Susan Nickalls

"That’s where Antonio Banderas lives," says my tour guide, who is also called Antonio. We’re on top of Malaga’s 11th century Alcazabar fortress taking in the stunning vistas over the city and busy port. He’s pointing towards a penthouse on the building below us in the centre of town. Where the Hollywood star lives seems to be an open secret and his apartment is easily identified by the colourful cube on the balcony. It’s a smaller version of the gigantic glass sculpture outside Centre Pompidou Malaga, an unmissable landmark beside the sea.

In the past, tourists tended to bypass Malaga in their rush to the Costa del Sol, but the Andalusian city’s now a major destination in its own right. For around £1.50 you can hop on a clean and efficient metro system at the airport and in 10 minutes you’re in the heart of Malaga. At the city’s main market there’s an abundance of fresh fruit and a stunning variety of fish, beautifully laid out and sold by the fishermen who catch it. And there are plenty of restaurants and wine bars where you can enjoy the local cuisine. La Fabrica, in the trendy Soho area, is worth a visit for its slow food and Cruzcampo craft beers brewed on site.

And thanks to the city’s investment in culture, Malaga now has 37 museums, all in close proximity. The Mile of Art includes an outpost of the Russian State Museum in St Petersburg in what was a former 1920s tobacco factory, while the Carmen Thyssen Museum houses the personal collection of 19th century Andalusian art belonging to Carmen Cervera, a former Miss Spain and the third wife of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza.

But it’s the Museo Picasso Malaga, devoted to the city’s most famous son, that is the biggest draw, featuring artwork belonging to Picasso’s family – his daughter-in-law, Christine, and grandson, Bernard Ruiz-Picasso. Some of the paintings haven’t been displayed before. They sit alongside more familiar pieces, such as Picasso’s 1942 Head of a Bull made out of a bicycle seat and handlebars. Looking at an impressive charcoal portrait of an old man, Antonio challenges me to guess how old the artist was when he drew it. Apparently, Picasso was 11 at the time.

Malaga’s cathedral dominates the town centre skyline. Built on the remains of a mosque between 1528 and 1782, it’s known affectionately as La Manquita, or the one-armed woman because it only has one tower. The money for the second was sent to fund the American War of Independence. Antonio explains that local opinion is still divided over whether or not to add the second tower. We then stroll past the ruins of a first century BC Roman amphitheatre, only discovered in 1951, in Calle Alcazabilla. It’s one of the city’s main thoroughfares and loud music is blasting out from a temporary stage where a zumba class is taking place.

At the bottom of the calle, Antonio takes me into a building where two of the large sculptures for the Easter Processions over Holy Week are stored. Looking at the huge throne of Christ and the float of the Virgin Mary, in real gold and silver and weighing up to six tonnes each, I see why the building has large doors. Antonio Banderas takes part every year in this 500-year-old tradition as the Throne Butler for one of the 42 brotherhoods. That means he’s chief of the dozens of men who shoulder the weight of the throne. They wear robes and conical hoods, with eye holes cut out, and they have a special walk. Antonio says that in Malaga the men sway from side to side whereas in Seville the tradition is to move up and down. Every year, thousands of people line the streets to sing and cheer the elaborate floats. It’s all part of the city’s rich past which makes its present so compelling.

Fact File

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How to get there

Direct flights (from £180) with Ryanair from Glasgow and Edinburgh, EasyJet from Glasgow only.

Where to stay

The four-star Guadalmedina Hotel is right by the metro line from the airport and rooms start at £90 a night.