When visiting Ronda, getting out into the little villages is one of the must do excursions that would render your vacation incomplete if you didn’t do, however a lot of visitors to Ronda don’t have access to a car, so Benaojan is one of the options to see an authentic white village.
Located on the southern boundary of the Sierra de Grazalema, Benaojan is convenient because both bus and train visit the village, and the trip is only 25 minutes from Ronda. My own trip saw me take the train along Mr Henderson’s railway walk, a comfortable and air conditioned journey that does however stop at Benaojan Estación, a small hamlet below the main village that requires a 20 minute walk before you see what Benaojan has to offer.
Jimera de Libar, easily reached by train from Ronda, by walking from Benaojan, or by car from both Cortes de la Frontera and Benaojan, is a delightful white village in the Guardiaro Valley of the Serranía de Ronda. Limestone mountains for the Sierra de Libar tower over the village and birds of prey frequently look down on the ant-like people going about their business.
In recent years the village has become exceedingly popular for holiday makers choosing to rent self-catered homes away from the hotels of the area, and then use the village as a base from which to explore the hiking trails of the Grazalema Natural Park. Mr Henderson’s railway walk from Benaojan to Jimera de Libar is a popular local excursion or day trip from Ronda.
The Mondragón Palace is one of Ronda’s most visited buildings, not only because it houses the Municipal Museum, but mostly for it’s Moorish courtyards and gardens that evoke memories of kings and governors who called Ronda home.
The palace was the home of the Moorish King Abomelic I (also known as Abomelic Abd al-Malik, and in some history books as Abbel Mallek), who reigned all too briefly yet initiated a golden age in the city and started large construction projects. It is likely the palace already existed when Abomelic first arrived in Andalusia, with most experts seeming to agree the years 1306-1314 as likely dates of construction.
This article is part two of the Ronda to Virgen de la Cabeza walk. Please make sure you have also read part one.
To complete this walk you need to of average fitness. This walk is not suitable for people with heart conditions as the ascent at the end is steep.
Almost every keen walker who visits Ronda also walks to the Virgen de la Cabeza cave church across the valley from the Puente Nuevo, but most then turn back and return the way they came, yet the walk through the valley below is fantastic and for those game to try it should be a must do activity.
The Serranía de Ronda was extensively populated by neolithic and then bronze age people and Juzcar is no exception. A stone structure that could have been a defensive tower on the boundary between Juzcar and Farajan, is proof of ancient peoples living and working in the district. Very little evidence of their activities has been found, though the area has not been excavated to any great extent.
In Roman times, whilst Acinipo and Arunda were thriving, we believe the area around Juzcar was mostly unoccupied but may have possessed a local iron mine. In fact the name Juzcar, terminating in -ar is highly suggestive that Arab invaders in 711 AD encountered either Romanised Iberians or Visigothic people who would have adopted Roman customs.
Built by Mozarab Christians around the time of ibn Hafsun’s uprising during the Umayyad dynasty at the end of the 9th century, Virgen de la Cabeza (Virgin of the Head) is believed to have been primarily a chapel and hermitage for Christian Monks, and is a classic example of Mozarab rupestrian churches, although sadly one of the last remaining.
Also known as the Cuevas de San Antón, the church was originally the site of a small area of worship from shortly after the Arab invasion of Iberia, but during the Mozarab uprising, and while Ronda was nominally independent under ibn Hafsun, the original cave was enlarged to house a permanent hermitage of upto 10 monks. The entire church is not large in comparison to the other churches in Ronda, but is still 272 square metres in area.
Originally built in the 14th century as one of the muslim Mosques, the Church of Santa María la Mayor, known locally as the Iglesia de Santa María de la Encarnación la Mayor in Ronda’s Town Hall square, the Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, and is the biggest and most attractive of the churches. Its distinctive tower and front facade make the church look more like a city hall than a church, but don’t be fooled, entering the church soon puts these thoughts aside.
Mr Henderson’s Railway walk between Benaojan and Jimera de Libar is one of the most popular walks in the Serranía for visitors, particularly because it is long enough to be a challenge for some, but short enough to really enjoy the walk, see some lovely nature, and be located between two railway stops giving peace of mind if anything untoward were to happen help is close at hand.
The walk is just 7.5km from start to end, and the return walk is listed as a three and a half hour walk. The terrain is suitable for all bar those with serious health concerns, though there are two sections of the track that could be more difficult because the path has been cut into rock.