Monday 19 April
Up at 7am for breakfast and a 9am bus to Ronda, fortunately less than 10 minutes to the bus station. We are so impressed with the trains, and now buses. They are so efficient, always leave on time, everyone in the business is helpful. They simply work superbly and although I started off a bit nervous, with all sorts of ‘what ifs’ in my mind, I now have every confidence in the system.
The bus to Ronda took 3 hours, and held our interest the entire time. Neither of us did anything other than look out the window. The bus called at many small villages – probably about 10. They have to go into the village even if there is no one to pick up as people pay when they get on without booking, so it is really just like a suburban bus. The second half of the journey was so scenic, with long views across hills of olives, strawberry beds, wheat fields, and very high rugged mountains. It is a journey worth doing by bus, not train, as you get to see the country side just that much better.
We had about a 20 minute walk to our accommodation in a Parador. Paradors are beautiful hotels in Spain which were once palaces in some cases, and often were government buildings, in our case it was the ex-town hall. It is in a fabulous position on the side of a ravine. You might remember the feature image as we set off from Melbourne those many weeks ago, but here are our updates to flesh out the scene in which we now found ourselves.
We first heard of paradors from our dentist who has travelled Spain staying in them. They are expensive, being a dentist not an issue for him. We decided that among all our very economical accommodation we would have one slap up – so this is it. It is beautiful.
Anyway, settled in and then set off to explore Ronda. Most of Spain so far for us has been flat but Ronda is very hilly. And for the first time the weather is not as good as it’s been. It is quite chilly and the wind brings it down a few more degrees. Anyway, we walked for about 6 hours and really got to know the place. We found a super place for lunch. A very cosy little spot, very Spanish, with only enough room for around 12 people – 3 tables. They were advertising 5 cold and 5 hot tapas so that is what we ordered. They were fantastic. Beautifully presented, and as we have found before, each one really tasty and individual. The place was called Gastrobar Déjàvu. Doesn’t sound particularly Spanish. We were very impressed and it comes from us with a high recommendation if you come to Ronda. We will keep the details. At the end of the meal they brought us each a limoncello – presumably a Spanish version of the Italian stuff – Al reckoned it had a bit of aniseed in it.
Santa Maria la Mayor
We then explored the cathedral called Santa Maria la Mayor. Like other churches in Spain it was first a mosque, becoming a Christian place of worship in the early 15th century. You can still clearly see three stages of its development. The tower at one end used to be the mosque, but is now topped by a bell tower. The next part is clearly gothic, and finally a renaissance section added later. These differences show inside as well, although apart from an archway as you enter, there is nothing to see of the mosque.
Like most churches we have visited it is richly decorated, particularly the altar. There are many paintings the most interesting to us being a series commissioned in 1988, by a French woman, Raymonde Pagegie. They included a last supper, the conversion of Paul, the last judgment and the crucifixion. The characters in them are modern looking, thin and elongated, not the usual religious painting look. Each group in these bible stories are characterised in such a way that their role is highlighted, with the painter clearly making a point. Eg. The soldiers at the crucifixion all painted to look Arabic. Women servants attending the Last Supper. The four horses at the Last Judgment pausing to look at the Lamb of God. I have googled and so far can’t find much about her, other than a couple of people who saw these paintings in Ronda. One other stricking element in this church – we saw for the first time a set of brass reliefs on the fourteen Stations of the Cross from Mary’s life and point of view.
We then went looking for a supermarket to buy some fruit, and that took us on a tour of the new town. That was good as we are spending most of our time in the old town. The new town is white – there are a number of towns in Andalusia called ‘White towns’ and Ronda is one of them. The old town is mostly sandycoloured, being made of sandstone. We enjoyed our walk anyway, and it broadened our feel for the whole of Ronda.
We were both very tired by 7 with Al still trying to get rid of a cold and Annie looking like she might have caught it. So a bit of fruit and into bed nice an early. Our bed was divine and we slept in till 9.15am.
Thursday 20 – Plaza de Tores de Ronda
After breakfast included in our tariff, we were off again. Went looking (believe it or not) for the bull ring. We thought that as it is such an important cultural institution in Spain we should visit one. That in Ronda is the largest in Spain and was built in 1785. The visit was fascinating and we spent 2 hours at it and the attached museum. The audio guide was as usual excellent and we made our way through the various bits. The pens where the Bulls are kept, the ring for training the horses (as seen here for those like Zac and Enya who are interested in natural – gentle – horsemanship a la Xenophon, the Greek), the ring itself and the different parts for royalty, priests and the President of the bull ring to sit, and so on. The ring is certainly large. It is completely encircled by galleries – 5000 can be there at one time. The centre is covered in sand, and because it was such a windy day, it periodically blew up into the air. Must have been hard for people with breathing problems.
The museum also was well worth the visit, and filled in lots of gaps in our knowledge of the practice. We are now in a much better position to see it as not some gruesome and misguided ‘sport’. We heard for example that in Ronda there has only ever been one matador die in a bull fight. Here are some ‘step risers’ at the bull ring!
We also found ourselves thinking that if you are going to kill animals, this might not be much worse than any way you choose. All bulls killed are sold by butchers. Given the poster publicity – an art form in itself – all around, we probably would have gone to a bull fight – but they are only in September.
Museo de Ronda – Palacio de Mondragon
Next stop a coffee and a panino. Then we visited the Museo de Ronda Palacio de Mondragon. It is called a palace but really it is a large and very large old house. It was built in 1314 by a Moorish King and was later at one stage used as the primary residence of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. It was fascinating and well worth a visit. It covers Ronda’s rich history at many levels with a strong emphasis on archeology. It is very helpful as it places Ronda in the context of the history of Spain – from very early on. It is a very beautiful house in itself with some lovely historical elements to it, and it also has beautiful gardens.
The wind continued as it had all day, probably getting stronger. However we had one more walk down a steep hill, looking for the ancient Arabic baths. We didn’t find them but the walk took us to some fantastic views. Back to the hotel for a very welcome g and t, and we are about to have dinner in the hotel – an unusual thing for us to do as we usually like to go out, but it is just too windy. The staff tell us this weather is most unusual – it is seldom windy. Apparently it is going to rain on the weekend so we are lucky.
A pre-dinner G and T was enhanced by our view from the Parador across the ravine. Our dinner was great. We chose the menu which was put together to give us a taste of food from the region. It consisted of 4 tapas to begin, then a rice and fish dish, followed by suckling pig. Dessert was an apple and vermicelli creation, with chestnut icecream. The helpings were not large but even so we were well and truly full when we finished. As we left the dining room, we noticed a number of ‘matador’ paintings around the corridors and in the lounge – just in case we had forgotten where we were.
I have definitely now caught Al’s cold so went to be a bit snuffly. But we were thoroughly thrilled with our time in Ronda.