Ronda | Day One: Matadors, Miradores and Multiple Moments of Epiphany
I am going to say something potentially controversial. I think that the experience of a moment of epiphany is the preserve of artists and creatives. Not because other people can’t be placed in the often emotional, sense-tantilising circumstances that give rise to such a moment, but because they do not have the creative mentality which makes them aware of it, or at least of just how sensational are the surroundings giving rise to it. Not everyone therefore will necessarily understand me when I say that in Ronda, a small mountain-top city in Spain’s Andalucia, the surroundings were so bone-achingly beautiful that I experienced multiple moments of epiphany – times when situation, atmosphere and inspiration combine into a powerful fusion of mood and moment; when creative ideas pop and flow from my head like bubbles out of a fast-moving fountain. (The blogosphere does however tend to me full of creatives, and I therefore retain high hopes that most of my readership will be able to flow effortlessly along with me as I describe the happening of those moments under the hot sunny skies of a summer-baked rolling Spanish landscape).
The first of those moments occurred shortly after our arrival in this incredibly placed city up in the vast mountain ranges that sit behind Marbella. As if the incredible view of vertiginous mountain passages on the wildly meandering road from Marbella to Ronda weren’t enough, but up in the city itself, our hotel (and one of the town’s best) – the Paradores – was so sensationally located as to give us the very best views wherever in the hotel we happened to be situated. Located bang next door to Ronda’s iconic Puente Nuevo, the newest and largest of three bridges that span the 120-metre-deep chasm that carries the Guadalevín River and divides the city, the hotel has an enviable location right on the edge of the vast El Tajo gorge on which the whole city is precariously perched.
But my moment of epiphany came not in the hotel lobby, or in its well appointed restaurant or swimming pool gardens, but in our own room which we had, with great fortune, been allocated with a vast hotel terrace spanning one whole corner of the hotel and presenting the most sensational almost 360 degree views of Ronda, the El Tajo gorge, the bridge and the mountainous valleys and hills beyond. Looking over the variously angled terracotta rooftops of Ronda’s old town houses, across the rocky gorge and over to vast planes in a tapestry of sun-burnt browns, coppers, umbers and olive greens, we could see hints of Tuscany, moments of Malta, the green verdancy of lush tropics, but predominating over all the unmistakable russet richness of a Spanish landscape. In those fields were every conceivable shade of orange and red; pastures haphazardly placed and others neatly planted with olive trees; curving meandering roads lined with cypresses and Spanish firs, and exposed hard-edged rocky outcrops with birds of prey flying overhead.
What a view…the Paradores Hotel, our terrace, and the landscape beyond
From the hotel, we were but moments away from the Alameda Park; lush botanical gardens whose beauty would themselves make for a view worthy of lavished attention, but which are largely overlooked because of the incredible mountain views which span the entire length of the gardens at the bottom of their sun dappled paths. This reminded me of those sensational gardens at the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello – stunning gardens, much overlooked by visitors who rush to the Terrazzo dell’lnfinito (Terrace of Infinity) to see the unbeatable views of the Mediterranean which the terrace affords.
The stunning Alameda Park
In the shadow of the gardens sits one of the most impressive of Ronda’s old whitewashed buildings, particularly when the city is viewed from above – the Plaza de Toros. Not everyone is a lover of bullfighting, and in these days of adult sobriety, I’m not particularly enamoured by the thought of all that blood and pain either. However none can deny the theatrical spectacle that is this ancient Spanish tradition, and a tour around this old bullring is a must, just to experience the atmosphere so applauded by Hemingway; to see the sun jump energetically off that round sandy arena, so sit in the red and yellow painted seats of both the sol and sombra sides of the stadium; and to admire the painstakingly detailed embroidery of the Matadors’ trajes de luxes (suits of light).
Ronda’s famous Plaza de Toros
Suitably immersed in the culture of Southern Spain, we crossed the Puente Nuevo, stopping several times to glance nervously down into the vast rocky gorge plunging in a violent drop hundreds of metres down, and headed into the narrow cobbled streets of the ancient heart of Ronda’s oldest quarter. Here there were no cars – only tree filled squares ringing with church bells and the quiet trotting of passing horses. And in one square in particular – the Plaza Maria Auxiliadora – a pretty little square with a cafe on one corner, a splashing fountain at its centre, scented flowers, trees and of course a further panorama of those incredible mountain views – we were able to immerse ourselves in that Spanish culture in the most evocative of atmospheres – Sitting at that cafe, our musings over the city and the spectacular views accompanied by a street musician playing Spanish guitar which was slow and somniferous, perfectly matching the mood with haunting melodies and deeply reverberating string work. Once again, my mind floated seamlessly into a moment of pure, creative epiphany.
The Plaza Maria Auxiliadora and the Old Town
The last of those moments occurred only a few streets away, when we wondered into a small church lured by the sound of pure melodic voices. Once inside we found ourselves stumbling on a small service being conducted by nuns, and another moment of epiphany ensued – as the natural resonance of the nun’s soprano voice raised us onto another level of contemplation (although the little caña consumed at the cafe immediately beforehand had undoubtedly played its part in transferring us to this happy moment of meditation). For in a city installed with so much culture, history and above all things beauty as Ronda, how could any creative be in anything but a near perpetual state of contemplation? Happily those moments of timelessness did not keep me entrapped in another world for long. The sinking of the sun and the colouring of orange and reds from fields into the sunsetting skies led successively to the fall of night and the rumbling of my stomach. A time neatly satisfied by a wonderful meal at the Albacara restaurant nestled on the very edges of Ronda’s magnificent gorge. What a place, what a city – and all this on day one. A day which ended with as much excitement as it had begun, for the following day was to be my birthday.
Ronda at nightfall
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