ON Pomegranate Lane (Calle Granda), opposite Inglesia de Santiago church, sits Palacio Solecio – the 18th century former property of Italian playing card magnate, Felix Solecio. The exterior features what can only be described as an illustrated 2D facade (brickwork, columns and trims), like a painted backdrop from golden age Hollywood.
It’s so Sylvanian Families that had there been a cat in a dress at front desk I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. Against the backdrop of an ancient city that’s withstood countless bloody conquerers, the illusion of daintiness that accompanies the fairytale nature of Palacio Solecio, is beguiling.
Setting off on a guided tour of the city, it quickly becomes apparent that modern Malaga is a city of idols, of which there are two above all others: Picasso, and Jesus, (in that order). It’s dense and refreshingly walkable; buildings are squeezed together separated by cobbled semi-streets, so naturally, these idols often intermingle.
See Inglesia de Santiago, which is less a pean to Christ than the place where, in 1881, Pablo Picasso was christened. Which isn’t to blaspheme – this is a deeply religious city after all.
It’s just the order of things here. At a time when moral reappraisals of the man follow him and his art like the spikiest of asterisks, Malaguenans are steadfast and unrepentant. “He’s not good, and he’s not bad, he’s just a genius. Living around him was like living with a god”, our guide tells us.
He has a zealous certainty when speaking of Picasso, and as we’re led from a 2000 year old Greek amphitheatre, beneath an ancient castle (a mere 1000 years old), towards the great man’s eponymous museum, it feels very much as if we’re living in Malaga’s ‘Picasso Period’.
There were the Fenicians, the Moores, latterly the Christians, but today, death be damned, Picasso rules over the city.
As with much of Spain, the religious tugs of war that dictated its architects has given Malaga a thrilling melange of moorish/classical European aesthetics. It makes the city’s past so physically traceable. The 10th century Alcazabar of Malaga is a particular gem – indescribably beautiful and rich with lore and romance. Patterned jalousie windows peer over secret gardens with outdoor tubs.
Narrow passages open up onto sprawling vistas where colourful birds sit, and rest. “If you look to the east, you can see the ocean. To the west: the mountains. They shield us, and create the micro-climate that all of Spain envies – 320 days of sun a year.”
There’s a fervour to our guides tenor that betrays both pride, and pity, in the implication that rest of Spain suffers terminal sun deprivation.
It’s a testament to Malaga’s aforementioned density, that gallery visits, palace walks and a few hours on the beach are easily achievable in a single day. After a days exploration, Palacio Solecio provides cool sanctuary.
Malaga Cathedral view from the balcony at Palacio Solecio
Cold stone mosaics cover the courtyard floor, squared off by shuttered hotel room windows, designed with late night gossip in mind. Michelin-starred chef José Carlos García curates seasonal menus, while the famed El Pimpi taverna (owned by Antonio Banderas, the city’s second son after Picasso) is minutes away by foot.
by Charlie Holder
Palacio Solecio luxury boutique hotel is located in central Malaga, and was awarded Best Urban Hotel 2022 by Conde Nast Traveler. For bookings, go to: https://palaciosolecio.com/en/.
The Picasso Museum Malaga is currently marking 50 years since the painters death, and features one of the world’s largest Picasso collections, predominantly donated by his daughter in law. For tickets, go to: https://museopicassomalaga.org/en.
For tickets to The Alcazaba of Malaga, go to: https://www.alcazabamalaga.com/. Private tours are available from €120 per group.