Travel Report: Ronda, Spain.
February 2017. I’d been looking forward to my trip to the mountaintop town of Ronda for weeks. Time and time again, I’d read that this might just be “the most beautiful town in Andalusia”. That’s a bold clam, and one I relished putting to the test.
Unfortunately, it became clear on the bus ride from Malaga that the weather gods were not looking kindly on me. In fact, had all those aforementioned powers clubbed together for a meeting, I doubt they could’ve dreamed up a greyer day than this.
Moreover, it was actually pouring with rain by the time the bus pulled up in the heart of Ronda’s stunning historical quarter. Thus I headed straight for shelter into the unfortunately named Cafe Colon. It was only later that I learned that Colon is Christopher Columbus’ surname in Spanish.
Inside, it was all dark wood tables and chairs, a retro nautical theme plastered across the walls. Most importantly, the food was tasty and cheap, the staff friendly and efficient.
I went for a plate of eggs, bacon, toast, jam and butter. And wolfed it all down so fast I forgot to take a photo. #blogfail
It didn’t take me long to see why Ronda is so highly rated. As locations go this is just spectacular, the town perched dramatically on a large sandstone hill, cut in two by El Tajo Gorge.
The highlight of a visit is simply a wander across El Balcon del Tajo, a sweeping stone balcony path with viewing platforms jutting out of the cliff. No wonder so many people in Spain refer to Ronda as The Eagle’s Nest.
The views really are something else! They extend out across the gorge, down to the valley below and over the rolling countryside beyond. It seems no matter what the weather gods try to pull, there’s no dampening Ronda’s appeal.
Of the numerous viewing platforms across the gorge, Balcón del Coño is definitely the most photogenic. To reach it, just follow the main path towards Alameda Park and pass under the Victorian gazebo. Then onto the platform itself, which seems to hang precariously over the valley.
I was half thinking of explaining what the balcony’s name means in English, but I think it’s perhaps better you go look on Google!
Balcón del Coño.
The valley below looks much as it did in the 8th century when The Moors transformed the fields into one of Spain’s largest and most successful wheat growing empires. In those days, a snaking line of mills ran along the foot of the cliff.
Today there are still farms scattered across the valley, including a number of vineyards and olive groves. Here and there, you can find binoculars along the balconies that allow a closer look at some of the incredible country homes.
Scanning the countryside, I was able to pick out winding dirt tracks, ruined buildings, grazing horses, leafy swimming pools and lush green fruit orchards. The entire scene framed by the striking backdrop of the Serranía de Ronda mountains.
There are more delicious views from the town’s so called New Bridge (Puente Nuevo). Completed in 1793, it spans both parts of El Tajo Gorge, linking Ronda’s two districts.
The Christian King Felipe V ordered its creation in 1735, hiring the famed architects Jose Garcia and Juan Camacho.
They actually managed to complete the bridge pretty quickly, unveiling the finished structure within just a few years. However, they clearly didn’t do the best job, because the entire thing collapsed in 1741, killing fifty people!
It wasn’t until 1759 that there was a second attempt under the supervision of Domingo Lois de Monteagudo. He worked on the bridge for almost twenty years, until yet another top architect, José Martin de Aldehuela, stepped in to complete the project.
At 98 metres high, it really is a wondrous structure. After the fiasco of the first attempt, Martín de Aldehuela wasn’t taking any chances, making sure to incorporate vertical supports right into the canyon walls. Clever, clever.
After crossing the bridge, I headed down the steep, dusty path that leads to one of Ronda’s best viewpoints, Mirador Puente Nuevo de Ronda.
Check out the central arch, which used to be a prison and torture chamber during The Spanish Civil War. Apparently, Ernest Hemingway wrote a grisly scene in his book For Whom The Bell Tolls based on historical accounts from Ronda.
From the viewpoint, it’s possible to embark on a hike into the valley. They say there are over 13 kilometres of walking trails running across the countryside. I would’ve loved to explore deeper, but there was much more to see in town and the weather was still looking grim.
Hence I made my way back into the historical quarter for a look at three of Ronda’s most important religious buildings. Firstly, I stopped by Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced, a 16th century church and convent.
For years, thousands of visitors from all over Europe flocked here after it received the incorrupt right hand of Teresa of Ávila, a Spanish noblewoman turned nun, religious reformer and theologian.
I’d never heard of an incorrupt body part. Basically, it refers to something that undergoes little to no decomposition. Teresa of Ávila died in 1587 in Salamanca.
When priests in the city later discovered that her body was largely incorrupt, they proceeded to dismember her and ship parts off for display around the world.
Ronda’s little church got her right hand, which stayed here until General Franco, a devout Catholic, seized it for himself at the end of The Spanish Civil War. As the story goes, he kept the hand in his bedroom for his entire leadership.
Following his death in 1976, it found its way back to Ronda where it now remains in the ornate metal encasement, pictured above.
What To See & Do Ronda.
Secondly, I paid a visit to Santa Maria La Mayor Church, built in the 15th century upon the ruins of an ancient mosque. Located in one of Ronda’s loveliest squares, Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, the church is a mishmash of architectural styles. This includes three gothic naves, an exquisite two-level Renaissance choir and the central baroque altarpiece.
Finally, also on the same square, stands the Convent of Santa Isabel De Los Angeles. Belonging to the nuns of the order of St. Claire, this 15th century compound is really handsome, especially its salmon coloured bell tower. Inside, there’s a small exhibition of religious art from across 17th and 18th century Spain.
Ronda has fascinated a number of celebrated artists. In addition to Hemingway, Hollywood director Orson Welles made visits here in the 1950s, 60s and 70s to indulge in his love of bullfighting.
Although generally a lover of Spanish culture and people, it was Ronda that captured Welles’ heart. He even made it clear to friends and family that when he eventually passed on, this is where he would like to spend eternity.
“Ronda is where you should go if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon or if you
ever bolt with anyone.
The entire town, and as far as you can see in any
direction , is romantic background”.
In the end Orson got exactly what he wanted. In 1987, two years after his death, his close friend Antonio Ordoñez, the legendary matador, arranged for the director’s ashes to be brought over from The United States and scattered on his Ronda estate.
Today visitors can learn more about the town’s bullfighting history, along with the life and times of Welles and Ordoñez, here at Ronda Bullring, Plaza de Toros de Ronda.
I do love it when you stumble upon something unexpected and endearing. When I came to Ronda, I was anticipating the gorgeous landscape, the incredible bridge, the historical churches and a bit of Orson Welles. But I certainly hadn’t heard about the charming Romantic Travelers Square (Viajeros Romantico Plaza) and its giant wall mural.
In short, this is Ronda’s tribute to the writers, poets and singers who spent time here and found inspiration for their work. Among those mentioned are the English travel writer Richard Ford, the American novelist Washington Irving and the French poet Théophile Gautier.
Casa Don Bosco.
Of Ronda’s many notable residences and mansions, I made time to seek out the amazing Casa Don Bosco, a so-called modernist palace. It belonged to the renowned engineer Don Francisco Granadino Pérez and his wife, who lived here in the 1920s and 30s.
Pérez named his home in honour of Saint John Bosco, a canonised Italian priest who founded the Salesian order and dedicated his life to helping poor youth.
Pérez and his wife, who bore no children, arranged for the house to be donated to the Salesian Congregation after their deaths. As a result, it became a nursing home for elderly and sick priests in the 1940s.
Today it serves as a museum, where visitors can wander around at their leisure for a reasonable 2 Euro fee.
Needless to say the interior is delightful, an authentic display of 19th century furniture, tapestries and ceramics. Nevertheless, it’s the garden that steals the show with its mosaic tiles, Moorish fountain and exceptional valley views.
Back on New Bridge I felt my stomach rumbling, which led me to a nearby bakery. The owner was super friendly, giving chatty explanations of her various bites and happily posing for a photo.
I left with a chunky, nutty chocolate cookie, which I proceeded to devour right on New Bridge itself. Gazing out over the other side of El Tajo Gorge, it struck me as en especially nice way to spend a dark, grey February afternoon.
With just enough time for a drink before the last bus back to Malaga, I strode off towards Plaza del Socorro, a cafe-laden public square. Sipping my Coca Cola, I couldn’t help but wonder about the statue in the middle of the fountain, a stern looking naked man flanked by two lions.
Plaza del Socorro.
After a bit of digging, I discovered that the man is Hercules and that the taming of the lions represents Andalucia’s nationalism movement in the early 20th century under the leadership of Blas Infante.
Furthermore, there’s a small statue of Infante himself, a writer, historian and musicologist who became known as The Father of Andalusian Nationalism. He was executed in 1936 by General Franco’s soldiers in Seville at the beginning of The Spanish Civil War.
I was pretty tired by the time I got to Ronda Bus Station. It had been a full day, and one that had stayed largely dry despite the constant threat of huge downpours. As I sat waiting for my chariot home, I had this strange niggling feeling that something was missing.
Ah yes…. in all the excitement I hadn’t managed to grab a sittin’ doin’ nothin’ shot. Luckily, these three old men presented themselves, seemingly gift-wrapped for my eager camera. And they were so damned intent on looking out for their bus, they didn’t even notice. Cheers, Ronda!
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