The Hilltowns Are Alive with the Sound of BullFighting

The white washed hilltowns of Andalucìa are filled with culture, amazing tapas, stunning churches, old world charm and of course, the gorges and cliffs. The gorges that the cities sit upon and terrify and amaze all at once.

IMG_4605

Our first stop after Grenada was Ronda, where we stayed for one night at the funkiest hotel (see review  here). We arrived around lunch, so of course the first thing we did was eat! We went to a casual tapas favorite called Cafe & Bar Faustino. It was excellent and super cheap! We ordered a ton of tapas and split them and of course, sangria. The sangria in this region is actually a red wine and lemonade (lemon soda)-it’s refreshing and light-perfect for lunch!

IMG_4470 IMG_4433 IMG_4434 IMG_4435 IMG_4431 IMG_4468

After lunch we headed to the bullfighting ring, the Real Maestranza de Caballerìa de Ronda. Ronda is the birthplace of modern bullfighting and this is the oldest bullring in all of Spain. In Ronda, bullfighting is considered a cultural experience, not a sport, and they worship their bull fighters like Americans worship rockstars. They still have bull fights here, but not while we were in town. While I find the history of bullfighting fascinating, I find the act of bullfighting barbaric and sad for the bulls, so it is not a cultural experience I would partake in, even if it was an option.

IMG_4481 IMG_4480IMG_4594

This bull ring also has a museum with an audioguide. Unfortunately, there isn’t an audio guide for kids, so Nathan basically ran wild around the giant arena while Dan and I (attempted) to listen. The museum has a horse and guns exhibit, showcasing the upper class culture of dueling and bullfighting. According to Rick Steves, the Andalucians see bullfighting as a celebration of  both a noble heritage and of the Andalusian horse culture (tell that to the bulls). There is also a shrine and exhibit to the most famous bullfighting family (the Romero family) and the history of the costumes bullfighters adorn during their fights. The arena itself is majestic, built in 1785 with Tuscan columns and fancy artwork and 5,000 seats.

IMG_4452 IMG_4451 IMG_4450 IMG_4449 IMG_4457 IMG_4486 IMG_4467 IMG_4500 IMG_4497 IMG_4496 IMG_4471 IMG_4504 IMG_4470 IMG_4505 IMG_4506 IMG_4482 IMG_4484 IMG_4461 IMG_4459 IMG_4494 IMG_4495

After the bullfighting ring, we set out to see the gorges. The pictures do not do these views justice. First, we headed behind the bullring to a small park that had absolutely the most majestic views. Ronda really is a city on top of a hill, and you really wonder how it has sat here for centuries and not just fallen off!

IMG_4512 IMG_4479 IMG_4478 IMG_4477 IMG_4481 IMG_4483 IMG_4514 IMG_4516 IMG_4521 IMG_4485 IMG_4522 IMG_4491IMG_4586IMG_4589IMG_4550IMG_4590IMG_4557IMG_4539IMG_4569IMG_4536IMG_4576

We headed over to the New Bridge (Puente Nuevo) to stare death in the face (ok maybe not death) but to at least stare at a engineering marvel! The first bridge was built in 1735 but fell after six years (not such a marvel after all!), so the second bridge was built between 1751-1793 (they took their time and got it right!). We walked around and got different angles and views of this bridge, and the next morning before we left we walked over to a view point near our hotel to get a different angle. These views aren’t for the faint of heart, but it’s very safe, as I was terrified my kid would want to jump in the gorge or fall right off-there was no possibility of that happening. Every cliff has a strong high fence, so don’t worry if you have small kids!

IMG_4524 IMG_4525 IMG_4493 IMG_4495 IMG_4567 IMG_4496 IMG_4497 IMG_4530 IMG_4568 IMG_4533 IMG_4503 IMG_4504 IMG_4506 IMG_4534 IMG_4535 IMG_4609 IMG_4607 IMG_4600 IMG_4604 IMG_4586 IMG_4612 IMG_4611 IMG_4609 IMG_4614 IMG_4612 IMG_4598 IMG_4606 IMG_4677 IMG_4608 IMG_4610 IMG_4605

We took a stroll through the town and ended up at the Church of Santa Marìa la Mayor. Nathan had no interest in touring anything, so we took turns going in the church and played hide and seek in the park located next to the church.

This 15th century church was so intricate and dazzling in its decor that I felt like I had walked into a palace holding the Crown jewels. Everything was ornate and rich, from the red fabric walls to the gold halos on Jesus and Mary.

IMG_4538 IMG_4514 IMG_4541 IMG_4542IMG_4515 IMG_4519 IMG_4521 IMG_4525 IMG_4526 IMG_4528 IMG_4553 IMG_4552 IMG_4551 IMG_4549 IMG_4547 IMG_4558 IMG_4563 IMG_4564 IMG_4567 IMG_4556

The only thing left to do in Ronda after sightseeing-more tapas! We headed to a modern tapas bar where everyone in the place had a Rick Steves book and spoke english (I think his secrets are out!). Tragatapas, a minimalist modern place serving trendy tapas-not traditional, and delicious. I liked the modern take on tapas, which were mostly fried food up until this point. We had little tacos, mini burritos, mini wraps and of course fried cheese and olives-and more of that delicious wine spritzer!

IMG_4574 IMG_4560 IMG_4561 IMG_4562 IMG_4595 IMG_4563

We only spent one night in this town but I could have spent days staring into the gorge and enjoying those stunning views and amazing tapas. If I had had more time and not been with my child, I would have hiked the gorge, but I know how clumsy my kid is and chose to not to risk his life for an awesome selfie!

More pics of Ronda:

IMG_4474 IMG_4472 IMG_4437 IMG_4471 IMG_4531 IMG_4569 IMG_4568 IMG_4571 IMG_4574 IMG_4572

On our way to our next town, Arcos de la Frontera, we made two stops. First, the tiny town of Zahara de la Sierra. This town is all about the view from the top of the fortress. We hiked to the top (and I will admit I was scared because there were no barriers on this hike) to keep Nathan on the path. But we all survived and at the top we had a stunning view of the most surreal blue lake sleeping between mountains and cliffs.

IMG_4618 IMG_4621 IMG_4622 IMG_4624 IMG_4620 IMG_4625 IMG_4628 IMG_4624 IMG_4632 IMG_4678 IMG_4628 IMG_4633 IMG_4642 IMG_4643 IMG_4640 IMG_4643 IMG_4647 IMG_4639

This town was considered the gateway to Grenada during Moorish times and the last stronghold barring Isabelle and Ferdinand from conquering Grenada (until they did conquer Zahara in 1482). We literally only hiked the hill, took some pictures and headed out of town-but a great stop for some fantastic views!

Our lunch stop was in the small town of Grazalema. As you approach the town, you can see it nestled between the Andalucian mountains in all its glory. These towns are all called “whitewashed” because the buildings are all white. Grazalema is stunning with white buildings that give this town serious charm.

IMG_4663 IMG_4662 IMG_4679 IMG_4667 IMG_4669 IMG_4680 IMG_4671

We stopped for lunch at a tapas bar that could only be described as a local haunt. Lacking charm, it looked like it was straight out of a 1970’s kitchen, filled with old-timers watching the local soccer game and drinking beer in the middle of the day. The food was just ok, as it was mostly fried food but Nathan made some little buddies who were very interested in his iPad.

IMG_4651 IMG_4648

We took a quick stroll around town as clouds threatened but never opened up the skies. The main square is attached to an old unassuming church that stares over the town, protecting it.

IMG_4681 IMG_4655 IMG_4650 IMG_4651

Arriving in Arcos de la Frontera, we checked into our hotel in the new town and relaxed until dinner. The old town is where all the charm of this city lays, so we headed uphill and had dinner outside at an adorable place run by a sweet little old man. We had meatballs, sangria, crab salad and fried cheese-and it was all delicious with a great atmosphere!

IMG_4688 IMG_4679 IMG_4678 IMG_4680 IMG_4681 IMG_4682 IMG_4691

This town is like a giant labryinth and kind of hard to navigate with a car, I would recommend parking and walking around, as we did. We set out after breakfast to follow Rick Steves walk through the town, our only real mission of the day.

Our first stop was the Church of Santa Maria, a church built atop a Mosque, as everything was taken from the Moors after the Reconquista. We would head into this church later in the day because we noticed from the stunning viewpoint across the way at the Plaza del Cabildo, a guy holding some birds.

IMG_4701 IMG_4703 IMG_4707 IMG_4713 IMG_4801

Nathan became very interested, so we all took turns holding owls and giant birds (Nathan was at first terrified and then giggling). It was a lot of fun and free-we just tipped the guy a couple euros and took some photos and continued on.

 

 

 

IMG_4727 IMG_4713 IMG_4732 IMG_4741 IMG_4720

This viewpoint is actually both stunning and frightening! There is a railing, which is great, but in the 1990s, the lounge of the hotel sitting next to us just fell off this cliff. It literally just dropped off the cliff. Luckily, no one was in it at the time, but knowing this information did not make me want to stay on this cliff for any longer than necessary! Its 300 feet above the river and supposedly, its the suicide point for the men in town (women on the other side)?!

IMG_4697 IMG_4698 IMG_4699

We headed into the church after that, another intricate and sparkling church. The chapels are filled with gold and a couple of dead people dressed up with skeletons just hanging out (creepy!) but I guess when you are a martyr, your body gets to chill in the church for eternity. (St. Felix whose body “miraculously” never rots has been in this church since 1764, sent here from Rome to recognize this church).

IMG_4793 IMG_4795 IMG_4769 IMG_4800 IMG_4789 IMG_4808 IMG_4772 IMG_4770

We made our way round town, zigzagging our way through the maze of this city with a stroller that Nathan was out of as much as in (yeah we are getting close to being done with taking the stroller and we know it-and are devastated by it!)

The end of town provided the best views, and truly encapsulates the essence of this town-a hilltop town with gorgeous views! I stopped in a shop where plates were hand painted (literally I watched as Grandpa painted plates) and bought myself a gorgeous plate with a painting of Arcos that sadly did not make the trip home in one piece.

IMG_4744 IMG_4778 IMG_4747 IMG_4781 IMG_4743 IMG_4828 IMG_4755 IMG_4784 IMG_4827 IMG_4771 IMG_4741 IMG_4786 IMG_4788 IMG_4787 IMG_4763 IMG_4764 IMG_4766 IMG_4814

Not one to shy away from a cultural and uncomfortable experience, I also knocked on a convent door and waited patiently for the nun’s to sell me cookies from their Lazy Susan. I bought local specialties, including a dozen muffins.

IMG_4802

Our lunch spot was actually pretty amazing, Bar La Carcel (or The Prison), had great tapas. I have pictures of all the food, and can’t recall a name of any of it-but my taste buds remember loving it! We also had some rice milk alcoholic beverage that was sweet and strong.

IMG_4792 IMG_4791 IMG_4790 IMG_4765 IMG_4764 IMG_4763 IMG_4762

We gave Nathan a break from touring and found a local playground that he ran around in, and made friends in two seconds (this kid is NOT shy).

IMG_4820 IMG_4806

The rest of the evening was relaxing, taking a break from tapas we hit a Moroccan place for dinner. Being close to Africa in southern Spain, Moroccan food was outstanding. We had sweet spices and stewed fruits simmering in juicy tenderloin and couscous, raisins and carrots-all fresh and delicious!

IMG_4829 IMG_4813 IMG_4814

This wrapped up our hilltown experience in Spain. We loved the culture, charm and food in every place we visited!! Back to the big city-my next blog will cover our three days in Sevilla.

IMG_4805 IMG_4717 IMG_4718 IMG_4734 IMG_4762

Thanks for joining us!!

 

 

Leave a Reply