Have you ever had an urge to stay in a monastery, yet not exactly wanted to join the order, sleep on a narrow cot or get up for 4 am prayers? Then Ronda’s newest hidden, yet ever so central boutique hotel might just be what you have been looking for.
My husband and I thought that our Ronda building permit saga was the ultimate test in patience, with months of waiting, refusals, reapplications and even an archaeological dig. But that was before we spoke to John and Carol Small. Our application was merely to restore a tiny village home, but they had a much more ambitious project in mind. The Small’s had bought the adjoining church to a former monastery and decided to convert it into a hotel. This may seem like a simple preposition to some, but for most of us who reside in Spain, or certainly in the southern part of the country, we know that this kinds of reformations may take years, indeed forever, especially if said property lays within the historical quarter of Ronda, otherwise called the ciudad soñada or the city of dreams.
Getting our building application took two years and that felt like an eternity. John and Carol’s permit application took six long years, with an added two years of construction on top of that. I can only imagine how many times they were near giving up! Finally, after digs and re-digs, inspections and re-inspections, miles of red tape, local, provincial and who knows what other authorities disapprovals and approvals, and probably ample amounts of hand wringing, they managed to open the doors of their charming Ronda boutique hotel in December. We were invited for a tour and hot drinks by the pool one cool Sunday afternoon, and were nothing short of in awe with what they had accomplished.
Hotel Monasterio del Carmen is located just a few minutes walk from Ronda’s world famous bridge, visited by literally hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. Yet, once you pass into the historic centre and take off down the narrow side street to enter the hotel gates, you will find yourself in a hidden oasis – a private patio facing the old Arab defensive wall with the Serranía del Ronda mountain ranges at a distance. Just the view is worth the stay! The hotel itself is has only four guest rooms, which adds to the intimate atmosphere. Both the garden rooms and the inner monastic rooms are done in a modern, clean, yet comfortable style. The large terraced patio with an infinity pool (surely the only one you will find in the historic part of Ronda) tends to be the favourite place for visitors to have their breakfast, while the lofty church building itself, offers ample space for lounging, reading or catching up on emails while having a glass of wine. The décor reflects the many years that the owners lived in the Middle East, which somehow perfectly complements the buildings long and varied history.
This monastic hotel is not your state-of-the-mill lodging establishment. The original monastery construction was started some time in the late 15th or early 16th century, which brings us back to a period just after Ronda and the rest of Spain had abolished its Moorish population after seven centuries of Arab rule. This was when many of Ronda’s old churches and convents were established. Later additions to the church were made in the 18th century, such as the baroque rectangular nave and barrel vault ceiling. It was also then they added the Camarín, or the octagonal small chapel to the east, which can equally be admired from outside. The chapel is now wonderfully restored in its original deep terra cotta hues, with the painted date of its completion - 1738.
Through the centuries, the church was used for religious services, as a hospital and hostel, as stopping point for pilgrims, and as hideout for republicans and leftists during the Spanish civil war in the 1930’s. After the church was deconsecrated some decades back, it was used as a theatre and music hall with an adjoining bar, appropriately located in the upper gallery. By the time John and Cathy bought it, the monastery church had been abandoned for years and was classified as being in very poor condition and in desperate need of restoration.
With such a colourful history, it only seems appropriate that its next reincarnation would be as a resting place for wary travellers. So, next time you plan to visit our little town of dreams, you might want to consider spending a night or two in this hidden treasure. For more information on Hotel Monasterio del Carmen, please go to http://www.hotelmonasteriodelcarmen.com/