Also tucked away, in the new town near the celebrated 18th-century Plaza de Toros that many consider a cradle of Spanish bullfighting, was my other Ronda favorite: the tavern Bodega el Socorro.
In the spattering rain, I followed there a steady stream of hungry faithful that emerged from a packed, incense-filled Mass with the visiting bishop. Like them, I made a serious dent into the forest of overhanging hams from acorn-fed, black-hoofed Iberian pigs.
In the mountains south and west of Ronda is a profusion of isolated pueblos, including an unusual azure one, Juzcar, which was painted that way in 2011 as publicity for a Smurfs movie.
My pick was Grazalema, fitting snugly in the crag of a fir-covered, fog-shrouded mountain. I reached it by climbing more than 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) on twisting roads that looked more Swiss than Spanish.
Between the two 17th-century churches that bracket its nucleus of terra cotta-roofed homes are many reminders of its long history, including a water fountain with two wide-eyed faces as water spouts, said to date to Visigoth times.
For my last stop, I visited two pueblos keeping watch over a spot where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet, waters that once brimmed with pirates.
The first, walled Vejer de la Frontera, winds itself like a conch shell around a hilltop castle and even boasts a couple of windmills.
The latter, the former Islamic stronghold of Frigiliana, looks out over Nerja, a popular, pretty beach resort town, and hills covered in avocado plantations.
Potted flowers, brightly painted door and window frames, and scores of ceramic shops give bursts of color, but keep looking down: The intricately black-and-white pebble mosaics that pave its alleys and steps are the true standout and just as beautiful as the celebrated ones in Italy's Riviera, some 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) east along the Mediterranean coast.
I watched the sun set from an outdoor cafe at the bottom of Frigiliana's cliffside historic center, sipping a beer and munching tart green olives — for a total bill of less than $2 — while I waited for my ride.
For my last pueblo blanco, I left the driving to the public bus.
If You Go...
ANDALUSIA, SPAIN: http://www.andalucia.org/en/.
GETTING THERE and AROUND: The region's most convenient airport is in Seville, where you'll find major car rental companies. I used the online broker http://www.pepecar.com, which was significantly cheaper through prepayment.
WHERE TO STAY: Ronda makes the perfect base for a driving loop through the region, with many choices for hotels and restaurants, http://www.turismoderonda.es. Rooms and restaurant terraces at the Don Miguel hotel — http://www.hoteldonmiguelronda.com/ — look into the gorge and toward the bridge. In Nerja, I stayed at the seafront Paraiso del Mar — http://www.hotelparaisodelmar.es — whose terraces cascade down to a wide beach lined with paella eateries.
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