High up in the mountains, just a little over an hour’s drive northwest of Marbella, is the spectacular town of Ronda. The town is one of the oldest in the whole of Spain, where history seeps from every street corner.
Ronda is rich in natural charm; in fact the whole of Ronda seems blessed with a wealth of architectural ‘eye-candy’, and because of that has been the inspiration for some of the world’s foremost artists and writers.
It deservedly continues to attract those in need of a serious injection of authentic Spanish culture.
As anyone from Ronda will proudly tell you, the town is famous for two things; bullfighting and the spectacular and very deep El Tajo Gorge (see photo, left) which effectively cuts the town in two.
Ronda is the birthplace of modern bullfighting. The bullring itself, now a museum, is the oldest in Spain and a true Mecca for aficionados of the sport.
Modern bullfighting as we know it began in the 18th century, when the legendary Ronda bullfighter Pedro Romero decided the original style of bullfighting with the ‘Torero’ fighting on horse-back was simply too dull.
He invented a new and, let’s face it, altogether more dangerous style in which the bullfighters fought the bull on foot, which years later is still the definitive style of bullfighting today.
To celebrate Ronda’s bullfighting heritage, each year at the beginning of September the spectacular ‘Feria Goyesca’ is held in the bullring with famous bullfighters from all over Spain fighting in costumes typical of characters from one of Goya’s famous sketches of life in the region.
And if bullfighting is not your cup of tea, fear not – any trip up to Ronda is made more than worthwhile just for the chance to stand on the 18th century ‘Puente Nuevo’ bridge, which spans the 100 metre deep El Tajo Gorge.
The view from the bridge, both of the river down below and out over the Serranía de Ronda, is truly awe-inspiring, but perhaps not recommended if heights make you go weak at the knees.
Luckily for vertigo sufferers, there are many cafes and restaurants and bars overlooking the bridge, if you need to take in the scenery in a more relaxed, less fear-inducing setting.
A short stroll across the bridge will bring you to the Old Town of Ronda; a picturesque and rather peaceful area, full of quaint cobbled streets, old mansions, the Palacio Mondragón – an old Moorish palace from Ronda’s time as a minor Caliphate under Córdoba in the 12th century – and the tremendously leafy Plaza Duquesa de Parcent.
Not far from there you’ll see a spacious plaza of the workers’ neighbourhood, San Francisco, where you can quite easily can lose a few hours sampling the delights on offer in the many authentic and rather excellent bars and restaurants in the area.
Now, as you wander the streets of Ronda, marveling at all before you, you might be slightly surprised to see the portly face of Orson Welles – the Academy Award-winning American actor, director and all-round father of modern cinema – peering out from various shop windows and, perhaps more oddly, official postcards.
That’s because the star felt a deep personal connection with Ronda which, so legend has it, began with a visit to the town as an 18 year-old, and lasted his whole life.
It was here that he developed his fascination with bullfighting and forged a close friendship with the one of the best loved bullfighters of all time, Antonio Ordoñez. Upon his death and according to his wishes, Welles’ ashes were thrown down the mediaeval well in the Ordoñez family country estate just outside the town. The people of Ronda loved Welles so much they even named a street in the town after him.
Ronda isn’t just all about splendid architecture, famous bullfighters and a gigantic gorge.
It’s also surrounded by some of the most stunning mountainscapes you’re ever likely to see and if taking in a bit of pure, unspoiled nature on your trip to Ronda appeals to you, a visit to the Sierra de Las Nieves National Park, located just a few kilometres outside town off the Ronda Road, is highly recommended.