MALAGA, SPAIN – A Perfectly Accessible Experience

Malaga Palacio Hotel & Cathedral - Malaga, Spain

Cruising is a wonderful way to see the world. True, a common argument is that a person is never anywhere long enough to truly appreciate the culture of any one destination. The other side of the coin is that for those who are affected by a physical disability in one form or another, cruising provides a taste of the world, not only in what the each culture has to offer but also offers an insight into the port's accessibility.

Ports of call are, as you may have guessed, huge tourist magnets and therefore it is in the country's best interest to meet as many of the travellers' needs as is possible without affecting the destination's environment, whether it is the natural ecosystem or its historical significance. And while on most cruises the opportunity to stay in any one port more than a day is limited, the traveller always has the option to arrive at a departing destination a day or two prior to sail or to stay a few days at the point final docking. As a fellow traveller, and someone who loves to stretch a vacation as long as possible with as much new experiences as possible, I strongly urge you to do either one and to enjoy the new destinations.

On one of our transatlantic cruises, our final port of call was Malaga, Spain. While this port may not convey the recognition that cities like Barcelona and Madrid carry, it does hold its claim to fame as the birthplace of many artisans, painters, and actors counting Pablo Picasso and Antonio Banderas as some of the ones more well-known.

Malaga is a lovely seaside municipality which, for the most part, has been successful in its attempt to promote accessibility. Starting from the picturesque botanical gardens by the harbour and spreading out into the historical section of the city, the easily manageable and immaculately clean sidewalks and alleys make it a pleasure to explore this town at your leisure.  Whether you wish to just wander the pedestrian-only shopping district with its smooth marble boulevards or get lost going up and down the narrow alleyways which are just as manageable, Malaga will imprint itself on your heart. From modern art sporadically placed throughout this city quarter to century old churches, to just relaxing at a café and enjoying a plate of “tapas”, you will not regret spending an extra day or two at this port of call. The locals will often go out of their way to make your visit to their town that much more memorable.

We were fortunate to find a small hotel in the core of historical Malaga which allowed for many self-directed excursions around the area. Not knowing any Spanish, there was some hesitation about just how far we were willing to venture out without getting lost, but, that is what exploring is about…. living outside your comfort zone. Getting lost in a strange country and finding your way home. Fortunately for me, my significant other has the instincts of a homing pigeon, so off we were on yet another adventure.

Espacio de Arte - Malaga, Spain

Plaza de la Constitución Fuente - Malaga, Spain

There are many “pedestrian only” passage ways in the harbour part of town and most of them are, believe it or not, TILED, which translates into a very smooth ride for wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, strollers…. anything with wheels. Most alleyways are not much wider than about six feet and the Malaga city planners have beautifully married modern architecture with historical landmarks. Take for example the Malaga Cathedral which is visible from almost every vantage point, alleys, shopping district – the Calle Larios, and harbourfront.  This baroque style cathedral is the second tallest in Andalusia with its north tower stretching almost 280 feet to the heavens.  (This served well as a compass by which we were able to get our bearings.)

The wonderful thing about 'downtown' Malaga is that a person can see and experience so much in only a few hours. Only a short walk from the cathedral is the remnants of an amphitheatre (one of just over 230 amphitheatres built during the Roman Empire) which sits at the base of the Alcazaba. Surrounded by a double fortress wall which is visible from the port, Alcazaba (*) is the most preserved fort in Spain. The amphitheatre was in the process of being restored when we were in Malaga but was still open for tourists to sit on the risers and touch a part of history.

And just like that, as you do a 180 turn away from the amphitheatre, you have before you a plethora of shopping and cafes to entice you in other ways. Sit back and enjoy more tapas as you listen to and watch the endless dance of parakeets in the sky above you and the relaxed atmosphere around you. There are only a few places in this world where I have experienced a truly relaxed atmosphere, where people are just enjoying living in the moment, and Malaga definitely makes this list. As mentioned earlier, Malaga is the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. La Merced square is the place where you will find the house where Picasso was born and called home until his family moved when he turned nine. This is not Picasso's museum but still an interesting Kodak moment for that “I was there” conversation piece once you are back home.

Wheelchair/Scooter Parking in Paseo del Parque

Tiled Streets - Malaga, Spain

Who does not think of bullfighting when they visit Spain? True to Spanish culture, bullfighting arenas can be found in most major cities and Malaga is no exception. Unfortunately for us, the bulls were feeling very peaceful on the day we visited and there was no fights scheduled. But we were fortunate enough to befriend an Andalusian who was able to open 'secret doors' and let us have a quick peek at the Plaza de Toros de la Malagueta where the action happens. I must say I was very surprised at the size of the arena. I always pictured it to be smaller but even the 150 foot diameter looms larger than life. I would imagine that it looks even bigger to a matador running away from a bull.

The seaside gardens – locally known as Paseo del Parque - are definitely one of my favourite experiences in Malaga. A small amphitheatre (includes handicapped guest seating spaces) sits nestled among the flora adding a gentle milieu to the concerts and plays presented here.  Strolling through the tropical setting, sitting in the shade of palm trees admiring the modern and ancient architecture that graces the harbourfront, and sharing the experience who is as much of a travel nut as I am made this part of world exploration a worthwhile stop.

Our transatlantic voyage ended here but it was, by no means, an ending to our vacation. We enjoyed everything Malaga had to offer and, if given a chance, would definitely return.

 Bryce Willison

 (*) Alcazaba is not wheelchair accessible.

Images by Barb Salivar
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