andalucía: a day in ronda

Sunday, July 7:  After visiting Teba Castle, we head to the beautiful town of Ronda.  Barry first points out the Church of La Merced, a convent built in 1585 and dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy.   Today the convent belongs to the Barefoot Carmelite community, who conserve the relic of one of Santa Teresa’s hands.  Barry tells us that it’s a closed order, meaning the convent is closed to outsiders and no one ever sees the nuns.  The community has taken to baking lately to raise money.  They are known to sell a sweet anise flat bread.  When people want to buy it, the nuns have a lazy susan so they can remain hidden while conducting the transaction.  They insist that the buyer put his money on the lazy susan; when the nuns get the money behind a wall, they put the bread order on the lazy susan and twirl it back to the customer.

Church of La Merced
Church of La Merced

Ronda is a beautiful town perched along a cliff at the top of the Tajo Gorge.  We wander through a leafy and breezy park, Alameda del Tajo.  From a sheer drop at the end of the park, we find amazing views of the valley below.

a shady and breezy park in Ronda
a shady and breezy park in Ronda
park in Ronda
park in Ronda
amazing view from the cliffs of Ronda
amazing view from the cliffs of Ronda

The landscape is etched with green-black cypresses, groves of silver-green olive trees and vineyards carpeting the rolling hills. Red-roofed farmhouses dot the scene, connected by ribbons of winding roadways. The horizon, beyond forested foothills, is rimmed with angular mountains softened by a soft haze.

view from Ronda
view from the top of the gorge in Ronda
me, Carole and Barry at the top of the gorge in Ronda
me, Carole and Barry at the top of the gorge in Ronda
view of Ronda from the cliff
view of Ronda from the cliff

As we walk deeper into the town, we come upon the spectacular, sheer cliffs of the gorge, El Tajo, and the river, Guadalevin,  that splits the ancient mountain town of Ronda into two sections: the old Moorish area, La Ciudad, and the new town, El Mercadillo. Spanning the gorge is the triple-arched Puente Nuevo, the “new” stone bridge, built in 1751, that links the old and new districts. Its central, skyward-soaring Romanesque arch is framed by gigantic stone foundations.

view from the cliffs of Ronda
view from the cliffs of Rhonda
the new bridge in Ronda
the new bridge in Ronda
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge

It’s this gorge and bridge, along with Ronda’s acclaim as the birthplace of modern bullfighting, that have made it one the most famous and spectacular of the many mountain towns that dot Andalucia.

half of Ronda perched on one side of the gorge
half of Ronda perched on one side of the gorge
Ronda on the cliffs of the Tajo Gorge
Ronda on the cliffs of the Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Ronda
Ronda
the New Bridge in Ronda
the New Bridge in Ronda

Our first stop is at Cafe de Ronda, where we eat a lunch of tapas: artichokes with sardines, quail eggs with olive oil, chorizos, potato salad, white fish croquettes with a bit of ham inside, and a potato and cheese gratin.  The tapas are so enticingly presented, that we dive right in before I remember to take a picture!   🙂

Cafe de Ronda
Cafe de Ronda

We than wander down the narrow streets where we come to the Minaret of San Sebastian, which belonged to a small mosque or oratory, possibly of the 14th century.  After the Christian conquest, it was converted into a church named San Sebastian.  Today the only thing that remains are ruins and the minaret, which was converted to a bell tower.

Alminar de San Sebastian
Alminar de San Sebastian
Alminar de San Sebastian
Alminar de San Sebastian

We wander through the elegant narrow streets of the old town, where we find colorful tiles on the walls and balconies with mini-gardens.

Mosaics in Ronda
Mosaics in Ronda
balconies in Ronda
balconies in Ronda

At the Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, we find a leafy park and the Iglesia de Santa Maria La Mayor, which stands on the site of Islamic Ronda’s main mosque.  The church’s tower and its galleries date from Islamic times.

Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda
Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda
Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda
Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda

From the plaza I wind through the old town until I find a path that leads down into the gorge, where I can see more amazing views of the valley and a view of Puente Nuevo from down below.  One viewpoint, which someone at the top of the gorge pointed out to us, is blocked off, but I can see there’s a worn path around the gate, so I go around.  As I come back up from the viewpoint, I see a grubby looking man removing the gate.  He doesn’t look like anyone official, so I proceed past him.  He says, in a not-so-friendly voice, “Adios!”   I figure he’s telling me to get out!  When I look back he’s setting up a cardboard sign with an arrow, pointing people to a viewpoint in another direction.  Later Carole and Barry walk down and find him charging a fee to the viewpoint.  It seems he is just a homeless man trying to exploit a money-making opportunity.

view from the walk down the path to the gorge
view from the walk down the path to the gorge
view of the New Bridge from the path
view of the New Bridge from the path
view of the village to the right
view of the village to the right
view of Ronda to the left of the New Bridge
view of Ronda to the left of the New Bridge
the valley below Ronda
the valley below Ronda

It takes me a while to climb back up the steep path, but when I do I meet an Italian girl studying Spanish in Malaga, who is here visiting Ronda for the day.  She walks along with me toward the Palacio Del Rey Moro, a romantically-crumbling 18th century house, and its clifftop gardens.  When the ticket-seller there tells her it’s a steep walk down to the river, she says she’ll go on her merry way.  I wander around the gardens for quite a while, but I don’t go down the 200 steep steps to “la mina,” an Islamic-era stairway cut into the rock right down to the bottom of the gorge.

old door
old door
tiles on a bench at Palacio del Rey Moro
tiles on a bench at Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
bench in the gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
bench in the gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
gardens of Palacio del Rey Moro
gardens of Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
Palacio del Rey Moro
view from gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
view from gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
view of the gorge fromPalacio del Rey Moro
view of the gorge fromPalacio del Rey Moro
gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro
gardens ofPalacio del Rey Moro

After leaving the palace, I walk down hill for views of the valley below Ronda on the other side of the mountain.  I pass through the Archway of Philip V, probably built in 1742.

view the valley from Ronda
view the valley from Ronda
view from Ronda
view from Ronda
Gateway of Philip V
Archway of Philip V

I walk down to and across the Puente Viejo or old bridge, built in the 17th century.

the Old Bridge
the Old Bridge
building on the edge of the Tajo Gorge
building on the edge of the Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
Tajo Gorge
stopping for some shade and una cerveza
stopping for some shade and una cerveza
una cerveza
una cerveza
wind farms on the way home
wind farms on the way home
reservoir on the way home
reservoir on the way home

When we return in the evening to Mollina, Carole, Barry and I have dinner at La Casa, a restaurant in town recommended by our British hosts.  It’s a mediocre and huge meal of prawns sautéed in lots of butter accompanied by a nondescript salad.  I think I’m going to eat in during the evenings the remainder of our stay.

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my itinerary for spain: here’s what i’ve got so far…

Tuesday, June 11:  I’ve planned my time in Spain, but, so far, I haven’t even begun to think of Portugal.  I know I better start thinking about it soon because I have to fly out of Lisbon on July 25.

Here’s my itinerary so far.

June 28-July 3: Barcelona, Spain, including Montserrat.  I’m staying at BCN Fashion House: (bcn fashion house)

I decided to skip Madrid altogether.

July 3-6:  Toledo, Spain.  I’ll be staying at La Posada de Manolo. Last summer when I was traveling in Greece, I met an inspiring South African lady, Marie-Claire.  She had come to Greece after traveling all over Europe, but especially in Spain and Portugal.  She highly recommended I stay more than one day in Toledo.  Since I have a small group tour lined up in Andalucia from July 6-12, I booked 3 days/4 nights in Toledo.

July 6-12:  I will head straight from Toledo to Malaga Airport, where I will meet Tour Andalucia: Tour Andalucia: Villa Tour

The small group tour includes the following:

  1. Meet at Malaga Airport and subject to arrival time, spend a few hours in Mijas, a lovely mountain village overlooking the Mediterranean, then travel and check in to the Villa.
  2. Breakfast and travel to Seville. Visit the Santa Maria Park to see the amazing Plaza Espana, the site of the American Exhibition of 1929. Walk from the park past some of Seville’s most historic buildings to the Barrio Santa Cruz. Wander through the narrow lanes of the Barrio and take a delicious tapas lunch ‘Seville style’ in one of the lovely small Plazas. In the afternoon visit the largest Cathedral in the world followed by the fabulous Alcazar, one of the oldest Royal Palaces in Europe. An elegant City, Seville was once one of the wealthiest in Europe.
  3. Breakfast and travel to Ronda. One the way, we stop at the historic site of Teba Castle, scene of a famous battle with the Moors. In Ronda we walk you into the town and leave you by the magnificent bridge over the gorge to explore and sightsee on your own. Maybe take a ride around the old town in horse-drawn carriages and wonder at the sheer magnificence of the town perched along the cliff top of the Tajo gorge. Wander through the elegant narrow streets of the old town and visit some of the magnificent houses and the museum of Ronda. Visit the famous Ronda bullring home of the Matador and the oldest in Spain, now a museum.
  4. Breakfast and travel to Malaga. On the way we visit the spectacular El Torcal National Park. Set high in the mountains there is a 45 minute walk through the amazing limestone formations. Arriving in Malaga at lunch hour we go to one of the great value seafood Chiringuitos by the sea. Sample fantastic sardines barbequed on an olive wood fire next to the Mediterranean. We take you into the centre of Malaga near the Cathedral and leave you to explore the town, maybe visiting the magnificent Cathedral, the large Moorish Alcazaba and Roman Theatre. And don’t forget the Picasso Museum since Picasso was born locally and his parents’ house is now the Picasso Foundation and open for visits.
  5. Breakfast and travel to Cordoba. We walk through the old City Walls and into the pretty Barrio San Basilio and see one of the typical patios that Cordoba is famous for. The Royal Stables shows us some of the famous Andalucian horses in a lovely set of buildings. Onto the Christian Alcazar, nowhere near as grand as Seville, but designed in the Mudajar style, a fusion of Moorish and Christian Gothic and the scene of famous historic events including the planning of the voyage of Columbus. The 1,000 year old Arab baths built for the Caliphs remind us of a society long gone and we wander through the Juderia visiting the old Jewish Market & the Synagogue. A great tapas lunch in the Bodega Mesquita followed by the highlight of the day, the spectacular Mesquita, the greatest Mosque in the Western World and the only one with a Cathedral right in the centre of it. The famous Puente Romano bridge awaits demonstrating why Cordoba was the capital of the Roman empire in the Iberian Peninsula.
  6. Breakfast and travel to Granada. Normally the highlight of our tour, we walk into the Bib Rambla, part of the old Silk Market and now the Flower Market of Granada. Here we suggest you sample some of the best Chocolate and Churros in Andalucia. Walking through the square we pass the Bishops Palace and walk into the Alcaiceria, the well-preserved old silk market. The Royal Chapel, commissioned as the burial site for the famous ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Ferdinand and Isabella, is now a museum and worth a visit. The beautiful Cathedral is one of the lightest inside that you will see. Have a light lunch and then we drive up to the Alhambra to spend a few hours wandering the gardens and buildings before entering the amazing Nasrid Palaces. After the visit we drive around the City and up to the top of the atmospheric Albaycin where we have dinner at Jardines de Zoraya who host an excellent Flamenco performance with local talented young musicians and dancers. A five-minute ‘after dinner’ walk takes us to the viewing point at San Nichols where we see the beauty of the Alhambra lit up at night set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
  7. Breakfast and, subject to departure flight times, we visit the historic City of Antequera, home of the impressive 5,000 year old Dolmens and the first Alcazaba to fall in the reconquest of the kingdom of Granada. Return to Malaga Airport.

July 12-14: After my tour, I’ve been invited to spend two nights with Marianne, and her husband, of  East of Málaga …. and more!.  She lives in the countryside (el campo), in a beautiful area east of Málaga, known as La Axarquía.  I’m really excited to meet a fellow blogger who now makes her home in the south of Spain.

July 14-25:  Heading to Portugal.  I think I will try to rent a car in Malaga and just take off toward Portugal, ending up my last four nights around Lisbon.  While in Lisbon, I want to go to Obidos and Sintra, both highly recommended by my friend and fellow traveler, Marie-Claire.  I also want to explore the Alfama in Lisbon.  No specific plans for Portugal yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something before I leave Oman. 🙂