“Oh look, there’s a sign to the hotel we didn’t stay at," Diane casually points out as we walk through a lovely little park on our way to the beach. It's our first day in Málaga and now we have a decision to make. Diane is referring to the list we made a couple of months ago of potential Málaga accommodations. The question today, then, is, shall it be beach or the hotel we didn't book?
We take the road less traveled. Hasta al hotel, no a la playa.
It’s 20°C, the sun is shining, the palm trees are swaying, fountains are gurgling soothing Spanish sounds, and the green parrots that make the park their home are gently squawking. We're on the southern coast of Spain at the beginning of March and there is a lot to like. The walk towards the Gran Miramar is tranquil, along pathways running parallel between the road and the sea. The parallel lines go like this – perfect blue water, shoreline, walkway, road, walkway, parkland, road, walkway, parkland, beautiful historic buildings. No wonder Antonia Banderas always looks so happy – happy birthplace, happy actor. (Why then, we ponder briefly, did Picasso always look so glum in photos?)
This morning started with a walking tour of the city where we learned how Iberians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Christians (in more or less that order) clashed over gold, religion, minerals, and even the acquisition of salt and, in doing so, created the country we know as Spain. Today, on the southern shore, all parties seem to have figured out how to cohabitate. Maybe it’s the weather.
We spent a little time at what immediately became one of our favourite covered markets, inhabiting what was once a Moorish shipping warehouse, back when the sea came this far inland (now a good kilometre from the shore). There are three large halls, one each for seafood, meat, and produce.
After the tour ended we didn’t have a plan except to eat lunch somewhere, but we quickly discovered that Spaniards do not dejeuner at noon – or anywhere near it. Everyone here eats on daylight savings time, except a few hours behind. (Or is that ahead?)
Instead of stopping at one of the affordable and charming restaurantes scattered around the central cathedral, and close to our hotel, Diane’s plan, which she churned up in her brain as soon as she saw the sign for the Gran Hotel Miramar – the way dairy workers churn up another favourite – was to have our first lunch in Spain at the best place in town. Hence, we are on our way there.
The Gran Hotel Miramar is palatial. We know because above the entry is an older sign that says Palacio Miramar. True to its promise, everything about the place is grand, and the grandness starts as soon as you enter the gates to walk through the garden. Once inside, past the reception, through a grand atrium, a left turn and then a sharp right turn take us to a restaurant terrace overlooking what we swear is the bluest water we've ever seen. It's true that there are more gardens, the swimming pool, and dozens of palm trees in the view, but all we really see is the blue. There's a table at the edge of the terrace and we sit at it.
We don't usually drink cava, the Spanish sparkling wine, but, when in a place the Romans once were... The glasses of cava that arrive are crisp and delightful. With it are three types of fresh bread and local olive oil for dipping.
We continue to gaze on the azure sea as a course of salty, smoked anchovies is served along with a crispy bread (made from the crusts) along with a bowl of grated tomatoes finished with fleur de sel. Also on our lunch menu is the best Iberian ham we've ever had, thinly sliced and fork tender. To finish we choose a platter of Spanish cheeses served up with fresh walnuts, grapes, and crispy, crunchy crackers made to look like sacks of flour.
It's suddenly 4 PM, lunch is over, and we have to leave the Miramar. But, how do you send us back downtown after we've seen the sea? If you know us, you know that the answer is, you don't.
As we pass the lobby on our way out, Diane casually stops at the reception desk to ask, casually, “Do you happen to have any rooms available?”
“For tonight? One night only?” queries Nicolas, the concierge
“For four nights, starting today. Por favor.”
After consulting his computer screen for a few moments Nicolas writes room numbers on a piece of paper and hands it to Alessandro, a tall porter standing nearby. We follow Alessandro into elevators and down hallways on a tour of the available rooms. Room 010 is love at first sight; it's a deluxe room of 37 square meters, with a large outdoor garden terrace and a four-poster bed.
“We’ll be right back, don’t do anything with that room!” we call to Nicolas over our shoulders as we scurry out the front door and gallop back to our suddenly-inadequate original hotel.
Happily for us, when we arrive back at our original hotel the nicest concierge ever is manning the front desk; he allows us to check out without any penalties and without even paying for tonight. (Even though it is now well after 4 PM.)
We speed-pack our bags, snare a taxi, and bid adios to one hotel and hola to the Gran Hotel Miramar.
–Diane & Mark
photographs copyright Mark Craft