Ronda is a town in the province of Málaga in Andalusia, Spain. It is set in and around a deep gorge spanned by an impressive bridge, which brings in many day-trippers from the Costa del Sol and other places to admire the view. However, Ronda is also a remarkably pretty town with beautiful architecture from the islamic period up to the 19th century, romantic winding streets with white-washed houses, some interesting museums, and lots of good places to eat and drink. It is also a good base to explore the surrounding area, where you will find beautiful mountains and many of the iconic pueblos blancos (white villages) of Andalusia.
The most conspicuous feature of Ronda is its location on a big sandstone hill that is cut in two by the El Tajo gorge, in which the Guadalevín rivers runs some 120 m below. The views of the gorge and the surrounding countryside are breathtaking, and worth the visit in itself.
Ronda was already settled in the 6th century BC by the Celtiberians, who called it Arunda. Phoenician settlers later established themselves in Acinipo, also known as Old Ronda, some 20km to the east. The current town has Roman origins, and was originally built as a fortification in the Second Punic War (218-201 BC). It was elevated to city status in the time of Julius Caesar. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Ronda was first occupied by the Suebi and later by the Visigoths, who ruled until the Arab invasion of 713 AD. The Moors renamed it to Hisn Ar-Rundah ("Castle of Rundah"). The city at that time more or less occupied the current old town centre (La Ciudad), to the south of the gorge.
Ronda was one of the last outposts of islamic rule in Andalusia, and was only conquered in 1485 by the Spanish, who then gradually drove out the remaining muslim population. In the 17th and 18th century, Ronda expanded north across the gorge into the new town (El Mercadillo), and the Puente Nuevo was finished in 1793 to connect both parts.
In the 19th century Ronda was first home to numerous guerrilla warriors fighting the troops of Napoleon, and later to bandits (bandoleros). In this period, it also became a favourite destination for English, French and American travellers, who described it as one of the most romantic places in the world. Some of this fame has stuck to Ronda ever since.
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Ronda was the site of much fighting, and became infamous because of the revenge taken by Republican partisans on some 500 Falangist supporters, who were thrown into the gorge from a house on the cliffside - but like almost everything in the Spanish Civil War, the truth of this matter is disputed. This war crime is supposed to have inspired a famous scene in Ernest Hemingway's novel For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940).
Ronda is also supposed to be the birthplace of the Spanish bullfighting tradition, and boasts the oldest bullring in Spain, built in 1785.
Today, Ronda is a thriving town of some 35,000 people, most of whom live outside the historic centre. It is the capital of the comarca of Serranía de Ronda, which is one the most beautiful areas of Andalusia.
Ronda is located at an altitude of approx. 750m a.s.l., so the climate is much more temperate than in the sweltering Guadalquivir plain, making it a good choice if you can't stand the Spanish summer heat. Keep in mind however that the winter season (November-March) is very wet.
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Average temperatures and precipitation in Ronda
Parking options are very limited inside the old town centre. Underground parking is found in the Plaza del Socorro (€0.65 per hour). Navigating Spanish town centres can take some nerve because of the narrow streets, but in general people are very polite in traffic.
Ronda is a small town, easily navigable on foot.
Make sure to take water with you; while Ronda is not as hot as many places in central Andalusia, it has the disadvantage of serious height differences which can make walking during the day more challenging. Fortunately, there are many water fountains located throughout the old town which you can drink from. However be careful of very high water pressure which may cause splashing!
The town is divided into two parts: La Ciudad is the old town south of the gorge, roughly the area of the walled medieval medina. The north part of town is called El Mercadillo. Both parts are worth exploring on foot, as they have a different atmosphere. La Ciudad is a maze of small streets with white-washed houses, beautiful churches and remains of old islamic architecture. El Mercadillo is a more classic Spanish town, with broader streets and pleasant buildings predominantly dating from the 18th and 19th century.
- Puente Nuevo (New Bridge), ☎ +34 620 340 148. Museum: Mo-Fr 10AM-6PM, Sa 10AM-1:45PM and 3-6PM, Su 10AM-3PM. The iconic 18th-century stone bridge of Ronda is one the three bridges crossing the El Tajo gorge, but it is by far the best known because the river runs more than 100 m below. It took more than 40 years to build. It seems remarkably inconspicuous when you are on top of it, and the best views of the gorge are not from there. But when you go down into the gorge, it is a magnificent sight. Inside the bridge is a small museum that can be entered via the guardhouse. €2. edit.
- Baños Árabes (Arabic bathhouses), Calle San Miguel, S/N, ☎ +34 656 95 09 37. 10AM-6PM. This medieval spa or hammam was built in the late 13th/early 14th century just outside the city walls, in the old Jewish quarter on the Guadalevín riverside. After the islamic period the baths fell into disuse, were flooded and eventually forgotten. They were partly excavated in the 20th century, and they are supposed to be the best preserved examples of Arabic baths across Spain. edit
- Plaza de Toros (Real Maestranza de la Caballería de Ronda) (Bullring), Calle Virgen de la Paz, 15, ☎ +34 952 874 132 ([email protected]), . 10AM-8PM. The lofty name of the Ronda bullring refers to its owners, the Royal School of Cavalry, a society established in 1573 by king Philip II to train his knights in times of peace. Apart from the 1785 bullring, the oldest in Spain, they also operate a classical Spanish riding school. The museum relates the history of the Real Maestranza and Ronda's bullfighting dynasties. The bullring is now only used for corridas during the Pedro Romero festival in September. €7. edit
- Palacio de Mondragón (Mondragón Palace), Plaza Mondragón, s/n, ☎ +34 952 870 818 ([email protected]). Mo-Fr 10AM-6PM. Once the home of Ronda's muslim rulers, it is now a wonderful architectural mixture of islamic, Gothic and Renaissance styles, with a beautiful garden. It now houses Ronda's municipal museum, dedicated to the history of the town and its surroundings. €3. edit
- Iglesia de Santa María La Mayor (Great Church of St. Mary), Plaza Duquesa de Parcent. Mo-Sa 10AM-7PM, Su 10-12:30AM and 2-7PM. The former mosque of Ronda was converted into a Roman catholic church after the Spanish conquered the city. It took a long time to complete, which is the reason why you can admire Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance and baroque style elements all mixed together. €4. edit
- Alameda del Tajo. This tree-lined 19th-century avenue is located next to the bullring on the edge of the precipice, offering wonderful panoramas. edit
- Puente Viejo & Arco de Felipe V (Old Bridge and Arch of Philip V). This bridge was the entrance to the city in Arab times, and is crowned by a beautiful arch erected during the reign of king Philip V in 1742. edit
- Acinipo (Old Ronda), (leave Ronda in the direction of Sevilla, and after 10 km take the MA-7402 uphill, following the signs for Acinipo and Ronda la Vieja). Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 9AM-2PM. Some 20km from Ronda, the remains of the old Roman town of Acinipo can be visited, boasting a well-preserved amphitheatre. The site is in the middle of the countryside, which makes it a special experience to visit. Free entrance. edit
- Cueva de la Pileta (La Pileta Cave), (leave Ronda in the direction of Sevilla, and after 2 km take the MA-7401 in the direction of Benajoan. From there, take the MA-8401 in the direction of Cortes de la Frontera), ☎ +34 687 13 33 38, . 10AM-1PM and 4-6PM. This cave contains the best-preserved cave paintings in Andalusia, some over 20,000 years old. Definitely worth the detour, even when not all the paintings are accessible because of their vulnerability. There is no illumination inside, so you will be carrying flashlights. The guided tour takes approx. 1 hour, but the timetable is not fixed, depending on the number of visitors tours may be merged. Adults €8, ages 5-10 €5. edit
The walk to the bottom of the gorge is a must-do, and it is the best place for pictures. If there is an extended dry spell, however, the gorge can be smelly because of the sewage released into the river - you have been warned!
If you don't mind biking uphill, Ronda and the surrounding areas are well-suited for cycling tours.
- Cycle Ronda, Calle Juan Jose de Puya, 21, ☎ +34 654 869 946, . Mo, We-Fr 9AM-2:30PM and 5-7PM; Tu, Sa-Su closed. Bike rental and cycling tours (operated by a Dutchman). edit
Of course, Ronda is also a very nice place to learn and practice Spanish.
- Escuela Entrelenguas, ☎ +34 951 083 862 ([email protected]), . editAt Entrelenguas they not only offer Spanish courses at all levels, but they also organize all kinds of cultural activities, including pop events and home cooking courses.
- Pedro Romero Fair and Festival. The traditional fair of the San Francisco neighbourhood was originally held on 8, 9 and 10 September. These days, it is the most important event in Ronda, and named after Pedro Romero, the famous toreador. It features all kinds of activities, including theatre, music performances, flamenco and, of course, bullfighting. edit
- Semana Santa (Holy Week). Like every Andalusian city, Ronda also celebrates Semana Santa (the week before Easter) in style, with the members of the various religious brotherhoods (hermandades) carrying statues of Jesus Christ and the Holy Virgin through the streets, accompanied by melancholy music. edit
The main shopping street is the Carretera Espinel, which runs from the bullring to the east. It is locally known as Calle la Bola, or 'Ball Street' - it earned its nickname when, after a heavy snowfall, a group of citizens rolled a large snowball down its slope. You can find a good collection of shops here, selling clothing, jewelry and local foodstuffs, which become less touristy the farther east you go.
Tourist shops can be found lining the streets running up to the Puente Nuevo on both side of the bridge. For the rest however, Ronda has been spared the fate of many touristic towns, with only a limited number of shops selling worthless trinkets. And even some of the touristy stuff is quite funny, like the cow-themed t-shirts of Ronda by Kukuxumusu.
There are plenty of ATMs around the main commercial district.
While the obligatory warning for tourist restaurants is valid in Ronda as well, in fact the Andalusians are remarkably relaxed where it comes to catering for foreigners, and will usually not try to sell you bad stuff because you don't happen to be a local. But of course, the best experiences are to be had in a real Spanish place. Just take a peek inside: if it is a small place with older people sitting inside around the bar, it's usually a good sign - although for the best food you will have to rely on local knowledge, as everywhere.
Spanish people won't be very upset when you order different things than they would do, or when you have it at different times of the day. In general however, they stick to a fixed meal schedule with a frugal breakfast consisting of toast (pan tostada, with butter, cheese or ham) or churros and a quite strong café con leche (coffee with milk). For lunch, they tend to have larger meals, but most bars will also serve sandwiches (bocadillos) and various kinds of tapas. Also, look for bakeries (pastelerías), as Spain has some of the finest pastries around. The late afternoon is usually the time for a drink and a few tapas, and dinner is usually not a very big affair, but will be consumed at a very late hour (after 10PM). A typical Spanish custom is the sobremesa, which is supposed to be impossible to translate, but refers to having a good time with friends or family during and usually also a long time after dinner.
- Café Bar Bodega San Francisco, Calle Ruedo Alameda, 32. Good place for eating authentic Andalusian food, just outside the ancient walls of the old town. Highly recommended by locals, but get there early in the evening or you may face long waiting times! edit
- Casa Santa Pola, Calle de Santo Domingo, 3, ☎ +34 952 87 92 08. Many levels overlooking the ravine, some indoors and terrace as well. Relatively expensive but the food and service is excellent! Well worth it. edit
- La Casa del Jamón, Calle Jerez, 28. If you are looking for really good Iberian ham and want to grab a bottle of wine for a picnic in the park, overlooking the mountains at sunset (or any other time), this is the place. Half the price and/or twice as good as the rest, it is well worth the short trip from the Puente Nuevo. edit
- Maruja Limón Bar, Plaza Mondragón, 6, ☎ +34 669 65 71 94, . Mo-Fr 10AM-11PM, Sa-Su closed. Relaxed little place with a wonderful view and some comfy lounge seats, serving a fresh take on tapas. The staff is young and friendly, and a little bit unexperienced, but it is a great place to sit down and have a little bite. edit
- Café Bar Restaurante Almocábar, Plaza Ruedo Alameda, 5, ☎ +34 952 87 59 77. We-Mo 12AM-5PM 8-12PM, Tu closed. Small charming place just outside the Almocábar city gate on the south side of the old town with very good local food. They only have limited seating, but will happily fit you in at the bar if space permits. edit
- De Locos Tapas, Plazuela Arquitecto Francisco Pons Sorolla, 7, ☎ +34 951 08 37 72, . Tu-Sa 1PM-4PM 7:30-11PM, Mo-Su closed. Close to the Almocábar city gate, with very good tapas in traditional and modern styles. edit
Near Ronda, high quality red and white wines are produced in small wineries in the Serranía de Ronda production area. Since the wines are grown at relatively high altitudes of 600-1000 m, they are much lighter and allegedly more interesting than their lowland counterparts, even when they can be a little bit pricy. Unfortunately, local wines are hardly sold in bars and restaurants, and certainly not by the glass - you will be usually given the choice between Rioja and Ribera (del Duero) for reds, or Verdejo for whites. While these can be quite good, it is still a pity that the local product is so difficult to obtain.
- Bodegas La Sangre de Ronda (Wine Interpretation Centre), Calle González Campos, 2, ☎ +34 952 87 97 35 ([email protected]), . Mo-Th, Sa 10:30AM-8PM, Fr 11AM-11PM, Su 3:30-6:30PM. You can visit an old winery and do some wine tasting here. edit
In Ronda they also produce Anís del Tajo, a drink comparable to French pastis, Italian sambuca and Greek ouzo, in a sweet and dry variety with two different grades (36% and 44%).
- Huskies Sport Bar & Café, Calle Molino, 8. This bar is run by two American brothers of Ronda origin. It is decently priced and has a good atmosphere, popular with expats and locals. edit
There are plenty of hotels in the centre of town in all price brackets.
- Pensión Hostal Ronda Sol, Calle Almendra, 11, ☎ +34 952 87 44 97, . checkin: 2PM; checkout: 12AM. Family-run hostel. The mother of the family speaks fluent French as well as Spanish. €42.50 for a double with shared bathroom, breakfast included (prices may vary). edit
- Hotel Acinipo, Paseo Blas Infante, S/N, ☎ +34 952 16 10 02 ([email protected]), . checkin: 12AM; checkout: 12AM. Modern hotel at a stone's throw of the Puente Nuevo. From €65 for a standard double, breakfast not included. edit
- Hotel Maestranza, Calle Virgen de la Paz, 24-26, ☎ +34 952 18 70 72 ([email protected]), . 4-star hotel close to the bullring. From €75 for a standard double, breakfast not included. edit
- Hotel Enfrente Arte, Calle Real, 40, ☎ +34 952 87 90 88, . This 3-star hotel, with pop-art themed rooms, is almost entirely designed with recycled materials. €80 for a standard double, breakfast and free bar included. edit
- Hotel Montelirio, Calle Tenorio, 8, ☎ +34 952 87 38 55, . 4-star hotel with romantic rooms, most of which offer a view of the Puente Nuevo. From €100 for a standard double, breakfast €12 per person. edit
- Hotel Catalonia Reina Victoria, Calle Jerez, 25, ☎ +34 952 87 12 405, . 4-star hotel with spa and wellness centre. Located on the edge of the cliff, from where you can watch the sunset over the mountains. From €120 for a standard double, breakfast €15 per person. edit
- Parador de Ronda, Plaza de España, s/n, ☎ +34 952 87 75 00 ([email protected]), . You really can't miss it, this large hotel on the cliff edge close to the Puente Nuevo. Perhaps a bit pricy, though Spanish paradores are usually worth a try if you feel like spending. From €189 for a standard double, breakfast included. edit
Ronda is an excellent base of exploration for the pueblos blancos and the Sierra de Grazalema and Sierra de las Nieves Natural Parks, although reaching them by public transport may take some planning.
- Montejaque, good base for hiking and other outdoor activities
- Zahara de la Sierra, small medieval town with castle, wonderfully located on the eponymous reservoir
- Grazalema, allegedly the wettest town in Spain, in the middle of the Natural Park
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