My favorite travel advice is likely to be scoffed at by the independent souls who roam the world, but hear me out.
Get a guide.
I’m not saying spend your entire trip at the whim of someone else, never exploring at your own pace. But experience tells me, if you really want to experience the depths of a place, you need to do more than an internet search or a walk through the town’s cultural center. What you need is someone who lives and breathes that place – someone to share with you their passion for their home.
Without it, you are likely to miss out on what is genuine about a place.
Case in point – Ronda, Spain.
Located in the fantastically green and mountainous province of Malaga, Ronda is popular with tourists because of a beautiful stone bridge which connects the “old” city (dating to Moorish rule) with the “new” city … circa 15th century. It boasts a gorgeous vista and photographic opportunity, and when we planned our trip to Spain, Ronda was high on my mother-in-law’s priority list.
Once in Spain, though, we took the near identical advice of two different traveling families. “The bridge is beautiful,” they said, “but the rest of the town itself is touristy, and not worth the time.”
A look at the map and we adjusted our plan, taking the new information under advisement. From where we were staying in Mijas, Ronda was just over an hour away, on the road to the famous city of Seville. We decided to put the bridge viewpoint into Google maps, take a few photos, and continue on to Seville.
We did exactly that, happily admiring the gorgeous construction of Puente Nuevo, which spans a dramatic 390-foot deep gorge. The bridge was a project first proposed by King Felipe V to improve the connection between the two sides, and was completed in 1735. It is this incredible stone structure that is really something to see.
We had beautiful photos, and didn’t feel as thought we had missed a thing. We happily (naively?) continued on to Seville. What we didn’t know about that precious little mountain jewel that is Ronda could fill volumes.
A few weeks later, after the rest of the family had returned to real life, Bria and I were invited by the Worldschool Andalusia group to attend a slow travel tour of Ronda, hosted by two lovely artists, that live there with their daughters.
We saw the bridge, sure, but only as a passing aside, as we dug deeply into the rich history of the town and the area. And admittedly it was January, but I’m not sure I saw a single tourist.
Next week, please check out my post on the Art Venture tour, and how this fantastic opportunity helped us to fall in love with Ronda and its people. Our second visit is guaranteed to not be our last.