Here at Spain Unspoilt, discovering the secret and most authentic corners of Spain is our passion, meaning we take every opportunity to experience this rich land for ourselves. Just this past winter, I took a weekend trip to Ronda, surprisingly only 4 hours from Madrid in train (as its 6 hours by car!). While other members of the team had already experienced Ronda’s wonders, I had yet to see it for myself. Picturesque and everything our traveler’s hope it to be, Ronda turned out to be one of my favorite places in Spain.
The train wound up the side of the mountain, grinding along the tracks as we passed through pastures of goats and boulders jutting up out of the lush wild grass. On the right, the valley stretched out below, with the Grazalema Mountains rolling in the distance. It’s wondrous to think how those same mountains stood as one of the last defenses between Christian Spain and the Muslim Kingdom of Granada, with Ronda being conquered shortly before Granada’s fall. Their majestic hues of deep green and distant blue whispered of battles and legends.
The cliffside hotel was charming, surrounded by straight, tall pines and colorful gardens. Even though it was winter, the weather was pleasant, just like the natives of Ronda. Everyone had a smile and was quick to say hello, spreading the small-town vibe and languid way of life that is strong in the south.
A short walk took us to the New Bridge, Ronda’s most iconic site (which is relatively modern, considering it was completed in 1793!). Along the way, we ventured into the Alameda del Tajo, a green park which provides a space for children to play, the elders to gossip, and couples to pass the afternoon hand-in-hand. The park boasted a spectacular location along the cliffside, with the majestic views that make Ronda a breathtaking place to visit.
Next to the park is the impressive Plaza de Toros, the antique bullfighting stadium that is the oldest bullring in Spain. To say it was huge does not do it justice. White-washed neoclassic architecture sat atop an interesting museum that wrapped around the inside of the stadium. Guests are free to explore every corner of the arena, from climbing into the stands for a spectator’s view to seeing the horse stables in the inner workings of the bullring’s complex. It was well worth the visit to sit in the stands and imagine the famous Rivera brothers taking on the ferocious and daring bravo bulls, nearly escaping death just as their grandfather once did while author Orson Wells sat in the audience.
Finally, we reached the New Bridge. With a 100-meter drop below, the sight is not for those with vertigo! The Guadalevin River twists like a silver ribbon below, winding over the rocks before making its way into the valley. Adrenaline seekers where taking advantage of the height, scaling the walls with rock climbing gear and hiking to the river’s edge below to have views from beneath the bridge.
Dinner at a local restaurant found us amongst the friendliest wait staff I’ve ever seen! They were quick to recommend their favorite menu items, including classic huevos revueltos and a gourmet hamburger with a Spanish flare as it was topped with jamón. To finish the meal, we chose a decadent homemade cheesecake for dessert, decorated with fresh blackberries and made with payoyo cheese, which is typical of the Grazalema Mountains.
The early morning light streaming over the valley was well worth the early wakeup call. The town was still, and the serene sounds of a farm dog barking could be heard over the whirring tractor in the slow-paced life of the valley below. The houses that could be spotted sent me into daydreams of leaving my hectic life in Madrid to stay in Ronda forever, living in a villa in the valley with a pool and a garden, surrounded by mountains and the beautiful Andalusian nature.
Exploring the winding streets on the other side of the New Bridge brought the oldest parts of Ronda into view, the streets teeming with life during the Christmas season. A short stroll through the cobblestoned streets brings visitors to the Lara Museum, a unique and quirky private collection made public in a resident’s manor home. Amongst the extensive collection of carriages, photos, and clocks were also medieval torture devices, witchcraft utensils, and ancient coins found around Ronda.
Down below, the Old Bridge of the city sits as a tiny comparison to its newer twin. The Arabic Baths sit below it, just along the river’s edge, with the ancient walls looming above. Ascending the cliff on the opposite side are the lush Cuenca Gardens, which hug the sheer edge overlooking the river, allowing you to make the climb back up amongst fresh roses and leafy trees. Across from the gardens, The House of the Moorish King is embedded in the stone, a palace featuring beautiful Arabic architecture and hanging, as well as secret mines that burrowed deep into the cliff, reaching to the river below.
Quaint and cozy, and surprisingly romantic with its sweeping vistas, charming residents, and unique history, Ronda easily steals the heart of all who visit. As a remote part of Andalucia, the untouched city is a lovely example of real village life in southern Spain, surrounded by nature and serenity. Such a peaceful, tranquil place stays hidden in visitor’s hearts, just as it is hidden in southern Spain.
by Ashton Thompson, Spain Unspoilt Travel Advisor