INTERNATIONAL airport? Check. High-speed rail line? Check. Mediterranean lifestyle? Check. Sandy beaches? Check. Picasso museum? Check. Almost 1,000 kilometres apart, the two cities are closer than they seem.
In the (top) right-hand corner, Barcelona, Spain’s (apologies to those who want independence for Catalunya) capital of cool, home to Antoni Gaudi, Las Ramblas, and cava. And, ahem, at the bottom, Malaga, Spain’s capital of… hot, home to Antonio Banderas, Calle Larios, and pescaito frito. At first glance, they couldn’t be more different. But, when you take a closer look, Malaga bears a stronger resemblance to Barcelona than you might think.
Both have ports, Gothic cathedrals (Malaga’s may be missing a tower, but let’s not get started, let alone finished, on the Sagrada Familia), and were where Pablo once lived. There are, of course, differences of scale: Barcelona is home to 1.6 million, Malaga 600,000; you can fly to 137 destinations from El Prat, but ‘only’ 87 from Malaga-Costa del Sol; both have metros, but Barcelona’s eight lines and 165 stations dwarf Malaga’s current two and 10; and, admittedly, more people have heard of FC Barcelona’s Messi than Malaga CF’s top goalscorer this year, Samu.
But while Barcelona may be known as the City of Counts, Malaga beats it hands down on more than one: Barcelona boasts over 2,500 hours of sunshine a year, but Malaga enjoys an extra 300 (there’s a reason it’s called the Costa del Sol). Barcelona averages a balmy 15.3ºC, while Malaga adds another 3ºC for good measure. And Barcelona has a paltry 4.2 kilometres of beach, so there’s a much more room for your towel on Malaga’s 13.5 kms.
Then, there’s living costs, which cost that much more up north. According to Expatistan.com, a cost-of-living comparison website, Malaga is 24% cheaper than Barcelona, based on 9,620 prices of food, housing, clothing, transportation, personal care, and entertainment, submitted by 860 people. Likewise, Numbeo.com reckons you need 2,735.94€ a month in Barcelona to maintain the same standard of living you can have for 2,300€ in Malaga, using their consumer price and rent index.
In terms of property, you get a lot more room, or rooms, for your euros down south. Idealista.com calculated the average sale price per square metre for a home in Malaga at 1,559€ in December 2014, while you’d have paid twice as much for the same space in Barcelona, at 3,188€/m2. And while prices in Malaga fell by 7% last year, Barcelona was the only place in Spain where they rose, by 3.5%. Rent is cheaper in Malaga too, costing an average 6.8€/m2, compared to 12.5€/m2 in Barcelona.
What does that mean in the real world? Well, a friend of mine bought a Barcelona flat in the Raval, just off Las Ramblas, back in 1995. She paid 10 million pesetas (60,000€) for a 84m2, third-floor, fixer-upper without a lift. Now, it’s worth in excess of 250,000€ and you still have to take the stairs. Meanwhile, in Malaga, there’s a newly refurbished 86m2 apartment for sale today, 20 metres from the Museum Carmen Thyssen and a minute to Calle Larios, for 141,000€. It’s only on the second floor, but the lift goes all the way up.
As the Spanish say, ‘las comparaciones son odiosas.’ For my money, however, all the above and much more – like the new Centro Pompidou, the Antigua Casa de Guardia, and sardines on the beach in the summer – don’t only make Malaga the new Barcelona, but a great place to live in its own right.