Winding our way up the hills into the Andulucia area of Spain from Malaga airport afforded the opportunity to travel at the same level as the buzzards, not quite so spectacular were the moans of “I feel sick” from the back of the Mercedes Vito. We didn’t stop, as we knew it would soon pass! Cruel but true, safe in the knowledge that promises of ‘Grande Cervesa’ would be enough to cure it.
There were two routes to Ronda, our destination: via Cartama, Pizzara and El Burgo, or my favourite, to follow the AP-7 as far as San Pedro and then up the A-397. Just look at it on the map and see how it meanders it’s way to Ronda. We started this climb on an unusually cloudy day in July and visibility at times was pretty poor. After about an hour we suddenly came through the cloud and broke out into bright sunshine. It was as though someone had just switched a light on taking us all by surprise and part cured the travel sickness! We then realised how high we had climbed as we were level with a buzzard floating not 100 yards across the ravine. Concentration however is needed on this road and I wouldn’t recommend it to the tired driver. But this is the road to go up, not come down as that’s slightly scary in a hire car with brakes that aren’t 100%.
Ronda is and always will be in my top five destinations in Europe. This moorish town has seen a lot of action and boasts the most delightful gorge. Walks around the walls take you straight back in time.
If it’s stunning views and instant access from your hotel to an old town you require, you can’t do better than the Parador du Ronda, it’s smack on the edge of the gorge and sports a variety of rooms including duplex rooms complete with long balconies ideal for partying on. The pool isn’t huge but is in the right place for the sun. The terrace wraps around the hotel and again offers views over the valley below. As is normal in Spain there’s always someone playing Cavatina on a guitar. I was heartily sick of the guy in the square who played it constantly, I wished he’d learned another song to go with it. Every time we went out, there he was selling CDs of himself playing 12 songs. Yes, in case you’re wondering, I did pick one up to look and see if he could play anything else. So why didn’t he?
The gorge separates the new(!) 15th century town from the old Moorish one. The stone bridge ‘Puente Nuevo’ spans the gorge and if it’s open you can pay to go down into the gaol built into the bridge. Just off the square is the famous 18th century bullring where you can hear crowds roaring occasionally when it is still in use.
On the Moorish side of town is Palacio de Mondragon, a public museum in a 14th century house. Just along from the museum is Parca Duquesa de Parcent where a small bar serves excellent coffee and cakes. The park also comes complete with Cavatina playing guitarist selling records. This one has an amplifier too, so his mistakes can be heard clearly.
Further out of town and easy to walk to is Barrio de San Francisco. The bar Bodego San Francisco, on the street corner, is tremendous value for money with tapas food the best I had in the area and was able to observe the world go by. You have to put up with people opening their car doors on your back; check their web site and you’ll see I’m not joking when I say that as they are all seated on the street corner. It’s the place to go for a great night out.
A short walk from the Parador Hotel to the park shows what family life is like here. Children playing, parents talking, grandparents sitting watching and the occasional dog wandering about. At 10.30pm all the park gates were locked, which took us by surprise as our villa was 50 yards from the park through a small gate and we then had to walk about a mile around the park to get back to our villa. It was a learning curve, from park ‘throwing out time’ everyone either goes home or to one of the bars in and around town and life continues until the early hours. Further into the square where many of the restaurants are, opposite the church, the children were enjoying a game of football with a small crowd of spectators. The fountain was the apparent goalpost at one end and the steps to the underground car park at the other. No one minded the game though. Everyone muddled in and if the ball came your way you just sent it back.
Each morning an early walk into the town to avoid the tourists(!) afforded us the opportunity to enjoy ‘pan con tomate’ and coffee or ‘Churros with chocolate dipping sauce’ all served at speed with no moans. Just wave and the coffee keeps coming.
Peeping through a rather large door about a quarter of a mile from town centre I was quite surprised when it opened to reveal a cavernous shop that specialised in port. The guy beckoned me in and even though we had no idea what each other was talking about, sign language was enough to show that I was being offered port and wine to try. I had a terrific time in the very cool, partly shaded shop, looking and trying his wares. (Oh and buying a bottle or two). Canny folk these Andalucians.
Coach trips from the coast pour into Ronda at about 10.00 and disappear at 3.30. These trips seem to have become less over the years as the tough economy bit deep and Ronda’s shops suffered a little, but nothing can alter the beauty, position and history of this place for me. It’s a must visit at anytime. Just off the square on Calle de Lorenzo is Michael Angelo’s a family owned pizza restaurant that makes the best Calzone going. I have yet to experience one as good or prices so reasonable. In the square itself there are the traditional restaurants and bars that will leave you spoilt for choice.
A short drive west from Ronda is the village of Montejaque. It’s a typical sleepy Spanish village. Behind curtained doors are shops, bars and people just doing everyday things. We had visited this village years earlier on market day Thursday and, in the middle of the village was, and still is, a bar but now under new ownership. We were greeted by the former owner with “Jimmy Johnson, he my friend, come inside”. The place was bedecked with Glasgow Celtic memorabilia. Football really travels. The village itself boasts two reasonably priced hotels.
Many companies offer villas in Ronda and it’s surrounding towns. Getting on the west side of town affords the best views of the valley. There are large and small hotels plus a number of villas some with quite breath taking views and pools.
Setenil, a few miles north of Ronda is very popular with houses that are built into overhanging rock. The streets are pretty narrow and the Spanish keep driving at you expecting you to move so parking on the edge of town is advisable. Walking through the town with rocks overhanging is quite unnerving but life goes on as normal. There’s plenty of restaurants here so a day out would work well.
As we had a full day spare to get to the airport home we decided to go west from Ronda, through Montejaque and then drop south via Jubrique. If you want to explore the wisdom of that decision just check it out on a map first. It was an adventure especially as one of the hire cars seemed to have dodgy brakes so, on the steep downhill bits, I was braking for two as we went nose to tail. Well, what are holidays for if you can’t have a bit of adventure. Strangely no-one felt sick going home!