I’d never seen a picture of Ronda, a little town in southern Spain, before I visited the place. Hell, I’d hardly even heard of it. But, as we snaked through the Serranida de Ronda mountains on the way into town, I knew I was in for something special.
The little I had heard about Ronda had been overwhelmingly positive. People had gone overboard with the superlatives, with the usual ‘breathtaking’ and ‘awe inspiring’ featuring constantly.
I was more excited than normal, that first time going into Ronda. Unfortunately, the more you travel, the less you allow yourself to be overwhelmed. Ronda has been my exception to the rule.
And the reason why? Well, this little bridge, which they call ‘new’ (despite it being finished when Napoleon was starting to get all territorial), is justifiably a large part of the reason.
I cannot think of a more perfect bridge. It is serene yet mighty, stately yet simple. It connects the two halves of Ronda together, which are perched on either side of a hundred metre canyon.
I think that this fact, more than any, endears me to Ronda. It is completely stupid that the town was ever built where it is; Robert Hoddle, who designed Melbourne’s grid, would have a fit if he ever saw such insanity. Ronda had every reason to fail, but its survival is itself a reminder of the past.
There’s a reason why Ronda’s in such a ridiculous spot. It’s hard to get to – it’s seven hundred metres above sea level, in the middle of a mountain range, yet only thirty kilometres away from the Mediterranean. The thing is, some people quite liked that it was isolated, particularly if they weren’t really liked around the traps – think Moors, Jews and Roma – and they came to Ronda in their droves.
The views from Ronda are simply gorgeous. There’s the New Bridge, of course, which commands the most attention, but the 360-degree views from the cliffs would often make me just sit down, forget what I was supposed to be doing (like room allocations, the joys of tour guiding) and stare. One time I spent a whole hour in the one spot, not talking to anybody; the view was simply enough.
The views alone are enough reason to visit Ronda. But, if you can tear yourself away from the cliffside, you’ll find the perfect little Spanish town. The local Romero family also claim to have invented modern bullfighting (Ronda bickers with Seville as to which city is the home of the sport) but in any case, its bullring is Spain’s oldest.
There’s plenty of day-trippers around the bridge and the bullring (Ronda’s less than two hours away from Malaga and Granada) but further back, you’d find the most perfectly quiet lanes, made even more beautiful during siesta time.
Of course, if you look hard enough, you can find some great little tapas bars. This is still Spain, remember. The streets heading away from the centre of town are full of them – some of them quite touristy – but if you head down them and keep going a bit further along, you can find some real classics. A trick I use to distinguish the good from the dodgy is to look for paella on the menu. Paella’s not an Andalucian dish, so if it’s on the menu, steer clear.
But even I can get over tapas a bit. So one day I wandered into a little deli on the street which connects the New Bridge and the bullring, and saw that the man inside made fresh sandwiches. I ordered one with Iberian ham and cheese, and watched the man make magic.
He took almost ten minutes, lovingly slicing the ham off the bone, matching it with a cheese and drizzling the crusty bread with olive oil. I started worrying; the place was filled with expensive-looking produce. How much was my sandwich going to cost?
Finally, the man finished his magic. ‘Tres euro,’ he said and handed it over.
Three euro for the best sandwich of my life. I couldn’t believe my luck. The next week, I took a dozen people with me, promising them the best sandwiches of their lives. We filled up the little man’s shop, probably freaking him out to no end, and I fielded orders and translated to the masses that lettuce, tomato and other usual sandwich dressings just weren’t the done thing here in Ronda.
This time I made room at my viewpoint for a few more. We sat there, munching on our sandwiches all in a row like schoolchildren, and took in the view.
We took it slow for once, that day in Ronda. Just like the Spanish do.