Earlier this year I had the opportunity to once again travel with luxury tour provider Abercrombie & Kent, but on a trip that was far different than my earlier safari experience with them in Tanzania. I joined one of their special Connections Journeys to finally explore some of Spain’s most beautiful cities. These small group trips focus on the destination and, almost more importantly, the local people and culture. They’re meant to be immersive trips, led by individuals who call the destinations home and who understand the cities and towns better than almost anyone else. Using carefully crafted itineraries, small one-of-a-kind hotels and special immersive experiences, the goal of Connections is not to just see new places, but to live them. I’m working with Abercrombie & Kent to help share this unique style of travel but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own, including these favorite moments and experiences in Ronda, Spain.
I had never heard of Ronda, I had never seen photos of Ronda and I certainly had no plans to visit Ronda. That’s one of the great aspects of traveling with Abercrombie & Kent though, being introduced to new places and experiences that aren’t even on one’s travel radar. Almost immediately though I knew I would love my time in this small city; our hotel perched on the edge of a massive canyon, the views were as good as they can get. It’s also the ideal home base from which to explore southern Spain, the drive to many of the most important towns and regions short and easy. But Ronda is a destination unto itself and not just a place to sleep after a long day of exploration. Ronda has been around for a very long time, even before it was designated a city by the Romans. Over the centuries it has reinvented itself countless times, but today it is perhaps most famous for its legacy of bullfighting and the oldest ring in Spain. While I don’t approve of the practice, learning about its history and the culture that has grown up around it was an important part of my time in southern Spain, and Ronda is the ideal place to learn all about this strange practice.
History and Culture
It’s hard to miss the bridge, especially since my hotel was about a 10 paces walk from it and the massive gorge it spans. The New Bridge was built in the 18th century and connects the old Moorish town of Ronda with the new parts of the city. It’s also the ideal way to start your own exploration of Ronda.
Continuously inhabited since even before the Romans, Ronda’s history very much has reflected that of Spain’s. During the Moorish period, Ronda was one of its great centers and then again during the Spanish Inquisition, Ronda too played an integral role. This history is thankfully still found throughout town, hidden in plain sight for anyone curious enough to look for it. Not for the first time I was mesmerized by the bright colors and subtle arches of Moorish design and architecture in southern Spain. It’s become so important to the soul and identity of Andalusia that I couldn’t imagine the region without it. Although they’ve been adapted over the years to make way for new residents and ways of life, it’s all still there, beautifully preserved in time.
Ronda isn’t just a bastion of design though, it has also played an important role in the cultural identity of the region. What is perhaps Spain’s most famous bull-fighting ring is in Ronda and attracts spectators from around the world. It is also where the Romero family in the 17th century modernized the practice turning it into what they would later describe as an art form. I personally don’t agree with bull fighting and find it a barbaric practice, but I can’t deny both its influence and popularity in Andalusia.
Great Home Base
One reason I always love traveling with Abercrombie & Kent is because I know they patronize some of the most elegant and unique hotels in the world. For their boutique journeys, the emphasis really is on the small, sometimes unusual properties and in Ronda that meant spending a couple of nights at the incredible Parador de Ronda. Literally perched on the gorge, the location is unrivaled and with its long history as a city hall building and then later as the preferred hotel for bullfighters, it has become famous around the country. It was also the ideal home base from which to explore other areas of Spain on easy day trips. The British outpost of Gibraltar is an easy drive as are some of the country’s best sherry producers and if you like to hike, you couldn’t be in a better place. No matter your interests, Ronda’s unique location makes it ideal for exploration.
Total Travel Package
I honestly didn’t expect a lot from Ronda other than a place to spend a couple of nights while we toured the region. That changed though almost immediately as I spent some time that first evening just walking around town. The streets were oddly packed with people, out and about both shopping and enjoying the sidewalk cafes. The weather was comfortable and while rain threatened, it managed to hold off while I explored the city. Going from old to new, I quickly understood why authors and poets have been flocking to this small Spanish town for so very long. Hemingway found comfort here, as did Washington Irving and they probably found the comfort in the same way I did. Through the gentle curves of the buildings, the lazy afternoons sipping wine and eating local delicacies and more than anything else, learning to appreciate Andalusia for everything that makes it special. It’s unique when we can connect like this on a trip, especially on an escorted journey, but it’s perhaps for that reason more than any other that makes Abercrombie & Kent so incredibly special. They know and understand travel in a way few others can manage, and they translate their experience into moments that aren’t just nice, they’re truly memorable.