A few days into our two week road trip in Spain we continued our five hour drive from Toledo to Ronda. Our stop in Consuegra about an hour south of Toledo was a great place to break for lunch, explore the windmills and continue southward (see part I). There are only a few things I would have changed about our trip and not allowing time for a stop in Córdoba to see the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba was one of them. If I were to plan it again I would have added a stop in here. We drove through after they were already closed for the day due to shortened winter hours. It could have been fit in if we weren’t there in the winter or had left earlier in the day from Toledo. Perfect excuse to go back though is how I look at it.
One of our only big driving days on the trip the five hour drive which got us in at night into Ronda. The classic choice for this kind of trip would probably send most to Seville. However, since we have already been there and wanted to explore somewhere new in the area we chose Ronda. Ronda is a mountaintop city in Andalusia set dramatically above the El Tajo gorge and is one of Spain’s oldest towns. The gorge separates the 15th-century new town from old town, dating to Moorish rule. The main visuals of Ronda is of the Puente Nuevo, a stone bridge spanning the gorge and New town’s Plaza de Toros, a legendary 18th-century bullring.
The El Tajo bridge was completed in 1793 and took forty two years to build. The dramatic bridge is best viewed from the Camino de los Molinos hiking trail. We spent the next afternoon with a picnic lunch taking in the view of the bridge from the trail. From this vantage point you can truly appreciate Ronda’s delightfully dramatic location and understand its name (‘surrounded’ by mountains), Serranía de Ronda.
Ronda is easily explored on foot, and has been a popular tourist destination since the Romantics like, Ernest Hemingway and Orson Wells wrote about Ronda in the late 19th century. We spent the morning enjoying breakfast at a little cafe and visiting the Arab baths. The ruins of the 13th- and 14th-century Arab baths are some of the best-preserved Arab baths in Andalucía.
From Ronda we headed west to Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, a natural park in the northeastern part of Cádiz province. The drive through the natural park from Ronda was beautiful, set amongst high peaks and rugged landscape. We rode along the A376 to Grazalema, a white washed town amid the rocky slopes, red roofs and cool mountain air. The little town is known for its blanket-making and honey. We visited a few of the shops and stocked up on local honey, cheese and picnic supplies. The area is a great base for hiking and exploring.
Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park includes several beautiful towns; Grazalema, El Bosque, Ubrique, Zahara de la Sierra, Benaocaz, Benamahoma, Prado del Rey, and Villaluenga del Rosario, Benaojan, Cortes de la Frontera and Montejaque. The limestone mountains form the western tip of the Cordillera Betica range and is the wettest part of Spain. The landscape consists of beautiful mountain peaks, cliffs, caves, river valleys and gorges.The highlight for me though, were the ponies, goats, sheep and cattle both wild and domestic I gleefully encountered along the way. We spent the afternoon and early evening weaving our way around the mountain pass before making our way to Arcos de la Frontera for the night.
Arcos de la Frontera is 33km east of Jerez and is a picturesque pueblo blanco. The old town is set on the cliffside vantage point, allowing for breathtaking sunset views. We stayed the night at a gorgeous cliffside mansion dating back to 1729; La Casa Grande. We had a two level balcony and sipped sherry while watching the sunset. Afterwards we enjoyed an amazing dinner and strolled through the empty streets.
The next morning we started for the less than two hour drive to Gibraltar. Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory on Spain’s south coast. Once you cross over into Gibraltar all the road signs switch to English and driving in this port city can be chaotic. We luckily found parking at the cable car and happily parked the car for the day. The port city is dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar, a 426m-high limestone ridge. We made our way from the cable car parking lot around the bend to take in the view from the Mediterranean Steps hike. The hike starts at the nature reserve’s entrance at Jews’ Gate, where you can pay the small fee for the walking only pass. The narrow ancient path is cut through the limestone and traverses the south end of Gibraltar and heads steeply upward. We passed only a few other people and enjoyed the solitude the hike offered from the crowded city below. The trail is about 1.5km and took about an hour to reach the top with a few stops to take in the views along the way.
At the Upper Rock we reached the resident apes who seemly own the top of the rock. Once we reached the top we took the cable car back down and enjoyed a late lunch in town before our long evening drive along the coast. To be continued in part III -Costa Tropical, Granada, The Sierra Nevadas and Madrid…