TO ask whether the Andalusian town of Ronda in southern Spain is spectacular is somewhat akin to asking if Julia Roberts is a pretty woman.
Famous 20th century Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke summed it up when he wrote: «I have sought everywhere the city of my dreams, and I have finally found it in Ronda. There is nothing that is more startling than this wild and mountainous city.»
He wasn’t alone. Others to shout its praises have included Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemmingway and Hollywood legend Orson Welles. Both loved the town for its uniqueness – and for its bullfighting tradition, the local bullring being Spain’s oldest and probably most famous. Hemmingway wrote about the town, while Welles, a talented painter, captured it on his canvases and was so smitten that he asked to be buried on Ronda’s outskirts.
Tourists marvel at how the city perches atop both sides of a 68-metre wide, 120-metre deep canyon, along the bottom of which flows the Rio Guadalevín.
And its very name Ronda, simply means rocky.
|THE Puente Nuevo (New Bridge):
prison and torture chamber in centre span.
The city also abounds with violent history: the Romans and Carthage’s Hannibal clashed here, and later Catholics fought furiously against the followers of Islam with the worst conflicts in the 16th century, when countless Spanish residents were slaughtered, and then in retribution, countless more Muslims. In the second wave of killings, those Muslims not slaughtered in battle were sold into slavery.
And a famous scene in Hemingway’s classic For Whom the Bell Tolls is based on a particularly violent episode of the Spanish Civil War when 500 Fascist sympathisers were executed – simply by being thrown alive from high on Ronda’s cliff-faces into that 120m deep gorge.
And interestingly some 70 per cent of photographs taken in Ronda are of its Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) that spans the canyon, although it is now anything but new having been finished in 1793 after 40-odd years of effort.
|ENFRENTEARTE Hotel’s unusual
welcome for visitors: half a Fiat 600.
Somewhat bizarrely the bridge has a number of rooms built into its centre span that were used for a time both as a prison and torture chamber – and later taken over for more humane purposes by a bar owner. Today it’s a museum.
And while it was being built, José Martin de Aldehuela who was actually the second architect to work on the bridge after the first pulled out after 26 troubled years, turned his talents on the side to designing Rondo’s next most-photographed building, the Plaza de Toros bullring that was completed in 1784.
|UNUSUALLY sculptured pool chairs to fit one’s back-side.|
The annual ‘Corrida Goyesca’ is a bullfght that draws aficionados from around Spain… with Giorgio Armani in recent years designing the colourful costumes for famed bullfighter Cayetano Rivera Ordonez for the event, wrapping him in satin jackets, trousers and cloaks in a shade of his trademark Armani Greige (a mixture of grey and beige).
Ronda is also home to the EnfrenteArte Hotel (which means In Front of Art), a somewhat weird and wonderful place that’s a magnet for those looking to not only stay in one of the more unusual hotels in the world, but to photograph it almost as much as its host city’s famed bridge.
|CIRCA 1784 Plaza de Toros bullring,
Ronda’s 2nd most-photographed icon.
Descriptions of the EnfrenteArte abound in its Guests Book: Bohemian, Fascinating, Funky and Bizarre amongst them. And little wonder ratings agencies put the hotel high on the WOW (Weird or Wonderful) factor: as soon as the visitor walks into Reception just off the oldest paved street in town, they’re confronted by the front half a bright yellow Fiat 600 motor-car sticking out of one of the walls. (Just where the rear half is located is another story for another day….)
The whole of the EnfrenteArte Hotel is decorated with such original and historical «artworks.» Car tyres have been converted into occasional tables … a surfboard serves for dining, and around the swimming pool are outrageously sculptured chairs specially shaped to fit one’s back-side.
|HOTEL courtyard and pool.|
And the unusual lighting, that includes glowing from kitschy fake bird’s nests in old basketballs, glitters out over wall murals immortalising the likes of Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury.
A unique establishment? You betcha.
The hotel offers a complimentary ‘Doctor Fish’ pedicure, has a sauna, outdoor pool and Jacuzzi, and all drinks and breakfast are included in the room price.