Ronda and the Pueblos Blancos

About two-thirds of the way through our trip we took a break from cities and our alcazar-cathedral-alcazar sightseeing pattern to drive through the Pueblos Blancos (white hill towns) between Seville and Granada. It was a real palate cleanser, and for the most part a really fun and scenic driving in our tiny hire car.

We left Seville first thing in the morning and skirted around to the north of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, headed for Zahara de la Sierra. Here we had our first encounter with the white hill towns that are scattered throughout the region.

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Ugh, horrible
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Zahara, with its castle on the hill above the town
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Zahara was an odd little town – the streets were so small and winding, I’m extremely grateful we navigated them early in the day and in the middle of the tourist off season. We also gave the hire car its first test of the trip by forcing it up a very steep incline on our way to see the castle. We made it to our destination with only one stall and a moderate burning smell, only to to find a man hanging out in the carpark with assorted birds of prey and a very nervous meerkat…

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Hiking up to the castle, looking down on the town
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I think he thinks he’s the King now…
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The reservoir
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Epic scenery
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Meerkat sadly not pictured

Needless to say the meerkat looked completely petrified, living under the constant gaze of a bunch of predatory owls and falcons. Poor little thing.

From Zahara we entered the mountain pass phase of the trip, en route to Grazalema. One awesome thing about the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is the abundance of griffon vultures cruising around in the sky (aka those tiny black specs in the second photo). They were endlessly impressive to watch.

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You can kind of see the road snaking around the mountain in the distance
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Griffon vultures

Grazalema was yet another very pretty village, primarily renowned in our house as the place Ant discovered his deep love of a cheesecake tart thing made from the milk of the local payoya goat…

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Grazalema town square
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Wandering around aimlessly
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One for the water nerd
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Tarta de queso payoyo
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Mmmmm, queso payoyo

The other excellent thing about Grazalema was the knowledge imparted by this sign. I can’t really improve on it with any of my own commentary, so I’ll just let you read it for yourself:

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We sadly left Grazalema without cementing an allegiance to either the Jopones or Jopiches…

We were making pretty good time on our way through the mountains, so before heading to Ronda we detoured to the Roman ruins of Acinipo – they were a bit off the beaten track but totally worth the drive. I’m not sure why the site isn’t better known, except perhaps that it shares the weirdly restrictive and poorly communicated opening hours affecting many Andalusian tourist attractions (luckily these places also tend to have poor fencing and no neighbours…). Anyway, Acinipo was a bustling Roman legion retirement village about 2,000 years ago. The main attraction – apart from the hectic views – is a huge Roman theatre.

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Approaching the theatre
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Nice backdrop
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Very impressive
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Ant for scale

After Acinipo we get to that inevitable point in any trip where you accidentally stress test both your relationship and the hire car’s suspension – in this instance, embarking on another fun little drive to see Ronda and the famous Puente Nuevo bridge from below…

Putting my faith in Google maps (I know…) we ended up on a pretty terrible road, eventually arriving at a downhill section so steep that, once taken, there was no possible way we could ever have got back up in our totally gutless hire car. What fun! Ant quickly tired of my panicked deliberations and rolled the dice on the unknown. Thankfully the way out proved to be much, MUCH better than the way in. We were both very relieved we didn’t have to permanently relocate to the El Tajo canyon and fashion a house from our Toyota Aygo…

With that in mind please appreciate these photos of Ronda, which are infused with a heady mix of stress endorphins.

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Ronda from the El Tajo canyon
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The Puente Nuevo

Ronda is renowned for being mad romantic, although everyone who says that obviously did not make the same navigational choices we did on our way in to the town. I jest – it was very lovely, and we did all the obligatory romantic things like look at the bridge and watch the sunset.

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Scenic Ronda
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More prettiness
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I don’t know who this guy is, but I envy his life
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Puente Nuevo at sunset
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Obligatory sunset
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Ugh, turns out we had time to walk down into the canyon after all…
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We also did some less-romantic things, like steal lollies from children… and by ‘we’ I clearly mean ‘Ant’. We happened to be in Ronda while they were celebrating Epiphany Day, or Three Kings Day. This celebration includes a street parade where they get the most ethnically ambiguous people in the town to dress as the three wise men and throw lollies into the crowd. There is a mad scramble to collect as many as possible, with everyone desperately scrabbling around in the gutter. These photos are kind of blurry but accurately capture the chaos, although I missed getting a shot of the moment Ant copped a big handful of lollies in the head…

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Ant’s winnings

Emboldened after consuming a bottle of Rioja, Ant cleaned up. I just reminded him of this, and his response was to laugh and say ‘I was eating those for days afterwards…’. True.

The following day we got up early to go to the Cueva de la Pileta, a cave system with cave paintings from over 20,000 years ago. It was super interesting, but no photos allowed sorry – you’ll just have to go yourself. A word of warning – it has the most perplexing tour timing system of anywhere we’ve been. Tours only leave whenever they have ‘enough’ people, or once everyone has waited for multiple hours. This means you can spend a lot of time waiting around to find out what counts as ‘enough’ in Spain… at least the waiting area was very scenic.

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Cueva de la Pileta

Afterwards we stopped at an extremely old man pub in a tiny town for a beer and some fried fish cakes that had no right to taste as good as they did, before continuing our driving holiday.

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Ant and friend
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I want some right now

Our last stop before reaching Granada was the Torcal de Antequera – another nature park with a bunch of dramatic rocks and a visitors centre that assumes its visitors only need to use the bathroom during a three hour window per day – another stunning example of Spanish Tourism’s excellent approach to opening hours.

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Torcal de Antequera

I guess I will forgive them their unavailable facilities because it was a beautiful place to stretch our legs before finally driving to Granada, our last destination (thank god, these posts are arduous – I have no idea how we got through this trip physically intact and in good spirits).

6 thoughts on “Ronda and the Pueblos Blancos

  1. I can’t believe I am saying this, 43 years ago(!!!), I was visiting Ronda in a tiny car with my parents and a British couple (journalists). My overwhelming memory, apart from the beautiful sights, was the car running out of petrol going back down ‘a mountain’ to Marbella and dad coasting down in great fear that we wouldn’t find anywhere to buy petrol (it seemed like a moonscape) and the “Bandido’s” would get us…. now I know we were from country NSW and I had no idea how my father had gotten us to the moon, but I sensed dad’s fear and as literally wild horses didn’t scare him, that time remains etched in my mind.


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