A tale of two cities, Ronda is physically divided by the Guadelevin River which separates La Cuidad, the old town, with the new.
The Puente Nuevo (new bridge), straddles El Tajo gorge plunging a dramatic 100 metres to the river bed below and joins together the two separate parts of the town. Ronda is one of Spain’s oldest and most dramatic towns, perched 750m above sea level in the Serranía de Ronda Mountains and rich in heritage and cultural history. I explored Ronda in December and I’ve curated some of my highlights of this beautiful and historic mountain town that attracted literary giants like Ernest Hemingway and poets like Rainer Maria Rilke.
El Puente Nuevo
Coming into Ronda by bus, there isn’t really any evidence of the town’s dramatic setting. It’s almost nondescript. The bus lets out at the north end of town on the edge of the industrial area. Calle Virgen de la Paz leads to the Puente Nuevo, and as it descends, takes in leafy parks, churches and the whitewashed walls of the bullring, before opening into the Plaza Espana where you can see the sand coloured stone of the bridge just beyond the square.
It’s only when you stand in the centre of the bridge and look down to the river below, you can get a real appreciation of the drama. The river below has dispassionately, over hundreds of years, cut a narrow gash into the rock to create the gorge. The buildings lining the edges of the gorge look precarious; at any moment, they could silently and without any fuss, just slide off the edge and drop into the chasm below. Over the course of the day, the bridge swarms with lines of tourists slowly marching back and forth along the footpath on both sides of the road between the old and new town.
EL TAJO GORGE
There are many little meandering paths leading to the bottom of the gorge, passing over the Arab Bridge and the Puente Viejo and the view looking up is breathtaking. La Mina is a more direct route. Three hundred steps, dating back to Islamic times, are cut into the rock face leading down to the river.
There are many little meandering paths leading to the bottom of the gorge, passing over The Arab Bridge and the Puente Viejo and the view looking up is breathtaking. La Mina is a more direct route. Three hundred steps, dating back to Islamic times, are cut into the rock face leading down to the river.
Cross the Puente Nuevo into La Ciudad and the bustle subsides and the pace slows down. Morning is the best time because it doesn’t take long before the streets fill, even in December. For me, the highlight of the old town was getting lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets, absorbing the details of the architecture and emerging onto a plaza or at one of the city gates.
HERITAGE AND CULTURE
Ronda’s museum selection is eclectic and a reflection the history and traditions of the region. The Museo de Caza celebrates hunting and El Museo del Bandalero covers the history of banditry. Rondan artist and scenographer Joaquín Ruiz-Peinado Vallejo’s life and work is archived in his eponymous museum and is as much a history of 20th century art as a collection of his life’s work.
I am a big fan of a Hammam and love the baths at York Hall and Ironmonger Row in London (which were once brilliant examples of traditional Turkish Baths and institutions in London, if a bit grubby, but they’ve have now been refurbished and become contemporary day spas). The Baños Arabes, dating back to the 12th century, are worth a visit as they are some of the best preserved examples of Arab Hammam baths in Andalucia and reflect the sophistication of Islamic culture.
BULLFIGHTING AND A LITERARY GIANT
Ernest Hemingway is synonymous with Spain and bullfighting. Ronda will be on the list of places of pilgrimage for fans of his work and anyone generally interested in the history of bullfighting. His enthusiasm for bullfighting features in many of his novels and he wrote two nonfiction books about it, Death in the Afternoon (1932) and The Dangerous Summer (1985). He spent many summers in Ronda and writes of it in Death in the Afternoon, “There is one town that would be better … to see your first bullfight in if you were only going to see one and that is Ronda”.
Ronda is the birthplace of modern bullfighting and the bullring of the Plaza de Toros has one of the largest circles of sand in Spain. It is no longer in use with the exception of the annual Feria Goyesqua bullfighting festival in September. This is when Rondeños dress in the type of costume immortalised by painter Goya and four days of bullfights unfold. Hemingway’s legacy is captured in the Paseo de E. Hemingway, the street named after him, which runs between Plaza de Toros and Plaza de Espana.
There has been an artisanal tradition in Andalucia since the end of the 19th century. Ronda is renowned for its metalwork and saddlery. Traditional crafts of woodcraft, ceramics, leatherwork and embroidery though have lost their place in contemporary life and generally have been consigned to tourist areas of Andalucian cities and towns. There are many shops in La Ciudad with brightly painted ceramics, lacework, leather goods. Occasionally in the new town, you can see a pop up woodcraft shop with the craftsman out on the street working on a project.
THE NEW TOWN AND SHOPPING
For non traditional goods, Calle Espinel is the main shopping street. It’s almost a kilometre long, pedestrianised and is a mix of high street fashion shops, independent shops, cafes and an abundance of shoe shops. Off Calle Espinel, Ronda Gourmet Foods is a good place for foodie items and presents and stocks a big range of cheese, wine, olive oil, jamon and many other foodie things. Queso Curado Cabra Payoyo is worth buying. It’s an artisan organic cheese made with rare breed, Payoyo, goat’s milk.
There are many restaurants in Ronda both in the old and new town and they range in quality from the high end, well known tapas restaurants and the more touristy places around the main square with a menu del dia in all the main European languages. A couple of tapas bars up near the bus station stood out for me. Gastrobar Camelot and Bar la Sacristia next door, were full at lunchtime. The atmosphere was buzzing and seemed to be full mainly of locals. Go to Gastrobar for its miniburgers and La Sacristia for fresh fish. Another place worth trying is in the old town. At Casa Maria, a menu of authentic Spanish tapas is created using local, seasonal ingredients and the menu is different every day.