Things to Do in Ronda – Off the Beaten Track in Spain’s Mountain Town
Ronda has a reputation for being one of Spain’s most beautiful towns. If you love nature and history, there will be plenty of things to do in Ronda. When we were there, we were completely blown away by its magnificence. It is a unique place unlike any other we’ve visited.
We entered the town from the Andalusian countryside, dotted with its never ending olive trees. Driving into the city, we were immediately taken by the quaint stone buildings with their white washed walls. It was obvious why this unique town was awarded its UNESCO heritage site status. The sound of cobblestones crunching beneath our wheels heralded our entry into this ancient place. I can still remember the moment we crossed the bridge from the new town into the old. We had not seen the world famous Puente Nuevo yet, and the mystery of what stood beneath added great excitement to our crossing.
It was an incredible feeling to drive across this bridge, built in the Age of Enlightenment, in our modern car. When I later found out that Ronda could boast of settlements as far back as the Celts in the 6th Century B.C., I realised how special this place was. Here, on a great rise jutting out of the surrounding coutryside, is a city where hundreds of years of history and culture are distilled within its bounds.
Experience the Puente Nuevo, the Highlight of Ronda
Needless to say, one of the very first things to do in Ronda is to stand on the Puente Nuevo. After dumping our stuff in our beautiful 17th Century Pensione, we headed straight for the Puente Nuevo. The view from the bridge into the El Tajo gorge is spectacular. The cliffs on either side dive down for about two hundred meters into a rushing river. Lining the cliff tops on each end of the bridge are beautiful estates, many of which have been abandoned for many decades. From here, peeking over the protective wall, I realised how spectacular Ronda is. Looking down, the gorge drops precipitously below you, before tapering out into the spacious countryside, green and gold under the Andalusian sun.
Hike Down the El Tajo Gorge to the Mirador Puente Nuevo de Ronda
From the bridge, we made our way down the El Tajo gorge. It is from here we finally get to see the magnificient Puente Nuevo. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get to any of the other things to do in Ronda, as long as you hike down the El Tajo gorge. The trail might be a bit of an effort for some – I had a knee injury at the time and it was a little challenging – but I would not have missed it for the world.
The path down was well worn by many feet and easy to tread upon. Around us grew a thick forest of almond trees and fig trees. We stopped along the way to munch on the sun ripened figs and had a sample of the almonds. They were absolutely delightful. Even the simple act of walking down towards the lookout point was an experience in itself.
The View of Ronda’s Famous Bridge
Finally, we came upon a clearing that looked directly at the stately bridge. Here, the Puente Nuevo rose up into the bright blue sky, like a crossing in the heavens. The river flowed underneath an arch in its base, pounding into the rocks below. We were quite some distance away however, and it was reduced to an ambient sound, blending in with bird calls and the excited chatter of the people around us.
I stood here for some time, taking in the beautiful sight of the bridge, hoping I would get to see it again after this trip. For almost a good half hour, I stood there, making sketches of it. Trying to capture the things about it that made it so magnificient. I suppose it is its incredible height, its slenderness and its simplicity that makes it such an architectural wonder of Spain.
Take a Photograph of Puente Nuevo from the Arco del Cristo
Most tourists stop at the Puente Nuevo mirador, the first lookout point on the trail. But go a little further, and you will be greatly rewarded. A few minutes farther down the trail is the Arco de Cristo, an ancient arc dating from the 12th Century. It was placed here to protect the roads up into the city. It was just us and another couple in the clearing at the base of the arc. The arc, on top of being an interesting historical monument, also makes for a stately frame around the Puente Nuevo. Seen under the shadow of the arc, the bridge seems steeped deeper into history.
Take a Break at the Plaza de María Auxiliadora
Our way back into the heart of the old town took us through the Plaza de María Auxiliadora. This was a lovely park at the edge of the town, with stunning views of the countryside around. A musician sat, playing his piano in the middle of the park, under the shade of an orange tree. The soothing tunes of Edith Piaf filled the plaza.
It was delightful to return to the old town after a hot day under the Spanish sun, to be welcomed into the shade of the trees and the relaxing music. Here, we took a moment to unwind, sitting on a bench while we enjoyed the wide open vistas of the countryside surrounding us.
Enjoy the Views from the Parador de Ronda
Right by the bridge is a stately hotel, the Parador de Ronda. From a distance, this Parador looks like it is built into the cliff face of Ronda, on the “new” side. It is not, instead it is seperated by a small pathway. Nevertheless, having tapas here is one of the best things to do in Ronda. It definitely provided the perfect ending to our day exploring the Puente Nuevo and the El Tajo gorge. From here, we enjoyed a refreshing glass of cava and some inventive tapas, all the while soaking in the incredible landscape of the canyon and the surrounding countryside.
Seated here, we could observe all the magnificient estates that lined the gorge at leisure. One estate which caught my eye was a tall four storey mansion with a little abandoned garden hanging over the cliff. The mansion was in disrepair, but the garden – oh, it was so beautifully overgrown! In its center, a tall poplar grew, reaching up into the upper floors of the building. I wondered how many years it had been since any living soul had ventured into this enchanted garden. This fascinating abandoned terrace was but one of many on the cliffs of Ronda, reminding us of more opulent times, when the town was a city of great importance in the region.
Walk Down to the Puente Viejo and the Arab Baths
Although the Puente Nuevo is the star attraction of Ronda, the town has a few other sites also worthy of its UNESCO heritage status. Farther down the gorge is the Puente Viejo (the old bridge) and the old Arab Baths. These two architectural sites are hundreds of years older than the Puente Nuevo, dating to the 12th Century. During this time, Ronda, was under Moorish rule.
The walk down to Puente Viejo from the town perched above is definitely one of my favourite things to do in Ronda. It took us through the old town and down winding streets lined with old, stately mansions, ancient walls, and arches.
There are almost no tourists on this path, we encounted but a handful. Here, it is just you, face to face with nature and history. The views on this road are ever changing – one moment we were on a street overlooking the expanse of the surrounding lowlands, seconds later, after crossing the Ponte Viejo, we found ourselves walking up the gorge, in time to see hundreds of white pigeons fly through, like confetti sprinkled over the forest.
It was on a little street a few meters upwards from the bridge that I had to stop for a sketch. The old bridge, while smaller, is no less beautiful. In fact, its small size, together with the narrow canyon that it crossed, gave it a charming intimacy. A contrast to the epic nature of the Puente Nuevo. Here, we stood for a good many moments, alone, soaking in the very special ambience that surrounded us.
Visit the Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor
While wandering around the streets of the old town, you’ll most certainly come across the Church of Santa María la Mayor. After checking into our hotel, we drove through the scarily winding streets of Ronda to park our car in the only carpark in the old town. Its entrance is on the same square as the church, and we noted its charming, estancia style facade as we walked back, through the coblestoned streets.
I was a little skeptical initially about visiting the church as I’ve seen quite enough churches in my life. But I’m really glad we did not give it a miss. Besides, its small size makes it really quite managable. I would highly recommend a visit here as one of the things to do in Ronda. Further more, it had a couple of nice little surprises in store.
The church is small, compact and easy to visit in under an hour. More importantly, it also boasted a good lookout point over the old town. Upon entering, we briefly checked out the interior with its gilded alter and richly coloured tapestries.
Look Over the Roofs of Ronda
We then made our way up some steps to the upper floors of the church. The church isn’t very tall, about only 5-6 storeys high. But that’s high enough, bringing it above the buildings that surround it.
We exited the stairs onto a little balcony. From here, we had a great view of the old town, the roofs and little streets that spread out before us. It’s quite funny what you get to see when you are just a little higher up than your surroundings – things people never expect you to see, like this one terrace with seemingly no entry or exit, on which some chairs have been placed. As to their purpose, I cannot even guess!
Here, on the terrace, we noticed a little flight of stairs leading to a small door. The door was so small, even I had to bend to get in. This door led to the ceiling of the church. It was such a great find. Here, I was in a whole other world. It was high enough to give me a sense of vertigo, but not too high – I could imagine peeking down at the faces of singing church goers had we been here at mass on a Sunday.
Catch Sight of the Islamic Prayer Niche in the Church
As we left the church, we noticed a protected arch near the entrance. It looked very ancient, and also very different from the rest of the church. I realised it was a Mihrab, a little niche in the wall dating back from the 13th Century, when a mosque stood in the current location. Today, this niche, with its beautiful carvings, is all that remains of the mosque. Stepping inside the niche felt like a truly spiritual moment, really taking be back almost a thousand years.
Enjoy Panoramas of the Andalusian Countryside from Alameda del Tajo
One of the things to do in Ronda which you absolutely must not miss is to soak in the landscape of rolling hills and mountains from Alameda del Tajo. This small park is located behind the bullring and has a couple of miradors which provide majestic views.
There’s a wide path that passes through the front of the park, skirting the plateau on which Ronda sits. Walking along the cliff’s edge at sunset is a beautiful experience. As the sun began to sink below the horizon, a cool breeze blew, chasing away the oppressing heat of the Andalusian sun. As we walked, vistas of low rolling hills, silhoutted by the rich colours of dusk streched out before us. It was one of those moments I truly felt I had not a care in the world.
On this path, in front of the Alameda del Tajo, you could go two ways. Facing the landscape, you could turn right, to walk towards the new town; Turn left, and you will soon find yourself in the old town. From the mirador, we could see the quaint and charming buildings of the old town peeking out at us on a cliff jutting out from the main landmass. But it was dinner time, and we decided to take the right turning, in search of dinner, drinks and some excitement.
Drink and Dine in the New Town
While most of the things we enjoyed doing and seeing were either out and about in the gorge or in the old town, the new town also has quite some things to offer. At night, it comes alive with people having dinner and drinks in the many highly rated bars and restaurants. Here, you will find Carrera Espinel, a delightful pedestrian street covered with colourful lanterns. At night, the street is lit brightly, and there’s a festive atmosphere. If you like being among the crowds and enjoying a bit of a party atmosphere, the new town if filled with life into the wee hours.
Take a Night Stroll Through Ronda’s Narrow Streets
However, if you prefer solitude, the late hours are also when you can have parts of the town all to yourself. It was after dusk we got some of our best photographs of Ronda’s old streets. During the day they are cute, but at night, under the warm glow of streetlights, they take on a whole different vibe. At points, I felt like I had literally walked into a set of a vintage European movie, half expecting to see Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart shooting a scene just around the corner.
There was an air of mystery to the winding, narrow streets that lead steeply up and down, leading us farther and farther away from the bustle of the main squares of Ronda.
Buy Monastery Cookies from the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced
I first heard about Ronda from a Jamie Oliver episode on Andalusia. I don’t remember anything of the episode, only that he headed down into a side door of the church in the new town to buy some monastery cookies. This was one of the things to do in Ronda that I had most looked forward to. There’s nothing quite like traditional baked goods to really give you a sense of a place I think – and certainly nothing quite like monastery cookies and cakes!
The ones here were really good. I still remember the sweet richness of the typical Ronda honey cake. When I bit into it, the taste of tradition melted into my mouth. Only God knows how old the recipes is, but I reckon it could be from medieval times. That said, I did notice later on that, in some of the pastries, artificial preservatives were used. It didn’t matter though – nobody is eating cake for health reasons.
Stay in a Beautiful Estate
If you visit Ronda, you definitely have to stay at a heritage hotel. That won’t be too difficult since there are many lovely hotels located in beautifully refurbished renaissance homes in the heart of Ronda.
In Ronda, we stayed in Soho Boutique Palacio San Gabriel. We can wholeheartedly recommend this hotel. It was absolutely charming and right in the centre of the old town, a few minutes walk from the bridge. The interior is right out of a seventeenth century mansion, with dark wood, rich furnishing and decorated moorish tiles. It is a truly unique estate.
Our room was quite a surprise. It came with a magnificient bed surrounded by pillars and even had a little sitting area in front of it. I felt like I was a royal guest staying in this hotel. It really took me back in time. The decor and furnishings were all very authentic.
It is possible to book a breakfast with the hotel for around 10 euros. If you do so, you can dine in the charming dining room facing the small but elegant patio the hotel surrounds. The service was also excellent – very friendly, helpful and efficient. The only downside I can think of was that it was very difficult to get to with a car. But I supposed there’s nothing that can be done about that. It’s a small price to pay to stay in the very heart of the old town!
When we checked out, we felt very sad that our visit to Ronda had come to an end. It is truly one of the most incredible places we’ve ever been to. So truly special in so many ways. As we drove out of town, we vowed immediately to return and take friends and family along with us.
FAQs for Ronda, Spain
The Puente Nuevo, which joins the old medieval town of Ronda with the newer Renaissance part is the main attraction of Ronda. This bridge dominates the lush El Tajo gorge and the surrounding Spanish countryside.
Ronda is located on cliffs that soar over the EL Tajo Gorge. The Puente Nuevo, which bridges the old and the new towns is 118 metre high. The beautiful, UNESCO heritage town of Ronda itself stands 739 metres above sea level.
Ronda is in the heart of Andalusia, in the south of Spain. It is surrounded by a beautiful low countryside filled with neat plantations of olive groves. High up in Ronda, you can see the surrounding landscape stretching out before the city. Read More…