Originally published in May 2016.
Nacho Sánchez lives by the beach in Malaga, a region with a strong wine tradition and some of the most interesting Spanish wines. As a journalist, he has worked in a variety of media with a focus on wine and local cuisine.
Standing at the balcony, the entire landscape is completely natural as far as the eye can see. In the background, the Serranía de Ronda mountains flank the Hoya del Tajo gorge while the Guadalevín river runs through it. In the foreground you can see eight hectares (around 20 acres) of young vineyards, surrounded by three natural parks, growing next to a city with a history that goes back over 2,500 years The vineyards belong to the Descalzos Viejos winery (http://www.descalzosviejos.com/), and the city is Ronda in Southern Spain, where tradition and romanticism can be found at every corner. This is a place where you can sense the old legends of the bandoleros, those 19th century Spanish outlaws who robbed travellers on their way through the mountains and who have always inspired tales of tragedy and romance.
The balcony is in the winery’s main building, which is where you can find Francisco Retamero and Flavio Salesi working from their offices. They are both architects by profession and the founders of this project, which began in 1998. Francisco Retamero is from Málaga, Spain, and Flavio Salesi is from Buenos Aires, Argentina. The two men planted the vineyards and restored the building, which has a 16th century Trinitarian convent. Ancient fresco paintings have since been recovered from its main altar. This is where the wines rest in American oak barrels. It is also one of the most important stops on a tour of the Descalzos Viejos winery, which also includes a leisurely walk through the gardens and orchards belonging to the estate. It even has its own natural source of spring water. The walk ends with a tasting of the wines produced by the winery. In their range of seven wines, which are mainly reds, they also have a white Chardonnay; and from next summer onward, there will also be a rosé made from the Grenache grape varietal A few years ago their experiments resulted in a sweet wine called Minima, made from botrytis-affected grapes (many dessert wines are made from this benevolent form of fungus commonly known as “noble rot”). However, this enological oddity could only be produced in one harvest with the exact conditions and humidity levels required.
Wine Tours and Wineries in Serranía de Ronda
“The wines are potent, with very good structure and big volume in mouth,” explains Vicente Inat, the winery’s enologist. This is achieved by very specific climatic conditions. For example, Ronda’s altitude of approximately 700 meters (2,296 feet) above sea level coupled with the seasonal temperature contrasts, with cold winters and very hot summers, that this wine region endures are extremely important factors. The Mediterranean Sea, which is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) away, the Atlantic Ocean, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, and the area’s lime-clay soil also influence the wines made in the area. “The combination of all this results in that most Ronda wines have this potency and structure because all the vineyards grow in the same conditions,” adds José Manuel Moreno, secretary-general of the Regulatory Council for the Málaga, the Sierras de Málaga and Málaga raisins designation of origin (DO, or appellation) (http://www.vinomalaga.com/). This institution is responsible for the “representation, defence, guarantee, education, research, development, innovation and promotion of the wine and raisin markets” included in the province of Málaga’s DO zone.
Ronda’s best wines form part of the DO Sierras de Málaga. The Descalzos Viejos wines are a good example, but it’s important to bear in mind that this is just one of the 22 wineries in Ronda included in the Málaga Regulatory Council. Plus, this is only about half of the total number of wineries in the province of Málaga, which has 45 in total. The main grape varieties in this particular wine region are Syrah, Grenache, Petit Verdot, Graciano, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. These grapes are mainly used to make red wines, although local winemakers have begun to produce white and rosé wines as well as sweet wines made mainly from the Muscat variety. Almost all the wineries can be visited. The Ronda Route of Wines and Wineries of The Serranía de Ronda (http://www.ruta-vinos-ronda.com/index.php/en/) offers a wine-tasting tour with up to 16 different stops, including wineries such as Doña Felisa, which produces the famous Chinchilla wines or the La Sangre winery. All are just a few minutes’ drive from Ronda, and their best-kept wine secrets are available to visitors. The Ronda wine museum (http://www.museodelvinoderonda.com/en/index.html) currently promotes the La Sangre winery, which is located in the old part of the city; it’s a perfect place to get to know the local wine traditions, learn about how different Phoenician, Roman and Arabic cultures have influenced the wine-making process as well as witnessing firsthand how wine is made in this particular area. You can also take part in wine tasting events and workshops to gain more in-depth knowledge of the local produce.
A Historical City
The Museo del Vino, a wine museum, is very near the intriguing Museo del Bandolero, where you can learn all about the famous outlaws throughout Spanish history. This is also a good place to start your own personal discovery of Ronda; a city divided in two but joined by a spectacular bridge over 100 meters high (328 feet) known as the Tajo de Ronda. This monument, which dates back to the 18th century, is a reason on its own to visit this southern Spanish city. The historical Arab medina quarter has many interesting places to see, such as the Museo de la Ciudad (city museum), where you can learn about Ronda’s 2,500 years of history, or the picturesque and captivating square called the Plaza de la Duquesa de Parcent. In this square you can also visit the town hall and three churches, of which the Parroquia de Santa María la Mayor is the most compelling. It took two centuries to build this church, resulting in a unique construction that combines its original Gothic architecture and later Renaissance and Baroque styles. There is even a minaret tower, a remnant of the medina’s main mosque that used to be located there during the Muslim period before the Christian Reconquest of Ronda.
This culture left a significant mark on the area: very near the church you can still see many vestiges of Muslim culture, such as the San Sebastian minaret, the ancient bridge, the magnificent Arab baths or the Puerta del Almocábar gate, which is one of the most outstanding remains of what was once the walled city. Nearby you can find the Espíritu Santo church; legend has it that there is a marble slab inside with a mark made by Ferdinand the Catholic’s horse during his triumphant entrance into Ronda with the Christian troops in 1485. The legend continues to say that this victorious parade took place after he had used a diversionary tactic (namely changing the horseshoes on the troops’ horses) to trick the Muslims into thinking that the Christian army was fleeing, and then reconquer the city. You can end your historical tour by visiting the Alameda del Tajo park and enjoying its stunning views, and the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda bullring. There are two statues in front of this magnificent arena, one of Ernest Hemingway, who regularly visited Ronda during his travels through Spain and who loved the bullfighting tradition, and the other of Orson Welles, whose ashes rest in an estate in the city.
A Tour of the Local Gastronomy
One of the best places to try the many different wines that the Serranía de Ronda has to offer is Vinoteando (http://www.vinoteando.com/), an enoteca (sometimes called a regional “wine shop”) where wines are usually served with local seasonal delicacies such as vegetables, mushrooms or cured meats. They even have a wine-tasting club. Another great place to enjoy Ronda wines is Entrevinos (http://www.entrevinos.net/), where you can also order tasty and traditional tapas or snacks. A glass of wine generally costs around two euros. Both Vinoteando and Entrevinos have English-speaking staff, which is difficult to find in this city. A very easy thing to find is plenty of excellent restaurants offering high-quality gastronomy. Game meat, fresh vegetables, broad beans with garlic and Serrano ham in tomato sauce or almond soup and artichokes are all appetizing foods to order in the area. In addition, the sea is not far away and the fresh seafood is yet another outstanding product By just walking past the Las Martirio restaurant, foodies can see at a glance the wide range of high-quality delicacies on display, such as red mullet, boquerones en vinagre (marinated fresh anchovies), fried fish and bluefin tuna from the Atlantic Ocean. Tourists do not usually come to this restaurant, where you can also enjoy a flamenco concert every Thursday night. Two other restaurants worth mentioning are located nearby: Bar Faustino and Casa Moreno “el Lechugita,” which is one of the most traditional places to grab a bite in the city. Spain is famous for its tasty cured meats and la Serranía de Ronda area lives up to this reputation like no other with: lomo embuchado (cured pork loin), Payoyo goat’s cheese (this region is the only one in the world that makes it), salchichón (similar to salami) and last but not least Iberian ham. You can buy these products in several shops in the city center, such as: La Cueva de Pasos Largos, Boutique Queso y Jamón, La Tienda de Trinidad and in Vino con Jamón, which can be found on Ronda’s main street, officially called La Carrera Vicente Espinel but called Calle la Bola by the locals. At the southernmost tip of the city lies the Plaza del Socorro square, where you can indulge in traditional confectionery at Las Campanas, which still make yemas del Tajo, or candied egg yolk. This deliciously sweet snack is famous and an unmissable experience on any tour of Ronda. A tour of Ronda is, however, unthinkable without the wines of course!
BOOKING A WINERY VISIT
To book your wine tour of the Descalzos Viejos winery, contact them through their website or email them: firstname.lastname@example.org. A list of the wineries, with their contact details and addresses, that are included in The Ronda Route of Wines and Wineries of The Serranía de Ronda, can be found on their website: http://www.ruta-vinos-ronda.com/index.php/en/. There are also companies, such as Spain Food Sherpas (https://www.spainfoodsherpas.com/ronda-day-trip/), that can organize a one-day wine getaway in Ronda for you and your partner or group of friends to discover the wineries, gastronomy and main attractions of the city.
PLACES TO STAY
Calle Jerez, 25, 29400 Ronda, Málaga
This is one of the best hotels in Ronda and is just a few minutes’ walk from the center. Make your wine holiday complete by indulging in a beauty treatment with products made from wine.
Plaza de España,
This used to be the old city hall of Ronda; it is located right in the center of the city next to the Tajo de Ronda gorge.
Partido de los Frontones.
This spectacular rural hotel is just outside Ronda and is perfect for a peaceful and relaxing stay.
Calle Ruedo Doña Elvira, 1
This hotel offers good value for the money and is ideal for families or couples. Located in the city center.
Avda. Martinez Astein, 19
Bed and breakfast offering great value for the money. Located in front of the train station.
WHERE TO EAT
Calle Las Tiendas, 2
A small, modern restaurant where the fish of the day is the star. Local dishes such as the soups and stews are also exceptional.
Calle Santa Cecilia, 6
Traditional Andalusian patios and decor make the setting for this restaurant specializing in local cuisine. Not many tourists come here.
Casa Moreno “El Lechguita”
Calle Virgen de los Remedios, 35
Small but enchanting typical Spanish food bar where you can try 72 different kinds of tapas at extremely good prices: 80 cents.
Restaurante Albacara (http://www.hotelmontelirio.com)
Calle Tenorio, 8
This is the Hotel Montelirio restaurant, but you do not need to be staying at the hotel to enjoy a meal here. Excellent food and striking views of the Tajo de Ronda gorge.
Plaza Ruedo Alameda, 27
Small tapas bar in the San Francisco neighborhood with seasonal dishes; almost everything they serve depends on the fresh produce available at that time of year.
Mesón el Sacristán
Plaza Duquesa de Parcent
Inviting restaurant with local cuisine at very reasonable prices. Ideal for families.
WHEN TO VISIT
Ronda is a fantastic city to visit at any time of the year. That said, spring and fall are when it is at its most inviting: the temperature is pleasant, the mountains are filled with a wide range of colors and there is plenty of sunlight to enjoy long leisurely days among the vineyards, drinking wine and learning all about the local history. The main local festival is the Feria de Ronda, which takes place at the beginning of September. You can also see the traditional Goyesca bullfight, which is held during the Feria.
THINGS TO DO IN SERRANÍA DE RONDA
Acinipo is a surprising archaeological site: it is the remains of an ancient Roman city that was at its height in the 1st Century AD. It is just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Ronda, and along the way you can visit the many wineries located on the charming road leading up to the site.
Serranía de Ronda
The city of Ronda is located in this region in the North of Málaga; there are around 20 other small towns in the area, most of which have between 200 and 1,000 inhabitants. The narrow streets and white houses that characterize these delightful villages and towns of Muslim origin are a perfect setting for a day of wine tasting, gastronomy and local traditions. The surrounding chestnut tree forests are simply beautiful. A must-see village in this region is Júzcar, which was painted blue or, to be more specific, “smurf-blue” to celebrate the premiere of the Smurfs movie.
Sierra de Grazalema
Sierra de Grazalema is a natural park consisting of part of the provinces of Málaga and Cádiz. It extends over more than 50,000 hectares (123 acres) and is perfect for those who love to go hiking. Apart from Ronda, this natural park also includes picturesque white towns such as Algodonales, Ubrique and Grazalema. Especially enthralling is Zahara de la Sierra, a beautiful village at the top of a mountain with a dazzling water reservoir at its feet.
The best way to travel to Ronda is by car. You can rent a car from Málaga airport (the best one for visiting Ronda as far as location is concerned), from Málaga city center or from any car rental service in the Costa del Sol in Torremolinos, Fuengirola, Benálmadena or Marbella. From Málaga you can take the Guadalhorce motorway and then the A-357 and A-367 highways, where Ronda is very well indicated, so it is impossible for you to get lost. Another option is to take the A-7 motorway, which goes along the entire Costa del Sol, and then take the A-397 from San Pedro de Alcántara to Ronda. In both cases it takes almost an hour and a half by car to get to Ronda (100 kilometers/62 miles), and the last part of the trip is a narrow road with lots of curves, so make sure to drive slowly and enjoy the amazing scenery of the Serranía de Ronda. The distance to Ronda from Seville is 130 kilometers (80 miles) by local roads, making the trip last up to two hours.
You can also take a train from the center of Málaga city; this is an inexpensive way of taking a leisurely two-hour trip to Ronda, however there is only one train available each morning. Another cheap alternative is the bus, which also takes about two hours.