Our latest interview in our Expats in Malaga series welcomes Rea Vela who has lived in the city since 2014. She’s our first Finn, but not the first to say that Malaga feels like home. In fact, Rea feels so comfortable in the city, she calls it a homecoming.
When did you arrive in Malaga?
In 1995, I might have visited the city for few hours – can’t believe that I´m not sure! In 2003, I stayed in Malaga for 3 months and then in 2014, I originally arrived for 2 months. How little did I know that that summer would change my life!
Why did you arrive in Malaga?
In summer 2003, I spent three months studying intensive Spanish at Malaca Instituto, but I lived in Benalmadena so I didn´t really get to know the city, her charm or make friends with any malagueños. The highway was dangerous with drunk drivers so I often drove straight home after school.
The second time, I landed in 2014 to study Spanish again. This time, however, I lived in El Palo next to the university and Malaga city life totally opened up to me. I fell head over heels in love with Malaga, la Bella. And the rest is, as they say, history. It felt like homecoming.
Also, at that time my Mum was still escaping cold dark Finnish winters at her flat in Fuengirola, so it felt convenient to be closer to help and see her, too.
What were your first impressions of Malaga?
I was most struck by her impressive history with cultural offering. The great variety of outstanding restaurants. The fabulous selection of organic food shops, like Biomilanes who also delivers your weekly order (see photo below). And a beautiful lighthouse at the port.
I already had a long history travelling and working as a tour guide in Spain and spoke Spanish so that helped me to explore the city´s vast cultural offering and make friends with local people.
What do you think has changed most about Malaga since you arrived?
That´s easy, but for the wrong reasons. In 2014 you could rent a 3-bedroom apartment for long term close to La Plaza de la Merced for €550 a month. In less than 3 years, the housing market took a tornado type turn after the Airbnb boom hit the city. Long-term rental rates have skyrocketed and there’s much less choice of apartments in the city because they’re rented as holiday lets now (Covid-19 may change this a bit).
(Editor’s note: a recent report claims that over 20% of holiday lets in Spanish cities are now on the market as long-term rentals.)
What do you like most about living in Malaga?
How much time do you have? 😂 Lifestyle in general, the chance to eat on the terraces and having LIGHT all year round. Southern openness and joie de vivre with fiestas and ferias, amazing hiking terrains in the whole province, possibility to go sailing and skiing – same day if you wish during the winter. There is so much going on every day that your biggest problem is which one of many activity options to choose. To a curious soul like myself, I´m in paradise. Surprisingly, many of the cultural events are even free of charge or come with just a small fee.
Mesmerizing scent of blossoming orange trees and jasmine, sound of water flowing in many fountains, initiative of voluntary groups doing beach and nature cleanings (wish it wasn´t necessary), multicultural atmosphere yet still being a very Spanish city, summer open air movies… Also how a baker, a florist and waiters greet me by my name, makes me feel so at home here. Grateful for how abundant my life is in Malaga.
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What do you like least about living in Malaga?
- Incomprehensible craze to use air fresheners and heavily scented detergents everywhere no matter where you go, yikes.
- The volume of music is often far too loud to my liking. It can make conversation pretty much impossible unless you shout until your throat hurts. I once changed gyms because I didn´t want to use earplugs during my aerobic classes.
- Humidity, it gets to you all year round. And makes the summer heat difficult to bear and gets through all your winter layers.
Where’s your favourite corner in Malaga and why?
Any nice terrace with a delicious tapa and a glass of local wine shared with friends. Priceless. I´m a nature person so I go hiking weekly in Malaga province with my sports club. In the city, I enjoy lighter hikes on Monte Coronado and Monte Victoria looking for fresh air, beautiful views over the city and peace. Also, the Botanical Gardens and Guadalhorce river delta area are places I like to visit for plants, birds and greenery.
Which is your favourite restaurant in Malaga and why?
Just one? C´mon, you´re talking to a “comilona”, a glutton. There are so many, depends on of the time of the day, day of the week and what this pescatarian fancies. I eat out several times a week and enjoy discovering different places.
Alexso and Aire Gastrobar have world class fusion food that is also so beautifully presented. I never let my guests leave the city without making a booking in either one, preferably in both.
(Editor’s note: Our Malaga Fine Wining & Dining cookery ebook includes recipes from both these restaurants 😋)
La Gastronauta is in the historic center yet on a quiet street, has a great variety of tapas and salads. Mimo Vegan is simply tasty and all organic. Astrid Tapería Orgánica has tapas, freshly pressed fruit and vegetable juices and you can have a tapa size dessert, too. Cheesecakes and pastries at Julia Bakery, bye bye waistline.
What would be your top tip for someone new arriving in Malaga?
Depends whether you come here for holiday or planning to live here. In both cases, just enjoy the city with open eyes.
For holiday makers, Guide to Malaga gives an excellent kick start to the city, the sights and provides a visitor with many valuable information what to do and see here (thank you, Rea!).
If you’re planning to move to Malaga, I’d recommend doing some homework and first spend some time getting to know the city before taking the decision to move lock, stock and barrel. Secure both accommodation (prepare to pay a lot for it) and a job, if you aren’t already retired. The job market in Malaga is tough and salaries can be low. And you definitely need to be able to speak Spanish.
Last but not least, be warned, because Malaga might captivate you forever 😊
Describe Malaga in 3 words (well, 6)
Cornucopia of five senses. Lively. HOME.
Rea Vela, a single flamencoholic Finn originally from Helsinki, wears her Spanish friends out by insisting to dance one more sevillana (typical dance from Seville), loves spending her time in nature, goes sailing whenever possible, shops organic, likes photographing, recycles and uses Málaga Bici (the city bike) a lot.
Rea has travelled in 30+ countries, lived in Europe and in Indonesia, has MSc (Econ. & Bus. Adm.), has worked in multicultural teams as marketing and communications executive. After leaving the corporate world, her life quality and health both increased. Since 2012 as a medical device entrepreneur, she has been helping individuals, medical professionals and therapists. It gives her a great satisfaction knowing how people can maintain and increase their health, recover faster from injuries, reduce pain and sleep better with BEMER Physical Vascular Therapy.
If you’re inspired by Rea’s story or curious to find out what other expats in Malaga think of the city, you can read all the interviews in our expats in Malaga series here.