It took me a while to understand the fine lines of renting a car in Spain but finally, here I am, out of the airport of Malaga and onto the splendid national road network. The first 40 miles are rather fast, to then take left after Ardales and swiftly the landscape changes as the route twists and turns. It’s harvest time and haystacks dot the the saffron colored hills. Here and there, a shepherd and goats. Massive gray granite ridges seem to guard all this Eden, a dramatic background for the occasional white cortijo. It couldn’t get more bucolic than this, but before long I enter the new part of Ronda, which looks like any other small town in Spain. The post office, the neighborhood cafes, the neatly filled parking lots. I start worrying that it may not be much more than this to the place but before long, I’m crossing the Nuevo Puente ( yes, the one in all the photos) and the view alone is worth the trip.
Now we’re talking. After parking the car, I’m out on a splendid square bordered with Spanish restaurants. But I’m not here for the 10- euro- per – person- day -menu, I really would like to try some local delicacies and so I call a friend that recommends me a traditional restaurant in a side street just off Plaza de Torros. It’s already 3 PM and although Spanish people enjoy late lunches, my breakfast was quite a few hours ago. So I decide to head for lunch first and leave the sightseeing for after. Athough I am tempted by the ‘rabo de toro’ and the generous dish of iberico, I decide to go for chocho de calamares and the ubiquitous cana instead. I have quite some sightseeing to do and I’d rather not stuff myself. Over lunch, I browse the local English newspaper and find out that Lionel Richie’s concert in Marbella was a success while Paris Hilton and Julio Iglesias had to cancel due to health reasons. Yet, I couldn’t imagine anything more different than Marbella and Ronda, now that I’m here. And for the better, I should add.
One main dish, a beer and coffee later, I’m off to the bridge which towers over the gorges and surrounding hills. Although, as I find out later, the best is to descend as low as you can on both sides of it, to get the best photos. Ronda is one of the oldest settlements in Spain, witnessing influences from Celts and Romans to Arab and Christians. The old town, held at a time by the Arabs, was then connected to the new town by the Puente Nuevo, hence the name of the bridge ( although it looks to me anything but old).
I decide to tour the old town first and so I dwell myself into the mina ( the old mine), a quite profound gallery of intricate rooms and cells, at the basis of which flows the Guadalevin, the local river. There, 200 meters below the bridge, slaves used to collect drinking water in animal – skin containers and hoist it up to the surface for the town to use. The 250 steps are quite steep and you do need to be at least average fit or have a drink on the terrace by the suspended gardens to catch up from the climb.
Next, I wander through the old streets with typical white Andalusian houses, marquees palaces , churches and the old ( Roman ?!) walls, on the top of which majestic views are unfolding. The minarete of San Sebastian is there to bear witness of the Arab age as well as Puerta de Almocabar right next to Puerta de Carlos V. A local is playing the guitar in the square opposite the Ayuntamiento where the most noble church of the town is the local attraction, Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor.
I then decide it is time for some walking and take the cobble stone road surrounding the town right down to the base of the the bridge where the river forms a waterfall. It’s 6 PM at the end of July and the sun is scorching hot. Half way I stumble upon a cortijo which happens to serve ice cold beer. On the terrace overseeing the creek, I can make out shrieks of laughter from teenagers splashing in the basins below. I finally decide that completing the loop is too ambitious a plan, especially since I’m not spending the night. On the way back, horse riding treks are advertised and from where I stand, it’s easy to see why one would be tempted. Back at the car, I put on my Google maps application and decide to head back to Malaga via Marbella.
The route is all curves for the next 30 miles or so, and then all of a sudden, the Mediterranean unravels in all its beauty. As I am approaching Marbella, I can’t seem to find anything of interest, unless one is interested in jaw dropping villas or black Lamborghinis. Perhaps more intriguing are the Roman ruins some 15 miles from Ronda, albeit a small detour. My only regret is not having had more time to spend here – all the more reason to return soon. In the local brochure, I read that in winter, the weather is rather chilly and snow is not exceptional. ‘Ronda especially comes alive during the carnival in February, Semana Santa in April and the Real Feria in May’. Now I’m sure I’ll be back soon.
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