Growing up, Joe Diaz, a founder of the travel magazine and Web site Afar, visited his father's birthplace, Málaga, the Spanish port city along the Mediterranean, nearly every year. And yet conversations with his grandmother never progressed beyond, "Te quiero mucho, yaya."
In 2001, the summer before his senior year of college, Mr. Diaz decided to remedy that. Stopping into an STA Travel agency one evening, he walked out with a ticket to Barcelona and enrolled in an intensive Spanish program. At the end of his six weeks there, he returned to Málaga, this time with more to say to his grandparents and cousins.
"It was the first time I was in Spain without my parents there translating everything," he said. "I was able to reconnect with them and the city in a much deeper way."
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Diaz about Málaga and its surrounding areas, a region he has come to know well on his own.
Q. Málaga was founded by the Phoenicians, then conquered by the Romans, the Visigoths, the Moors. Where does one begin to understand the remarkable span of its history?
A. Anywhere, really. Reminders of all the different hands it's gone through are everywhere. The Roman theater, an amphitheater built by the Romans in the first century B.C., is right near the center. And above it, sitting on a hill, is Málaga's Alcazaba, this imposing, palatial fortress built in the 11th century by the Moors. It's pretty well preserved, one of the best alcazabas in Spain.
But to really understand the city's history, go to the Picasso Museum. It's in a 16th-century palace, and when they were refurbishing it, they found these structures in the cellar, and archaeologists confirmed they were remnants of the original city wall from Phoenician times. It's really cool to go into this beautiful, relatively modern museum, see this amazing collection of art and descend into this other world. It brings out the richness and depth of that part of Spain.
Any areas outside the city that you visit often?
As you go west toward Torremolinos and Marbella, you've got these really incredible beaches. Or to the east, Rincón de la Victoria and Nerja, these sandy alcovey beaches. But I always go inland to Álora, where we still have family.
What is Álora like?
A typical Spanish town: whitewashed buildings, two, three, four stories, really narrow cobblestone streets. There's a hill overlooking the town, El Hacho, with a big cross at the top. From it, you see the entire town in the valley below, the Guadalhorce River running through it, and the mountains in the distance.
Any places to eat?
There are so many that you just pop into. One is Jamonería Díaz -- no relation -- which is a 150- or 200-square-foot tapas bar with cured ham legs hanging from the ceiling. Order up a plate of jamón serrano, some Manchego, cold Cruzcampo beers, vino tintos and sit there right out on the street. You're making me long for this now.
Los Caballos -- the Horses -- sits next to a horse ranch in the valley, and that's a cool, local restaurant where people go to have big lunches. It's where we ended up at 9:45 in the morning after my cousin's wedding, and everyone finished partying with a big breakfast and then went home to nap.
You've traveled to dozens of countries for work. What's different about returning to the same place year after year?
That's what travel, to me, is all about: establishing deep connections in places. When you do that, you find yourself being pulled back to those places.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.