Ronda is a magical little town balanced on the edge of an escarpment in the Málaga province.
You may never have heard the name but there’s a good chance you’ve seen a picture of the Puente Nuevo, an 18th-century structure that spans the 120-metre-deep El Tajo Gorge between the citadel and newer part of the town. It’s one of the most impressive sights in Spain.
Within the old citadel there are lots of intriguing fragments of Ronda’s 700-year occupation by the Moors to be discovered, and Ronda is also the Costa del Sol’s top wine town, with more than 20 wineries open for visits in the local countryside.
Lets explore the best things to do in Ronda:
Among the most iconic images, not just in Ronda, but all of Spain is the structure of this 18th-century bridge as it sinks to the floor of the El Tajo Gorge 120 metres below.
Construction began in 1759 to replace a previous bridge that had collapsed in the decade before.
It was no small undertaking either: The bridge took another 42 years to build and cost the lives of some 50 workers.
There’s a little exhibition about the bridge and its construction in a chamber above the main arch.
This same small space was used as a prison for centuries.
2. La Ciudad
The most fitting way to enter this, the oldest part of the city, is to take the fortified gate, Puerta de Almocábar.
You can tell this is Moorish in origin because of the horseshoe shape of the arch.
Beyond it is Ronda’s original Arabic citadel, where there are all sorts of interesting hints about the town’s past.
One of these is the Alminar de San Sebastián, a minaret from the 1200s that was adapted as the belfry of a church after the re-conquest, but now stands alone.
3. Bullfighting Heritage
A brief walk from the Puente Nuevo is Ronda’s neoclassical Plaza de Toros, built in the late-18th century and considered to be one of the birthplaces of modern bullfighting.
This sport is of course a touchy subject, but it’s still an indelible part of Andalusian culture.
The arena was founded by the Royal Cavalry of Ronda, which still exists, and there’s a museum about this institution underneath one of the tiers.
To go with it there’s also an exhibition about the history of bullfighting.
Outside the town is the Reservatauro Ronda, where bulls are bred and raised in an idyllic landscape of meadows and holm oaks.
4. Iglesia de Santa María La Mayor
This engaging church has a long and complicated history.
Like many in Spain it was originally a mosque, and you can still make out the mihrab, the part that indicated the direction of Mecca.
Construction began right after Ronda had become Christian again in the late-15th century, but wouldn’t be completed until the 17th century, partly because of a devastating earthquake in 1580. So there’s a mix of gothic, renaissance and baroque styles to see.
The wooden chairs in the choir a worth checking out, and they have renaissance-era carvings of saints on their backs.
You can also find the pasos (floats with wooden statues) that are part of Ronda’s Semana Santa processions.
5. Alameda del Tajo
As the town clings to a rock, you can bet that there isn’t much space for gardens.
So parks like the Alameda del Tajo are an open space for everyone to relax in.
And parks don’t get much more scenic: This one’s right above Ronda’s western bluffs, and at the Mirador de Ronda there’s a large paved ledge with heart-stopping vistas back towards the town and out over the valley at the Sierra de Grazalema mountains.
Facing west, the sunsets are as romantic as any you can imagine.
In the gardens are pergolas woven with roses and an avenue with plane trees, as well as a beautiful Himalayan cedar.
Ronda is part of the Sierras de Málaga DO and the high elevations bring a climate allowing a wide variety of grapes to flourish, creating awarding-winning Crianza, Tinto Joven and Blanco Joven wines.
Ronda was only officially recognised in 2000, but is growing all the time.
The official wine route of Ronda now takes in 21 wineries, so if you’re into wine and viticulture Ronda could be the stepping stone for a holiday to remember.
Some, like Chinchilla, schedule half-day courses so you can get intimate knowledge about the process and subtle flavours.
As well as pairing delicious wines with tapas, you’ll appreciate the majestic landscapes here, where most vineyards are planted at well over 750 metres.
7. Arab Baths
This site just to the east of Ronda is a thrilling slice of the town’s Moorish heritage, and is in tremendous condition considering its age, with all but one roof intact.
That’s partly because, as was often the case, the baths were adapted, this time as a tannery that made use of the boiler room.
The cold, warm and hot rooms are all still here, under barrel-vaulted ceilings with openings in the shape of stars.
You can see how they were heated, and the intricate system that drew water from the Las Culebreas stream to the complex.
These baths were in the poorer part of the town, and had a religious role as they were next door to a mosque so that worshippers could perform their ablutions here.
8. Palacio de Mondragón
Also with a glorious cliff-top setting is this palace and garden complex with Moorish origins, dating back to 1314. It was a home for Ronda’s very last Moorish ruler, Hamet el-Zegri, and the Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand II also stayed here.
Centuries of renovations have hidden most of the medieval elements, but the gardens, with their low-hedges, palms and fountains, feel like a miniature version of the Generalife in Granada.
Inside the palace the coffered ceilings and original geometric tiling stand out, and the municipal museum exhibits can fill you in on the exciting history of this building and the town around it.
9. Iglesia del Espíritu Santo
Looming over the Puerta de Almocábar is the first church to be built after Ronda was retaken.
Construction began in 1485, the same year that the Catholic Monarchs claimed the town, and was completed 20 years later.
In these early days Ronda was preparing itself for future conflict, so this is explains why the church, built into the fortifications, has such a defensive look to it.
Also, unlike many churches on this scale there’s a sense of homogeneity about the design, as it was built in such a short time.
It’s a firmly gothic church, with sparse embellishments but many fascinating stories to tell.
10. Museo Lara
This museum is named after its founder, Juan Antonio Lara Jurado, who clearly spent a lot of time and money building up this very eclectic assortment.
Museo Lara is in the historic centre, inside the 18th-century Casa Palacio de los Condes de las Conquistas.
What piques most people’s interest are the exhibitions about the Holy Inquisition and witchcraft downstairs.
As you can imagine there are a lot of grisly-looking torture instruments, and in the side-room some strange artefacts connected with black magic.
Upstairs things are a much lighter and very random, with vintage typewriters, sewing machines and even cameras used in early-20th-century silent movies.
11. La Casa del Rey Moro
This attraction’s name, “The House of the Moorish King” is a bit misleading as it was built in the 18th century.
The sumptuous gardens are even newer, having been plotted in the neo-Mudéjar style in 1912. But what is original here is the stairway of 300 steps that runs from the gardens to the bottom of the gorge.
This was built in the 1300s to allow secret access to the Guadalevín River during times of siege.
Now, as when it was first used, this is a pretty hairy but very rewarding descent.
Stop by the Sala de Secretos “Chamber of Secrets”, so called because two people whispering at each end of this cavity could hear each other perfectly.
There’s an ancient city 20 kilometres northwest of Ronda.
The site covers an area of 32 hectares and at its 1st-century peak 5,000 people made their homes here.
Acinipo was granted the imperial privilege of minting its own coins, and the city survived until the 5th century when it was sacked by the Visigoths.
The undoubted headline is the theatre, the terracing of which aligns with the slope of the hill.
A great deal of the scaenae frons (stage backdrop) remains, and you can even see where the actors would have changed.
Down the slope are the ruins of Acinipo’s baths, where the distinct rooms such as the caldarium (hot room) and tepidarium (warm room) are visible.
13. Cueva de la Pileta
In the eastern reaches of the Sierra de Grazalema, half an hour south of Ronda, is a spectacular set of caves with prehistoric wall paintings.
One of the many great things about the Cueva de la Pileta is that it’s a low-key, family-run operation despite the great significance of what’s inside.
You are even led around by the descendants of the man who discovered it in 1905, José Bullon Lobato.
The geology of this system is impressive, but the Palaeolithic paintings and carvings dating back as far as 20,000 years are stunning.
They depict horses, bison, bulls goats, deer and fish, and you can also make out the charring created by ancient campfires.
14. Sierra de las Nieves
You’re sure to want to venture out into those dreamy landscapes you can see from the cliffs in Ronda.
The town’s tourist office can provide details of a number of linear and circular walks in the local countryside.
The plain that surrounds Ronda is a patchwork of cereal fields, olive groves and of course vineyards.
These are interrupted by clumps of hardwood trees like chestnuts and oaks.
And if you want to get really intrepid you’re also just minutes from two remote and protected mountain ranges, the Sierra de Grazalema to the west and the Sierra de las Nieves to the east.
15. Costa del Sol
You’re close enough to the Mediterranean that you can pack off for a restful day at the beach on a whim.
The closest resort happens to be the conspicuously wealthy Puerto Banús, part of Marbella.
Trundling down from the wild mountains and bucolic vineyards of the Serranía de Ronda this posh escape for the ultra-wealthy may come as a shock to the system! There are Blue Flag beaches all along this length of coast, like El Saladillo, which is nearly three kilometres long with fine shale that like most beaches in this region is kept completely free of litter.