When I first heard of the white cities or towns in Spain, I was a bit worried. Do they only allow white people in the towns? As it turns out, they are called white towns for a completely different reason. The whitewashed villages of Andalucía are historical monuments in and of themselves. The people still live with age old traditions going back to their Iberian, Roman and Moorish ancestors.
Most of these towns began as fortresses along the ever fluctuating frontier between Christian and Moorish realms. Over the centuries, the towns have developed thriving agricultural centers producing olive oil, fruit, vegetables, cork, and goat’s milk. We decided to take the winy, hilly, curvy drive up to Ronda one day during our stay in Marbella a few years ago. We were staying in a large apartment in Marbella (Puerto Banus) with our dear friend Ingrid for a week.
The girls got a little car sick on the way up the hills. The Spanish are reckless and fast drivers, as we pulled off the road numerous times. The best therapy for the girls was a wide spot in the road, where we found a huge leather coat store. We must have been there for hours. Sheri bought a nice leather jacket, and I ordered one to be shipped to their store in Marbella for fitting. Then, since Ingrid was the most nauseated, and needing relief from NOT buying a leather jacket, we had her drive the remaining way.
By the way, Ronda is Andalucía’s fastest growing town. But Ronda retains its old world charm with a well preserved Old Town, breathtaking views of the Serrania de Ronda mountains, and the deep El Tajo gorge that straddles a 100 meter chasm below. But Ronda is probably best known as the birthplace of modern bullfighting. Legendary Rondeño bullfighter Pedro Romero broke away from the prevailing Jerez ‘school’ of horseback bullfighting in the 18th century to found a style of bullfighting in which matadores stood their ground against the bull on foot. In 2006 royalty and movie stars were helicoptered in for the Goyesca’s 50th anniversary celebrations in its small bullring, while thousands jammed the streets and parks outside. Otherwise the bullring, Plaza de Toros, is now a museum, and visitors can stroll out into the arena.
Across the bridge, where an elegant cloistered 16th century convent is now an art museum, old Ronda, La Ciudad, sidewinds off into cobbled streets hemmed by handsome town mansions, some still occupied by Ronda’s titled families. The Casa de Don Bosco is one such, its interior patio long ago roofed in glass against Ronda’s harsh winters. Its small, almost folly-like gardens lose out, however, to the true star, a few minutes’ walk to the furthest end of the Ciudad, the Palacio Mondragón. Clumsily modernized in parts during the 1960s, this still has working vestiges of the exquisite miniature water gardens dating from its time as a Moorish palace during Ronda’s brief reign as a minor Caliphate under Córdoba in the 12th century.
The first thing we did after parking the car in an underground garage, was find an outdoor cafe for a light lunch and refreshments. On a typically warm May afternoon, a cold beer was most welcome. Not a minute too soon, did we head out to the many little shops lining the narrow cobblestone streets of old town Ronda. Low and behold, we found the shoe store (photo attached)of Ingrid’s dreams. This shop carried a plethora of narrow shoe styles, it seemed just for her. I even bought a pair of casual shoes that looked more like golf shoes. We must have looked totally ridiculous walking down the street with huge bags of shoe boxes, and a tourist map.
But as exciting as the shoe girls and boy were, the real highlight was seeing the bridge over the El Tajo gorge. It would not be difficult to see why the city was virtually impenetrable from would be conquerors trying to cross the 100 meter deep gorge. And the views are spectacular. We wished we could have spent a night or two up here in the hills, as none of us wanted to face the drive back down the hill. But I did get to visit several stores that had my favorite black hoofed jamon, illegal at the time for import to the U.S. I just heard it is available now at about $37 per quarter pound. I plan to send one to my friend Mike. We were in Spain right after 9-11, and fell in love with the jamon.
After buying a few more souvenirs, including a drawing by a local street artist down the narrowest alley in town, we headed back. We hear the sunrise and sunset here are the best in Spain. Oh well, next time. Ingrid drove again, chased by several large buses. I firmly believe the bus drivers in Spain have a death wish! But, coolly and calmly, she would let them pass at the turnouts. We made it back despite the worst rush hour traffic I have ever seen in Spain. We found a shortcut through a poor village and on dirt roads, saving at least an hour.
This day trip turned out to be a great way to see the white villages, shop, and get car sick. But I would not trade it for anything else. It was one of the highlights of our trip to Spain.