Guide to Ronda Mountains
The Ronda Mountains and its surrounding landscape has all that is symbolic of Andalucia—the land of passion, literary inspiration, bullfighting and romantic bandit stories. Its famous Puente Nuevo bridge, spanning El Tajo gorge, is unforgettable. Ronda is a magnificent city with a rich culture and history but this region also offers beautiful countryside, picturesque white villages like Gaucín, and the sea which is near enough for a day at the beach.
A land of inspiration
Ronda and its surrounding landscape has been the source of artistic inspiration for centuries. Its beauty and energy are impossible to resist.
Ronda and its surrounding landscape is an iconic Andalucian region, and rightly so. Drama, flamboyance, bullfighting and bandits are all associated with Ronda, an inspiration for Washington Irving, Mérimée, Hemingway and Orson Welles. The poet Rilke wrote, ‘I have sought everywhere the city of my dreams, and I have finally found it in Ronda’.
Ronda commands a spectacular situation straddling a deep gorge, El Tajo, carved out of the rocks by the river, Guadalevin. The magnificent bridge, Puente Nuevo, is a major piece of engineering and commands a stunning view of the surrounding countryside. The bridge is not so ‘new’ as it was built in the 18th century to connect the old and new parts of the town.
Ronda is famous throughout Spain as the birthplace of modern bullfighting ie on foot as opposed to on horseback.
Ronda’s bullring, Plaza de Toros, is apparently the oldest in Spain (Sevilla would disagree!) and, whatever one’s views on this controversial sport, is a must-see. The bullring is not only a stunning piece of architecture, but it’s home to the oldest Royal Equine School—the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda, established in 1572. The bullring houses an impressive museum about the history of Spanish horsemanship and ‘la corrida’.
The Plaza de Toros hosts a spectacular event in the first week of September of each year—the Feria Goyesca. The artist, Goya, had close links with Ronda and Pedro Romero the legendary bullfighter, whose portrait he painted. This pageant of colour celebrates Pedro Romero with parades in Goya-era 18th century costumes, complete with horse drawn carriages.
Culture at every corner
There is so much to experience. Ronda itself has many historical sites and museums, while the pueblos in this region offer interesting aspects of Spanish life.
As in many Andalucian cities, Ronda has an old Moorish quarter, (La Ciudad) with its maze of narrow winding streets. One of the features of La Ciudad is the original hammam or bath house. This is easily recognized by its hump-shaped domed roof. The water provided for the bath house was brought, via an aqueduct, from the river. You can visit the hammam and a film is projected on the walls giving an idea of what life was like in medieval Ronda.
Also on this side of the river is an old family-run museum, Museo Lara, whose founder was an avid collector of curios. Juan Antonio Lara Jurado was a local businessman whose name still appears on the local buses (one of his enterprises).
The museum is an eclectic mix of Spanish cultural items, particularly those of a precision and mechanical nature such as watches, pistols and scientific instruments. There are also archaeological pieces as well as exhibits relating to the Spanish Inquisition and witchcraft. The Inquisition has its own dedicated museum in Ronda, interesting but only for those with a strong disposition.
The newer part of the city is on the northern side of the bridge. Here you’ll find the bus and train stations as well as the larger shops. Ronda offers many places to eat, ranging from bar cafés to some fine dining restaurants. Lunch menus ‘menu del día’ are good value offering a set price for a (usually) three-course meal, of typically Andalucian dishes, an economical option in what can be an expensive city with tourist prices.
Delight in the natural world
The countryside around Ronda is dramatic and beautiful. Surrounded by two nature reserves, the scope for outdoor activities is endless.
Most of the shops are on the main streets of the new town. They range from selling souvenirs to specializing in the finest of goods, especially leather and sheepskin products, particularly jackets.
The countryside around Ronda, the Serranía de Ronda, was up until the Spanish civil war, the realm of bandits who hid out in the hillside caves. Yes there is a museum, the Museo del Bandolero, dedicated to the legacy of their wicked deeds in Ronda! The bandits, whether working alone or in gangs each had their own method and have, since their disappearance gained an undeserved romantic reputation along the lines of such legends as Robin Hood, Bonnie and Clyde, and Ned Kelly.
Although there is so much to see in Ronda itself, it’s worth leaving the main city to explore the stunning countryside.
Ronda is located in between two Natural Parks—the Park Natural Sierra de la Grazalema and the Park Natural Sierra de las Nieves (soon to be upped in designation as a National Park). Both are areas of outstanding natural beauty.
This region is home to many varieties of birds of prey and songbirds, along with butterflies, reptiles and wild flowers. Some of this flora and fauna is rare, for example the pinsapo or ‘Spanish fir’ is only found in three reserves in Spain, the Sierras de las Nieves and Grazalema are two of them. Bird watching is a dream here. El Tajo gorge provides a habitat for cliff-dwelling birds and in particular a large colony of red-legged choughs, a species that is rare and endangered throughout the rest of Europe.
Take a romantic railway trip
An old-fashioned, single gauge railway from Algeciras takes you through mountain passes to its destination in Ronda.
There is no end to the hiking opportunities in the Natural Parks, but another walking experience can be had following parts of the route of Mr Henderson’s railway. This 19th century British-built railway (financed by the said Henderson) was built to carry goods from Algeciras to Ronda and then beyond. The easy walk from Benajoán to Jimera de Líbar is 8 kms and follows the river and railway through the beautiful Sierra de Grazalema. If you prefer, you can take the train which makes for a delightful journey through sleepy little towns and breathtaking scenery.
Driving around this region is a pleasure, country roads lined with sweet chestnut trees give off a honey scent from their springtime blossom. The same is true of the almond trees with their black trunks that look like they’ve survived a forest fire.
There are many white villages to explore round and about: Algatocin, Genalguacil, Cortes de la Frontera, Gaucín, Jubrique to name just a few, before heading down to the coast to Estepona and the Costa del Sol.
Ronda is suitably placed to connect with other major cities including Jerez, Gibraltar and Málaga, all of which have airports.
To summarise, Ronda is a magnificent city with a rich culture and history but within easy reach of beautiful countryside, other centres of interest, and the sea. But for art’s sake, let us allow the poet Rilke to have the last word, ‘Nothing is more startling in Spain than this wild and mountainous city’.