A deep river gorge divides the town of Ronda in two parts: the medieval and the 18th century sections. The gorge is called El Tajo (The Cliff), and it’s spanned by a stone bridge that once housed a prison. Beneath are the rushing waters of Guadalevin. The whole town is on a grand plateau in the mountains, and is renowned as one of Andalucia’s most beautiful towns.
The oldest and prettiest bullring in Spain is located in Ronda, and its arena is the largest in the country as well. It’s open to visitors on days with no bullfights scheduled, and the museum there is excellent, covering the history of Spanish bullfighting.
The drive to Ronda is a sight in itself, with the road winding through the Sierra Bermeja, then descending to the Serrania de Ronda; partly because of this, Ronda is a popular day trip for natives and vacationers from the coast. You’ll find a wide assortment of cafes and restaurants here, and a wonderfully Andalucian atmosphere.
How clear it is that Ronda was easily defensible! Its high perch made it difficult to sneak attack, while it was easy for Ronda’s inhabitants to hurl projectiles at any would-be enemies. And the people of Ronda had plenty of opportunity.
The Celts or the Iberians first settled in Ronda’s rocky environs, but the Romans were determined to take it from them — and they did. And Ronda grew in importance. Roman buildings were mostly destroyed by later occupiers, particularly the Moors, but archaeological excavations have uncovered much evidence of their existence, including chariot racing grounds and baths.
Later, Ronda was laid waste by unknown attackers, and Byzantine Greeks, looking for a safe place to settle, chose this spot. The Visigoths removed the Greeks and once again razed it. These ruins are referred to as Ronda el Viejo, and were largely left alone.
At last, Ronda was settled by Moors, and this settlement stayed. Not only did they build here, they made Ronda the capital of one of the Andalucian districts. It enjoyed considerable prosperity for several hundred years before it was taken by the Christians in the 15th century. The Christians razed the mosque and built a church in its place. They built several bridges crossing the ravine, many of which still stand. And they built a marketplace on the other side of the ravine from the older part of town, the Mercadillo. Remaining Moors were expelled in 1570, after a supposed uprising, and an earthquake ten years later destroyed many of Ronda’s greatest buildings. A hundred fifty years later, the bullfighting ring was built.
What to See and Do
Many sights dating throughout the history of Ronda still survive, from the Arab Bridge to the Arab Baths, the Palacio de Marques de Salvatierre, the Casa del Rey Moro. Just walking through the venerable streets of Ronda are an adventure not to be missed.
From the ruins of the Arco del Cristo, you can get the best views out of the mountains of Puente Nuevo and the Tajo. The Puente is the New Bridge, and teh Tajo is the home of El Mercadillo and a beautiful walkway along the side of the river gorge that leads to the Mirdor. Just beyond the Mirador you’ll see the bullring. Up the Calle Nueva, you’ll find excellent shopping.
The plaza Carmen Abela is the best starting point for night life in Ronda, with the bar La Farola and the Limbo at the beginning of the bar-hopping scene. Down the street are Faustino, filled with Andalucian atmosphere, and O’Flaugherty’s, an Irish bar that is decidedly not Spanish. You should also not miss the subterranean club Avalon, with its clubby mix of old and new music.
You should probably skip the tablaos, touted as authentic but really anything but. If you want live music, try another town, or try the jazz club Siete de Copas, hangout for bohemians. For a truly unique experience, El Choque is a combination bar/restaurant/record shop/art gallery/clothing store/recording studio, and more. The lower terrace has two plunge pools, and everything has a beautiful view of the Sierra de las Nieves.
Where to Eat
Ideally, you should skip the restaurants and bars in the Plaza de Socorro; instead, try the favorites of the natives of Ronda. Pedro Romero, near the bull ring, is the place where matadores go after the fight, and serves up classic Rondeno and Andalucian dishes. One of the best-kept secrets in Ronda is El Almocabar, with truly authentic Andalusian food like braised duck leg with baked apple.
At the Casa Maria, the waiters tell you what’s being served today, and you tell them when you’ve had enough. No menus, and no limits. Or the Alcalba, restaurant in the new four-star Montelirio Hotel, has views as breathtaking as its menu.
For excellent seafood, try Los Cazadores. It’s a bit eccentric, with no written menu and erratic opening times, and it’s always fish-of-the-day day. You will need to know some Spanish to successfully order here!
Where to Stay
The Hotel Enfrente Arte is quite charming, and has some of that Rondeno eccentricity. Its garden is excellent, as are its views of the mountain, and breakfast is complementary. The Hotel Montelirio has a Turkish bath and excellent pool, as well as fantastic view of the gorge.
The two four-star hotels to try are the Montelirio and the Acinpo. The Montelirio is located in town, while the Acinpo is located just outside in Acinpo, Ronda’s sister city. The house was once the residence of Tellez Loriguillo and Miki Haruta, both great artists inspired by this area. You’ll find works done by both of them in many corners of this hotel as well as sculptures and bas-reliefs by Juan de Avalos. The hotel is only a few meters from the New Bridge.