Before following the crowds to Paris, Florence or Prague, consider instead Ronda, jewel of Andalucia, one of the most romantic cities in the world. The perfect location for a honeymoon, romantic escape or Valentine’s break, Ronda is an enchanting and seductive city, small enough to feel welcoming and intimate but packed with history and culture. A deeply passionate vein unites its land and its people and infects all those who come, reigniting a lust for life.
The Mirador D'sldehuela by Hernan Pinera
City of Dreams
With its dramatic setting, perched atop a limestone plateau, the old and new towns torn asunder by the vertigo inducing Tajo, gazing out to the rugged mountains of the Serranía, Ronda has always drawn romantics. From the early C19th romantic travellers, Benjamin Disraeli, Washington Irving and Richard Ford to the literary giants of the C20th; Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, Laurie Lee and James Joyce, Ronda has enchanted and inspired. Prague born poet, Rainer Maria Rilke named Ronda 'Ciudad Soñada' – the ‘city of dreams’. This is where Francesco Rosi chose to film the death scene for ‘Carmen’, by the eight spout fountain, Los Ochos Caños, just outside the Iglesia de Padre Jesús.
"The whole city and its surroundings are a romantic set.”
Hemingway said of Ronda “Ronda is the place .. to go, if you are planning to travel to Spain for a honeymoon or …with a girlfriend. The whole city and its surroundings are a romantic set.” Like Hemingway, Welles also developed a passion for the city and famously said of Ronda “A man does not belong to the place where he was born, but where he chooses to die”. Welles' ashes were interred at the finca of his old friend Antonio Ordóñez.
The cool gardens of the C12th Mondragón Palace
Wander the Old Town to discover its many secrets
Hand in hand with its spectacular and awe inspiring natural beauty is Ronda’s fabulous architecture. Labyrinthine cobbled streets of the old town hide ancient palaces of the Nasrid kings; a cool oasis that is Palacio Mondragón and La Mina with its Sala de Secretos whose peculiar acoustics allow a whispered secret to be clearly heard in the diagonally opposite corner. Flower filled courtyards and leafy plazas lined with orange trees are tucked away down narrow streets that delight at every turn. Stumble across the Mudejar tower of the Minaret de San Sebastian where local craftsmen weave tiny chairs, or wander down the cobbles to the Baños Arabes, the best preserved in Spain, with its tranquil rooms and soft star shaped shafts of light. If you hanker for your own spa experience book yourself in next door at Aguas de Ronda which recreates the atmosphere of a traditional hammam and offers a variety of relaxing treatments.
Museo Joaquin Peinado
Ronda has always inspired artists and poets
It is here in the rambling old town that you will find the palace of the last heir of Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II. Now a fabulous museum, of great architectural significance and beauty, hosting the works of Joaquin Peinado, friend and contemporary of Picasso whose etchings and ceramics are also on show. Head upstairs to room 7 to explore the beautiful nude and erotic sketches that show Peinado's outstanding appreciation of the human form.
Perhaps it is the coupling of Ronda's dramatic location with its quiet ways, its flower filled courtyards ad shady plazas, its cobbles, twists and unexpected surprises, its slumbering, half-remembered Arabic dream that impregnate it with such a romantic air. Two poets summed up these two antagonistic forces thus - Jorge Luis Borges wrote “it is here, in Ronda, in the delicate penumbra of blindness, a concave silence of patios / the leisure of the jasmine and the light sound of water, which summoned up memories of deserts.” José María Pemán captures perfectly the magnificent and terrifying power of El Tajo, its proximity to the sublime - "in Ronda there are many streets which take us to ourselves. The gorge has no obligations to the guides. One leans over the edge of it and may find in its depths fear, prophecies, prayers or poems.”
A view from the bridge
The Alameda del Tajo is the green heart of the city
Explore the Neo-classical beauty of the New Town
Whilst the Old Town hides its treasures, the New Town proudly reveals its gems. The Neo-classical beauty and jaw dropping feat of engineering that is the Puente Nuevo is matched only by the Plaza de Toros, both designed by José Martín de Aldehuela. Visit the bullring in the evening, as long shadows stretch across the sand of the rueda before heading to the green lung of the Mercadillo, Ronda’s fabulous park, hub of the paseo, where towering trees line the cobbled paths leading to the 120m drop at the edge of the gorge where real meaning is given to the term 'bird's eye view'.
Enchanted by the beauty of Ronda, James Joyce also fell under its spell “…and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night” It was the beautiful park, the Alameda del Tajo that inspired Joyce to write “and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums“
The Real Feria de Mayo or Ronda Romantica
Land of gypsies, Ronda has not forgotten its romantic past
The Serranía abounds with tales of gypsies, bandits and smugglers set in a landscape of cork oak forest, hidden mountain trails and open pastures. In fact, the romantic role of the bandit is so entrenched in local culture that Ronda even has a Museo de Bandolero, the only one of its kind, the museum details the folklore and psychology of the bandits and highwaymen who once frequented the landscape. The Real Feria de Mayo or Ronda Romantica is one of oldest fairs in Andalucia, dating from 1509, the festival recreates the atmosphere of a bygone era; locals dress in traditional costume and re-enact tales of bravery and banditry, food is cooked on stoves and open flames and the only light is from candles and oil lamps.
Traditional Flamenco stirs the heart of the city
Gypsy culture lies at the heart of the Rondeños way of life and the Flamenco tradition thrives, indeed August sees Ronda host the Flamenco Festival de Cante Grande, one of the oldest flamenco festivals in Andalucia. Flamenco and Flamenco fusion can be heard in numerous bars and if it is the dancing that inspires you head over to El Quinque for an authentic flamenco experience.
It was whilst enjoying some local flamenco fusion that we met Michael, an Irishman who first visited Ronda as a young man. He described seeing a beautiful gypsy across the Plaza del Socorro and how he returned every year to woo her until she at last became his wife.
Traditional Spanish guitar can be enjoyed at Ronda Guitar House whose resident composer Paco Seco gives outstanding performances Monday to Saturday that capture the raw passion of Spanish culture. Wandering the old town you may hear the sweet notes of Spanish guitar in a leafy plaza where lovers sit, gaze at the view and dream.
The leafy square of the Barrio where tables are set out under the stars
Feast by candlelight
Fabulous sunsets can be enjoyed from restaurant terraces overlooking the magnificent Tajo across the Serranía de Ronda. Sip a drink on the terrace of the Parador or from the balconied terrace of Maruja Limon which has the best views in town. Down in the Barrio San Francisco couples enjoy candlelit dinners at Restaurant Almocabar under the rustling leaves of the plane trees. Further afield, at Benaojan, is the wonderfully romantic Hotel Molino del Santo, where excellent staff attend to your every need and the fabulous kitchen dishes up sublime treats on the flower filled terrace. Closer to home is the intimate dining experience at El Muelle, where sunsets over the hills combine with great service, good wine, delicious food and the unique setting of Arriate's train station. Just a kilometre from the house is the fabulous Hotel La Fuente de la Higuera. Relaxed fine dining is how they describe it, a great selection of local wines, inventive cuisine and a daily changing menu make this a memorable dining experience especially if it is followed by a leisurely stroll back under the stars.
The soft light of the former church, now cellar, at Descalzos Viejos
Sample the wines at Ronda's most intimate and romantic bodega
There are over 21 bodegas in the appellation Serranía de Ronda, of these, by far the most intimate is the beautiful converted monastery on the edge of Ronda's gorge - Descalzos Viejos. Sitting under the sprawling branches of a laden avocado tree sampling the delights of this beautiful bodega is a romantic and unforgettable experience and the hushed silence of the former church that now houses the cellar, with its medieval frescoes of the Saints Justa and Rufina, forms the heart of this heavenly winery. Terraced gardens fecund with persimmon, pomegranates and pendulous datura step their way up to a magical spring that has fed the monastery since its early beginnings in the C16th. No wonder this bodega hosts weddings, it simply breathes romance.
Cmorex4 jeep tours are a fabulous way to explore the local area
Explore the rugged beauty of the Serranía
Eschewing the cliches of the top ten most romantic cities and heading instead to a less obvious, more intimate choice you will be rewarded with the most dramatic scenery imaginable. In spring the first blaze of green ignites the landscape, vast carpets of wild flowers stretch across the horizon and migratory birds return to bejewel the Serranía. Summer, with her lazy days and long siestas scorches the land inviting exploration of the many secret swimming spots that dot the landscape, golden sunsets are followed by balmy nights under the stars. Autumn offers the opportunity to walk the hills once again and explore the secret beauty of the Serranía. Cork oak forests and rugged mountains that stretch between the white villages conceal an enormous variety of species waiting to be discovered in the hushed stillness of a misty morning. The short Andalucian winters are filled with sunny days, frosty starts giving way to deep blue skies and warm sunshine and cold nights can be spent sampling one of the local wines by the roaring log fire or enjoying a long soak in the bath.
Granada's Alhambra by moonlight by 1001 nights
Ronda is within easy reach of Andalucia's most romantic sites
If you stay in Ronda for long enough you might venture further afield to explore the bewitching city of Sevilla with its dreamy Maria Luisa Park, the beautiful gardens of the Real Alcázar and the winding streets of the Santa Cruz Jewish quarter. Cordoba with its UNESCO protected historic centre and awe inspiring Mezquita has a beautiful 16 arched bridge and a warren of narrow streets and whitewashed courtyards that beg to be explored. The serene beauty of the Alhambra and Generalife with their cool pools and hypnotic plasterwork are a romantic's dream especially when the crowds have departed and they can be enjoyed by moonlight.
Intricate plasterwork of the Nasrid palaces of the Alhambra
The romantic gardens of Seville's Real Alcázar
The New Bridge by Aapo Haapanen
Head to Ronda for an authentic, intimate and romantic getaway
Yet it is Ronda itself that epitomises the authentic, romantic, intimate Andalucia. With its dramatic backdrop of arid mountains, its leafy plazas, its architectural gems and its passionately hospitable people, Ronda is an exceptionally romantic city to fall in love with again and again.