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Once you visit Ronda, Spain, you’ll never want to leave. There’s something about dining and slumbering on the precipice of the world. It gives you a hint of danger, of uncertainty. A thrill down the back of your spine and butterflies in your stomach.
Perhaps it has something to do with the way the twilight caresses the white walls of the small town with a soft glow. Or maybe…you know how when you’re truly connecting with someone, how the rest of the world just fades away? It’s exactly like that. The town just empties out at night. It’s just him and me in the intimate, quiet streets. We’re alone. And we’re alive.
Maybe it’s a little bit of all of it combined, plus some unknown factor, invisible to the human eye. But whatever it is, Ronda, Spain, has an undeniable spark of enchantment that makes it the most romantic city in the world. Paris, France, eat your heart out.
Orson Welles on Ronda
“A man does not belong to the place where he was born, but where he chooses to die”
Walking hand in hand with my husband down the ancient cobblestone streets, I think to myself, “I could die here. And that would be all right.”
Ronda, Spain, at a Glance
With a population of about 35,000 people, Ronda, Spain, is situated an hour and a half west of Málaga. It was an Arab village under Moorish rule for 7 centuries. Then, in 1485, when Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the Moors, Ronda came under Catholic rule.
Reflecting its split history, Ronda is divided in half by the Guadalevín river, cutting through the Tajo gorge. On one cliff side lies the older “Moorish Quarter,” and on the other side lies the newer “Mercantile Quarter.” El Puente Nuevo, or “the new bridge,” unites the two sides of the village.
Mini Spanish Road Trip
We took a rental car for a mini Spanish road trip from Málaga to Ronda and back. Road trip in a foreign country?! My husband did most of the driving, and yes, my husband is a brave man! But that’s a story for another day. Let’s get back to Ronda. I could have easily spent our entire vacation in this small village in the white hill towns of Andalusia.
Ronda is often full of tourists visiting on whirlwind day trips. Despite what Ernest Hemingway may have said <see quotes below, at the end of the post>, there is a ton to do in and around Ronda during the daylight hours. It’s certainly more than you can fit into a single day, and this is reason number one why you should stay over night in Ronda.
But the town empties out at night as the tourists filter out, returning to larger cities. And this is reason number two, and maybe the biggest reason, why you
want need to stay over night in Ronda. After dinner, we would explore the city. It was quiet, peaceful. The cobbled streets were narrow, crooked, and intimate, with a soft glowing light from the street lamps. And the streets were empty save for us.
Sleeping on the Edge of the World in Ronda, Spain
My husband and I stayed at Hotel Montelirio, a hotel situated on the brink of the Tajo gorge in the Moorish Quarter. This 15-room hotel occupies the former Count Montelirio’s palace, built in the 17th century. But everything inside has been fully updated.
Amenities include WiFi, satellite TV, an elevator, disabled access, and valet parking. Pets are allowed. There’s even a Turkish steam bath and an open air pool over looking the gorge! Plus, the hotel is walking distance to just about all of the sites you’ll want to visit in Ronda.
TIP: Be sure to communicate your check out time in advance to give the front desk time to prepare for you departure, especially if you’re planning on checking out in the early hours. Also, if you’re driving, be sure to arrange parking with the hotel in advance.
The hotel restaurant, Albacara, offers Mediterranean and traditional Andalusian dishes. We ate dinner on the restaurant patio one evening at sunset, and it felt like we were sitting on the edge of the world. And the food was as good as the view!
Plaza de Toros de Ronda and Museo Taurino
Ronda’s bull ring holds great historical significance in Spain. First of all, it competes with Sevilla’s in claiming the title of the oldest bullring in Spain. But it’s a little bit complicated.
Sevilla’s bullring began construction earlier, in 1761, and was completed in 1785. Whereas Ronda’s bullring construction began in 1779 and was completed in 1784. The first bull fight, or corrida, was held in Ronda on May 11, 1784. However, after some of the spectator stands caved in, the bullring was closed for repairs, and did not open again until May 19, 1785. I’ll let you be the judge of which bull ring claims title as oldest.
La Plaza de Toros de Ronda also competes to claim itself as the largest bullring in Spain. The actual arena spans 66 meters (217 feet) in diameter. That’s 6 meters greater than Madrid’s bullring. However, there is only seating for 5,000 spectators at the bullring in Ronda, compared with Madrid’s seating for 25,000.
The museum at the bull ring explores the history of bullfighting. We took the audio guide as we wandered through the museum’s displays of costumes and artwork from the past two centuries, many of which hold high importance in the history of bullfighting. We also discovered displays of weapons from Spanish wars over the years.
Every year during the second week of September, Ronda hosts the Féria Goyesca, to celebrate Pedro Romero. Pedro Romero, a famous and beloved Spanish matador, competed against his great rival Pepe Hillo, in Ronda’s re-opening in 1785. During this annual week long celebration, matadors and their assistants dress in traditional costume from the Goya period. The Féria Goyesca is one of the few times through out the year they still hold a corrida in Ronda.
Arab Baths of Ronda, Spain
The Arab baths were initially built just outside the city walls near the original main entrance to Ronda. It was only early May when we visited, but it was already a hot, 15-20 minute walk from our hotel to the Arab baths. Although it was mostly downhill on the way there, it was even hotter uphill on the way back. Note to self—bring water!
Once inside the old ruins, markers led us through the reception hall, to the cold room, the temperate room, and lastly the hot room. In the hot room we watched a short five minute video about the construction of the Arab baths, presented in both English and Spanish.
The technology involved in the Arab baths was quite impressive. Water entered the hot room via an aqueduct. The water and hot room were heated by an adjacent furnace room where several large fires were tended, creating a sauna-like atmosphere. The warm room would have been used for massages and treatments. The cold room was used more for socializing while cooling down.
Culturally speaking, the Arab baths would have been a meeting place where citizens and visitors would spend several hours, passing back and forth between rooms. Individuals may not have used the baths daily, but may have visited to cleanse their bodies before visiting the nearby mosque to worship.
Puente Nuevo was what originally caught my attention and drew me to Ronda. It is one of three bridges that crosses the Tajo Gorge, and it is certainly the most remarkable. At 66 meters in span and 98 meters in height, it’s construction lasted 34 years and was completed in 1793.
For a minimal entrance fee, we were able to enter a room actually within the Puente Nuevo. Rooms within the great bridge were previously used as a prison and torture chamber. And in case you’re wondering, yes, prisoners were on occasion thrown through the windows to the bottom of the gorge below.
When we visited, there were no prisoners being tortured. We found only a display about the history of the bridge’s construction, not to mention the stunning views. It’s a fairly short visit, something quick, easy and fun to do while exploring the village.
What we want to do next time we’re in Ronda, Spain
Because there will definitely be a next time! There is so much to do in and around Ronda, we simply did not have time for all of it. Here’s a few of things we’d like to do on our next visit to Ronda.
Arco de Cristo or La Puerta de los Molinos del Tajo
You can hike down the west side of the Tajo or take a cab to the Arco de Cristo, AKA La Puerta de los Molinos. From here, you’ll find an iconic, postcard-worthy view of the Puente Nuevo. Rumor on the street is that the best time for photos and a visit is during the afternoon when the sun hits the bridge.
Directions: Leaving the Plaza de España in the Mercantile Quarter, cross the Puente Nuevo. Turn right on Tenorio, and stay right when the road forks. You’ll come to a steep cobbled path leading down to the Tajo. Follow this to the Arco del Cristo.
Caminito del Rey
Caminito del Rey is an exciting and breath taking hike that can be visited from Ronda or Málaga. It lies about an hour and a half drive from Ronda. You must book tickets in advance and you must be on time. Pay attention to which pick up site you are going to. If you are late, they will turn you away.
Pileta cave contains over 100 prehistoric drawings inside, discovered in 1905. An important tip to keep in mind, you must make a reservation to visit the cave. Also, groups are limited to 20 people. The cave lies about a half hour from Ronda.
Quotes from some of Ronda, Spain’s most famous visitors
If you still don’t believe that Ronda, Spain, is the most romantic city in the world, take it from this guy!
Ronda is the place where to go, if you are planning to travel to Spain for a honeymoon or being with a girlfriend. The whole city and its surroundings are a romantic set. Nice promenades, good wine, excellent food, nothing to do…Ernest Hemingway
Or this guy…
…and Ronda with the old windows of the houses, the eyes which spy out hidden behind the latticework so that their lover might kiss the iron bars and the taverns with half-closed doors in the night and the castanets and the night…James Joyce
I know I’ve only highlighted a few of the things to see and do in Ronda. Do you have a favorite sight or activity in Ronda I missed? Tell me about it in the comments below so I can check it out next time I’m there!
Looking for more places to travel in Spain? Read my post about What Happened When We Got Lost in Ávila, Spain, and Why I Fell in Love with the City. You can also follow me on Pinterest for more Spain travel ideas!
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Traveling can get expensive fast. One of the number one reasons I hear people list for not traveling is the cost. I get it. But travel really doesn’t have to be something so far out of reach. For those of you who are traveling Spain on a budget, this post is for you. There’s actually a lot of things you can see and do in Barcelona without spending a dime. So here’s a list of seven ideas of free things to do in Barcelona, from me to you.
1. Park Güell
Believe it or not, Park Guell makes this list. Park Güell is huge! And there’s actually only a small portion of the park that you have to pay entry for. Of course, the part you pay entry for is the part that’s most well known from postcards. But the rest of the architecture and art in the park is just as impressive, beautiful, and every bit as worth your time. FYI, Park Guell is one of the stops on the Hop on Hop off bus tour. We only visited the free admission section of Park Guell, and even so, I wish we had spent more time exploring, there was just so much to see there!
2. Visit the Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample District
The Passeig de Gràcia, or passage of grace, is an avenue in the Eixample district of Barcelona. You can visit several beautiful buildings from the Modernista architectural movement here, including Casa Milà and Casa Batllo.
Casa Milà was nicknamed “La Pedrera” by the people of Barcelona, which means the quarry. The building reminded the people of a pile of rocks. I suppose I can see that. But my initial impression of Casa Mila was that it belonged under the sea in the Little Mermaid, perfect for a city near the ocean. It wasn’t until after Antoni Gaudi’s death that Barcelona fell in love with La Pedrera and grew proud to claim it as icon of their city.
Although you do have to pay entry to tour the Modernista buildings here, it was very enjoyable and completely worth while just strolling the streets and admiring the architecture from the outside. FYI, the Eixample neighborhood is another stop on the Hop on Hop off bus tour.
3. Explore Barri Gotic
The narrow, twisting, intimate streets of Barri Gotic hide secret courtyards and beautiful architecture that’s fun to explore. This is where you’ll find the Cathedral of Barcelona, Carrer del Bisbe Bridge (pictured above), and ancient Roman towers that mark where a gated entrance to the city once stood. In Placa Nova there’s a fun sculpture that spells out “Barcelona” in geometric shapes which makes for a fun photo op. It was while exploring Barri Gotic that we happened upon San Felipe Cathedral.
4. Visit San Felipe Cathedral
We wandered into San Felipe Cathedral while aimlessly exploring the city one night. Although not as impressive as the Cathedral of Barcelona, it had its own charms. Not a big tourist attraction, the atmosphere was more peaceful. Entrance was free, and they were hosting a concert the following night I wish we could have made.
5. La Rambla
There’s a great buzz of activity along La Rambla all day long and late into the night. Lined on both sides with tall trees, it’s a beautiful sight to see. A thoroughfare that stretches all the way down to the beach, it is filled with pedestrian and tourist traffic, shops, and restaurants. You’ll probably be able to catch some street performers there, but don’t be surprised if they run at the first sight of law enforcement!
6. La Boqueria
La Boqueria is an open air food market, located just off La Rambla. It has a buoyant atmosphere and is a great place to wander around during the lunch time hour or if you’re looking for a quick snack. It was also a fun and inexpensive way to try a variety of Spanish foods. We tried jamon iberico con queso (Iberian ham with cheese), empanadas, and some fresh juices that were just delicious.
7. Go to the Beach
You can follow La Rambla all the way down to the beach. There are hawkers selling beautiful beach blankets and intricate sand castles to check out. It was a little cool on the beach when we visited in early May, but still full of life and activity.
That wraps up my list of free things to do in Barcelona. I hope it was helpful and I hope that the idea of traveling feels a little more attainable. Already been there? What’s your favorite free thing to do in Barcelona?
For more ideas on what to do and see in Barcelona, visit my post 15 Things to Do in Barcelona. Until then, buen viaje!
We landed in Barcelona after our long Amsterdam layover. We started and ended our Spanish adventure in Barcelona. I immediately loved the city. But at first I couldn’t tell if I actually loved the city, or if I just loved being on vacation. After seeing …