Ronda - Just over 60 miles inland from Malaga but a world away from the Costas this traditional town, loved by Hemmingway, Welles and Rilke, is Spain as you expect it to be.
The 6 Hour Cicular Walk - Plunge into the cool forest to escape the Andalucian heat.
The 2 Hour Circuit - A shorter walk that takes in a swimming hole and views on a marked trail.
The Lara Museum, Ronda - Photography, Witchcraft, Watches and Weapons, it's all here.
The White Village of Setenil - This town is famous for its houses built into rock overhangs.
The Church of San Juan de Letran - This church in Arriate and the pretty surroundings lanes will occupy your camera for a few hours.
Plaza Profesor Diaz Mena - a small square that’s a focal point of Arriate in the evening.
The Bodegas - If you'd like to visit vineyards, there are several to choose from near Arriate. Here's a brief list;
The Train from Algeciras - If you're approaching Ronda on public transport, this is a lovely way to arrive. Arriate is a request stop just before Ronda and the Arriadh Hotel is a 20 minutes uphill walk from the station.
Juntera Tapas & Gin Tonic - A friendly, good value tapas bar near the centre of Arriate.
El Muelle de Arriate - A more expensive eating option near the train station.
Think of Spain and you probably either imagine Benidorm, that infamous English suburb with it's cheap buffets and fake Irish bars or, hopefully, something a little more, well, Spanish. Flamenco, tapas, rolling hills studded with vineyards, whitewashed villages...
Actually, that's a vision of Andalucia rather than Spain as a whole but that's ok, it's a fine vision all the same and it's one that you can turn into reality by just moving inland a little, away from Benidorm, Malaga and the coast and into the mountains around Ronda.
Arriate is a sleepy place - at siesta time it seems practically deserted - just 5km outside of Ronda and a perfect choice if you dream of staying in a whitewashed village but also want to be close to a range of restaurants and attractions, such as the excellent Lara Museum and the magnificent views over the El Tajo canyon.
Before we arrived we thought we could just as well see the area without a hire car. The bus schedule that you can find easily online looked fine; we could make it into central Ronda and out to the nearby ‘white village’ of Setenil easily. And we did just that. Our week was great but if we went again we’d hire a car so we could visit the many other attractions nearby, such as the white villages of Grazalema, El Bosque, Zahara de la Sierra and Ubrique, as well as the Roman theatre at Acinipo, the caves at Pileta, del Gato and del Hundidero and the many mountain viewpoints and remote wild swimming spots, all of which are marked on the excellent activities map called ‘Serrania de Ronda’, which you can get from the tourist office.
Travelling by publlic transport does have it's advantages, however, such as being able to arrive via the train from Algeciras (you could also do this and then pick up a hire car when you arrive; the Arriadh Hotel can arrange this). The train line passes through some very beautiful scenery; we snapped images like this from our seat.
We ate out a few times in Arriate and once in Ronda. Some of the Spanish restaurants have a different way of doing things that you should be aware of, summed up in this photo that we took outside an honest restaurant in Setenil.
So, beware, just because a restaurant in Ronda looks great value they might well say, after you sit down and order, that you've got to also spend a minimum amount on drinks, or pay more for extras that in any other country would be free.
Based on our own experiences, our advice to you for a rewarding 5 days in Arriate and Ronda is as follows;
Day 1; Arrive at the Arriadh Hotel. If you've time, take a walk around Arriate village in the afternoon but make it back to the hotel for sunset. Perhaps visit Juntera Tapas in the late evening.
Day 2; Drive, or take the bus, into Ronda and spend the day there. Buy some picnic food and perhaps some local wine at the supemarket near the bus station and have that whilst watching sunset from your room back in Arriate.
Day 3; Do the two or six hour walk, finishing off with a wander around Arriate, then get back to the hotel for sunset and snacks on the balcony.
Day 4; Visit Setenil, have lunch there in one of the cafes under the rock overhang then enjoy sunset back at the Arriadh.
Day 5; Ronda is worth two days of anybodies time so we'd advise you spend another day there!
Below are a small selection of the digital images we created during our stay.
The Arriadh Hotel is perched on top of a hill overlooking Arriate, just 20 minute walk from the Arriate bus stop and 6km from the town of Ronda. The building appears to be an old farmhouse from far away but inside it's cool, modern and comfortable. Viewing the sun setting over the mountains from our room has been one of the high points of our summer (we stayed here for a week and loved every minute), along with watching the day come to life, from the same room, accompanied by a soundtrack of church bells, skylarks, and the clip clop of locals exercising their horses on the nearby lane. Breakfast is plentiful and served when you like on the patio. The owners Wilbert and John made us feel totally at home; they've travelled extensively themselves and it shows. They understand how important little touches are, both the touches you can see and the touches that come in the smiles, words and actions of a host. The sunsets from the hotel are justly famous (see the time lapse film below, shot from our balcony, to see what we mean). We can't recommend the Arriadh Hotel highly enough.
If you fancy a self-catering property instead of a hotel, then consider Casa Vallecillo, a small house with attached pool and tranquil views. Run by Lies, a Dutch lady, and Francis, her Spanish husband (who live next door) it's located a short drive from Arriate (so you'll need your own transport to stay here) in a very quiet valley where Francis farms organically, according to centuries old methods. The food he produces is mainly for the couple and their friends but they also give it to people who rent the house. Lies is a keen photographer with over 20 years of experience of living in the area so if you're a photographer in search of inspiring local places, she's a font of knowledge. The house is relatively central, it'll take you a maximum of 20 minutes to drive to Ronda and less than that to the many vineyards that are scattered across the valley. We didn't stay at the house but we did spend a morning there, mainly in the gardens, and loved the feel of it.
Aside from eating picnics on the balcony of our room at the Arraidh Hotel, our favourite place to eat in either Arriate or Ronda was Juntera Tapas. It's excellent value, very friendly (prices start at 1 Euro) and totally Spanish.
The owner, Sergio, is a young man who's learnt his trade in the bars of Ronda and is now looking to bring something new to Arriate village. He speaks good English so can explain the menu and through him we learnt that most of what is served there is organic and much is actually grown in his own back garden.
The wine is also locally sourced, which is good news as there are some very accomplished vineyards operating in the valley.
We ate and drank at Juntera a couple of times and unlike many places you might eat at in Ronda the prices were easy to understand and also, the price advertised was the price you paid. Tapas are an institution in Spain and Juntera is a great place to sample some of the best contemporary dishes on offer.
Vegan Friendly? 1/5
Vegetarian Friendly? 3/5
Juntera doesn't have a website right now but you can reach them at https://www.facebook.com/junteradetapasygintonic
This is a circular walk starting and finishing at the Arriadh Hotel. We didn’t find it marked on our literature available at the Ronda tourist office but it was easy enough to plan out on a map, and hopefully the photos and description we’ll offer here will make it easy for you to complete. It’s a walk to do if you tire of the Andalusian heat and dream of cool streams and shady forest, although there’s much more to it than that.
There are two dirt roads that lead up to the Arriadh Hotel from the village of Arriate. The shorter route leads you straight so that the hotel is above you on your right (the other route, that’d you’d use if you’re driving, loops around and approaches from the other side, so that the hotel is on the left). To start this walk you need to leave the hotel door, turn left, cross the field and join up with the shorter route. Turn right onto the dirt track after the field and follow it uphill.
For ten minutes you’ll have great views back over the hotel to the valley and mountains beyond, then you’ll pass out of the fields and into a hedge lined road with a few homes that look rather grand. After about half hour you will reach a tar road; turn right here. Soon you will reach a main road, the A-367. Facing this road look opposite. To the left is a petrol station (it also sells a good selection of food and drink), to the right is a building with a sign saying ‘Camping el Cortijo’. Walk 10 metres towards this building then cross the main road; the onwards path heads off down a red dirt track to your left. It leads you alongside a row of trees that separate you from the petrol station.
Continue on this path with groves of olive trees both sides; you will still be able to hear the main road over on your left for some time.
Eventually you will reach a junction where the main path seems to veer left. Turn right here and head along a ridge with the valley falling away to your left and the mountains and the white buildings of the Bodega Los Aguilares ahead. The path is clear and easy to follow and after descending to the valley floor turn left when the Bodega gates are straight ahead; the path will lead you alongside the river and quickly to a bridge.
Cross the bridge. To your right is a un-made car park, you bear left here above the river and after five minutes you’ll reach a fork in the road. The right fork leads up, the left, which is little more than a path, heads down. Take this left path downwards and soon you will pass under the main road way above you and into shady forest.
The path will now take you for approx. 4 kms through this forest, alongside the river which is frequently wide and deep enough to paddle in. The water is very cold and, on a hot summer’s day, extremely refreshing and the forest keeps you sheltered from the sun for most of the way.
The path is well maintained and you shouldn’t get lost, there is only one place where you may get confused, and this is at about the half way stage. Here the main path veers left and downhill whilst a lesser path carries on. Veer left and soon you’ll come to steps cut into the dirt leading down to the river. Cross the river here and then continue on towards Arriate.
Half an hour before you reach the town you’ll see a picnic bench on the opposite bank of the river, reached via a wooden bridge. Stay on the left hand side of the river and just around the corner is the best swimming spot in the whole gorge. Actually, you can’t swim more than a few strokes here but its chest deep and a nice place to paddle about. We advise you make this your lunch stop; even if you’re not going to take a dip or paddle its cool here and there’s plenty of space to spread out and relax.
The path joins a tar road as it leaves the forest, turn right and downhill here and soon you will meet with the main MA-7400 road that runs through the centre of Arriate. You should be able to find your way back to the hotel from there; the turning to the hotel is the last road on the left before you leave town in the direction of Ronda. Then you’ll be back at the Arriadh. Well done, time for drinks on the patio! If you’re in any doubt about directions do speak to Wilbert or John from the Arriadh Hotel, they know the route and can hopefully fill in any details we’ve missed. Whatever you do though don’t worry, we passed many locals walking as we were or enjoying the trail on bicycles so there was always somebody about to ask for directions and in reality this is a very easy walk to navigate.
We visited Ronda several times during our stay in Arriate, it’s only twenty minutes away by bus and the service is frequent enough to make it an easy trip (although if you want to stay until sundown you will need to take a taxi back to Arriate as the busses stop at about 5pm).
There’s very little we can add to the regular guidebooks regarding Ronda, so we’ll try not to repeat them and just focus on the little things we noticed that we think you’ll enjoy. First of all, please don’t visit the Bullring for which Ronda is very famous. Bullfighting was stupid when it started (an import from Greece, via Rome, where bulls were worshiped, except the Spanish decided to sacrifice rather than worship) and it’s stupid now, and it really doesn’t need to be encouraged. It may be part of the Spanish culture but then again, making women do all the work is part of local culture in many areas of Africa but most of us wouldn’t go along with that or visit a museum in honour of it.
That’s not to say the Bullring isn’t worthy of a look outside. It’s an interesting structure so don’t feel bad about making photos of this whitewashed theater of cruelty. The fact that I regularly enjoy being in churches – smelling incense and listening to prayers and chanting – doesn’t mean to say I believe in God. The soul and the heart have of course got to be fed, but after that, so has the stomach.
Talking of the stomach, we must mention food. If you’re looking for a decent vegetarian restaurant in the town, track down The Spice Route. It’s very near the centre of things and although at the moment they don’t have their own website you can google them easy enough. We didn’t eat there – they were closed when we arrived – but Trip Advisor lists them as 4 out of 168 restaurants in Ronda and their prices seem reasonable enough.
As for other restaurants, there are so many to choose from but so few that look like they deliver anything out of the ordinary. We ate at a recommended place and we’re not even going to mention it’s name it was so, well, so-so. In our opinion if you want great food you’re going to visit Morocco, Greece or Italy, or a place where all these influences come together (like Toronto), whereas with Spain you’re better off accepting the food will be ‘ok’ whilst instead using your journey as an opportunity to sample superb wines. We think the best thing you can do regarding food in Ronda itself, if you don’t want to visit The Spice Route, is to grab some supplies from a supermarket and head down to a quiet spot from where you can view the impressive bridge whilst you eat your picnic. There’s a well made public park on the north-east side of the bridge, whilst the south-east side of the bridge has a rougher path into the gorge that leads to a couple of viewing points, both of which have the classic view of Ronda that you’ll see in all the guidebooks.
We stumbled upon the Lara Museum due to the lifesize model outside of a man operating a 19th century plate camera. Lucky we did, it’s brilliant inside. There’s an extensive collection of old cameras and photos as well as weaponry, watches, statues, carriages, scientific equipment from throughout the ages, a witchcraft exhibition focusing on the use of natural medicines and a more gruesome exhibition showing characters from the Spanish Inquisition and the instruments of torture they used. It’s shocking to see what was used, and also compelling viewing.
Impressive views to the valley below (200 metres below at it’s deepest point) are to be had from the Alameda Park walkway, that stretches from the new bridge, around the back of the Parador Hotel and all the way along past the main city park. We only walked a few hundred metres beyond the park as from there we had the sunset views we wanted, and it’s likely that you’ll also find plenty enough to occupy your camera within this km long promenade.
The final thing we have to say is that Ronda repays wandering. If you’re looking for those long, whitewashed empty street photos then you’ll get those at siesta time whilst at other times of the day there’s always going to be a scene present itself that’ll say ‘This is Spain’.
True, in countries a little further south if you took such photos you’ll be ridiculed and labelled an outdated orientalist but not to worry, you’re in Spain, among people who concern themselves with other matters, and you’re on safe ground here.
For half of this walk (either the first half or second, depending on how you want to take it, as it's circular) you follow the final part of the six hour walk, detailed above. If you're short of time this gives you the little swimming hole, a lovely picnic spot that stays cool even in the height of summer and far reaching views over the mountains. It's not strenuous and you can pick up signs for it from near Arriate market/sports hall; they'll be marked 'Sendero Arroyo de la Ventilla'. There are signs whenever you come to a junction so you don't need a map. It's circular, almost, meaning that you're going to start and finish at roughly the same part of the village. We realise that these directions may seem vague but the village is very small and this walk is very popular with locals so you should have no trouble finding your way. We recommend leaving mid afternoon, spending the warmer hours bathing and picnicing in the shade, then enjoying the views, and the changing light, as the sun starts to dip towards the mountains.
We visited Setenil de las Bodegas by bus as a day trip from Arriate (there’s several buses a day that are cheap and relatively frequent, timetables are at the bottom of this page). It’s a small town with a distinctive setting, extending along the course of the Rio Trejo with some houses being built into the rock walls of the gorge itself, created by enlarging natural caves or overhangs and adding an external wall.
Tradition holds that the town’s Castilian name came from the Roman Latin phrase septem nihil (‘seven times nothing’). This is said to refer to the Moorish town’s resistance to Christian assault, allegedly being captured only after seven sieges. This took place in the final years of the Christian Reconquest. Besieged unsuccessfully in 1407, Setenil finally fell in 1484 when Christian forces expelled the Moorish occupants. Using gunpowder artillery, the Christians took fifteen days to capture the castle whose ruins dominate the town today.
The full name of Setenil de las Bodegas dates from the 15th century when new Christian settlers, in addition to maintaining the Arab olive and almond groves, introduced vineyards. The first two crops still flourish in the district but the once flourishing wineries—bodegas— were wiped out by the phylloxera insect infestation of the 1860s, which effectively destroyed most European vine stocks.
We enjoyed our time in Setenil. There’s much to occupy your camera and unusually there are green signs set up around town directing you to the best photogenic viewpoints. All the best sights are within half hour walk of the bus stop and are easy to find (we didn’t have a map or any idea but the locals were happy to help and once you’re on the right road there are signs directing you).
There are plenty of restaurants set up under the main rock overhang and also a small supermarket within five minutes walk of the bus stop. We totally recommend you spend at least a few hours in Setenil. It’s easy to get to with or without a car, it’s very friendly and the place is extremely photogenic.
A tip; don’t try to wait until the narrow alleys between rock and house are in direct sunlight (unless you’ve got days to spare). It’ll only happen for a short period each day (and when that is only a local would know) and as long as you get your exposures right you don’t need the sun to express how the place feels (in our opinion).
If you fancy paying Setenil a visit then the bus times from Arriate and Ronda, along with all other bus times for Ronda, can be found here.
The streets of Ronda were stiflingly hot one afternoon and we were looking for a place to cool off and found this museum whilst looking for a suitable bar. What really drew us to it was the lifesize model outside of a man operating a 19th century plate camera. Lucky we did as it’s brilliant inside. There’s something for everybody in there, we’re certain. You start by entering a delightful old house with an airy courtyard full of carriages (that you can sit inside), shelf-loads of antiques and statues. Bordering this courtyard are rooms with well presented displays of weaponry, watches, scientific equipment from throughout the ages and flamenco style fans whilst another gallery had a great collection of old cameras and photos of Ronda-life during the last century.
This was great but even so it was the lower part of the museum that we visited next which was the highlight for us. First there was a witchcraft exhibition focusing on the use of natural medicines and how witches have been viewed over the centuries. Basically, any women who had a sex drive or a knowledge of natural medicines was treated with great suspicion. You’ll see things here that most museums around the world would hesitate to exhibit. For instance, a centuries old wooden, hand cranked, witches dildo. After this there was a more gruesome exhibition showing characters from the Spanish Inquisition and the instruments of torture they used or had used on them. It’s shocking to see what happened back in those days, and also compelling viewing.
It's fascinating viewing, perhaps not suitable for kids though or those who tend to have vivid dreams as some of the stories that the commentary boards next to the displays tell you are pretty horrific.
The Lara Museum is only E4 entry which is excellent value considering the unique, interesting nature of the collection that’s been bought together by Senor Lara over the last 60 years. You could easily walk straight past it though so do check the website out and have a look at the map on the contact page before you visit Ronda. It’s well worth an hour or so of your time. To discover more, please see the museums own website here - http://www.museolara.org/
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