sit by the marina. Malaga is a very green city and all the more beautiful for it.

There are botanical gardens 6km out of the city – Jardin Botanico La Concepcion. Bus line 2 will take you close and then a 15-minute walk. I didn’t have time to go there but they’re said to be some of the most beautiful tropical gardens in Europe so another time, it’s a must.

I’m really pleased to have discovered the delights of Malaga, from its beautiful historic centre, to the seafront, its Moorish sights with great views and, of course, its wonderful food. You could happily spend quite a lot of time there, as there’s so much to do, but it also makes an idea destination for a city break.

Malaga 2018: Malaga at Night & Return to Vineria Cervantes


If Malaga is beautiful by day then it’s no less so at night when it seems to come to life. The morning is quiet and calm with few people around, but through the day life unfolds and by night, there is even dancing on the streets – literally!

It was my last evening. I always like to eat at my favourite restaurant of the trip and end the holiday on a foodie high. So I decided to go back to Vineria Cervantes, where I ate on Friday. It’s closed at lunchtime so I turned up at 5pm when they open to book a table for about 7-8. ‘We’re full,’ the waiter told me. But he seemed to recognise me from two nights before and went to consult his booking list. After some consideration he said he could fit me in at 8.30 and so I thankfully said, yes please. Although I prefer to eat earlier, 8.30 isn’t late by Spain’s standards as they tend to eat very late, maybe 10.30, and I’ve even seen families with young children arrive at restaurants at that late time. However, tapas are eaten earlier for they are really more of a snack to go with an early evening drink, like cichetti in Venice, to keep you going until supper time. But I’m living on tapas here, preferring to eat informally in buzzing tapas bars, and because such a choice of great little tapas is a real treat. I guess that’s pretty touristy of me but in fact there’s always a choice of sizes so it’s possible to eat a ‘starter’ and ‘main’ if you like. And, because some bars, like Vineria Cervantes, don’t serve tapas size late evening, then that’s in effect what I did.

It gets dark here around 8pm at the moment. I left the hotel in plenty of time to wander and enjoy Malaga’s evening sights before eating. I walked to Plaza de la Constitucion – 5 minutes away – and down Calle de Marques de Larios to the port.

As the sun set, the sky was brushed with a wash of pink. Then I walked back up Larios to the square again.


I love the square; it’s so beautiful. I still had plenty of time before eating and sat on a bench for a while to enjoy the view.


The vineria is at the top of Calle de Cárcer and the Teatro Cervantes is easily visibly in front of you as you walk up. The 16th century writer Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, is widely regarded as Spain’s greatest writer.

What a welcoming sight the vineria was. It was busy; a queue was forming. The waiter I’d seen earlier saw me, ‘Hola, Una!’ he called – una being the female word for ‘one’ – and ushered me past the queue and inside.

There’s such a great atmosphere as well as good food. As before I ordered a ‘starter’ and ‘main’ – both raciones, half portions. I also had a glass of white wine followed by a glass of red with my ‘main’.

Marinated anchovies with guacamole and mango purée to begin.

Venison fillet with wild mushrooms and tomato chutney next.

And a dessert of apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

It was all excellent again. When I came out I was in no hurry to go back to the hotel and wanted to wander and make the most of my last evening.


I soon came across a couple dancing and playing flamenco – an older couple and he obviously disabled in a motorised scooter. It was wonderful and the woman had such energy dancing flamenco.

Then, a bit further on by the cathedral, a younger couple were dancing Argentine tango.


The cathedral is stunning by day but perhaps even more so by night. As one often finds in Spain, it was built on the former site of a mosque due to the Moors long reign. The cathedral took two and a half centuries to build, from 1528-1782.


From the front of the cathedral in Plaza Obispo I cut back through almost deserted alleyways to the busy centre.


Then back through Plaza de la Constitucion and into Calle Puerta Nueva.


It’s just a short walk from there across a bridge from the historic centre to my hotel. It was a lovely last night.

Malaga 2081: Rain, Tapas & the Moors


I woke to dark stormy skies and the promise of rain for the entire morning – though sun to follow in the afternoon. I didn’t want to stay in the hotel for much of the day, so ventured out. It was quiet and early in the day, the rain light. It’s quite hazardous walking around the historic centre in the rain as most of it, while pedestrianised, is paved with marble stone which is very slippery. Even if there’s no rain, large trucks are out in the morning hosing everything down making all the roads and walkways wet. And that’s great because it’s very clean everywhere – but you do need to tread very carefully. I’ve slipped over a couple of times and have to resist any urge to hurry.


There was only one thing to do as the rain got heavier – find coffee and shelter! I couldn’t have found a better place than El Ultimo Mono Juice & Coffee in Calle Sta. Maria.

Funky inside, it was a place that really knows its coffee – as was immediately evidenced when I ordered. What proportion of milk to coffee did I want; how many shots? Inevitably, finding another coffee enthusiast, we delved deeply into a coffee discussion. The coffee itself was excellent – a cappuccino, which he knew should be one part milk to two parts coffee – and I had a slice of delicious banana and chocolate bread with it. I made myself comfortable in a big armchair and got out my book. It was tempting to stay there all morning but when the weather seemed to clear a bit, I went out again.


However, the rain soon grew heavier and I sought sanctuary at Cafe Central and had another coffee. I made it inside just in time because the heavens opened and a terrific rainstorm crashed down onto Malaga’s streets.

Once it calmed again I decided the only thing to do was head back to the hotel – just 5 minutes walk away – as my phone promised the rain would continue for another couple of hours.

By midday it had brightened and I headed to Los Gatos in Plaza Uncibay for lunch, which I’d read about and is always full when I pass by. I’ve been lunching and dining on tapas because it’s what I’m happiest doing here. Gorgeous morsels of food in attractive and informal bars.


Food tends to come in 3 sizes: tapas (small size), raciones (half portion) and full portion. Some are only available in the portions – not tapas – size. I ordered a glass of cava to start (€2) and a small bottle of water (€1.10), which came with bread and olives. I chose a tapas size tortilla (€3.50) and a raciones of sweet pepper stuffed with cod and prawns (€8.50).


The tortilla was a big slice – easily enough for 2 to share in a selection of dishes. The peppers was a large portion too but tapas size wasn’t an option – 4 small but whole stuffed peppers. It was all really delicious – though I didn’t quite finish it. The service was so friendly too and so Los Gatos was a great choice.

My ‘plan’ for the day was to visit the Moorish Alcazaba Fortress, a small part of which was built by the Moors in the 8th century but most built in the 11th century.

However, as I approached it, despite following a sign, I missed the entrance (which later I saw in my guide book was by the entrance to the Roman Theatre) and I found myself climbing up to the Gibralfaro Castle, which dates from the 14th century. It turned out to be a fortunate mistake for the views were spectacular and worth the climb. It is a very steep, long climb, but the real drawback is there are no rails to hold on to so coming back down was a bit nerve racking and I took it very slowly. I did see taxis and even a bus at the top which had clearly come via a different route but I thought it was much nicer to walk and enjoy the views on the way back down.

At one point you can see down on to bullring: La Malagueta. And some way up – though before the top – there’s a good viewing point.


I was really pleased to have done the climb and seen the castle and enjoyed the views across Malaga. Afterwards I headed back to the hotel for a while. One of the great advantages of staying in the heart of a city is to be able to pop back and forth to the hotel easily. With the sun now shining brightly though, it seemed a waste to stay in long so I set out again to see the fortress – this time armed with directions from my guidebook!

It turned out there was free entry to both the castle and fortress after 2pm on Sundays. I don’t know if this is always the case but neither are expensive (about €3).

I really love visiting Moorish places and while this is nowhere near as stunning (nor so large) and Granada’s Alhambra, it was still a lovely place to wander round for a while.


There was quite a lot of greenery and the typical Moorish arches and water features. And even a cafe at one point of you fancy a snack or drink with a view.



It was a great way to spend a sunny afternoon in Malaga.

Malaga 2018: Mercato Atarazanas, Picasso’s Birthplace & A Perfect Lunch


Unsurprisingly, I love visiting food markets when I’m in a new city. And I like to go fairly early in the morning when it’s mainly locals shopping rather than later in the day when the tourists descend. Malaga’s Mercado Atarazanas is a delight, full of the most glorious food and lit up by light from a beautiful stained glass window at one end. From the outside, its Moorish heritage is obvious; it has an Arabic look. The name Atarazanas comes from the Arabic word for shipyard and one stood there during the Moorish rule which spanned centuries from 711AD until around 1487. The original building was demolished in 1868 and rebuilt 8 years later but Moorish elements were added to the design.

But beyond the attractive building there are fabulous food stalls to wonder at.


Here’s what I saw.



Malaga is famous for sardines and I stopped for a while to watch a fishmonger fillet some. I also saw a glorious selection of mushrooms.



Some of the tomatoes were enormous and misshapen but I’m sure they tasted wonderful. And there were white aubergines, which I’d never seen before.


Next I crossed the historic centre to Plaza de la Merced to visit Picasso’s birthplace, a house on the corner of the square. It’s a pretty square, lined with lots of cafes so I took a coffee stop before going into the musuem.

Picasso is very much Malaga’s favoured ‘son’ and evidence of his connection to the city is everywhere, even though he left at the age of 19 to go to Paris and never came back, despite living to the grand old age of 91.

The house where he was born is very much a museum now with little evidence of a ‘home’ inside. There are a few beautiful early drawings by the artist on the ground floor but in many ways it’s a disappointment. It costs €3 to go in.

I crossed Plaza de la Merced and headed over to the sea and beach: Playa de la Malagueta.

I always love the combination of a great city and beach! It was such a lovely sunny day I enjoyed walking along the seafront. I ventured briefly on to the sand towards the sea, but the sand was quite coarse and grey – ‘industrial’ sand rather than nice soft golden sand.

I cut back round at the end of a peninsula to the port and walked back up towards the town.

For lunch I decided to head back to the market. I knew I’d find the best and freshest fish there.

I went to the busiest stall and waited for a table outside – just a small high bar table and stool.


I ordered a raciones – ½ portion –  of mixed fried fish (€6). Wow! It was amazing; so good. I had a small beer too and loved sitting on the crowded street amidst other enthusiastic diners. To make the moment perfect a couple of guys came right behind me and began singing and playing Flamenco guitar.


It was a wonderful morning – and then siesta called and I made my way back to the hotel.

Malaga 2018: Art & Food (2)


It was the 2nd day of my 2-day tour of modern art in Malaga with Hotel Alphabet. We were meeting at Centro de Arte Contemporaneo at 10.30.

Sunrise isn’t until about 8.30am and I’ve found it strange to get up relatively late in the dark, so have been pleased I added breakfast to my hotel booking. I like to have just some cereal, fresh fruit, yoghurt and juice first thing and go in search of a good coffee and pastry a bit later – once it’s light! Even at 9-9.30 it’s very quiet everywhere. Life in Spain starts late and goes on late. It’s not unusual to see families with even very young children arrive at a restaurant at 10.30 at night for a meal and tapas are traditionally just a snack to have with an early evening drink.

I was planning to have coffee in a historic cafe in Plaza de la Constitucion, which, my guide book told me, opened at 8.00am. However, even after 9.00 there wasn’t much sign of life, just a couple of waiters slowly putting out tables. This is Spain: don’t try to be in a hurry. I went to another cafe almost next door where I had a good coffee and croissant overlooking the pretty square, still relatively deserted at this early hour.

I had about an half hour walk to the art gallery but set off early enough to take things gently. From the square I walked down the wide, pedestrianised Calle Larios (where the day before I’d enjoyed ice cream at Casa Mira), a street lined with historic houses over 100 years old, though now mainly shops and restaurants. The far end opened onto the port area. The port is the oldest continuously operated port in Spain and one of the oldest in the Mediterranean. At the point I arrived it was very industrial and I couldn’t walk along the coast so instead followed the next road inland towards the art gallery. It was still a nice walk.



The Contemporary Art Musuem opened in 2003 and its shows have an emphasis on promoting 20th century Spanish art. It was formerly a 1930s wholesale market building and this background lends itself to providing a wonderfully light spacious setting for the displays. I wasn’t familiar with the artists so it was particularly great to have art historian Marie-Anne Mancio to inform me. It’s very easy to dismiss unfamiliar art that doesn’t immediately appeal and you don’t understand but when someone explains it and gives it reference and offers insight, it all changes. You don’t necessarily fall in love with it but there’s great interest in opening your eyes to the new.

We spent 2 hours there and when we emerged it was lunchtime. Marie-Anne and Paul led us towards the beach – which was also in the direction of our afternoon gallery visit – and it was great to see the sea in the sunshine. We ate at a beach restaurant, all 14 of us round a large table. I shared a vegetarian paella with Sheila and other paellas were ordered but some salads too. We took our time – mainly as paella takes a long time to cook from scratch! It was all good fun and a nice thing to do on our final day.

Afterwards we walked a fairly short distance to the State Russian Museum, a branch of the legendary St Petersburg museum.

We saw sardines being barbecued at another restaurant on the way. Chargrilled Espetos de sardinas are a Malagan speciality. Clearly I need to try them another day!

The Russian museum was in a quiet area, some way from the historic centre. It was interesting art – though far from uplifting. During Stalin’s time and up to Gladnost in 1986 under Gorbachev, artists weren’t free to paint what they liked, they had to paint government approved things that were basically propaganda. To do otherwise was very dangerous indeed!

It was time to say goodbye to the group as we made our way back to the centre of the city. It had been a great two days.

Back in the hotel I rested tired legs for a while before heading out for supper. I noticed how much busier it was now it’s the weekend. It’s an advantage to want to eat fairly early when restaurants are a bit quieter. I was able to get a table at Vineria Cervantes for an hour, otherwise it was fully booked.

Vineria Cervantes is sister to El Tapeo de Cervantes next door, which is considered one of the best places to eat in Malaga, and has the same menu.

I like eating in an informal bar like this. There was a long specials list on a blackboard as well as the usual menu. I chose two dishes from this and ordered white wine and a small bottle of mineral water.


Rather thoughfully – and a nice surprise – they brought my two dishes separately. At lunchtime many dishes are available as tapas (small dishes), raciones (½ portions) or full portions, but small tapas size wasn’t an evening option so I chose 2 raciones.

The first, Ceviche with Mango, looked wonderful as it was put before me and tasted amazing. It looked small but was a deceptively large potions that would be plenty to share between two having a selection of dishes. My second dish, Grilled Tuna with Cauliflower Purée, was fabulous too. There was carrot as well as cauliflower purée and the tuna was so rare it was almost sushi but incredibly tender and tasty. This was food of the highest order. 


Yes I did want dessert, I told the waiter with a laugh when he asked. I’m on holiday! I ordered fig flan. I have to say it wasn’t quite what I had in mind; I need to remember I’m in Spain not France and Spanish desserts are entirely different.

It did indeed taste of fig though  – dried figs – and was cake like. It looked as if it would be very sweet but surprisingly wasn’t and I enjoyed it.

It was a wonderful meal of fantastic food, and made all the more enjoyable by the friendliness of the waiters, their obvious enthusiasm for what they were serving and their knowledge about the food and wine.

I took a slow, slightly winding route back through the busy streets to the hotel, passing as ever through Plaza de la Constitucion, a lovely end to another good day.


Malaga 2018: Art & Food


Apart from the obvious reason of wanting a holiday, I have three other reasons for wanting to be in Malaga: Art – enjoying its rich modern art scene with the brilliant art historian Marie-Anne Mancio of Hotel Alphabet; food – Malaga has a reputation for having some of the best food and wine in Spain; and sun. Unfortunately the sun wasn’t playing today but hiding instead behind dark grey clouds that burst into heavy downpours during the morning. However, the art and food was everything I’d hoped for. So, on balance, it’s been a very good day indeed.

The day began, after breakfast in the hotel, with a 20-minute walk through the old historic centre to the harbour area where the Centre Pompidou Malaga is situated; the art group’s meeting place this morning.

Despite the inclement weather it was a lovely walk through mainly pedestrianised streets, passing beautiful elegant buildings, narrow streets, and the cathedral.



Nearing the seafront, I passed through a park area and along a wide pavement lined with trees.


What struck me on my walk was the beauty of the city – a glorious surprise as I’d had no idea it was so lovely before I came – and its greenery: lots of trees and plants. It’s a city that seems cared for.

As I arrived at the seafront and looked to my left, the Pompidou Centre was easy to spot, its colourful exterior a mirror of the original Paris Centre. Getting into it was slightly more difficult. I walked round completely puzzled by how to get inside. A local elderly man came to my rescue and walked me towards the entrance down a nearby ramp.

Once inside I was delighted to see what a magnificent space it was, so beautifully designed and a fabulous background to the art displays. The building was worth a visit on its own, though we did see some good art too.

Afterwards we made our way to the Picasso Museum. Picasso was born in Malaga in 1881 and you cannot escape his presence in the city. You can visit the house where he was born and many places are named after him, including the restaurant at my hotel. However, he didn’t spend much of his long life – he lived to the age of 91 – here. Picasso left Malaga for Paris when he was 19 and never came back.

After lunch we finished our art day at the Museo Carmen Thyssen where we saw not only the permanent collection of modern art but also a temporary show of Matisse’s Jazz. The day was a stimulating and enjoyable mix of Marie-Anne’s informed and interesting commentary to the displays and the input from members of the group, all art enthusiasts, so why they’re here!  Photography was strictly not allowed so I can only show you a bit of the buldings!


Inbetween Picasso and Matisse (who were contemporaries and knew each other; indeed were rivals of sorts for the title of leader of their art movements), I had a very good lunch at a restaurant opposite the Thyssen museum with Helen from the group. It was an attractive place – Marisqueria Canela Fina. We decided to order paella. We wanted something warm after the rain. But paella at lunchtime is good in Spain; they don’t like eating rice in the evening as they believe its not so easily digested later in the day.

We were given some complimentary tortilla first, which was very good.


The paella (€28 for 2) was delicious. It was quite soft and wet – sometimes they’re served very dry – and we enjoyed it a lot.

It was 4pm when we came out of the Thyssen and I was definitely in need of a rest. My hotel was barely 5-minutes walk away. Once there I went up on to the roof terrace for a look across the city and ordered a coffee from the bar. The views were wonderful.

I rested in my room for a while, but with the sun beginning to make an appearance outside I decided to go out and explore. And exploring in the direction of one of Malaga’s best ice cream shops seemed a good plan. I’d read about Casa Mira – established as long ago as 1890 – before I came and its reputation is well deserved. I had an excellent small cup (€2.70) of orange ice cream with chocolate shards in it. I thought orange and chocolate were good Spanish flavours!


I walked back to the hotel through Plaza de la Constitucion. It’s like the heart and hub of the area and very lovely.

Later, showered and refreshed I went in search of supper. There are so many places to choose from but after last night’s disappointing ‘pot luck’ I decided to seek help from my guide book and the internet. One of the most well-known and popular places to go – and also recommended by my hotel – is El Pimpi. The famous go there, people like Rafael Nadal, and to an extent that puts me off. But when I took a look it was inviting. I opted for the bar area rather than the more formal restaurant.


I ordered wine (€1.80), which came with olives and bread, and chose two tapas. I imagined they’d be quite small and I might want to order more. As it happened, they were quite big – and it was as well I only ordered two.


The Salmorjo (€6) – a thick tomato and garlic cold soup; smoother than gazpacho – was amazing. It was so good it was one of those dishes that stops you in your tracks and you think, Wow! I also chose a traditional Malaga Salad (€3.50) – potato, salted cod and oranges. This was gorgeous too.


OK, they were large tapas but I’m on holiday so a dessert was called for. When I saw they had cheesecake I remembered the glorious – and famous – cheesecake I had in a tapas bar in San Sebastián with my good friend Annie a couple of years ago. So cheesecake was what I ordered.

It looked good – though large like the tapas! – but was disappointing. Instead of the soft creamy cake I remembered from San Sebastián this was quite solid, almost like cutting into a chunk of cheese. It wasn’t bad really, just not what I expected and I couldn’t finish it. But I did love El Pimpi and their tapas were so fantastic I’m just going to have to go back another day.

Malaga 2018: Arrival


A short post from nighttime Malaga after a fairly late arrival. My flight didn’t land until 8pm and so by the time I’d got to my hotel from the airport, checked in, and went out in search of a light supper, it was gone 9.30. Luckily my hotel – Salles Hotel Malaga Centro – seems ideally placed and it took me less than 5 minutes to walk down the road, cross a bridge and find myself in the old historic centre. Even a tired traveller was immediately impressed by its beauty as I wandered down pedestrianised old streets.

I took pot luck on where to eat almost immediately and the tapas was OK though nothing to get excited about. But it was cheap, the service friendly and just sitting outside in such pretty surroundings was great.

Afterwards I took a short walk further on to Plaza San Ignacio.


When I arrived in the square I walked round and then headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow and Friday I’m doing a modern art history course with Hotel Alphabet ( and with lots of walking and art gazing and contemplating ahead of me, sleep calls. But I enjoyed my walk and I’m looking forward to seeing Malaga in the daylight.

Lamb Stewed in Red Wine with Tomatoes, Olives & Thyme

It wasn’t the original plan. I’d bought lamb to make a lamb tagine – an old family favourite – with the prospect of 7 of us for lunch. But then my brother and his two kids couldn’t make it due to a fairly last-minute car crisis, which left 4 of us to lunch – including 3½ year-old Freddie. Who, it has to be said, is a real carnivore and definitely needs to be counted into the meat portion calculations.

I’m not quite sure why I went off the tagine idea, because I do love it, but I’d seen a lamb recipe in Gino d’Acampo’s Italian Escape that I wanted to try: Stufato di Agnello con Timo e Vino Rosso. It’s quite a wintry dish but with the weather turning significantly colder over the last week or so, and nights drawing in fast, by suppertime it’s cool and dark and this lamb dish is just the thing to warm you up. But the gorgeous addition of some fresh orange juice gives it a lovely fresh touch and reminded me of a Boeuf Daube I had in Nice. Nice, close to the Italian border, was once part of Italy and you will find plenty of Italian restaurants and even people speaking Italian.


Lamb Stewed in Red Wine with Tomatoes, Olives & Thyme

  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 900g lamb (see below), cut into 3cm cubes
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 75g pitted black olives
  • 2 bay leaves
  • juice and grated zest 1 orange
  • 5 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 350ml red wine
  • 400ml hot vegetable stock
  • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon runny honey
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Gino uses lamb neck fillet in his recipe and certainly the long, slow cooking warrants a cheaper cut of meat. But I had lamb steak and used this.

Preheat the oven to 150C/Fan 130/Gas 2. Heat the oil in a large casserole dish. Fry the meat in batches – it’s important not to put too many in at once or the oil temperature will cool too much and they will ‘steam’ more than fry. Fry until nicely browned then remove with a slotted spoon to a plate. Fry the rest of the lamb. Remove to a plate.


When all the lamb is browned, add the onion to the remaining oil in the casserole dish. Cook gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the olives, bay leaves, orange juice and zest, and thyme. Cook for 1 minute. Pour in the wine and cook over a moderate heat for 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add the vegetable stock, tomatoes and honey. Stir well.


Add the browned meat. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper. Place a lid on the dish and put in the oven for 3 hours.


There was a lot of sauce and quite thin. So near the end of cooking I removed from the oven and lifted the meat and olives out with a slotted spoon on to a plate. I made a beurre manié with a heaped teaspoon of butter mixed into a roux with a heaped teaspoon of plain flour. Then I added a little hot sauce and mixed well until smooth. I added this to the casserole dish and mixed well. This is a traditional French way of thickening a sauce. I cooked the sauce over a high heat for a couple of minutes until it reduced a bit and thickened. Then I turned off the heat, returned the lamb and olives to the sauce, and returned to the oven for the final half hour of cooking.

The smell coming from my kitchen was fantastic and appreciated by the family when they turned up at my door. I served the dish with some mashed sweet + ordinary potato and a green salad on the side. Gino suggests serving with bread and salad and Freddie, quite oblivious to Gino’s directions, decided to eat his lamb with some ciabatta I’d bought, which was on the table, dipping it into the gorgeous sauce before eating it.

It was a great dish; really tasty and delicious. I loved the orange touch – that hint of freshness and sweetness; and the olives give it a special flavour too. It was a wonderful combination of flavours and this is a dish the family definitely want me to cook again!

Celeriac & Apple Soup


It was a chance, last-minute decision to make this gorgeous soup today. I popped into Waitrose to buy a few things, saw a wonderful knobbly celeriac and couldn’t resist buying it. With the cold mornings and evenings we’ve had over the last week or so, and days drawing in, it’s soup time again. I love to have some portions of homemade soup in my freezer ready for a quick lunch on an autumn or winter’s day.

Despite its rather ugly appearance – for which it’s known and, I guess, puts some people off – celeriac is a beautiful and versatile vegetable and, despite its bland cream flesh, surprisingly good for you. It has lots of health benefits including being a good source of calcium and magnesium, so is good for bone health. It also has good amount of potassium, so is good for regulating blood pressure, and is a great source of Vitamin C and other minerals and vitamins. As the name suggests, it’s related to celery and has a similar flavour but is nuttier in taste with a lovely creamy texture when cooked. It’s been used in European cooking since the 1600s and some say it was first cultivated in Italy. But it goes back as far as the 8th century when it was mentioned in Homer’s The Odyssey as selinon.

To be honest, it’s not why I like it. I like the ‘bonus’ of the health benefits but I buy it and eat it because I love the taste. It wonderful raw in the famous French salad, Remoulade de Celeri-Rave, and I like it as a mash – half and half with potato – to go with a rich winter stew. I’ve made it as a simple soup before, but while I was having a light lunch and watching the end of an old Hairy Bikers’ programme about apples and pears on iPlayer, their soup made with celeriac and apples came up and the coincidence was too great to resist.

And, of course, it’s the apple season with lovely British apples coming into the shops. Some Cox’s apples I had were just crying out to be paired with the knobbly celeriac.

I followed the Hairy Bikers’ recipe pretty much to the letter, with just slight adjustments. They garnish the soup at the end with crispy bacon, which sounds lovely, but I was going for the vegetarian option today and was also planning to freeze much of it.


Celeriac & Apple Soup

  • 3 eating apples
  • 50g butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium (125g) onions, chopped
  • 1 celeriac (about 800g), peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 large carrot, cut into chunks
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 large (250g) potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 level teaspoon dried oregano or thyme
  • 1 litre stock
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Peel the apples, core and cut into quarters. Melt 25g butter in a pan and add the apple. Fry over a medium heat until lightly browned and caramelised.


Meanwhile, in another large saucepan, melt the remaining butter with the olive oil. Tip in the prepared onions, celeriac and carrot. Gently cook for about 15 minutes until softening and starting to brown. Then add the apples (with their juices), garlic and potato. Sprinkle over the dried herbs (the Hairy Bikers used fresh thyme and a bay leaf – to be removed before blitzing at end) and cook for just a few minutes, stirring to mix well.


Pour in the stock – use whatever you prefer, vegetable or a light chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Stir occasionally. When cooked, blitz the soup with a stick blender until smooth.


I served it with a dollop of natural yoghurt and some chopped fresh parsley, and drizzled a little extra virgin olive oil over it. You might prefer crème fraîche or even fresh cream if you’re feeling indulgent.

It was such a gorgeous soup and a wonderful marriage of the nutty celeriac with the sweet caramelised apples. A perfect dish for a cold autumn day.