High living | South China Morning Post
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  • Feb 27, 2015
  • Updated: 11:12pm

High living

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2007, 12:00am

Ernest Hemingway knew how to have a good time, especially in Spain. In Death in the Afternoon he describes Ronda, a small town in the southern province of Andalusia, as the perfect place for a honeymoon, 'or if you ever bolt with anyone'.


I'm not on my honeymoon or bolting with anyone, but I can vouch that Ronda is perfect anyway. Approaching from the valley below, you see the town shimmering high in the distance, an ancient white village clinging to a slender mountain ridge in the Serrania de Ronda. This isn't unusual. Andalusia is loaded with ancient white villages clinging to slender mountain ridges. What distinguishes Ronda is that the ridge to which it clings is split down the middle. Homes and patios clamp limpet-like to the edge of the abyss, a vertical crevasse 20 metres wide and 130 metres deep.


The first thing I do when I reach town is stand on the old stone Puente Nuevo bridge and peer over the edge, squinting into the updraft. Known as El Tajo - Spanish for 'the cut' or 'slash' - the gorge has a history all of its own. In the Middle Ages, the Moors cut 233 steps into the rock face, allowing a chain of slaves to retrieve water from the river below. In the 18th century, Ronda bullfighter Pedro Romero reputedly hurled his wife into the gorge after discovering her in bed with another man, an incident that inspired Prosper Merimee to write Carmen, the novella on which Bizet's opera is based.


During the Spanish civil war, about 500 fascists met a similar fate when they were mobbed by the townspeople and thrown into the depths.


Today the locals have given up on the throwing-people-into-the-gorge caper; that would be far too energetic. Like most Andalusians they have perfected the art of doing little, but with a great sense of purpose. Sitting in taverns sipping wine is a perfectly respectable way to pass the day. I consider joining them, but decide to first see the sights, starting with Ronda's bullring.


Built in 1785, this is one of Spain's oldest and prettiest rings, with its galleries and tiled roof, excellent little museum and trove of bullfighting esoterica. The available accommodation makes the most of the natural setting: the four-star Hotel Montelirio (reservas@hotelmontelirio.com), in the old town, has superb views, as well as one of Ronda's best eateries, Restaurante Albacara, with its balcony perched over the gorge.


But Ronda lends itself best to wandering. It's small enough that even someone as directionally impaired as me can meander at will without getting lost; I just have to keep an eye out for cliffs. Although I'd planned to stay two days in Ronda I end up staying four. As the Spanish know, learning to do nothing takes time.


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