Not just a stop on the way to Marbella: the rise of Malaga as a holiday home hotspot
Once just the gritty capital of Andalusia and the gateway to the beach resorts of the Costa del Sol, the vibrant port city of Malaga is now a destination in its own right. Overlooked in favour of Barcelona or Palma, Majorca, as reinvented city-beach destinations, Malaga is finally beginning to attract overseas home hunters.
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The forthcoming National Geographic biopic series about the life of Pablo Picasso showcases the city’s beautiful Centro Historico, and might attract a few more. The artist in Genius is played by Antonio Banderas, also born in Malaga.
He has recently renovated a sixth-floor penthouse apartment and is now spending longer periods in the city. Featuring some striking contemporary art, his stunning rooftop terrace offers views of the Moorish hilltop citadel of Alcazaba, the Picasso museum, and the towering renaissance cathedral.
While Picasso fans can see many of his works in London’s Tate Modern this spring, why is Malaga on the radar of more than just art lovers? “Thirty years ago, Malaga was bypassed by people heading to Marbella but a new mayor, Francisco de la Torre Prados, has been transforming it,” says Alex Radford, a solicitor who lives nearby. “The port area has now opened up, the parks and gardens [are] much improved. Added to its 30-odd museums and art galleries have been the Museo Carmen Thyssen and the Pompidou, an offshoot of the Paris museum.”
One of his many international clients buying a property in the Centro Historico area is Karen McNiven, an NHS manager from Glasgow who purchased a two-bedroom flat near Plaza de la Constitución. “Offered for sale at €200,000 (£179,000), I ended up getting it for €150,000, which was a bit of a bargain,” she says. “It’s in a 452-year-old building and every room has floor-to-ceiling windows with Juliet balconies. I just love it. I visit with my partner Aidan at least twice a month for long weekends, and part of the appeal is that it still feels very Spanish.”
She admits she struggled to find a property as many are not listed online, but instead are passed down through families or sold to locals by word of mouth. Malaga has always been quite a closed, locals’ market, agrees James Vizetelly of agent Affinity Humberts.
“Its old resale apartments have been of little interest to foreigners but during the past 12 to 18 months developers have begun to arrive and refurbish old buildings,” he says. “Stylish new-build apartments are still scarce so the prices can be higher than around Marbella.”
The average price per sq ft is €242 although in the historical centre it is closer to €418 to €465.
The agent is selling two-bedroom apartments off-plan in a new building with a rooftop pool from €238,500 (affinityhumberts.com). Alternatively, in a former warehouse reconfigured into design-led homes by a Swedish developer, there is a stylish one-bedroom apartment for sale at €240,000 (malagaestates.com).
Buyers tend to be French, Belgian and British, and the Scandinavians also love the 3,000 hours of annual sunshine which is the best in Spain, according to Mikaela Jonasson of agent Fastighetsbyran. “Buyers especially love being in the old town, close to bars, the port, the beaches,” she says. “Popular areas nearby are Soho, the arty area, La Merced, San Felipe Neri, La Goleta and El Molinillo. Also, the areas east of Malaga that are historically the best neighbourhoods – Malagueta, Limonar, Cerrado de Calderon and Pedregalejo.
“You used to be able to get a penthouse in the centre for €200,000, but prices have been increasing so upcoming, western areas such as Huelin and Pacifico are ones to watch. Investors are attracted by the fact prices are still lower than in Barcelona, Madrid and Palma de Majorca.”
For an apartment very close to the beach, the fishermen’s neighbourhood of Pedregalejo offers a tranquil environment, suggests Jeanette Chapman of agent Malaga Estates. Apartments tend to be at least two bedrooms; she is selling one for €380,000 with a large terrace. “The small circular bays and local character make it popular with families,” she says.
A few feet from the beach are restaurants selling espetos de sardinas, sardines on a skewer grilled over wood fires. Malaga has become a magnet for foodies, including the cookery writer and teacher Thane Prince, who bought a one-bedroom apartment in the Centro area two years ago, through Malaga Estates. “I wanted a new place for weekend escapes and when I first visited, I was enchanted,” she says. “Everyone lives outside on the streets where the buildings are etched with history; you can stand at the foot of the amphitheatre and look up at the Alcazaba taking in a good 10 centuries of culture in one glance.”
It’s also easy to get to. “Practically every airline flies to Malaga and we can be at our apartment in a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport, and still catch some supper at the bar next door, even if it’s midnight. At almost any hour or day, you can find wonderful places to eat, from breakfast churros to tapas and Michelin-starred restaurants. Or beach chiringuitos at Malagueta beach, perfect for eating freshly grilled fish with the sand between your toes.”