Despite Ronda being Andalucía’s fastest-growing town – it overtook Córdoba in the big three Andaluz tourist attractions, behind Sevilla and Granada, in the early 21st century – Ronda retains much of its historic charm, particularly its old town. It is famous worldwide for its dramatic escarpments and views, and for the deep El Tajo gorge that carries the rio Guadalevín through its centre. Visitors make a beeline for the 18th century Puente Nuevo ‘new’ bridge, which straddles the 100m chasm below, for its unparalleled views out over the Serranía de Ronda mountains.
Ronda is also famous as the birthplace of modern bullfighting, today glimpsed once a year at the spectacular Feria Goyesca. Held at the beginning of September, here fighters and some of the audience dress in the manner of Goya’s sketches of life in the region. Legendary Rondeño bullfighter Pedro Romero broke away from the prevailing Jerez ‘school’ of horseback bullfighting in the 18th century to found a style of bullfighting in which matadores stood their ground against the bull on foot. In 2006 royalty and movie stars were helicoptered in for the Goyesca’s 50th anniversary celebrations in its small bullring, while thousands jammed the streets and parks outside. Otherwise the bullring, Plaza de Toros, is now a museum, and visitors can stroll out into the arena.
Ronda also holds a lovely “romería” pilgrimage each year. This is in honour of theVirgen de la Cabeza and is organised by the local Catholic brotherhood of the same name. For those wishing to see the lighter side of life in Ronda this is a wonderful way to participate in a local tradition that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century.
Across the bridge, where an elegant cloistered 16th century convent is now an art museum, old Ronda, La Ciudad, sidewinds off into cobbled streets hemmed by handsome town mansions, some still occupied by Ronda’s titled families. The Casa de Don Bosco is one such, its interior patio long ago roofed in glass against Ronda’s harsh winters. Its small, almost folly-like gardens lose out, however, to the true star, a few minutes’ walk to the furthest end of the Ciudad, the Palacio Mondragón. Clumsily modernised in parts during the 1960s, this still has working vestiges of the exquisite miniature water gardens dating from its time as a Moorish palace during Ronda’s brief reign as a minor Caliphate under Córdoba in the 12th century.
The cobbled alley to the Mondragón leads naturally on to Ronda’s loveliest public space, the leafy Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, which boasts a convent, two churches, including the toytown belltower of the iglesia Santa Maria de Mayor, and the handsome arched ayuntamiento (council) building. Nearby calle Armiñan leads down to the spacious plaza of the traditional workers’ barrio, San Francisco, with excellent bars and restaurants. Back from the Mondragón, the Plaza del Campillo overlooks steps that zigzag down to a dramatic eye-level through the Puente Nuevo. The town’s pedestrianised ‘high street’, calle Espinel, opposite the bullring, is nicknamed ‘La Bola’ and is where Rondeños go for virtually everything.
Most people visit Ronda by car or bus (45mins) from the Costa del Sol, via San Pedro de Alcántara on the A376/C-3. The route through the Sierra Bermeja mountains is dramatic, and in winter the peaks attract low cloud and even snow. A gentler route leaves Málaga on the A357, bypassing the interior towns of Ardales, Carratraca and Cuevas de Becerra. There’s also a more westerly and also very dramatic route from San Luis de Sabanillas near Estepona, taking the A377 via Casares and Gaucín on to Ronda. There are several daily train connections from Algeciras, Granada, Málaga and Sevilla, the last three changing at Bobadilla. There are also bus services from all the above.
Plaza de Blas Infante, s/n 29400, Ronda, Tlf: 952 18 71 19, Fax: 952 18 71 47
Plaza de España, 1, 29400 Ronda. Tel: 952 8712 72
Ayuntamiento, Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, 29400 Ronda. Tel: 952 87 32 40