What to do in Ronda in the highly unlikely event of rain
Andalucía may be blessed with long stretches of clear skies and sunshine, the weather often playing a big part in its popularity, but what if you have planned a week of sun and Fortune's fickle hand does not favour you?
With an average of fewer than 5 days of rain and over 250 hours of sunshine per month, Ronda has very few days of bad weather. When the rain does come, it is good to have a few 'plan Bs' to choose from that are right on your doorstep. Here is a run down of interesting activities that everyone can enjoy without having to drive for more than a few miles.
Museo Joaquín Peinado
As if Ronda's Old Town isn't enough to bewitch you, it also has a beautiful museum dedicated to the works of local rondeño, Joaquín Peinado (1898-1975). Peinado was friend and disciple of Picasso, working in the Neo-cubist style. The collection is split into several sections including some beautiful sketches of the human form. The museum also houses a collection of Picasso etchings and a few ceramics. Regularly changing exhibitions keep the museum fresh and lively but it is not only the art that draws and enthrals visitors.
Palace of the heirs of the last Aztec emperor
The building that houses the collection is an absolute joy. Polished floors, glass fronted patios and Medieval carved ceilings combine in a triumphant fusion of old-meets-new architectural styles. This is the former palace of the heirs of the last Aztec emperor Moctezuma and Unicaja have restored the building with great sympathy and flair.
Art and book lovers will also enjoy the wide selection of books on sale (in various languages). It takes about an hour to explore the collection and admire the building, a perfect way to spend a wet morning before stopping for a long lunch at Meson Bar Santa Maria (prices vary enormously so go for the local dishes and Mother's recipes) just around the corner opposite the wine museum (which might be a god place to go after lunch).
The museum is a very reasonable €4, €2 concessions and is open 10-2 and 5-7 Monday to Saturday, children under 14 go free and Tuesdays afternoons are also free.
Spanish guitar in New Town
Just off New Town's central square, Plaza del Socorro, lies Ronda Guitar House at Calle Padre Mariano Soubirón, 4 (10-8.30 Monday to Saturday). Run by a family team, Ronda Guitar House has a great collection of vintage and handmade guitars for sale, ukuleles, cajons and castanets and an unusual collection of world instruments from didgeridoos to darbuka. You can book group or individual guitar lessons to really improve your practice or simply book tickets for an intimate concert. Internationally acclaimed musician and composer, Paco Seco performs flamenco and Spanish guitar concerts daily at 7pm taking time to share his cultural heritage and his passion for Spanish guitar.
Ronda Guitar House forms part of the “Ruta del Vinos de Ronda”, the Ronda Wine Route, and tickets (€15 each) include a glass of local Ronda wine. Further bottles can be bought in the shop. The concert makes for great pre-dinner entertainment and even if it is really pouring with rain you can make a quick dash to one of the eateries nearby such as Bar Taberna on Plaza del Socorro or if your appetite for wines has been whetted, Casa Ortega, on the corner of the square, has an impressive wine list.
The best preserved Arab Baths in Europe
Ronda was once part of a Nasrid stronghold, the western-most outpost of the last of the Moorish kings. Whilst countless ages have swept through the city, the Arabic influence can still be seen in many of the buildings standing today, non more so than the beautiful Baños Arabes. Accidentally discovered when the house on top of them collapsed, these C11th Arab baths are said to be the best preserved in Europe.
Beautiful star shaped holes allow slanting shafts of sunlight to pierce the dimness, arched pillars and stone floors keep the baths cool all year round. A very informative video describes life during the Nasrid period and explains the different rooms (the CGI is a bit basic but the information is good). The baths sit at the edge of the old city wall, much of which are still standing and well worth exploring.
Monday to Friday 10-7, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays, 10-3, €3 €1.50 for children (free on Sundays).
Spa treatments at the local hammam
So you've seen the beautiful architecture of the original baths, now try the modern version next door. Hammam Aguas de Ronda offers daily two hour slots in its dimly lit spa, with a choice of five rooms €18 with optional massages and treatments (for an additional price) including a full body massage, exfoliating massage, mud therapy, chocolate wrap or wine therapy (I know which I'd choose!)
Book in advance by phone on 627 596 847, discounts are available for groups.
Casa del Rey Moro and La Mina
Casa del Rey Moro is a bit of a misnomer since it was never home of any Moorish king, indeed, it was built in the C18th with formal gardens designed by Forrestier, who also designed the gardens at nearby Bodega F. Schatz, Seville's Maria Luisa Park and the Champs-de-Mars gardens at the Eiffel Tower. But you haven't come for the gardens, nice though they may be, in the wet, the thing to do is head underground.
Over 300 steps were cut into the limestone gorge allowing access to a water supply in case of siege. Christian slaves were said to have carried water up from the river Guadelevín. It is dark, uneven and a long way down but it is fun, especially when you know that king Abolemic's hoard of gold is rumoured to be hidden somewhere in the mine. Once at the river it is beautifully tranquil, muffling the sounds of the city above.
A mermaid's lagoon of sparkling turquoise
On your way back up make sure to test the audio phenomenon in the Sala de Secretos (the room of secrets). If you whisper into the corner the person standing diagonally opposite can hear you perfectly (yes, it took us a little while to figure this out). Soft shafts of sunlight pierce the gloom and the ancient steps add to the other worldly subterranean atmosphere. Emerge renewed into the bright daylight - I guarantee you will now want a drink after all those steps so head over to the next stop off although you may need to grab a drink en route.
Craft beer in El Mercadillo
With the huge revival of craft beers, Ronda now has its own artisanal micro brewery - Cerveza de Ronda. Owner Celedonio started the business in 2015 after watching lots of videos on You Tube. You can book a tour to see the process or simply pop into the shop and pick up a few bottles of 'negra, rubra or I.P.A.' The whole beer making process is done in house from the brewing to the bottling, not a beer drinker, I opted for the chocolatey stout which was delicious.
Follow the Ruta del Vinos de Ronda
Staying on the theme of alcohol, you don't need a dry day to enjoy a wine tasting in the Serranía de Ronda. I have written a few posts on some of the bodegas we have tried in the past so I will keep this brief. There are 22 bodegas to choose from, some are in Ronda itself (Descalzos Viejos - VERY highly recommended) and some are high in the hills (award winning Bodega Doña Felisa, pioneering Bodega F. Schatz etc.) Definitely save Samsara for a sunny day because this is an al fresco experience, but most bodegas would be just as enjoyable in spite of rain. Ronda has a well established 'wine route' or Ruta del Vinos and is really gaining recognition as the sub appellation D.O. Serranía de Ronda (Sierras de Malaga being the appellation) and whilst there is enormous variety of style and quality there are some really beautiful wines waiting to be tried, if you haven't been to one before, a wine tasting is a fun, informal experience that really allows you to appreciate the wines you are sampling. Gema and Antonio from Milamoresronda organise tastings at several vineyards (we tried the lovely Bodega F. Schatz) and are really passionate about enotourism.
Food Glorious Food
You might need a little something besides wine pairings to mop up that alcohol and what better way to spend a rainy afternoon that sampling local specialities in some of Ronda's finest eateries. Head down to the Barrio San Francisco to the fantastic De Locos Tapas for global inspired offerings (pre-booking essential, the only crazy thing about this place is the super low prices) or get a table in New Town at the fabulous Tragatá, run by chef Benito Gómez of Michelin starred Bardal fame, or head over to Bardal itself for a luxurious lunch (12-4.30 dinner 8-11.30).
Ronda is very firmly on the foodies' map with a vast choice of restaurants, a host of passionate chefs and an enormous range of superb local ingredients to choose from. Try delicious jamón iberico de bellota on a warmed plate, local queso de cabra tossed with toasted Andalucian almonds, beetroot salmorejo, gambas al pil pil, quails eggs on a nest of parmesan, slow roasted ox tail, ajo blanco and smoked sardines. Take time to really savour the sweet, softly spiced flavours of North Africa and the ripe bounty of the Mediterranean.
And Finally....Flamenco! Dinner, Dancing & Duende
My final suggestion for the best of Ronda in the rain is both simple and intangible, it means experiencing an aspect of Andalucian culture that cannot be explained in words. In the same way that a performance at Ronda Guitar House may move you, watching an authentic flamenco performance can be a very soulful experience.
Ronda is a mix of many cultures and one that persists to this day is the rich Romany gypsy culture beloved of linguist Walter Starkie who described Ronda thus:
"Ronda is a town which hangs from the sky atop a mountain split in two by the Gods"
Gypsy culture is subtly interwoven into modern Ronda, elements of it can be seen in the dress, music and dance of local rondeños. Perhaps it is most obvious during one of Andalucia's oldest festivals, Ronda Romantica, held in May each year. From a fusion of this gypsy (Indian), Moorish and Jewish cultures - brought about by the persecution of these minority groups by the Catholics during the Medieval period - grew the art of flamenco. Flamenco is made up of five elements, the physical Cante (voice), Baile (dance), Toque (guitar) and Jaleo (uproar - clapping, stomping, shouting - by both the artist and the audience) and the metaphysical duende (literally meaning elf or fairy).
Duende is almost inexplicable, mystical, as Federico García Lorca puts it, "all that has dark sound has duende". In musical terms it is more apparent in jazz and the blues, in the work of Nick Cave and Thom Yorke, PJ Harvey and Bob Dylan. To feel duende means that you have experienced the mystical, spiritual aspect of an art form. Duende is a heightened sense of emotion, it is the goose pimples you get on hearing another sing, it is passion from deep within the soul, it is the dark side of the human condition, the passion and the pain. Perhaps it is the result of centuries of persecution and diaspora that gypsy culture can tap so readily into this abstract. Lorca explained that "duende could only be present when one sensed that death were possible" to feel duende is to feel alive!
Ronda has an intimate flamenco venue - El Quinqué - that promises an authentic flamenco experience. You can book a table for a lunch or dinner performance 2pm (40 minute performance) €10 or 8.30pm (1 1/2 hours) €18. Perhaps you might get to experience the abstract that characterises Andalucian art so well.
If it's still raining after you have tried these suggestions (highly improbable) then it's a good job that El Olivar is such a welcoming place to stay, you might even forgive the weather for the chance to unwind and relax in total peace and quiet. As the rain drips down the vines, watering the flowers and replenishing the well, you get to enjoy a glass of Ronda wine and read that book you keep meaning to finish.