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River deep, mountain high RONDA

As ancient as the hills that encircle it and pretty as a picture, Ronda is one of southern Spain's most historic of cities, and earliest of human settlements. Over the years this most evocative of Andalucia's inland towns has been immortalised by an impressive Who's Who of writers and artists, including James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and George Eliot, while also inspiring both Orson Welles and Goya. And in the Noughties, the love affair continues with - among others - Michelle Obama, David Cameron, Jamie Oliver, Madonna, Daniel Bedingfield and Piers Morgan all similarly smitten by its incomparable charms...

To begin with there's the magical location, standing proud on a plateau cleft in two by the vertiginous El Tajo gorge — carved out over millennia by the rushing waters of the River Guadalevin 130 metres below. Add to that the tall whitewashed houses leaning from its precipitous edges, plus the awe-inspiring 18th century Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) spanning the ravine... and what have you got? One of Spain's most captivating and unforgettable of images!

Light years from the buzz and bustle of the Costa del Sol, Ronda is actually only around a 45-minute scenic drive inland from San Pedro de Alcantara. And as the road snakes its way ever upward, hugging the contours of the pine-clad Serrania de Ronda mountains, breathtaking views of the golf courses, coastline and impossibly blue Mediterranean unfold beneath you at every turn. Ten the road flattens out as you reach the plain, anticipation heightens...and you're almost there.

“So what’s Ronda got that appeals to so many celebrities from such different walks of life? Well, pretty much everything really…”

Originally named Arunda by the Iberians and later known as Munda by the Romans, Ronda has always been a thriving and prosperous place, particularly during the Moorish occupation which lasted over eight centuries until the Christians eventually captured the highly desirable city towards the end of the Reconquest in 1485. Andalucía's third most visited city after Sevilla and Granada, its long and turbulent history has resulted in a magnificent legacy of stunning and exceptionally well-conserved monuments.

So, Ronda undoubtedly embraces its history, but it certainly doesn't live in the past. A forward-looking city, it also offers its visitors stylish hotels, chic eateries, traditional Andalusian restaurants and tapas bars plus intriguing shops, fascinating museums and beautiful gardens. In the surrounding area there's a vast choice of leisure pursuits and sporting activities ranging from hiking, archery, rock climbing, canoeing, canyoning, caving, potholing and birdwatching... to paintball, hot air balloon rides and tours of several of the region's many fine vineyards and bodegas.

But however many times you visit the city, like iron filings to magnet you'll always be irresistibly drawn to the 19th century Alameda del Tajo, overlooking the gaping chasm below. With its fountains, pergolas and broad tree-lined avenues - plus its elegant Mirador and the sinuous Paseo de los Ingleses clifftop walk - it's an absolute must-see. As is the neighbouring Casa del Rey Moro and its breathtaking gardens designed by French landscape gardener, Jean Claude Forestier, as well as its so-called Water Mine right in the very bowels of the gorge and reached by its 14th century staircase... although it's a very long climb back.

“A man does not belong to the place he was born, but where he chooses to die,” Orson Wells

Whatever your own views of bullfighting may be, and I'm certainly no fan, it would be invidious to ignore the magnificence of Ronda's bullring - one of the oldest and most beautiful in Spain, dating back to 1785. Both aficionados of bullfighting, Ernest Hemingway penned For Whom the Bell Tolls while living in Ronda, while Orson Welles wrote of the city, "A man does not belong to the place where he was born, but where he chooses to die".

It's no coincidence that the maverick film director's ashes are buried on the estate of renowned Ronda bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez, a close friend of Hemingway and Welles alike. Every September, a colourful Goyesque bullfighting festival pays homage to Ronda's other celebrated bullfighter Pedro Romero - the father of modern bullfighting - and his connection with the great Spanish artist Goya. And over the years, both Picasso and Armani have designed `trajes de lutes' (the lavish costumes traditionally worn by bullfighters) for the city's most eminent toreros. Other memorable sights you won't want to miss include the extensive city walls, begun by the Moors in the 13th century and restored by the Christians 300 years later; the Palacio de MondragOn and its water gardens, home in 1314 to the city's last Moorish governor and currently housing the Municipal Museum; plus the spectacular Arab Baths - near the Puente Viejo and the Palacio del Marqués de Salvatierra – which, although no longer functional are said to be one of the finest and most beautiful surviving examples in Spain.

Then there's the Museo del Vino - these days Ronda wines are easily on a par with those of Jerez and Sanlucar de Barrameda and feature on the wine lists of all the best restaurants in Spain -the Museo Taurino (celebrating bullfighting and housed within the Plaza de Toros); and the Museo del Bandolero recording the notorious history of the highwaymen who roamed the Serrania de Ronda back in the 1800s.

If all this sightseeing is making you work up an appetite, then it's time to head for one of the city's most revered of eateries. Trendy Tragabuches for example, or for lighter bites try its sister restaurant Tragatapas. Other good alternatives include Almocabar, Puerta Grande and Pedro Romero. Or why not take a leaf out of Michelle Obama's book? Because when she and younger daughter Sasha so famously holidayed on the Costa del Sol in 2010, the First Lady - who described Ronda as "magnificent" - reputedly lunched on goat's cheese salad and langoustine lasagne at the city's celebrated Del Escudero. Best to book a table though!

Then in the surrounding area, there are remarkable archaeological sites to explore, such as Acinipo, just 20km from Ronda and once an important Roman city with a population of 5,000. Situated in Benaojan, just 10 minutes from Ronda, the Cueva de la Pileta - open to the public and declared a National Monument in 1924 - boasts some of Europe's finest cave paintings and drawings dating from between 28,000 and 8,000BC, while the nearby Cueva de Gato, whose access is restricted to only the most experienced of potholers is also famous for its similarly impressive cave drawings.

Writers have waxed lyrical about Ronda since time immemorial. And in the 20th century, Austro-Hungarian poet Rainer Maria Rilke - who kept a permanent room at the Hotel Reina Victoria - was moved to write: "I have sought everywhere the city of my dreams, and I have finally found it in Ronda... there is nothing that is more startling in Spain than this wild and mountainous city."

And he's not alone. Having spent many happy holidays with their children in the Serrania de Ronda, David Cameron and wife Samantha are also avid fans. So much so, that on winning the General Election in May 2010, Cameron confided to Spain's then Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, that one of the few things he'd miss would be visiting Ronda where, as leader of the opposition party, he'd explored the white villages -and hiked, hacked and canoed in the surrounding mountains, virtually incognito.

While filming Jamie does Andalusia for Channel 4 a few years back, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver also told local press "I've fallen in love with the town. One day I'm going to live in Ronda so I can wake up and look out at the gorge and the amazing view." That's the thing about Ronda... it's guaranteed to steal your heart, too.

Please note: Every effort was made to check the accuracy of the information contained within our archived HOT Properties Magazine articles at the time of originally going to press, but may well have been superseded over the ensuing years. They are now made available as historical archival information only. The said information has not been reviewed subsequently for present day accuracy nor has it been updated and we expressly disclaim any duty or obligation to do so. VIVA cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, nor for the authenticity of any claims or statements made by third parties. We therefore strongly recommend that readers of these archived articles make their own thorough checks before entering into any kind of transaction. Prices were correct at the time of publication but may now vary due to circumstances beyond our control. The views and opinions of editorial contributors do not necessarily reflect those of VIVA .

HOT Properties Magazine Issue 96 - 2013

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