Destination - Ronda, Spain

Savouring the beautiful Costa del Sol is one of life’s goals to be accomplished. The sun, sea, white-lime washed buildings of the Pueblos Blancos are as spectacular in real life as illustrated on tourist brochures. And the southern Spanish region of Andalucía offers that and so much more.

Located some 640km away from Madrid it takes some five hours by car to reach Ronda. Leaving the city landscape of the Spanish capital, dawn breaks to reveal some breathtaking scenery, changing from endless plains sheathed in olive trees to the mountainous Valdepeñas, an idyllic location for a well-deserved coffee break. As one heads south, the day gets hotter, and hotter.

Ronda is nestled in the hillside just 110km from Malaga. It’s a quaint town steeped in history and split in two sections by the Guadalevín gorge. This 100m gorge is bridged by the spectacular Puente Nuevo, which was built in 1751 and took 42 years to build. Local hearsay has it that the bridge was the site on which many accidents have taken place. During the Spanish Civil War Republican sympathizers were thrown in the gorge by General Franco’s troops. Even the architect himself had his fate sealed by a sudden gust of wind while reaching for his hat while on the bridge!

On one side of the bridge is the old Moorish town, or Ciudad, rich in historic buildings including the House of the Moorish King, which dates back to the 18th century, and on the other side is the Mercadillo, a more recent urban development.

Many of the important sights in Ronda can be seen in a few hours as most are located around the old part of the town. The traditional tourist route takes in most of them and is worth leaving the car at bay, although the Andalucian sun would recommend otherwise. The lavish Paseo de Blas Infante behind the bullring offers the best panoramic views over the mountains. The Calle Virgen de la Paz leads the way towards the bridge.

The most famous landmark in Ronda, with its long and celebrated history, is the Plaza de Toros, widely acclaimed to be one of the most important and famous rings in the bullfighting world. This is no coincidence as Ronda is considered to be the seat of bullfighting and equestrian sports. The majority of this praise is assigned to a man called Pedro Romero, undoubtedly the father of modern day bullfighting. He created a graceful style that involved fighting bulls on foot rather than on horseback as it had previously always been done. Incidentally this bullring was chosen by Madonna for the shooting of her video Take a Bow.

The Ronda bullring was built in 1785 making it one the oldest in Spain. It is entered through an elegant gateway and surrounded by fine arcades inside. The bullring is open to the public, with a small admission charge. It also houses an interesting museum dedicated to the sport, containing sumptuous costumes and various mementoes such as bullfighting accessories and photographs of generations of Ronda matadors including the Romero family and the famous Antonio Ordoñez. Writers have also found Ronda to be a source of inspiration, the most internationally famous of which has been Ernest Hemingway, pictures of whom adorn the museum. He worked as a newspaper correspondent during the Spanish Civil War and lived in a suburb of Málaga and befriended the famous bullfighter Antonio Ordoñez. His passion for bullfighting inspired him to write his novel Death in the Afternoon, a magnificent account of the sport’s inherent drama.

The Andalucian bullfighting season stretches from April to October, but the most important ones take place in Spring and Summer. It is best to enquire through the local tourist office when one arrives or directly from the ticket office or taquilla specifically dedicated to the sale of tickets for the bullfight.

Located just outside the bullring is the Pedro Romero restaurant, where various bull parts are on offer, although the more traditional fayre is also on offer, including the speciality Andalucian gazpacho and rabbit in garlic, ideally washed down with a carafe of Sangria.

One cannot but fall in love with this beautiful town and its inhabitants, invariably helpful and friendly, and one tends to promise oneself to visit again.