Roaming Around Historic Ronda

Its a pretty steep climb up into the mountains to Ronda, but as usual Kelpie did us proud – she’s not the fastest milkcart in the west but she gets us there, eventually.

As you drive through the mountains from the coast, the landscape changes from lush green pine covered hillsides to a more rugged bare rock mountainside as you move inland climbing to a height over 1000m before dropping back down into the plains.

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Kelpie overlooking the Andalucian mountains on the road to Ronda

There is no aire at Ronda and very few free-camping spots, cetainly none that would accommodate a motorhome the size of ours, so we decided to stay on the only camp site in the area at Camping El Sur which is about 2km above the town (36.7206, -5.1731).

The camp site has large pitches and they were very welcoming, offering a 5% discount when we presented our ACSI card, even though they are not ACSI registered.

The campsite is located in the countryside in a lovely peaceful location. The first morning we were awakened to the sound of a gentle tap tap tap. When we looked otside, there was an elderly gentleman carving an old tree trunk with wood chisels and a wooden mallet.

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Around his feet were thousands of tiny wood chippings. His carvings were wonderfully intricate and some more of his sculpture work is located at the entrance to the camp site.

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Entrance to Camping El Sur at Ronda

The only thing that lets the camp site down is the toilet and shower block.  It’s very clean, but it is also old and a bit run-down.  The shower heads have to be hand held so its a bit of a juggling act to get washed etc.  There’s also no stool to set your clothes on or to sit on when getting dried.  There is lots of hot water though which is always a bonus.

The washing machines are the big industrial variety and a wash costs €3.50.  As I’ve found with all washing machines on campsites, it’s not an intensive wash, more of a quick freshen up for your clothes etc.

The walk into town is approx 20-30 minutes downhill to the start of the city walls, the Puerta de Almocábar and the Iglesia del Espíritu Santo which was the first Christian church built after the reconquest of Ronda. This is great until you realise you have to walk back up the hill again on the way home after having navigated your way around the city!

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The first view of the Moorish city walls, the Puerta de Almocábar and the Iglesia del Espíritu Santo as you approach from the camp site

The first thing I noticed about the town were the huge numbers of Japanese tourists – literally hundreds getting off coaches and making their way to all the photo-spots.  Never seen so many selfie sticks in one place, and if they see a photo opportunity, nothing and no-one gets in their way 🙂 .  If you didn’t know better you would swear you were in downtown Tokyo.

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View across the Puente Nuevo and deep gorge to the new town

Although originally settled by early Celts around 600BC and later by the Romans, Ronda as we know it today dates back to the 12th century when it was established as a defensive settlement by the Moors.

It was built on top of a rocky plateau and has amazing 360 degree views for miles over the plains below. The rocky plateau is split in two by the Tajo gorge and as the newer town spread to the other side of the gorge, the two parts of the town were eventally connected by the Puente Nueveo built in the 18th century.

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View from the bottom of the hill

With its position on top of the rocky plateau, Ronda provided an impressive defensive garrison for the Moors, however it had one weakness. A set of steps were built up the side of the cliff and Christian slaves were used to transfer water up the steps from the river below to supply the city. When Christian forces moved across the plains to the base of the cliffs in 1485, they cut off the city’s water supply and it surrendered after only 10 days.

The Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) straddles the 120m deep El Tajo gorge.  I’m sure there are few people who haven’t seen pictures of the new bridge at some point – it must be one of the most photographed sites in Spain, if not Europe.  Inside the bridge used to house the prison – and the bridge was also used as a method of capital punishment by hurling victims over the sides into the gorge below.

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Of course I’d seen pictures too but nothing prepares you for the sheer size of this huge monument. The view is breath-taking and the wind howls up through the gorge catching you full in the face on the bridge.

The birds fly high, catching the thermals and just folding their wings back to soar – watching them I can truly appreciate why people like to hang-glide.  There isn’t a sound apart from the rush of the wind.  A truly amazing sight.

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Ronda’s impressive cliff top location

Dodging the selfie sticks we made our way into the new town and towards the Plaza de Toros – which is supposedly the oldest bullring in Spain built between 1779 and 1785.  Today, bullfighting only takes place during the feria in the first week of September.

Walking through the confined stables and bullpen areas behind the bullring gives you a sense of the anticipation, excitement and hysteria that must accompany a bullfight.

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The bulls are herded from their pens down narrow stone corridors, gates and barriers being opened by a series of ropes and weights on pulleys, bursting out into the bullring to the roar of the crowd.  The gates open into the main rueda which is the large round circle of sand – the largest in Spain.

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The gates into the rueda

I should say I’m definitely not a fan of bullfighting in any form but I can imagine the sense of occasion, the noise and spectacle of the event. Standing in the centre of the rueda I can almost hear the roar of the crowd and the snorting of the bulls.

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Views inside the bullring

There are museums where you can see the equipment and costumes involved in bullfighting The suits of lights, bright pink stockings, capes and buckled shoes are all on display.

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The art museum includes paintings from Picasso and drawings from Cervantes

Alan was more interested in the actual construction of the bullring with its ancient roof timbers and huge oak beams supporting the inner and outer walls to make the external corridors where the spectators access the seating areas. The front of the steps to the upper seating levels were faced in beautiful azulejos hand-painted tiles.

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If it were possible to sit in the audience and see all the colour and spectacle of the day without the actual bullfighting I would be first in the queue.  A truly amazing place to see if you get the opportunity.

I had read somewhere recently that Ronda is filled with tourists during the day but in the evening the locals take the town back for themselves.  This is very true, as we walked back through the town around 6.00pm the tourist coaches had left and the spanish residents were coming out for their evening stroll and socialising with their neighbours. Elderly men were sitting in groups in the square while children played on the swings – just a typical Spanish town after all.

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Plaza del Socorro

Next day we stopped off for a menu del dia -Alan and I had both been looking forward to tasting some robo de toro (oxtail stew).  We had originally seen an amazing version on one of Rick Stein’s programmes filmed in Pamplona. We were expecting tender, slow-cooked oxtail in a thick dark red wine sauce but what we got was quite tough and fatty meat with a thin gravy and some random carrots and onion.

We were both a bit under-whelmed to say the least – maybe I need to try making it myself. Paraphrasing Ernest Hemmingway, he said that the Andalucian people knew how to breed amazing bulls, how to put on the best spectacle at bullfights, but had no idea on how to cook them – it seems he was correct.

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Unapetizing Rabo de Torro menu del día followed by a stroll to the Plaza de Mondragón

I love moorish architecture, gardens and furnishings so we headed off after lunch to see the Palacio de Mondragón (free entry on a Tuesday after 1500).

Although not much too look at from the outside, the Palacio is a beautiful Moorish building which was possibly the home of some Moorish aristocracy built in the 14th Century.  All the rooms are built around various open courtyards which usually have some sort of water feature.

You can see the fabulous arches which support the upper floors, painted bright red, contrasting dramatically with the huge green plants and the stone fountains.

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One of the inner courtyards

The intricate mosaic tiling around the arches is just stunning  I love the peaceful feeling this style of architecture gives off and can just imagine ladies in flowing gowns lounging beside the fountain, and wishing I was one of them.

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Another of the inner courtyards leading out to the water garden

There is also a pre-historic display where there are some frighteningly realistic models of Neolithic man engaged in tool making as well as burial chambers containing skeletons of long-since departed men.

On the way down the staircase to the gardens, look up to see the incredible domed, painted ceiling.  I actually had to lie down on the stairs to get the right photograph of it and it’s one of my favourite sights on our trip so far.

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Through the moorish arched doorway into the garden, with waterfeatures, ponds and amazing colourful flowers and plants, the views from the balcony are breath-taking.  You can see the whole length of the gorge, the birds are still soaring silently in the wind.  I love this place.

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Terrace water garden with a view!

Sometimes you catch sight of something out of the corner of your eye, almost hidden from public view.  On the way back to through the town we spotted a doorway into a resaurant with the most fabulous stained glass window. Through another small gateway leading to a courtyard there were several men busy clean a huge silver candelabra.  Each intricate branch of it was being painstakingly poished until it shone.

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They were happy to let us take a photograph and we now think they may have been preparing decorative candlesticks etc for the religious floats carried in the forthcoming Semana Santa Easter parades.

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This sign summed up our feelings of Ronda

We loved Ronda, even with the thousands of tourists and we have so much still to see.  We have still to visit the Water Mines (the cavernous route through which the slaves transported the water from the river below), the Arab Baths, inside the cathedral and so much more. We definitely need a return visit.

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One final image across the chasm to the mirador

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We are Alan and Michelle - Going Nomad. A 52 year old couple from Northern Ireland who have simplified their lives and have hit the road in their motorhome. We are sharing our travels in the hope to inspire others to find their own travel adventure.

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