By Robin Graham
Ronda sits astride the Rio Guadalevín at the end of El Camino Ingles, or The English Way – an old road (largely extant today in the form of the A369) that began in Gibraltar and was used to access the Serranía Ronda highlands which provided respite from the heat and humidity of Summer on The Rock.
At around a hundred kilometres long, the road had military uses as well as finding fame amongst the romantic and rather intrepid travellers of the 19th century, who no doubt would have set out from Gibraltar with mixed feelings – full of excitement but also a little fearful; the Serranía were patrolled by El Tempranillo and a host of other infamous bandits.
By the time they reached Ronda (it won’t take you as long in your rental, and the bandit problem has been cleared up) they may not have felt that it was the highlight of their journey, having wound their way along the winding camino over high mountain passes and deep valleys, with The Rock and even the African coast visible at times behind them, and through a string of pueblos blancos (white villages) whose names betray their Arab and Berber origins – Casares, Gaucin, Benarrabá, Algatocín, Benadalid and finally Atajate – and that then and now could provide the traveller with a chance to pause for a while and refresh themselves in the kind of sleepy stop-ins that will never find their way into Fodors or Lonely Planet.
Still, even if the last stop isn’t your favourite, and even if you feel some irritation at times that you are not the only one – by a long way – who has thought to visit this place, Ronda certainly delivers eye-candy.
El Tajo is the precipitous gorge that the river has carved out here and that cleaves the city in two. On one side the old town, and on the other side the older town. Three bridges span it; the oldest is Roman and the newest, at merely two hundred and twenty years of age, is a spectacularly tall structure that towers above the hundred-meter canyon.
The escarpment gives rise to a scene that can be found elsewhere in Spain but nowhere as strikingly as here. Sheer cliffs, crowned at the top by whitewashed buildings that almost seem to hang over the edge. Particularly in the evenings – when the coach tours have left – it is unforgettable. The gorge can be descended at a number of points but most interestingly perhaps via The Mine of the Moorish King – a set of more than two hundred steps built into the rock itself.
The city boasts some well-preserved hammam baths and a beautiful bullring (modern bullfighting was born here) but nothing beats a stroll – from stately squares to cobbled lanes – and while you’re here make sure to pick up some of the wines and cheeses for which the area is justifiably famous.
Try to make an overnight of it and take advantage of less crowded times.
The Parador in Ronda has rooms with gorge views.
Hotel Don Miguel has rooms with tiny but spectacular little balconies right on the edge.
Robin Graham shares his stories and photography at http://alotofwind.com/