What is it about Ronda? I’ve been there more times than I can remember yet still feel excited every time I return. Maybe it’s the beautiful drive through the Serranía de Ronda to get there, or maybe it’s the blue sky that always seems to accompany my visits combined with the warm sun shining on the ancient, white washed buildings of the old town. Maybe it’s the sight of the Parador hotel standing high above the Tajo gorge as you approach the Puente Nuevo or is it the sight of the Plaza de Toros where Pedro Romero picked up his cape to take on the bull and became the father of modern bullfighting? I don’t know. I guess it’s a combination of all those things and a lot more.
The town of Ronda lies 60km up a winding mountain road from Marbella at an altitude of 739m. It’s one of the most visited towns in Andalucia thanks largely to the mobs of tourists who arrive daily on coach excursions from the Costa del Sol. If that’s your only way of getting there then go for it, it’s well worthwhile but if you have your own transport or can get there independently by bus or train then better still, especially if you can spend a night or two there.
There’s a good selection of excellent hotels in town and some quaint family-run hostels. Stay the night and you can join the ‘Rondeños’ on their daily ‘paseo’ up and down what is known locally as “Calle la Bola” (c/Carrera Espinel). This pedestrianised street is packed with interesting, little shops as well as local bars, cafés and fabulous cake shops (and that comes from someone who doesn’t have a sweet tooth!).
Best Time to Visit Ronda
Whilst Ronda gets more than its fair share of blue sky days all year round be prepared for some very cold days up here in the mountains during the winter months. Spring tends to be mild and dry whilst summer temperatures are usually very pleasant. In terms of events the big celebration of the year is the Feria de Pedro Romero during the first week of September when locals dress in typical 18th century Goyesque costumes.
Getting There – Transport to Ronda
Buses arrive in Ronda from Malaga and the main coastal resorts on their way to Seville and beyond whilst train services arrive from Granada, Malaga, Seville and Algeciras. It isn’t the best connected place in Spain so ideally you’d drive here and, time permitting, use it as a base from which to discover the beautiful villages of the region known collectively as ‘Los Pueblos Blancos’.
If you do drive up you should park in the public parking by the bullring or one of the nearby underground car parks as it’s easy to walk around the whole town in a short time. Driving around is fairly impossible.
If you arrive by public transport, Ronda’s train and bus stations are both in the Mercadillo quarter to the northeast of the bullring. Trains arrive on Avenida Andalucía, a ten-minute walk or easy bus ride from the centre, and all the bus companies use the terminal close by on Plaza Redondo.
For train timetables and routes see www.renfe.es. There is a tourist information office (turismo) on the Plaza de España near the Parador hotel and another across the car park from the bullring.
There are daily excursions from all the main resorts along the Costa del Sol travelling by coach as well as private tours with an English-speaking driver. These trips allow you to enjoy a sightseeing tour of all the main sights, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant, then spend some free time looking around before returning to your hotel on the coast.
What to See in Ronda
As you enter Ronda from the south you’ll cross the “new” bridge which was built in 1761. This Puente Nuevo stands 130 metres above the Guadelevín river below. It seems that a scene from Ernest Hemingway’s novel ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ which describes fascist sympathisers being pushed to their death in a deep gorge refers to true events which occured in Ronda during the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway was a regular visitor to Ronda and there’s a great photo on sale in some of the tourist shops in the town centre showing him alongside Orson Welles and local bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez whose statue stands outside the ancient bullring.
Whilst the general architecture and atmosphere of Ronda announces its Moorish past, it’s the Iglesia de Santa María de la Encarnación la Mayor in Plaza Duquesa de Parcent that bears the clearest testament to that era. As is typical throughout Andalucia, this church was built on the site of a former mosque whilst retaining many characteristics of the original building. Another Moorish site of note are the 13th century Arab baths which are probably the best preserved in the country. They lie just a few minutes walk beyond the amazing Enfrente Arte hotel which is one of my two favourite places to stay in Ronda along with the Parador.
Walking Tour of Ronda’s Attractions
Most of the important sights in Ronda can be seen in a few hours as most are located around the new bridge area and within the old part of the town over the bridge from the Parador. Begin at the bullring which is one of the oldest and most beautiful in Spain. Adjoining Ronda’s bullring is the Bullfighting Museum which displays interesting relics of Ronda’s bullfighting history.
Next go into the gardens behind the bullring, along Paseo Blas Infante. From here are the best panoramic views over the mountains. Ronda is split into two sections by a spectacular 100m deep gorge called El Tajo. On one side is the old Moorish town and on the other is El Mercadillo which is a more recent urban section. The two parts are joined by the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge). This was built in 1751 and took 42 years to build. The Parador Hotel stands right on the side of the gorge.
From the gardens follow the path around the Parador where you’ll get great views of the gorge then cross the Puente Nuevo which takes you into the old part of the town.
Turn right into Tenorio, at the bottom of which is Plaza Maria Auxliadora where you will find the Palacio Mondragon, a nobleman’s house formerly the home of King Abomelik. Follow the road round to one of the most beautiful spots in Ronda, Plaza Duquesa de Parcent where you’ll see three beautiful churches (Santa María La Mayor is most impressive). This main square is of Arab origin and housed the Mosque, market, jail and castle. The ayuntamiento (town hall) was built in 1734 on the top of the old shops. It was restored in 1818 after the damage caused by the French.
From here head up Calle Arminan where you will find a selection of quaint craft and antique shops as well as three interesting museums: The Hunting Museum, the Lara Museum and the Bandit Museum. At the end of the street you find yourself back at the bridge and next to the Casa del Rey Moro (House of the Moorish King) and the Convent of Santo Domingo.
Did you know? Apparently, after completing the bridge, its architect Martín de Aldehuela was leaning over the side to check his work. As a gust of wind caught his hat, he grabbed for it, lost balance and fell to his death in the gorge!
And….Have you read Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”? Do you remember the bit where where prisoners from a village were thrown to their death into a gorge? Well his story was based on true events here in Ronda.
The House of the Moorish King has wonderful gardens from which you can descend to the underground mines built by Abomelik in the 14th century. If you head further down this street (Marques de Parada) you’ll come to a Renaissance mansion called the Palacio del Marqués de Salvatierra then come to two old town bridges dating back to 1616 (Puente Viejo). Finally at the bottom of the hill you’ll reach the well preserved Baños Arabes (Arab Baths) from the 13th Century which were accidentally discovered when the house above them collapsed.
Best Places to Stay in Ronda
There are a lot of lovely hotels in and around Ronda. I’m sure you’re well aware of the massive hotel websites that will provide booking facilities for most of them. Rather than blind you with many options I’d just like to mention a handful of places that I’ve discovered myself and highly recommend. Hope you find one of them to your liking.
Parador of Ronda
Address: Plaza de España s/n
Located in the centre of the city next to the Puente Nuevo, the Parador offers spectacular views of the Tagus, Ronda’s famous 120 metres deep gorge. The hotel has a swimming pool and cheerful bedrooms with beautiful views and comfortable split-level suites with terraces. The restaurant of the Parador is recognised as one of the best in Ronda.
Address: Virgen de la Paz nº 26
The Maestranza is an elegant hotel located in the historic centre of Ronda opposite the famous bullring and housed in the last residence of Pedro Romero. Beautifully decorated, this hotel provides a relaxing and friendly atmosphere. The rooms all have satellite TV, safety boxes and direct dial telephones among other features. The restaurant has a buffet breakfast in the morning and an a la carte menu offering lots of local dishes in the evenings. It has an underground car park which is useful as parking can be a problem in Ronda.
Enfrente Arte Hotel
Address: C/ Real nº 40
Whilst on a recent private tour of Andalucia I discovered the Enfrente Arte Hotel in Ronda which is quite simply one of the most remarkable hotels I’ve ever come across. The hotel has 14 double rooms of different types, each with its own character. All have a private bathroom, television, telephone, central heating and air-conditioning.
On arrival the manager will give you a tour of the premises and tell you to make yourself at home. Quite remarkably, all drinks, breakfast and the use of all facilities are included in the price of the room so make sure you listen to how the coffee machine and the beer pump work. Facilities include a recreation room with a pool table, television, a library, a computer with free access to the internet, an outdoor swimming pool, sun terraces with magnificent views and a sauna.
The hotel is situated low down in the old part of Ronda on a cobbled street surrounded by historic buildings. The tourist centre is just a few minutes walk uphill (not for the unfit) and looks over the natural park “Sierra de las Nieves”. The subtropical garden, with a large variety of exotic plants, birds and fish is a most attractive feature and several romantic courtyards and terraces offer stunning views of the mountains, the river Guadalevin, the old city and the renowned horse riding school “Maestranza de Ronda”.
Hotel La Fuente de la Higuera
Address: Partido De Los Frontones s/n
If you don’t mind being in the hills a few kilometres outside Ronda (15 minutes drive) and have a fancy for staying in a rural setting then this beautiful two star hotel is the place for you. It’s run by a very friendly Dutchman and his family. The rooms are fabulous as are the meals served up in the evening from their restaurant. Great place to relax with stunning scenery all around and a nice pool to take a dip in the hot afternoons. Can be a bit awkward to find the first time so follow directions carefully.
In the restaurants of Ronda you can find some of the best produce from the region such as olive oil, pork, cheese, fruits and honey. Cultural celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles were regular visitors to the restaurants of Ronda in their day.
Address: C/ Tenorio, 8
Restaurant located in a 12th century old house with magnificent views of Ronda’s Gorge. Regional specialities include foie-gras toast with apple and Iberian ham. Closed on Sunday Nights.
Address: Paseo de Blás Infante, 1
Restaurant housed in a nobel residence with garden and avant-garde decoration. The cuisine combines modernity and tradition. Closed on Sunday Nights.
Address: C/ José Aparicio, 1
Ronda’s most stylish restaurant where the work of creative local chef, Sergio López, has been rewarded with prestigious culinary awards. Dishes combine the best of Andalucian cuisine with foreign ingredients.
Address: C/ Virgen de la Paz, 18
Ronda’s most famous restaurant located right opposite the bullring. It is named after the father of modern bullfighting and such memorabilia adorns the walls. Excellent quality.
Parador de Ronda
Address: Plaza de España
An excellent dinner choice with views over the gorge from the dining room. Try some of their local dishes such as rabbit (conejo a la rondeña) or oxtail (rabo de toro).
Address: Villanueva, 4
One of Ronda’s favourite restaurants serving local delicacies such as rabbit with rice (arroz con conejo) and perdiz estofado (partridge stew). Fabulous views from the terrace over the Tajo.
Wines of Ronda
The natural region of Ronda offers an ideal microclimatic conditions for high quality wine production. These particular conditions (altitude, stable rainfall, warm days and cool nights) have helped in the establishment of vineyards and wine cellars in the Serrania. The two best known are the wines of Cortijo de las Monjas and the wines of F.Schatz. Certainly these little known wines are well worth considering with your meal, especially the reds.