“……where you should go if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon or if you ever bolt with anyone. The entire town and as far as you can see in any direction is romantic background…”Ernest Heminway from the novel death in the afternoon
Ronda “The City of Dreams”
Ronda Spain was never on our radar until Ryan saw a random post on a travel site he follows on Facebook. We had not even come across it in all our research to date. Suddenly in front of Ryan was this picturesque mountain town with dramatic scenery in the Andalucia region of southern Spain in the Province of Malaga. It looked almost surreal to see these perfect appearing whitewashed buildings sitting precariously on the edge of a deep river gorge upon seemingly never-ending sandstone peaks. This massive gorge divides the town in two. The spectacular Puento Nuevo bridge built in the 1700s is 360 feet above the Guadalevin river and spans the El Tajo gorge. It joins the old and new town, which makes for breathtaking views of the surrounding valley as well as amazing bridge shots from below.
In the midst of the extensive planning for our Portugal and Spain trip, we immediately stopped in our tracks and began to search on how we could visit this magical-looking place. We hoped against hope it was near where our travels were taking us. With our plane tickets purchased and hotels reserved, we had a set date to work with. We had limited time to see southern Spain and a large area it was. Though not on the path first planned, we were able to shuffle things around to make it part of our travels.
While the astonishing sight of these massive sandstone cliffs with a city sitting perched on top drew my first attention, we soon discovered its rich history. Ronda turned out to be the largest of the famous White Towns of the Andalusia region. We already had a few on our itinerary. Along with some of the most beautiful views in Spain, it was going to be well worth our visit and for Joelle to photograph.
A Town Full of Life and History
The town of Ronda, also known as the “City of Dreams,” is a small yet bustling city. It is home to a fascinating history dating back to the Neolithic Age. Established in the 9th-century bc, storytellers say those who arrived never wanted to leave. The first Ronda inhabitants were primitive people, then the Romans, followed by the Moors. The Crusaders drove out the Moors in the 15th century after conquering the town. Ronda bears markings from all these various inhabitants over the years. It is truly a step back in time. With its beguiling white houses and buildings, Roman and Moorish Antiquities, and impressive architectural wonders such as the Puento Neuvo bridge, it will no doubt capture your heart.
Then there is that dramatic scenery, have we mentioned that yet?
Though Ronda, a well-kept secret, has had many famous historic figures fall in love with it, and many have referred to it as one of the most romantic cities in Spain. We may find it hard to disagree with. Ernest Hemingway wrote about Ronda extensively in his 1932 book Death in the Afternoon. He adored this town. You can still imagine him wandering the streets, stopping at some old tavern for a drink and some dialogue with the other patrons. There is sure to be something for everyone here if you take the time to visit.
An Illustrious Bullfighting History
Ernest Hemingway spoke of bullfighting in Ronda. “There is one town that would be better… to see your first bullfight in if you were only going to see one, and that is Ronda.”
Ronda has some unexpected modern history. It is the birthplace of modern bullfighting. Consequently, it remains one of the few places that bullfighting still occurs in Spain. The bullring is a draw for foreign tourists and Spanish citizens alike. Plaza de Toros is open for tours and has an excellent museum.
The greatest matador of all time, Pedro Romero, was a native of Rhonda. Pedro was a master in the ring while never having been gored even once. Young bullfighters continue to come to learn the sport here. This sport is synonymous with violence and animal cruelty. We would not partake ourselves. It is though part of the intricate fabric of Spain’s story. It has been outlawed in most of Spain and where it remains is very restricted. But here in Ronda, the tradition continues but maybe for not much longer. Bullfighting nights will make for a crowded city and expensive hotels. Look at the schedule to plan appropriately.
Getting to Ronda and How Long to Visit
Ronda is located in the mountains and is entirely off the beaten path. As one of the Andalusia region’s white villages, it is a 2-hour drive from Sevilla, a 2-hour 15-minute drive from Granada, and 1 hr and 22 minutes from Malaga. The day we visited, we started in Granda and ended the day in Sevilla with many White towns’ visits. It was a comfortable and lovely scenic drive—a mix of highways and country roads.
Some buses or tours easily take you from Sevilla, Granada, and Malaga for those without cars. There are trains available, but the route is slow, and you will get there faster by bus.
This is a smaller city; therefore, with so much to experience, you want to give yourself at least half of the day if you don’t plan on staying the night, which we highly recommend a one-night stay.
A lovely place to stay would be the historical Parador de Ronda. This is part of a collection of luxurious Spanish hotels that take historic buildings and restore them to their original wonder. While you would expect upscale hotel prices, they can be surprisingly reasonable. We stayed in one in Spain and could not have been more impressed. The Parador gives you a passport on your visit to have stamped as you travel to all their hotels. We visited two more along our path and will definitely return. The Ronda Parador hotel is housed in the former town hall building sits at the cliff’s edge with unparalleled river views. It is right next to the Puento Nuevo Bridge and central to everything in Rhonda.
What to expect
There are a few tips for you as you arrive in Ronda your first time. We learned the hard way; sharing our experience will spare you some time.
Parking can be a challenge. Even in the offseason, it took us a good 20 minutes to find a decent place. Try to avoid parking far away or at the bottom of the town. Therefore we would recommend parking in the first place you can find in town as you surely want to get right to your visit to this amazing city. There are underground lots in town and open-air lots toward the more residential New Town area away from the Puente Nuevo bridge.
We arrived late morning, and the town was bustling and full of people wandering about. The traffic was congested, and we moved slowly through these old narrow streets. Add to that the pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages; it made us want to get out of the car and wander it ourselves on foot. We observed many large tour buses parked around town, which explained why so many people were present. It is not that Rhonda has been discovered but more that it is a small town overall.
Bring your good trail shoes to hike the town and the valley to get incredible views of the town above. Having comfortable shoes benefits you if you get stuck parking way down the hill and have to walk back up. Like most mountain towns, we discovered there is no shortage of hills. Parking and the hills are challenges that will eat up time on your visit.
Top 12 Things to do in Ronda
- Puente Nuevo Bridge and Interpretative center
- Hike from the bridge to the river valley
- Old Town and 13th Century Medieval Fortified Gate
- Castillo del Laurel A Medieval Castle
- Palacio Mondragon 12th century Moor building housing history museum
- The Stone bridges of Ronda There are a total of four bridges in Rhonda
- 13th Century Arab Bathhouse A must-see highlight of any visit to Ronda
- La Casa del Rey Moro 14 Century home of the Moor Sultan with garden and water mine
- Mirador de Ronda Gorgeous viewpoint of the bridge, the gorge, and the mountains.
- Plaza de Toros de Ronda with museum oldest bullfighting ring in Spain
- Plaza des Espana City park in New Town
- Calle Nueva. A small pedestrian street with restaurants and shops
Your first stop
Puente Nuevo bridge is a visually captivating and architectural masterpiece. It sits amidst these sandstone rock cliffs that plummet into the massive gorge. The bridge is a tall, narrow arch with high piers. It was as surreal in person as it was when we saw the images online.
Construction started in 1759 to replace the original bridge that collapsed in 1740. It took 42 years to build with several architects involved. Fifty workers died during the process of building it.
Puento Nuevo during the Civil War functioned as a prison and was used for torture as well.
The chamber of the bridge is reached through a square building that serves as the guardhouse before. Today, it houses an exhibit depicting the bridge’s history and construction. The view of the El Tajo gorge within the interpretive center is sensational.
At this point, you are right near the hiking path down to the valley below the gorge. It just past the bridge on the old town side on the right. Follow this path as it clings to the river valley, taking you into the narrow part of the gorge. This deep gorge splits the town in two. The views along the whole hike will blow your mind. Take that camera and some water as if hot you will need it, especially on the walk back up. The river flowing through the Ronda Tajo gorge is the Río Guadalevín. The hike is about 45 minutes roundtrip and can be steep at times.
Old Town Rhonda
Now let’s continue to look at some of the other great things to see in this amazing village. Though we have to admit we could spend hours admiring and photographing the gorge and the bridge.
To the south of the bridge, you find yourself in Old Town. There is an incredible 13th-century medieval fortified gate from the old town walls. Many spots are available to see these walls—each with a unique perspective of the Old Town that runs predominantly on the east side.
Just past the gate is Castillo del Laurel, since no walled town would be complete without a castle. Mondragon Palace is another great site, don’t forget to stop at some of the many churches along the way.
Continuing north, you will find two smaller stone brides, one of which is the original bridge to the town. Located at the northeast corner of the old town just past a 13th-century Arab bathhouse.
The Arab bathhouse is a popular site for visitors and truly spectacular. The baths, the best preserved in Spain, offer a peek into the Moors’ fascinating world during the 13-16 centuries. There is an animated short presentation that is a good introduction. Make sure to plan it into your schedule. There could be a wait as they are prevalent but well worth your time to visit.
After the bathhouse, you come across another small gate, the moors’ original town gate, which graces the road as you enter the town. Stone roads lead to terraces to look off of as you gaze at the remaining morish town walls. Now head around to the northeast of the wall to find La Casa del Rey Moro. There is a water mine, and lovely hanging gardens visitors can wander through.
Now head back toward the main bridge between the Gorges.
New town Ronda
Did we mention yet how dramatic the scenery is in Rhonda? We can’t speak to that enough.
Finally, you get to cross that Puento Nuevo bridge again into the northern New Town area. There you will find picturesque views of the river valley below and the town surrounding the edges of the cliffs. Once across, you will find Mirador de Ronda, a great lookout point of the gorge. Near there is the Plaza de Espana. There was a small market the day we were there. This is directly behind the Bullring of Ronda.
This is an 18th-century bullfighting ring that trained the royal cavalry. This, along with the town, is the birthplace of modern bullfighting. Stop in the museum to learn this piece of important history or Spain. Bullfights continue to be staged here.
Next to the Bullring, you will discover a beautiful 19th-century city park, the Alameda del Tajo. The park’s tree-lined paths are perfect for taking walks. Many locals are found here, especially for the paseo (evening stroll). The park offers magnificent panoramic views of the Ronda landscapes. A duck pond adds to the lovely setting.
On our way out, we stopped at Calle Nueva, a small pedestrian cobbled stone street between the bull ring and the gorge bridge, where you will find almost anything you will want to eat there as well as some fun shops.
Eat and drink the experience
After all that walking, you will want to stop in for some local treats and possibly a meal—there are plenty of bakeries and shops with local delights. We grabbed a delicious pastry to give us a bit of sustenance for our final climb. In the mood for an authentic Spanish treat, find a cafe serving churros and chocolate.
Along the various streets throughout Ronda, you find all sorts of eateries and restaurants. Some simple little taverns for a traditional sherry or sangria, intimate small family eateries to fancy restaurants. Tapas is a popular menu item in Ronda.
With many restaurants perched on the cliffside, you can enjoy tapas along with spectacular views. We always welcome special and unique dining settings to accompany our meal. Drawn into this idyllic setting, we chose to eat at El Morabito, which was in Old Town in a quiet section off the main street. We ate on the terrace overlooking the valley. It was the perfect setting. The terrace itself was a photographic gem. We marveled at the fantastic views while we enjoyed delicious tapas. It is right next to a trail that takes you to ideal views of the town bridge from inside the gorge.
Rhonda a feast for the eyes!
Ronda is a magical place with scenery that is beyond comprehension. Even looking at pictures after the fact, it still seems unreal. It is a lovely stop full of history, culture, food, wine, hiking, and amazing sites to visit. Give it at least half a day. We did not give it the time it deserved. Make it a part of a grand tour of the White Towns of Andalusia, Spain.
It is an absolute must-do when in the Andalusia region of southern Spain. Off the beaten path is all about this kind of hidden gem.
Want to learn more about Spain? Click here to go to our Spain Travel Guide
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