Our last partial week in Torre del Mar was spent in total relaxation mode (aka money-saving mode). However, Saturday night after our friends left we needed a little pick-me-up so we opted to spend a few bucks and went out to dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. It was an interesting experience as the server didn’t like what we ordered and made us change them. We told him what we wanted to eat and he told us straight up that the dishes we wanted were bad because his cooks were bad. He told us if we wanted to get good food he would put in an order of something sort of similar but way better. It was actually kind of refreshing and since the food he recommended to us was extremely tasty we did not mind too much. That was definitely not something we thought we would experience when choosing Chinese as our meal for the night.
The last thing we really wanted to do before leaving Torre del Mar was take a quick day trip to a nearby city called Nerja to visit its famous cave system. We had heard about the caves from Captain Mike on his catamaran and it sounded interesting so we went. Going into it not expecting much or knowing much about it, we were blown away by how cool they are.
The Caves of Nerja are massive and span over 3 miles in length. The largest of the caves, Nerja I, is open to the public to see and is easily accessed with several flights of stairs and concrete pathways. Interestingly, five friends looking for bats discovered the caves randomly and accidentally in 1959. After further archaeology in the area, the worlds largest stalagmite was discovered as well as a number of cave paintings and a skeleton, proving that the caves were inhabited from about 25,000 BC up until the Bronze Age. Today, besides being open to the public to visit, the Caves of Nerja also hold several concerts a year because of their superior acoustics.
The caves were really incredible to see and experience. On this trip, we have seen tons of cathedrals and multiple buildings of every architectural style imaginable, but this is one of the very few truly unique things we have gotten to see on our trip so far. There were beautiful stalagmites and stalactites of every shape and size covering practically every square foot of the cave. Along with the beautiful sights, we were given a lot of interesting information through several different medias that formed a really incredible and enjoyable experience. There is definitely a really good reason why this is one of the most popular tourists sights in southern Spain and should not be missed if you are ever in the area.
Being without a housesit for a few days, we wanted to spend our last few days in Spain visiting a different city rather than staying in Torre del Mar and decided on nearby Sevilla. We did not have any concrete plans in Sevilla and had heard great things about a little town called Ronda on the way so we decided to stop there. Because we were going a little out of the way to get there, we did not take the highway and instead went the longer more scenic route and we are so glad we did.
The entire route wound in and out of mountain after mountain, each unique and just as beautiful as the last. We never quite knew what was going to pop up behind any mountain we passed and the landscape held my attention for the entire 2 hour drive. The best way I can describe it for anybody who has ever driven from Ohio south through West Virginia is that it is like the West Virginia turnpike on crack, more twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan movie.
Eventually, the mountains gave way to lush river valleys and we arrived in Ronda. Ronda is considered one of the oldest cities in Europe and writer Ernest Hemingway once called Ronda the most romantic city in the world! The city lies atop an enormous gorge which is spanned by a slightly terrifying bridge which took 40 years to build and affords visitors with amazing views of the surrounding countryside. The view is not like anything I have ever seen before, from the bridge you are able to look down on miles upon miles of lush fields and you feel like you are on eye-level with the beautiful mountains on the horizon.
Speaking of Hemingway, one of his favorite past times in Spain was bullfighting. He frequently traveled between Ronda and Malaga to view these spectacles and watch his favorite matador, Cayetano Ordóñez fight in them. The bullfighting ring in Ronda is one of the most famous ones in all of Spain with events now only held every September. It was built in 1785 and is one of the oldest bullrings in Spain. The ring is also home to one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious horse riding schools that was founded way back in 1571.
The actual bullfighting field in Ronda’s ring is the largest in the world, despite the building being relatively small, and is covered in expensive fine yellow sand from the region. There are two layers of seating with 5 rows each which are framed by 68 arches around the entire bullfighting field. Underneath the seats are various exhibitions including a bullfighting museum, a Collection of Antique Firearms, and the Royal Harness Collection of the House of Orleans.
The bullfighting ring is another one of those attractions that are very unique to the region and to Spain, making it a must see if ever in the country. Bullfighting’s history is very important to the culture of the Andalucía region with several cities in the area having their own rings with their own unique history. The tour of the ring also includes an audio guide which is incredibly helpful in identifying some of the important parts of the ring and providing you with more interesting information.
There are a number of other great sights to see in the city, many with a heavy Arab/Moorish influence. One of these is the incredibly well-preserved Arab public baths similar to the public baths found in Rome but more important for the citizens at the time as they were entered before visiting the mosque to purify their souls and cleanse their bodies. The baths closed earlier than we had expected so we did it get to see them, but as you can see below, they look amazing (picture from RondaToday.com):
The city of Ronda, though small, still has a lot to offer. It is an incredibly charming city that has a great balance between being extremely culturally significant as well as a small town feel – cobble-stone streets and all – that definitely lives up to Hemingway’s description as one of the most romantic cities in the world.
1) Be wary of Google search results. We have started to notice that Google search results for specific businesses often have incorrect hours or flat out don’t come up with businesses that should come up. This seems to occur much more frequently in Europe than the United States.
2) Along with the previous tip, not all cities in Europe have public transportation integrated into Google Maps. Pre-plan a public transportation route if you are not sure or look into finding a transport map at a local information center.
3) For cities without great public transportation, renting a car can be very convenient (and actually cheap if you can drive stick), just be sure to give yourself an extra 15 minutes when going someplace in case you have trouble finding a place to park and must walk to your destination.