Travel Europe: A bull's eye view
Ronda lies in an Andalucian heartland of white-washed villages and heart-stopping heights.
Saturday 12 September 1998
Perched on the very edge of a 100m-deep gorge, it simply takes your breath away. Ronda's homes cling precariously to the very edges of the chasm, defying the logic of gravity, let alone those of the builders. You're an hour from the beaches and within striking distance of Seville and the famous white villages of this part of Andaluca.
Ronda is famous for two things, other than its gorge: black pudding and bull fighting. Let's deal first with the black pudding, or morcilla rondena. Made with pigs' blood and lard, it is seasoned with oregano, paprika, cloves, pepper, cumin and coriander. It looks disgusting and tastes - well, it tastes. Still, if that's not to your liking, you can always opt for another favourite, oxtail. No worries about beef on the bone here. The portion I was served looked as if it had just been hacked off one of the bulls slaughtered in the city's famous bullring.
This is no ordinary bullring - it is one of the oldest and most famous in the whole of Spain, During September, it plays host to the country's top matadors at the Goyesha festival, when bullfighters and spectators are encouraged to dress in the style of the 18th-century Goyaesque engravings that adorn the Plaza de Toros.
But you don't have to eat oxtail and watch a bullfight. You can do what we did and hit the gastronomic trail. This took us through the fabulous national park behind Ronda to a series of lost towns: Grazalema, Arcos de la Frontera, El Bosque and, my favourite, Zahara.
This little town of cobbled streets and orange trees lies scattered at the foot of a crumbling castle. There were no tourists; no Watneys Ale signs; no invitations to eat fish and chips. Instead, a local cafe served a substantial menu of pork stew, chickpeas, goat's cheese and salad.
Back in Ronda, we stayed in the local parador. Part of the state-run chain of hotels, this one occupies the old town hall, overlooking the Puente Nuevo, the bridge spanning the gorge. Our balcony looked like the ideal bungee platform to the river Tagus, 120 metres below.
There was no escaping the magic of the place. The view from the hotel bedrooms alone is worth the trip. The drive to the airport at Mlaga, 125 kilometres down the mountainside, is another matter. We did it at night. Which was just as well, because on one of the bends we managed a 360-degree panoramic spin. It was a view I was grateful not to have seen in daylight.
The Parador at Ronda (00 34 95 287 75 00) costs around pounds 50 per person per night. For travel information see Fact File above
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