It’s hard to believe I was ambivalent about going to Ronda, a tiny, seemingly inconsequential Spanish village. At the time, it meant a painful detour on my route from Granada to Tarifa. My sister insisted I visit, but I hadn’t heard any other mention of it. Was it really worth it?
I went, drawn onwards by the curiosity that inevitably latches onto a traveller’s psyche and doesn’t let go. On the day I arrived in town I was weary and keen to stay in my shoebox hotel room and Skype home. But that inescapable curiosity forced me outdoors, where Ronda was waiting to enchant.
These are the 6 things that make a Ronda visit ESSENTIAL on any trip to Spain…
1. Its remarkable location
Ronda seems to have an impossible location for a town. I don’t know why anyone would have chosen to settle here. (Well, actually I do. The Romans used it as a fortified post … But more on that later).
A narrow gorge splits the pueblo in two. Many of the whitewashed buildings are perched on cliff’s edge as if they were always a part of the natural landscape.
In the distance are the Serranía de Ronda mountains. Farmland surrounds the entire village while the Guadalevín river (complete with waterfall) trickles through the gorge that cleaves the town in half. It is, in a word, enchanting.
2. Its history
As I hinted at above, Ronda is one of Spain’s oldest towns. Julius Caesar saw the original settlement’s worth way back in the fourth century AD and declared it a city. The town has since passed through many hands, including the Visigoths and the Arabs.
Roman ruins mingle with Arabic ruins. You can visit the old Baños árabes (Arabic Baths), built in the 13th and 14th. You can stroll walk along or beside the huge Arabic fortress walls that surround the town. Or you can amble down the 300+ Islamic stone stair, called La Mina, to the bottom of the gorge.
3. Its romantic sunsets
On the very edge of the town is a mirador – a look out – perched right on the cliff. Get the timing right and you’ll enjoy the most magnificent views of a cinder red sun setting behind the Serranía de Ronda mountains.
Make sure you wander along the escarpments to watch the whitewashed buildings change colour as the sun descends below the horizon.
4. Its Puente Nuevo
Ronda is renowned for its 18th century Puente Nuevo, or New Bridge. This bridge spans a 100m chasm over the El Tajo gorge. The bridge’s large support structure straddles the Rio Guadalevín, which channels into a narrow waterfall just at the bridge’s base.
It’s a marvel the bridge remains standing, especially since the original structure lasted just a few years before it crumbled onto the rocks below.
For the best pictures of the bridge, follow the cobbled path from the Plaza de María Auxiliadora out to the lookout. You can even follow a haphazardous path along the cliff face to right under the bridge, though the litter-strewn river beyond that isn’t so enticing. Go in the afternoon when the sunlight hits the bridge.
5. La Ciudad
The bridge joins the “new” town where I was staying with the old Moorish town which dates back to the 9th century BC. La Ciudad is one of those typical Andalusian towns of teeny tiny alleyways with cobblestoned roads and flowers gushing over whitewashed walls.
Horse drawn carts clip-clop through the streets ferrying tourists around the old city’s attractions. But I preferred the tour on foot and spontaneous. Quiet arteries off the main streets narrow into smaller alleyways, which then expand out into unexpected little courtyards free of human beings.
The old quarter deserves proper pedestrian attention, so you’ll spend plenty of time here navigating every available road and path, downhill to the old Arabic baths and the town’s original two bridges, then uphill along the city walls, admiring the bare, dry hills of the surrounding countryside.
6. Its bullring
Where the old city is sleepy and romantic, the new city buzzes with activity. This quarter is home to Spain’s oldest bullring (built in 1785), a grand Romanesque stadium seating 5,000 people.
The 200-year-old Plaza de Toros still hosts bullfighting shows every year in September during Feria Goyesca. But it was enough for me to stare at the rich sandy arena and the blue sky and imagine the horrible tortures the bulls must endure in their final moments of life. Not for me, thank you.
If this is your thing, there’s quite an interesting museum within the grounds, the Museo Taurino. It’s filled with glittery costumes and information about the toreros, or bullfighters. There’s also a few other random displays about hunting and weaponry.
Admission to the whole area is €6.
7. Its slow pace
Ronda isn’t a place to sight see, though there are plenty of opportunities for it. For me, it was a place to meditate and wind down. It was a place to sit on a cliff top terrace for lunch and marvel at the scenery, or sip a tea in one of the leafy plazas and people watch.
There are times during longer travel journeys when you need to take a moment out for yourself, to lose your identity in a foreign crowd and rediscover it through keeping your own company. Ronda is designed for that.
Today, it’s the third most visited town in Andalusia (next to Seville and Granada), despite its petite size. Yet it’s still an ideal travel destination. It’s small and walkable. And it will charm the socks right off you.