Ronda: For the real Spain, go inland

This historic town which spans a dramatic gorge is full of charming older properties. By Mary Wilson
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If you want to live in real Spain, then you need to climb into the hinterland - behind the sun-drenched southern coastline and into the mountains, where you find the typical hillside white villages (pueblos blancos) and larger towns, in which life goes on regardless of the seasons and tourism.

The Ronda region, north of Marbella, which has the town of Ronda as its centre, is particularly attractive, but almost unknown to the British as an area to buy in, according to Barry Sterling, who works with James Stewart, an associate of Savills.

"It's a lovely area with lots of large villages, but it's a different culture to living on the coast," he says. "It's very rural, there's not so many restaurants, not so many people, but you are living in a truly Spanish area. And prices are a lot less, around 30 to 40 percent lower."

What has put many people off buying there has been the hour-long tortuous journey from the coast up twisting roads. But things are about to change as plans for a new road have finally been agreed, cutting the journey to Ronda from San Pedro de Alcantara on the coast down to 20 minutes. No one knows exactly when the road, which will go through 17 tunnels, will be built, but it will make a huge difference to the area.

"The market is already buoyant, but the new road improvements can only make it more so," says Max Cignetti of Anglospan. "Shrewd investors are already taking advantage of the inevitable increase in demand that will be provoked by the improvement to the infrastructure, including the new road, golf course and international polo grounds that are to be created in the area."

The cliff-top town of Ronda is one of Andalucia's loveliest towns, standing on a towering plateau in the mountains of Malaga Province and famous for its plunging river gorge and the oldest bullring in Spain. The town was a former Moorish provincial capital, so has a mixture of mosques, baths and palaces and is set on two sides of the gorge, which divides the mediaeval city from the "modern" 18th-century town. Spanning the gorge is the impressive Puente Nuevo (new bridge), which was in fact built 200 years ago.

Within the region, which is steeped in history, there are many older country houses to choose from, which either need converting or have already been restored. "The area is very popular with people looking for holidays rentals," says James Stewart. He is selling a lovely cortijo (old farmhouse), 10 minutes from the centre of Ronda with approximately six acres. This has a four-bedroom main house with pool and two cottages either end of the garden with their own pools. "It is an ideal investment property as the cottages could be let out and produce an income in the region of €80,000 to €90,000 [£55,000-£62,000] a year," he says. The property is on the market for just over £1m.

Stewart is also selling a historic property, Cortijo Puerto Llano, which is 15km north-west of Ronda in a very rural area. It is owned by Aart van Kruiselbergen, who has lived there for 16 years while providing bed and breakfast. He has now decided to retire, but will stay in the region, probably buying a small house in the centre of Ronda.

"It has become much more a place where foreigners want to buy," he says. "They are moving inland up from the coast because it has become so built up. And this means that Ronda is getting better shops, more hotels and good restaurants and a lot of work for the locals. I used to be able to get a plumber or electrician to come the day I called, now I have to wait.

"But the people are still very nice and very Spanish, and although we get a lot of tourists in the day, they go back to the coast in the evening and it becomes Spanish again. There may be more people than there were, but this does mean the facilities are so much better. Even the old Roman amphitheatre is being restored and there are plans to use it again for performances. The acoustics are still wonderful."

His house has six bedrooms, hand-made terracotta floors, open fireplaces and high, beamed ceilings. In the garden is a swimming pool and stone loggia made out of an original convent's arches, and the views of the mountains are stunning. It is priced at £1,590,500.

Should you prefer to buy somewhere which needs renovation, Stewart is selling Los Montecillos, which is in a glorious position, 3km south of Setenil and 19km from Ronda with 17 hectares, two wells and many olive and oak trees. This pretty house can be bought as it is for around £589,500, or fully renovated, which is expected to take about 14 months, for around £1.1m.

For a much cheaper outlay, you could buy a pretty four-bedroom finca in a rural location near Ronda, which is in a large plot of land and has, according to Anglospan, good rental potential. This is for sale for €177,800 (£122,000). And Mary Beker Country Properties is selling a four-bedroom single-storey house on the edge of Montejaque, one of the white villages. This has beamed ceilings, lovely views and outbuildings and is on sale for €220,000 (£151,000). Or you could buy a country house with dramatic views, seven bedrooms and lots of land for €440,000 (£301,000).

James Stewart (in association with Savills) 00 34 956 795 300,

Anglospan, 0845 456 7867,

Mary Beker Country Properties, 00 34 952 1564 664,

Access to Ronda

* British Airways operates flights to Gibraltar from Gatwick and Heathrow, and to Malaga from Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester airports

* FlyBe flies on routes to Malaga from Southampton, Exeter, Norwich and Birmingham

* EasyJet flies on routes out of seven destinations in Britain all going to Malaga