Ronda, Zahara, and Setenil In A Day

If my son’s number one thing to see in Spain was the Alhambra in Granada, mine was the bridge in Ronda and the white towns of Andalucía. I knew our best opportunity to get there would be from our stay in Seville, so I did some research. The more I read, the more I became overwhelmed with the logistics of it. We could get to Ronda and a couple white towns on a group tour, but we would miss the town we most wanted to see. We could rent a car, but I realized that would be zero fun for the driver, aka me, and we would miss the cultural aspect provided by having a local show us around. So, I splurged and booked a guide/driver for a private tour.

A good tour guide can make all the difference between a positive, enriching experience and a miserable one. We lucked out. Enrique picked us up on time at 9:30, took the locations we wanted to see into account, and planned the day for us. It turned out that he and I had many things in common, and the conversation between the three of us was continual and easy. During our time in the car together, driving to the first town, then to Ronda, then to the second town, and then back to Seville, we discussed professions, politics, religion, climate change, travel, and more. I was so glad I spent the extra money to hire a private guide. One of the most important aspects of travel is the opportunity to learn about life in this different place from someone who lives it. Enrique got us to everything we wanted to see, avoided the traffic that would have ruined a day in a rental car or large bus on a busy tourist Saturday, taught us many things about his life in Spain, and made us interlopers feel welcome. Priceless.

While we had picked two things we wanted to see, we let the expert choose the last destination for us. He chose Zahara de la Sierra, a picture-perfect white town in the hills. In my research, I had seen photos of this town, and it did not disappoint. Perched on a hill with the remains of a fortress above it and a reservoir below it, Zahara is somehow quaint yet impressive. The fortress atop the hill was built in the 13th century by the Moors who held that territory at that time. We discussed hiking up and around it the fort, but decided we wanted to spend more time in our other destinations, so we simply walked the small town, taking photos, and enjoying the beautiful day.

Our next stop was Ronda, which Enrique told us would be busy. He was not wrong. This town (technically a city of 34k people) has surged in popularity since photos of its 18th century bridge, which spans a deep gorge separating the old town from the new town, became widely circulated on the Internet. I often see the bridge pop up in the rotating photos on my Echo Show. There are actually three bridges that span the El Tajo gorge and connect the two sections of the clifftop town. We walked to and over each of the bridges in turn, taking in the scenery before heading into the town. The famous Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) is the most impressive.

Labeled the Most Romantic Town in Spain, there are cute shops, pedestrian streets, and plenty of restaurants. I can’t attest to how romantic is it, but it is definitely popular and busy. Perhaps the most famous attraction in the town, aside from the bridge, is the bullring. Built between 1779-1785, it is the only bullring in Spain constructed entirely of stone (rather than stone and brick) and it offers covered seating. Enrique told us that bullfighting in Spain is highly controversial. Some consider it cruel and would like it discontinued, while others contend that it is part of Spain’s unique cultural heritage and should be continued as a tradition. I understand the arguments on both sides and, because I am not Spanish, I will refrain from offering my opinion in that debate. I will, however, be interested to see what happens with it.

It was lunchtime, so Enrique guided us to a local restaurant that offered many traditional dishes. Joe had a beer and we shared several tapas, the mushroom croquetas being our favorite. Joe and I also tried the fried anchovies stuffed with ham and piquillo peppers. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I generally only like anchovies in small amounts, but these were pretty interesting.

Afterward, we traveled to the spot where the most iconic photos of the Puente Nuevo are taken so we could add ourselves to the long list of people who have been there. We took the requisite selfies because you gotta. It felt incredible to be standing there finally, years after I discovered its existence and decided I had to see it in person. We didn’t linger long because we were excited to get to our next destination and optimize our time there, but now when that famous bridge pops up on my Echo Show I think, Hey…I’ve been there!

Our final destination was Setenil de las Bodegas. Joe’s girlfriend had sent him photos after she visited there earlier this year and he immediately sent them to me, asking if there was any way we could get there. After seeing the photos, I knew I had to make it happen.

Setenil consists of buildings and cave homes built under and among rocks in a narrow, protected river gorge. The hilltop fortress above the town was built by the Moors. During the Reconquista, the Christians came to take the fortress, which proved to be more difficult than they expected. Due to the settlement’s hidden placement under rocks beneath it, the Moors were able to surprise their attackers from different angles and directions as they approached the fortress. The story goes that the Christians battled for fifteen days to take the town, trying seven times and failing before finally figuring out how they were being defeated and eventually triumphing. The name of the town is believed to be derived from the Latin “Septem Nihil,” which refers to the seven lost battles, “seven times no.” If you find yourself in Andalucía, do not miss this town. It’s something else.

Enrique led us up back roads and seemingly endless stairways to a lookout point from which we could see the fortress, now surrounded by olive trees. It was easy to see how if you approached from one direction you would have no idea what lurked beneath. Joe and I snapped endless photos and, as we walked, I could not stop muttering to no one in particular random phrases like, “Wow. This is crazy. What? Whoa.” We stopped at a small coffee/dessert shop located in a cave under a large section of rock for an afternoon espresso and torrejas (kind of like a Spanish French toast). Our torrejas came served in a white chocolate sauce. Are you kidding me? It was an apt end to our time precious time in Setenil, sitting at a cafe table outdoors, rock overhead, watching people walk by and cars (yes, cars) pass. When we were preparing to head back to Seville, Joe and I snapped a selfie. Joe did what he often does, posing for the photo with a random expression. I adore viewing my photos at the end of a travel day and finding at least one where Joe’s expression makes me laugh. Love that kid.

We arrived back in Seville around 7:30, ten hours after we had begun our journey. We heartily thanked Enrique for the memorable day and headed off to dinner, tired but not yet ready to throw in the towel. We had a couple last things we wanted to do in Seville, so after dinner we walked 20 minutes to find this structure.

Officially named the Metropol Parasol, it is known more casually as Las Setas (the mushrooms). It is one of the largest wooden structures in the world and at night multicolor lights undulate through the grids. It’s such a juxtaposition to the buildings surrounding it, yet somehow it seems to fit in just fine. I’m glad we went to see it lit up at night. I now wish we had gone up to take in the night view from the top (we didn’t realize you could do that), but at least now I have another reason to return.

Exhausted, we walked back to the hotel and collapsed. Fitbit recorded 23,516 steps and 86 floors for me that day. I would do it again tomorrow.