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"A fantastic holiday in Piso Blanco – the Barrio San Francisco, balcony and pool heightened our enjoyment of Ronda.  Was happiest watching the sunset from this balcony over the mountains."
Jamie Pearson
Brussels, Belgium

The Streets of San Francisco PDF
 

Streets of San FranciscoPaul Whitelock, a sometime resident of the Barrio San Francisco, explains why this corner of Ronda is among the best in town.

The Barrio San Francisco, which nestles just outside the city walls at the southern end of Ronda's old town, is a delightful working quarter of narrow streets and cobbled alleyways, populated mainly by local people. In recent years, however, the charms of this up-and-coming area of the Ciudad Soñada, City of Dreams, have enticed a small number of foreigners to buy a house or an apartment here. Currently, there are a German, two American ladies, an Irishwoman and about a dozen Brits who own properties in this peaceful and open area and who work locally at various enterprises or who have simply had the good fortune to be able to retire from the rat-race of their respective countries.

Amongst these in-comers, or guiris, as they are affectionately known by the Spanish, there is a sculptor, a writer, a second-hand bookseller, a landscape gardener and a tourist guide, all of whom have been adopted by the locals and have integrated fully into the slower pace of life that inland Andalucía offers. Martin, a German from near Frankfurt, has lived in the barrio for 15 years with his lovely Spanish señora Carmen. Martin is a successful sculptor. "I love it here in the barrio. I have a lot of friends, mainly local folk who have accepted me warmly into their community. I’ll never go back to Germany. Why would I leave all this?"

"The barrio", as it is known by the rondeños, even though there are many other barrios in Ronda, is also extremely popular amongst local people who live up in the town centre. Javier Prieto, regional bank director at Unicaja, says: "I like to come down to the barrio, especially in summer, because it is a few degrees cooler than up in town and it has a very open and relaxed ambience. Also it has some of the best bars and restaurants in Ronda, all within easy walking distance of each other."

There are five bars/restaurants around the perimeter of the Ruedo Alameda, the square, which in Moorish times was the Arab cemetery. In fact, Bar Restaurante El Almocábar, a stylish restaurant and tapas bar on the square, is named after the old Arab word for burial ground. Manolo has an extensive menu of exciting new-style Spanish dishes and a very high reputation gained over many years of endeavour. Víctor, one of his staff, is known among the ex-pats as the speediest barman in the West, not just because of his quick and efficient service, but also because he talks so fast we cannot understand a word!

Across the other side of the square is Casa María, a small but classy family-run restaurant which features in many a travel guide. Elías, the owner, doesn't have a fixed menu, as he buys fresh meat and fish every day according to what is available. This means you are always surprised and rarely disappointed.

In the most prominent spot on the square is Bodega Restaurante San Francisco, owned and run by Paco and his charming English-speaking wife Paqui, who in a former life was an au pair in London for English writer Martin Amis. Paco's range of tapas and à la carte menu is also extensive. The quality of the food and his reasonable prices make this bodega the most popular venue in the barrio. So successful has Paco been that they have just opened another restaurant across the way.

Tucked in behind the square on Calle Amanecer are Bar Benito and El Paso. Bar Benito is this writer's favourite. On arriving as new guiris back in 2001, this was where we were most warmly welcomed. It's a great bar with loads of atmosphere and gets thronged at certain times of the day and night by local families who come there to sample the excellent tapas and raciones on offer. Benito, the owner, is credited with having invented the serranito, a much imitated tapa consisting of a bread roll stuffed with a piece of grilled pork, jamón serrano and green pepper. A wholesome snack which is just right if you're feeling a bit peckish.

El Paso is completely different to the other four establishments. It's a bar de copas, more like a coffee-cum-cocktail bar, with loud music and no food and which stays open till the early hours. Not this writer's cup of tea at all, but extremely popular amongst younger folk and that group of older Spanish men that like to cruise the late night bars looking for action. José Luis, the owner, has brought something different into the area, something which clearly meets a need. El Paso also has five holiday apartments to let, which are very new and situated above the bar.

Oddly, there is very little accommodation on offer in the barrio. Apart from the afore-mentioned apartments there are a few people renting private self-catering accommodation and one small hotel just through the city wall. The Hospedería del Jardín de la Muralla is a little gem of a place. Located next to the local parish church, La Iglesia del Espíritu Santo, this former baronial home only has five rooms, but they are exquisite. All on the first floor they surround an internal patio, stuffed with antiques. The guests’ lounge has a grand piano and a huge library and gives onto the breakfast terrace set amongst enchanting and extensive terraced gardens, full of rare roses, trees and other flowers and plants. There is also a large but discreet swimming pool. Being so small, the place is run by the owner, José María, together with some part-time staff.

So, if you’ve never been to the barrio, this writer recommends an early visit. If you’ve already been, you won’t need any encouragement to return. ¡Disfruta! Enjoy!

© Paul Whitelock

The Streets of San Francisco is an updated version of the article of the same name which first appeared in The Olive Press in October 2008

Tags: Streets of San Francisco, Barrio San Francisco, Ronda, Ciudad Soñada, City of Dreams, guiri, Andalucía, Ruedo Alameda, Almocábar, Casa María, Bodega San Francisco, Martin Amis, tapas, raciones, serranito, jamón serrano,  bodega, barrio, barrio san francisco, Bar Benito, El Paso, bar de copas, Hospedería del Jardín de la Muralla, Iglesia del Espíritu Santo, paul whitelock, olive press