The first two days of our Tour of Andalucia started in Malaga, continued with a short stop in Marbella and is mostly about lovely days in Ronda.
This blog post starts with a map of this part of the car trip, continues with the plan we made before leaving and finishes with what we actually did. Read the introduction to this trip.
The plan (= my best tips)
This is what we wrote in our plan before leaving home:
0630 – 1010, Sola – Malaga
Malaga city has not much to boast of, it may seem. If you are a part time resident in the area or have plenty of spare time during your fourteen days on the beach, there is always something to see. They have a Moorish castle (the other cities have much more and better) and the best seafood restaurants in Spain. However, there are other temptations elsewhere on the Costa del Sol and inland that far exceeds what this all too touristy resort town has to offer. Malaga can easily be overlooked on our vacation.
However, as the map shows we will drive along the coast on the first day, and we will be able to visit the beaches during our stay in Granada the last week. That’s why I’m including a link to the beaches.
1100 – 1230, Malaga – Ronda
We drive from the airport and some distance along the Costa del Sol before we turn up into the mountains. The trip is 110 km, 1:30 hours.
1230 and the next day: sightseeing and accommodation in Ronda
Ronda is one of Andalusia’s small white towns. It has old streets and an impressive location on each side of a steep ravine. Ronda is very popular with day trippers from the Costa del Sol. Of course, it is more exciting when the hordes have gone home, in other words, our two nights make the experience even better.
This means that we start the holiday quite relaxed with two nights in a cosy and stylish central hotel, Hotel San Francisco (Maria Cabrera, 18-20, telephone 34952873299, free Wi-Fi in public areas, no pool, and breakfast is booked).
With our early arrival, we get two full days in Ronda, and are able to have a look into the countryside around Ronda. Check-in is not until 1400 and we arrive in good time before that. Maybe we can make a stop on a coastal beach before we wind up the mountain roads, and why not Funny Beach in Marbella?
Worth watching in Ronda:
Gorge with a bridge across
One of the oldest bullrings in the country and a museum
The old town with narrow streets
Outside of Ronda, in Benaoján, is La Cueva de la Pileta. This is a cave system with 25,000 years old paintings. With such an extreme age it should have been a World Heritage Site.
We had a morning flight from home in Norway to Malaga on the Spanish Costa del Sol. Outside the brand new terminal we found a representative from the car rental agency and were taken by a minibus to their office just outside the airport. We finished the paperwork and set off on the motorway along the coast towards Marbella. We stopped at the first service station to buy a copy of Michelin’s Andalucía map. It came in very handy the rest of our vacation.
Taking a motorway usually means fast transportation and zero views. Here we got some good views of all the holiday houses and apartments that had been mushrooming all along the coast line. There was a lot of construction activity on the remaining hilltops.
As we had plenty of time we had decided to make a stop somewhere on the coast and take a bath in the sea before heading inland. In our plan we had indicated Funny Beach in Marbella as a possible place. We took off the motorway and followed the signs into Marbella. Being totally unfamiliar and with no maps we had virtually no clue about where to go. We just headed down the hill towards the morning sun and caught a glimpse of the sea. We then found a place to park and went down to a beach.
I can’t tell how “funny” it was but it was nice. Unfortunately the sea was filled with poisonous jelly-fish so no one was swimming. Sadly two of the children got stung on the beach and we had a hard time trying to wash the wound clean in sea-water. That was all of the Costa on this vacation.
The road inland was very impressive. Easy to drive and wonderful views all the way. In the beginning, near the coast, there were some really nice vacation centres – modern day villages built for foreign expats.
The province of Andalusia is famous for its white villages often built on or near hilltops, a tradition stemming from an era where defensive purposes were calling the shots. The road to Ronda did not pass many of those but Ronda in itself is perhaps the most famous of them all. In fact Ronda proved to be not so much a village as a town. They have managed to preserve a quite large city centre with the two parts of La Ciudad (the oldest) and El Mercadillo. New residential areas had been built outside the historical city.
Street view from Ronda – La Ciudad
Thanks to our prints of Google Map with precise directions we hit our hotel without any problems. The car had to be parked somewhere else but we got a pre-paid ticket from the reception after loading off our luggage at the hotel. The hotel was a nice little place just like on the pictures, no luxury but basic.
We did not rest long before we took off into the streets and walked the few hundred metres down to the most famous sight of Ronda, the Puente Nuevo. This is an old bridge (1751) joining the two parts of Ronda I mentioned above. The bridge towers 120 metres over the gorge of El Tajo. It was featured on most postcards for sale at the nearby souvenir shops and naturally we had to take a multitude of pictures and film too. It was very picturesque in itself but also in combination with all the houses built on the very cliff edge and the magnificent views of the surrounding countryside.
Puente Nuevo in Ronda
During the rest of the day and the next day we walked the streets of Ronda. The town proved to be very nice. It was indeed “white”: virtually all the buildings were painted white and not a single building within a radius of say 600 metres from the bridge seemed to be younger than a hundred years or so.
There were of course plenty of (other) tourists but I was slightly surprised to realise that in being such a big town it has not dwindled into a ghost town as some of the small white villages in other parts of Andalusia. They are reportedly occupied by senior Spanish citizens and foreign expats who spend very little time in their vacation houses. Ronda was very much a vibrant Spanish town with genuine locals.
Street view from Ronda – La Ciudad
Apart from this atmospheric impression I would like to mention three more assets or sights the town has to offer.
First, walking down below the bridge of Puente Nuevo opened up not just another perspective but a more interesting and rewarding one. If, say, 600 were on top of that bridge, less than 60 took the path down to a viewpoint facing the bridge directly ahead. Anyway we were only 6 taking the other path leading underneath the bridge and into the narrowest part of the gorge.
There is a path and steps leading down from La Ciudad. Most people taking this almost strenuous walk in the summer heat head for the viewpoint. If you halfway turn right from that path you encounter a seemingly closed off side-path observed by a self-proclaimed watchman. He was in no position to charge us but we paid him a euro on our return anyway.
Our path was cut out from the vertical cliff in the gorge. We walked down and towards the bridge pillars, crossed a water canal running inside one of the pillars (it actually looked like a Levada on Madeira) and finally under the bridge. The view up was astonishing. Behind the bridge we found some old equipment for river regulation, man-made ponds and deep inside the ravine we could see the spot where locals would climb down from the city when it was under siege. (We noticed some people in there having taken the steps down, but we were unable to make it a round trip.)
Underneath the Puente Nuevo in Ronda
Ronda’s Puente Nuevo seen from below
Second, inside the oldest part of Ronda, La Ciudad, we visited the Palace of Mondragon. It was built by the Moorish kings of Ronda and features some fantastic patios, a lovely garden, and beautiful Moorish doorways and ornamentation.
The former palace now has a double function as the city museum of Ronda offering a very interesting review of the city’s history. Having come to this part of Spain to a large degree because of an interest in Moorish or Moorish-inspired architecture we naturally were more interested in the building itself. It was a wonderful appetizer of what would come in the grand Moorish cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada.
Tiles and sink in the Mondragon Palace in Ronda
Palacio de Mondragón
The third and last sight of Ronda I would like to mention is the Plaza de Toros, the bullring. As the interesting museum inside the premises depict bullfighting has been practised for hundreds not to say thousands of years. It was however in Ronda, by Pedro Romero and his family, that the modern Spanish rules of the game were developed.
The ring itself is the oldest in Spain dating back to 1785. There are two layers of seating and both the stands and the sand in the ring have a beautiful yellowish taint.
Plaza de Toros (Bullring) in Ronda
Ronda is one of Andalusia’s white towns, perhaps the most famous of them all. This video shows the highlights the tourists usually meet during their visit. Unlike other tourists we also went underneath the bridge of Puente Nuevo. That was fascinating – just watch.
In Ronda only one of the restaurant meals gave us a lasting memory.
The two dinners we had on the tourist strip of Calle Nueva and in a side street to Plaza del Socorro. The meals were quite alright but not more.
The lunch on day two was very good. The restaurant Pedro Romero near the Plaza de Toros proved to be a good place. As the name suggests the walls were filled with pictures and artefacts from the bullring. Our menú del día lunch cost us 25 euros compared to the 10-12 euros elsewhere in town, and it was definitely worth it. The gazpacho soup was a very good starter and so was the rabo de toro(oxtail stew) for the main course. Both are traditional dishes from southern Spain and were prepared with the little extra touch.
We could easily have spent more days in Ronda but our tight schedule made us prepare for Day 3 of our “Vuelta a Andalucía”. We were thus very content with the first two days when we set out across the southernmost hills of this region down to the British colony of Gibraltar, before turning west to Jerez de la Frontera – home of Sherry.
All chapters in this series
This post is #2 from my Andalusia road trip in 2012. Find all articles in this series below.
Introduction: We had a fantastic 15 days’ vacation in the southern Spanish province of Andalusia making the classic golden roundtrip to the famous cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. And a lot more.
Malaga, Marbella and Ronda: The first two days of our Tour of Andalucia started in Malaga, continued with a short stop in Marbella and is mostly about lovely days in Ronda. (THIS)
Ronda, Gibraltar and Jerez: On Day 3 in Andalusia we took the mountain road from Ronda down to Gibraltar and continued across the lowlands on the Spanish Atlantic coast to Jerez de la Frontera, home of Sherry.
Tangier: Day 4 in Andalusia is a daytrip from Jerez to Tarifa and across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier, Morocco. The distance is not far, but it proved to be a world apart.
Seville: Days 5 and 6 of our Andalusia tour were spent in Seville, previously and today one of the world’s most important cities.
Córdoba: We visited Córdoba on Day 7 of our stay in Andalusia. This day we were on the move from Seville to Granada and stopped for a few hours in extreme heat in this former Moorish capital.
Granada: Days 8 to 15 in Andalusia were mostly spent in Granada. I also made a day-trip to the Renaissance towns of Baeza and Úbeda inland and a drive along the coast.