Take time to explore the beautiful hilltop city of Ronda

Wander the old town at your leisure and relish the slow pace of life, people watch at one of the many cafés and explore the architecture, palaces, gardens and rich cultural heritage of the City of Dreams.

El Tajo

A spectacularly beautiful limestone ravine overlooking fertile valleys in an arid landscape, this is a photographer’s dream. Peregrine falcons and lesser kestrels nest on the sheer cliffs alongside a multitude of crag martins, pallid swifts, black redstarts, blue rock thrushes, choughs, rock doves and blackcaps. El Tajo is best viewed from the city’s main park, the Alameda del Tajo and the Mirador de Aldehuela, named after the architect who designed both the bridge and the bullring. Immortalised in Hemingway’s ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ the gorge was allegedly used by both sides during the civil war to dispatch enemies. The views are incredible, especially at sunset but if you suffer from vertigo – don’t look down.

Puente Nuevo

Instantly recognisable, the ‘new bridge’ dates from 1793 and offers spectacular views over el Tajo, spanning the 120m deep ravine and connecting la Ciudad, the old Moorish town, to the newer Mercadillo. Beautiful vistas can be seen from viewpoints all along the bridge and the bridge itself can best be seen from the bottom of the gorge or follow el Camino de los Molinos but hang on to your hat.

La Ciudad

The winding streets of the old town bring little surprises at every turn from the Moorish Minaret de San Sebastian where local craftsmen sit weaving rush seats onto miniature chairs, to the stately palaces of a bygone era, Palacio Mondragon, Casa del Rey Moro, and Casa Don Bosco to name a few, the Arab and Roman bridges, the eight spout fountain – Los Ocho Caños – (recognisable as the setting for the death scene in Francisco Rosi’s version of Bizet’s Carmen) and the serene, leafy, Plaza Duquesa de Parcent with its fabulous church, fairytale belltower and rows of orange trees around the town hall. Traditional Spanish guitar can be heard in squares looking out to the Serrania de Ronda and the pace of life is infectiously slow. Ornate ironwork, half hidden, jasmine filled gardens and crumbling mansions all add to the charm of the La Ciudad. There are bars aplenty serving an array of traditional tapas and many afford unforgettable views. Best appreciated after the day-trippers have gone, this is truly the romantic heart of the city.

Plaza de Toros

Ronda’s famous bullring has the largest rueda (circle of sand) in the world and is home to the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda, Spain’s oldest and most noble order of horsemanship that was established in 1485. Whatever your feelings about bullfighting, the neo-classical architecture is stunning from the outside and even more so from within its high walls. Designed by José Martín de Aldehuela, the same architect responsible for the Puente Nuevo, and with covered seating for 5,000, the Plaza de Toros is an impressive landmark and serves as an excellent starting point for exploring the city.

Casa del Rey Moro Peggy S

© Peggy S

Casa del Rey Moro y La Miña

Since it was more likely that it was from Palacio de Mondragón that King Abomelic, son of the Sultan of Morocco, ruled, Casa del Rey Moro is ill-named, in fact, the palace dates from the C18th and the gardens were designed in 1912. Nonetheless, it sits above the genuinely Moorish water mine, cut into the rock to transport water to the city above. The descent passes through the Sala de Secretos which is said to display the same phenomenon as St Paul’s Whispering Gallery. Popular folklore holds that the mines and fortress still conceal Abomelic’s stash of gold. There are 231 steps to the bottom of the gorge but it is wonderfully cool inside the mine, even in the height of summer and the tranquility once you reach the Guadelevín at the bottom of the gorge is sublime.

The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced

An impressive Merced Carmelite Convent, or more correctly, a basilica, since it contains the relic of the incorruptible hand of Saint Teresa of Avila (C17th) once seized by Franco during the civil war. The church is open daily and, as Jamie Oliver showed in ‘Jamie Does Spain’, the resident nuns sell pasteles from a revolving counter.

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Merced keith Roper v2

© Keith Roper

Mirador Hernan Pinera

© Hernán Piñera

Mirador d’ Aldeheula

Named after the architect who designed both the bridge and the bullring, the Mirador d’Aldeheula and the Balćon de Coño offer superb views over the gorge. Best at sunrise if you can bear to leave your bed this early, sunset is pretty good too.

Baños Arabes

Dating from the 11th century, Ronda’s Arab baths have recently been restored and are amongst the best preserved in the entire Iberian Peninsula. Cool and tranquil, with star shaped vents in the domed ceiling, the Baños Arabes are an absolute delight.

Arab baths david jones

© David Jones

City Walls

The Puerta del Almocábar is a beautifully shaped gate in the medieval city walls. Pass through at dusk and you will often see riders enjoying a cool evening drink beside their horses. You can walk to the end of the Almocábar wall and climb the steps looking out over the city. More of the walls can be seen on the outskirts of the city and near the Arab Baths, including the Puerta de la Cijara. It takes around an hour to walk the various sections of the wall.

Palacio de Mondragón

Once the palace of the Moorish King, the gardens are a cool oasis and some of the fabulous architecture dates from C12th. The palace houses the municipal museum that depicts the history and pre-history of the area, it is a crazy museum that is entertaining for all the wrong reasons but the gardens and balconied courtyards are wonderful.

judit imre 430261 unsplashbarrio

© Judit Imre

Barrio San Francisco

Located just outside the city walls, on the very edge of the countryside, the barrio is like a village in its own right. There is a wonderful flavour to this part of town, crumbling houses sit opposite excellent tapas bars, this is Ronda at its most authentic, welcoming and relaxed. You can climb the old city walls and look out over the barrio, enjoy a fabulous dinner or flamenco at one of the many bars, kids can play in the playground in the lovely leafy square that was once the city’s cemetery.

Alameda del Tajo

A fabulous park, the green lung of El Mercadillo, the park was apparently funded by fining Rondeños for lewd behaviour and swearing. They must have been a bawdy bunch because the result is fabulous, towering firs and cobbled paths lead to a fantastic view over the edge of the gorge. Words cannot do the beauty of this park justice but Rainer Maria Rilke, Argentinian born Jorge Luis Borges and James Joyce all did their best. A popular place for families and hub of the paseo, it is a great spot for an ice cream and quiet contemplation. No park in the world can beat the view.

Plaza Duquesa de Parcent Keith Roper v2

© Keith Roper

Plaza Duquesa de Parcent

Perhaps the most beautiful plaza in the whole of Ronda, still, calm and cool, an orange lined square with surely one of the most attractive town halls ever, an impressive church complete with loggia, Mudejar style belltower and Wizard of Oz looking lions adorning the walls. There are several cafés and bars and a good restaurant here - Meson el Sacristan. The square was once site of the market during Arab rule, the gardens were added by Jean Claude Forestier who also designed the gardens of the Casa del Rey Moro and the Maria Luisa Park in Seville.

Plaza del Socorro

El Mercadillo, the ‘new’ town contains the popular Plaza del Socorro, central hub of the modern city and a plaza of great political significance, it was here that Blas Infante, father of Andalucian nationalism, first unfurled the Andalucian flag. Executed by Franco’s forces, Infante is memorialised by a statue and a beautiful paseo overlooking el Tajo. Plaza del Socorro is surrounded by restaurants and bars with some notable gems including La Taberna, a favourite with locals, Casa Ortega, where you can get a great zumo narañja and sliced jamon iberico de bellota cut by a cortador. This café restaurant has a great wine list and a rooftop terrace overlooking the square. Sample a leisurely tapa at one of the many bars, watching the world go by, then head down one of the shady side streets towards the bullring and the old town. This square is perhaps the most visited in Ronda but is still frequented by locals throughout the day and well into the night. Once the site of a muslim chapel, Nuestra Señora del Socorro chimes out the hour and startles the pigeons every time.
Beneath the plaza is a brilliant underground car park, numerous side streets hide a host of bars, cafes and restaurants including the fabulous Tragata, the more traditional El Porton and opposite the bull ring the aptly named Restaurante Pedro Romero. The main shopping street Carrera Espinel is a pedestrianised street with a wide variety of high street and independent shops and side streets selling pretty much everything. El Mercadillo is the modern, bustling heart of Ronda and although it lacks the historic appeal of the old town, it nonetheless has an authenticity that gives it a certain charm.

Plaza del Socorro Tomas Fano v2

© Tomás Fano

Joaquín Peinado Museum

If art is your thing (or architecture or history for that matter) head into Old Town to the Museo Unicaja Joaquín Peinado. This small museum holds an excellent collection of Picasso's etchings (mostly in the minotaur vein) and a few Picasso ceramics as well as a permanent collection of Ronda's own neo-cubist, Peinado, a frequently changing calendar of temporary exhibitions and a superb bookshop. Small enough to complete in less than an hour, this museum is in the building that once housed the heirs of the last Aztec emperor Montezuma, the Mudejar-Renaissance aesthetic - Tuscan columns and beautiful Mudejar carved ceiling - sit comfortably alongside contemporary architecture. Located nearby the Palacio Mondragón, this part of town is the true historic heart of Ronda.

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Los Ocho Caños

Lovers of Rosi’s version of Bizet’s opera will recognise the eight spout fountain on Calle Sta. Cecilia as the setting for Carmen’s death. This is a lovely quiet spot outside the Iglesia de Padre Jesús.

los ochos canos elliott brown

© Elliott Brown

Flamenco Ruth L v2

© Ruth L

Flamenco

No holiday in Andalucia is complete without a little flamenco. Featuring on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, artisans in Ronda are certainly helping to keep this wonderful tradition alive. There are several venues to choose from, El Quinque on Paseo Blas Infante, just behind the Parador, offers authentic daily performances involving every aspect of this fabulous art. Do not miss the Festival de Cante Grande in late August, one of the oldest flamenco festivals in the province which sees the cante - song, take centre stage.

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