Ronda, Spain – Discovering the Magic
Ronda “The City of Dreams”
Ronda Spain was not on my radar until I came across a random post on a travel site on Facebook. Here was this unique and picturesque mountain town in the Andalucia region of southern Spain in the Province of Malaga. It looked almost surreal to see these perfect 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 Puente 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, making for breathtaking views of the surrounding valley.
While the astonishing sight of these massive sandstone cliffs with a city perched on top drew my first attention, I soon discovered its rich and ancient history.
Ronda turned out to be one of the largest of the famous white towns of the Andalucia region. I already had a few white towns on my itinerary; why not add one more?
With my plane tickets purchased and hotels reserved, I had limited options, but luck was on my side. Ronda was not far off the path I had already laid out. It made for a long day, but it was worth every second. The scenery is stunning and beyond compare. There was an energy and excitement in Ronda that was invigorating. The locals were exceptionally kind, warm, and welcoming. It was also a blast to photograph. Ronda is the complete package!
A Town Full of Life and HistoryRonda Spain
The town of Ronda, also known as the “City of Dreams,” is a small yet bustling city with a fascinating history dating back to the Neolithic Age. Established in the 9th-century BC, storytellers say those who arrived here never wanted to leave. The first Ronda inhabitants were primitive people, then the Romans, followed by the Moors. After conquering the town, the Crusaders drove out the Moors in the 15th century. 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 Puente Nuevo bridge, it will no doubt capture your heart.
Ronda has had many famous historical figures fall in love with it. It is often referred to as one of the most romantic cities in Spain. I may find it hard to disagree with that statement. Pulitzer award-winning author Ernest Hemingway wrote about Ronda extensively in his 1932 book Death in the Afternoon. He adored this town. While wandering the city, it is easy to imagine him wandering the streets, stopping at some old tavern for a drink and some dialogue with the other patrons.
An Illustrious Bullfighting History
Ernest Hemingway said 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 surprising modern history. It is the birthplace of modern bullfighting. Consequently, it remains one of the few places where 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 Ronda. Pedro was a master in the ring while never being gored even once. Young bullfighters continue to come to learn the sport here.
Bullfighting is synonymous with violence and animal cruelty. I would not partake in it. That said, it is part of the intricate fabric of Spain’s and Ronda’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 not for long. Bullfighting nights will make for a crowded city and expensive hotels. Look at the schedule to plan appropriately.
Getting to Ronda and where to stay
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 hour and 22 minutes from Malaga. The day I visited, I started in Granada and ended the day in Seville with many White towns’ visits along the way. 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.
Ronda is a smaller city; with so much to experience, you should give yourself at least half of the day if you don’t plan on staying the night.
I highly recommend a one-night stay if you can.
A lovely place to stay would be the historical Parador de Ronda. It 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. I 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. I visited two more along my 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 Puente Nuevo Bridge and central to everything in Ronda.
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 Ronda
13th Century Arab Bath House A must-see highlight of any visit to Ronda
La Casa del Rey Moro 14th 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
Arriving in Ronda
Parking can be a challenge. Even in the offseason, it took us a good 20 minutes to find a parking spot. Try to avoid parking far away or at the bottom of the town. I would recommend parking in the first place you can find in town as you will want to get right to your visit to this fantastic city. There are underground lots in the heart of town and open-air lots toward the more residential New Town area away from the Puente Nuevo bridge.
I arrived late in the morning, and the town was bustling and full of people wandering about. The traffic was congested, and I moved slowly through these old narrow streets. Add to that all the pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages sharing the limited space. I observed many large tour buses parked around town, which explained why so many people were present.
Bring some 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, I discovered there is no shortage of hills.
Start with the bridge
Puente Nuevo bridge is a visually captivating 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 when I 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 Nueve bridge, during the Civil War, functioned as a prison and was used for torture as well.
The bridge chamber can be reached through a square building that served as the guardhouse previously. 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 is 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 it is a hot day; you will need it on the walk back up. The river flowing through the El Tajo gorge is the Río Guadalevín. The hike is about 45 minutes roundtrip and can be steep at times.
Old Town Ronda
Now let’s continue to look at some of the other great things to see in this fantastic village. To be honest, it was hard to pull ourselves away from admiring and photographing the gorge and the bridge.
To the south of the bridge, you find yourself in Old Town. An incredible 13th-century medieval fortified gate was part of the old town walls. There remain several spots where you can 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 bridges, 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 best-preserved baths in Spain offer a peek into the Moors’ fascinating world during the 13-16 centuries. There is a short animated presentation that is a good introduction. Make sure to plan it into your schedule. There could be a wait as they are popular but well worth your time to visit.
After the bathhouse, you come across another small gate, the original town gate, which graces the road as you enter the town. Follow the stone roads that lead to terraces that provide spectacular views. Now head northeast of the wall to find La Casa del Rey Moro. There is a water mine, and lovely gardens visitors can wander through.
Now head back toward the Puente Nueve Bridge and New Town. Take a different path than you took down. You will find many shops to visit on any path you choose.
New Town Ronda
Alameda del Tajo
Finally, you get to cross back across the Puente Nuevo bridge 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 discover Mirador de Ronda, a great lookout point of the gorge. A short distance away is the beautiful Plaza de Espana. The Plaza is near the Bullring of Ronda.
The Bullring is from the 18th-century and trained the royal cavalry at one time. Stop by the museum to learn about Spain’s infamous bullfighting history.
Next to the Bullring, you will discover a gorgeous 19th-century city park, the Alameda del Tajo. The park’s tree-lined paths are perfect for taking relaxing walks. Many locals are here, especially for the paseo (evening stroll). The park offers magnificent panoramic views of the Ronda landscapes. A duck pond adds to the charming setting.
On my way out, I stopped at Calle Nueva, a small pedestrian cobbled stone street near the Bullring, where you will find almost anything you will want to eat there as well as some fun shops.
Then there is the food…..
The El Morabito Terrace Ronda
There are so many great places In Ronda to stop in for some local treats and possibly a meal—there are plenty of bakeries and shops with local delights. I grabbed a delicious pastry to give us a bit of sustenance for my final climb. In the mood for an authentic Spanish treat? Find a cafe serving churros and hot chocolate.
View from the El Morabito Terrace Ronda
Along the many lovely streets throughout Ronda, you find all sorts of eateries and restaurants. There are many simple little taverns to enjoy traditional Spanish sherry or sangria. I was impressed with all the intimate family eateries and larger fancy restaurants. Tapas is a popular menu item in Ronda. Calle Nueva, a lively pedestrian cobbled stone street near the Bullring, was full of restaurants.
With many restaurants perched on the cliffside, you can enjoy tapas along with spectacular views. I always welcome special and unique dining settings to accompany my meal. Drawn into this idyllic setting, I chose to eat at El Morabito in Old Town. I ate on the terrace overlooking the valley. It was the perfect setting, and I marveled at the fantastic views while I enjoyed delicious tapas. It is right next to a trail that takes you to excellent views of the town bridge from inside the gorge.
Ronda 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 unique sites to visit. Give it at least half a day. I did not give it the time it deserved. Make it a part of a grand tour of the White Towns of Andalucia, Spain.
It is an absolute must-do when in the Andalucia region of southern Spain. Travel is all about this kind of hidden gem found off the beaten path.
While in the area may I suggest….
Zahara de la Sierra
Setenil de las Bodegas
While in this area of Andalucia, there are two other white towns I suggest visiting on the same day trip to Ronda.
Setenil de la Bodegas and Zahara de la Sierra are entirely different from Ronda but astounding in their own ways. They are all relatively close to each other, and the drive is delightful. It would take an hour to drive a loop to all three towns.
When returning to this magnificent region one day, I hope to give it at least three days to see many more of the White Towns of Andalucia. Further south, there is also the Rock of Gibraltar, and for those extra adventurous, you can take the ferry to Morocco.