Ronda: The Tiny Spanish Village With a Little Bit of Everything
There are many places to stop and take in the culture in the southern part of Spain. When figuring out which ones to choose, I decided that Ronda was a must visit. My wife and I spent at least parts of three days in this unique town in the Andalusia region. The one full day we had to explore the city was packed full of a variety of activities that would be difficult to find in such a small radius elsewhere.
The day started off with leaving our hotel to get some breakfast at a local café. As we walked outside the sky was overcast with periodic sprinkles coming down. The air was slightly cool and the streets and surrounding grounds were filled with puddles from the on again off again rain of the morning and previous evening. I could tell the terrain was not used to soaking up the water in the usually arid climate.
The plan after our morning meal was to take the short hike down the valley of the giant gorge that Ronda is built on. I was worried the gloomy weather would put a damper on our agenda. However by the time we left the café the sprinkles had stopped and there were a few, albeit short lived, breaks in the cloud cover.
From the café to the path down the valley we had to cross over Ronda’s most spectacular site the, Puente Nuevo, or New Bridge. The cobblestone lined bridge is so new that it was built in the 1700s and is still only one of 3 ways to cross over the large gorge that divides the city. The bridge was generally lined with tourists at any point in the day trying to get a photo op of the valley to one side and the gorge on the other. However it was still fairly early and the morning rain appeared to have kept most people in. The relative emptiness of the bridge gave us an opportunity to stop and take in the beauty of the low hanging clouds over over the valley.
We continued on to the other side of the bridge and took a turn at the next street that we thought would lead us on to the path we were looking for. The street took us to a park at which the end was a set of long stone stairs that lead down into the valley. Luckily the rain had dried up some or these steps could have been slippery.
About a third of the way down into the valley the stone steps turned into a dirt trail and there was a fork in the path. We chose to go to the right, which was towards the bridge. Shortly after we had taken this route we came to a lookout area where we got a fairly good view of the bridge and town. We stopped here for a minute before continuing our descent.
The path grew steeper and narrower the further down we got until we found the remains of an archway. There may have been a wall or something here a long time ago where this was an entrance to the city. This was also the point at which we had the best view of the Puente Nuevo. The entire bridge could be viewed from this point as could the waterfall that poured out of the gorge.
At this point the path we were on was basically at its end. The continuation of the trail appeared to be more rock than dirt and looked even steeper and narrower. The thick brush didn't give us any indication as to what we would find further down into the valley so we had to make a decision as to wether we wanted to continue down.
After determining we didn’t want to go further into the valley, even though we could have, it was time to take the uphill climb back to town. It is always more difficult going up than down, but the rain had started to fall again. I had been glad as it helped to keep me cool. Once at the top of the trail and heading back into town we had to decide what activity to do next. We had many options but figured that it would be a good time to venture to the nearby Arab Baths.
To get to the Arab Baths we again walked over the Puente Nuevo and turned down the back side of the bridge, opposite the valley, through a pathway along the gorge going towards what is known as the Puente Viejo, or Old Bridge. This bridge was built in the 1500s and is much closer to the bottom of the gorge than the Puente Nuevo.
We had a map and there was a sign on the bridge pointing us to the Arab Baths, but neither directed us to exactly where to go. Shortly after crossing over the Puente Viejo we came upon a fork in the road and had the option to head back up a set of stairs into town or down the gorge further towards the even older Roman Bridge. After pondering it for a minute, we decided it made more sense to go towards the Roman Bridge. Since it was ancient ruins we were looking for, it would likely be near the ancient bridge. Sure enough we were correct and soon found the destination we were looking for.
Upon entering the site we were greeted with a view of the top of structure that was at one time home to a spa built by the Moors, who occupied this area of Spain around 1100. We took the stairs down into the structure. The first room was filled with archways and was at present time missing a roof. We were then able to move into the covered area of the baths into a large room. There were signs present in parts of the room indicating what the room and areas were used for.
We moved along into third and fourth room and came upon a seating area and a screen within what felt like a large cave. The screen read, “Spanish 5 minutes.” We decided to sit down and watch the film that would play shortly. It was the first time we had sat since breakfast a few hours ago. The film was entirely in Spanish with no subtitles, which made it hard to follow, but it showed what the spa would have looked like when it was in use several hundred years ago. The film lasted only about 10 minutes and after it was over the screen read, “English 10 minutes.” I had wanted to learn more about this place so we waited out the 10 minutes and watched the film again. This time understanding better what we were viewing.
It was incredible how in-tact much of this structure was, including the wall that went from the spa itself toward the stream several hundred feet away that was used to bring water in. We were able to see down the well that was used to bring up the water. We could tell where there had been a garden area outside where people would have been able to relax after they had received their massages or other spa treatments inside. The Arab Baths site itself was really not all that different from a spa one would go to today.
When we left the Arab Baths we decided to go back up the stairway at the fork in the road we had come to earlier in the day. We weren’t sure where this was going to lead us but it headed back into the old part of town. We eventually found our way back to the main road which brought us to a winery that I had found online. Ronda and the southern region of Spain are known for their wine. We had already tasted one local wine at dinner the night before, but a winery was a chance to try a few more flavors.
Once at the winery there was no one at the front desk so we waited for a few minutes. We could see through the entrance of the winery into a courtyard area. This was filled with people but we couldn’t determine if any of them worked there. After waiting a little bit longer a woman finally came up to us to tell us that the winery was currently closed for a private group but would open up again at 2:30 to the public for a half hour before it closed for the day. A half an hour wasn’t much time but we decided we should take advantage of it while we were there.
We had a little over an hour before we could come back so we decided to get some food. We found a nearby bar with tapas, small Spanish dishes, where we got a snack and had a couple of glasses of wine. It was mid-afternoon and the bar was packed full with both tourists and locals. We ended up having to sit along a side wall with a bar top as there were no tables available.
It was a little bit after 2 PM when we decided to make our way back to the winery. Luckily by the time we got back the last people from the private party were making their way out and we were allowed to go in. The entry to the winery included a tour of the building which consisted of walking through some various rooms, that surrounded the courtyard, filled with the history of wine making in and around Ronda. The self-guided tour ended with a trip to the basement cellar where the wine is stored for it to age. Based on the dust that had accumulated on some of the barrels, it was aging for quite a while.
Finally we made it to the fun part, the actual wine tasting. The characteristic that made this winery special was that the wine came out of the wall in the courtyard. There were multiple different wines that we tried. I think that what we paid for gave us two different wines to try. However, we ended up trying 5 or 6 total. We even tried the red wines, which neither of us are too fond of in general. They were all pretty good!
As the winery was closing up we made our way to our next expedition. This took us back towards the gorge to La Casa Del Rey Moro. This historical house along the gorge was unfortunately under renovation while we were there. However the gardens and mine down to the bottom were open for us to explore. While wandering the garden we came across a giant peacock that didn’t seem to mind that we were there. We got some different views of the gorge before we descended the steep steps to the bottom.
The journey to the bottom consisted of over 100 steps through a cold mineshaft. Since it had been raining on and off there was water dripping from different parts of the rock ceiling and various puddles below to skip over. But once we made it to the bottom we knew it was worth the trip. The opening at the bottom of the cave led out onto a dock on the stream that cut through the gorge. There were a couple of small boats tied to the dock. We weren’t sure when these would be used. The water was crystal clear and moved pretty slowly. The dark gray rock walls of the gorge towered all around making us feel very small. We stood there for a moment and took it all in.
The way up the mine took more energy and time than the way down had. But there were a couple of stopping points along the way where the miners would store items during times when it was active. This had been our third time up and down the gorge during that day, it was also our last.
However our adventures were not complete for the day. We still had one more place we needed to go, the Plaza de Toros de Real Maestranza, the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain. The bullfighting ring was near our hotel and we had passed it many times but had yet to go in. The ring itself is pretty simple on the outside with its white walls surrounding it along with a couple of statues near the entrance and exit. There were no signs or anything plastered on the sides like you would see on a modern day arena.
We went to the ticket office and paid the few Euros it took to get in. They gave us a map and showed us the way in to explore this historic site on our own. The self-guided tour first took us to the horse stables and riding arena. There weren’t many signs to explain to us what the various areas in the complex were exactly, we had to rely on the sparse descriptions on the map we were given. We did find out that the ring is used more for horse shows than bullfighting now days, which is why there were stables and horse riding arena. They only have one bull fight per year here so, much to my disappointment, we did not get to witness one.
We were free to walk almost anywhere we wanted throughout the stadium. We wandered through the areas in which the bulls are kept prior to being released into the arena before we finally ended up in the ring itself where the action happens. We could have walked out to the center of the ring, but with all of the rain it was more mud than dirt. We took the time to walk around the seating areas and get different views of the ring. The bleachers were old and wooden, but looked fairly well kept up. The entire seating area was covered so was not subject to the rain or other weather conditions. It looked like there was enough seating for a few thousand people with an upper and lower level. The upper seating area certainly had some obstructed views, but it was also safe from a runaway bull.
The ring itself was the end of the tour through this old complex. We exited out through the gift shop filled with just about anything bullfighting related you could imagine. By this time it was early evening and we were exhausted from our day of exploring. Luckily our hotel was only two blocks away where we were able to go and unwind from exploring the many different aspects of the Spanish village of Ronda.