20km Circular Walk near Ronda
One of our most popular walks is from Ronda to the Cueva del Gato (“Cat Cave”) near Benaojan. This guided walk includes a pick up from Benaojan back to Ronda but we know that some hikers prefer a full day out on a longer challenge, wanting to walk out to the Cueva del Gato and then back to Ronda. This way they can take as long as they like over the walk itself, taking photos or exploring the local wildlife and flowers, or simply taking an extended break at a bar along the way.
Our Ronda – Benaojan circular walk is a self-guided walking option that does just this. We have tried the circuit in both directions but going clockwise is our preferred option.
NOTE: We later adapted the below waking loop to a 1-day extended guided linear walk via the beautiful Tajo del Abanico Gorge and on to Jimera de Libar via Mr Henderson's Way - read more here - Mr Henderson's Way
We begin at the far south of Ronda, in the barrio San Francisco, from where we head out just a couple of kilometres to reach a superb viewing point from which to look back at Ronda.
The walk then winds through the rural outskirts of the town, involving some quite steep ascents and descents but always with superb views into the distance.
The last time we did this walk was at the height of the spring flower season, so a real treat. The countryside looked extremely green and healthy, with crops blowing gently in the breeze and wild flowers poking their heads up through the grass.
Also, in a moment of great excitement, we found some wild asparagus – just one spear, mind, but it was a start. This is a precious crop in the area, found growing wild in hedgerows and roadsides, sought out by locals who jealously guard their knowledge of good growing locations. You often see them standing on the side of the road in springtime, arms full of large bundles of asparagus for sale for just a few euros. We had never managed to spot it growing wild before so this was a HUGE discovery! How exciting, maybe we could open a new Hike and Bike business channel - “Asparagus Tours”! As we continued walking, our eyes glued to the grass and bushes in the ditches at the side, we were met by two local Spanish men walking towards us, their arms and large bags slung across their shoulders absolutely overflowing with wild asparagus. Our excitement rapidly dwindled as we realised that they had obviously cleared the whole trail ahead of us and there was not another spear to be found! Well, that was the end of that new business idea. And one spear was hardly going to provide a delicious feast for our dinner. In fact, whilst I had visions of carefully preparing that one single spear and presenting it in all its lone glory on a large platter, by the time we made it home, it was in such a sorry, limp state that it didn’t even warrant the effort of cooking it, so it never made it to the dinner table at all.
The walk then continued without further incident over the mountains, giving views across to El Hacho (“The Axe”), the large rock formation which indicates the location of the village of Montejaque. From this side, El Hacho looks like a normal rocky ridge but from the other, you can see how, many thousands of years ago, a huge flat plateau of rock suffered an enormous geological disturbance, tipping the rock up on one side, resulting in a dramatically steep slope and a local climbing challenge.
From this point, the walk continues in an “up hill and down dale” fashion, crossing a small stream and beginning to climb again to enter dense holm oak woods. This is where it meets a stretch of path which is renowned as one of the toughest, meanest parts of the La Legion 101km race, which takes place every May in Ronda and its surrounding villages. Mountain bikers, runners and walkers spend up to 24 hours racing through the mountains and valleys of the area in a gruelling test of fitness, stamina and determination. This difficult section is a hideously steep climb up from the riverside, involving a tight and un-rideable zig-zagging trail. What makes it particularly cruel is the fact that it happens at kilometre 87 of the bike race, just when the riders are feeling at their most exhausted. They have already been racing for hours but are not yet close enough to the finish to gain an “end in sight” boost. A Legionnaire is posted at this point to give them the happy news that there are only 14km to go. Despite this announcement, you watch their faces turn from jubilation to despair as their cycling action changes from a fast pedal to an agonised push. One mean hill indeed.
Of course, when doing this walk, you will be going down this slope, so what you get instead is a delightful view of the river peaking out from between the trees.
Then it is just a short walk along the riverside to Benaojan Estacion, where you can stop for traditional Andalucian refreshments at great value at the Bar-Stop tapas restaurant or at the station cafe (much better than it sounds!). Alternatively, if you fancy more of a treat, take a short walk up the river to the Molino del Santo hotel, where more cosmopolitan cuisine and attentive service will tempt you into stopping for far longer than you intended.
From Benaojan, we begin to head back towards Ronda, firstly walking a short distance up the Guadiaro River to the Cueva del Gato or Cat Cave. Whilst identifying the cat which gives the cave its name requires a bit of imagination, it is not difficult at all to enjoy this delightful spot, where subterranean waters exit the cave via a waterfall into a natural swimming pool. The water has completed an underground journey of 8 kilometres through the limestone cliffs from near Montejaque.
After a brief look into the cave entrance, we continue along the hills above the river, then past fields of wheat, numerous olive trees and a vineyard. From here we start to gain altitude on our way back to Ronda. It doesn’t take long before our first sight of the town, perched on the clilfftop above the valley. We walk across the valley floor and down beneath the gorge, with great views up to the Puente Nuevo “New Bridge” before a final steep climb up the cobbled path which marks one of the ancient routes into the town. We finish in the plaza at barrio San Francisco, outside the Almocobar Gate. 20 km – DONE!
Footnote: As I mentioned, along the way we spotted numerous wild spring flowers and, since I am no expert and able to name them all, below is a small gallery of the different things we saw. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who could put me straight on the names of them all – let me know if you can!!
Heather Cooper, Hike + Bike the Sierras 01/06/2014