By Myscha Theriault / Tribune News Service
RONDA, Spain—Perched above a breathtaking countryside since Roman times, with a strong Islamic influence and a noteworthy bullfighting heritage, this bucolic Spanish town has provided creative inspiration to some of the most famous writers in the world, including the likes of Orson Welles and Ernest Hemingway. Here’s how to spend a memory-making day exploring the historic district.
Strolling: One thing you’ll realize quickly as you experience the older portion of Ronda is just how strong a role scenery plays in the destination’s overall identity. After grabbing your free map and reference list of times and prices for the city’s attractions from the tourism office across from the bull arena, walk through the small park past the Hemingway and Welles sculptures and turn left along the scenic boardwalk set on the side of the cliff. It’s one of the coolest things to do in Ronda and doesn’t cost a dime, so you definitely don’t want to miss it.
It continues around that whole first section of the town, providing some of the most sensational views I’ve ever seen in my life. Just as you round the corner after passing the gazebo is one of the best photo spots to grab a money shot of the arched bridge with the canyon and some of the old buildings. As you cross over the bridge, take a minute to appreciate the scenery from that spot, as well, especially how precisely the town is perched along the edges of the tall canyon walls. Architecture and daily life can also be experienced on the many side streets, along with additional scenic vistas of the surrounding landscape.
Sights: When you are ready for a break from the sun, head to Saint Mary the Major Collegiate Church. It isn’t far after you cross the bridge, and there’s a pleasant park you can relax in if you finish the tour ahead of your travel companions. Less than €5 per entry ticket, it can easily take up an hour plus of your time. Audio guides are available, detailing specifics about the architectural elements and various works of art. The historic Church of the Holy Spirit near the old entry portals is also worth a peek, and is only a euro a pop to experience. There is a quaint little outdoor wine bar to your left as you enter the church, if you happen to be ready to wet your whistle after exploring the structure.
For a taste of Ronda’s Islamic heritage, head to the hanging gardens at the palace of the former Moorish king. While the home is under extensive renovations, the gardens are still open for travelers to experience, and they come with a commanding view of the valley below. For an extra bit of adventure you can also descend through the canyon wall to see the old mine along the river. The gardens are roughly €5 per person to enter, and are a great place to unwind depending on the size of the crowds on the street.
Snacks: With so many scenic places to sit and enjoy a bite and a beverage, opting for minimeals is a great strategy. You get to try as many places as possible, and it’s a smart way to have scheduled breaks with vacation photo opportunities built into the experience. For example, there’s a good gourmet deli on your left just across the arched bridge you cross after walking along the scenic cliffside boardwalk from the park near the tourism office. We grabbed a sandwich to split, a couple of small traditional baked goods and some water, and made our way to one of the park benches outside of Saint Mary the Major Collegiate Church. It’s a nice rest break after strolling along the edge of the canyon, and fuels you up for the second round of exploration. Similarly, the small wine and ice-cream bar outside the Church of the Holy Spirit provides a quiet countryside view and a chance to consult your map for the next phase of your walking tour.
We personally spent a relaxing hour with drinks and a shared homemade pizza overlooking the canyon and valley from the restaurant and bar at the exit from the hanging gardens.
The view and the casual pallet furniture made
for a restful and stress-free conclusion to our visit before making the drive back to our temporary home in the mountains.
If you have more than a day to spend, by all means, explore the rest of Ronda’s scenic streets, museums and a few more of the restaurants. Pick up one of the hiking or birding maps from the tourism information office and head out to interact with the landscape below. If you are limited to a one-day itinerary, however, it’s important not to over schedule. Rushing through too many historic buildings or trying to work in an additional stop on the way into the city will leave you far too short on time to appreciate the magic. Relaxing with the scenery and incorporating a small handful of significant venues is the best way to make the most of your time. n
Image credits: Myscha Theriault/TNS