There are moments in life when all problems dissipate into an afternoon glass of grenache and conversation.
It took less than a sip on the lush patio of Finca Descalzos Viejos, a 15th century monastery turned winery tucked into the rocky hills beneath the Spanish town of Ronda, to figure out that this is one of those times.
Rolling hills cascaded like waves into the boisterous cliff faces that led to the town above, only breaking to allow Moorish walls to bore horizontal defensive lines through the rugged earth.
The buildings that were in view encouraged all manner of cliched Spanish descriptions, running the gamut from old farms to proud townhouse apartments and villas occupying enviable viewpoints.
Hardly Andalusias best kept secret, Ronda is the regions third most visited destination, as the tourist buses will attest to. But upon closer inspection, it has lost little of its community spirit, laid-back mountainous lifestyle or working class roots.
Its a place where your pace naturally slows, even in the midst of an all-night rave, and prices remain wonderfully affordable and the quality of life high. Its also packed with cultural assets and cuisine highlights by the table-load.
Leaving Malaga airport behind presents you with spectacular stuff within minutes.
There are two roads to pick from – one heading down the coast via Marbella, the other immediately inland – and the route is such that it pays dividends not to be the designated driver.
Gradually climbing to over 700 metres above sea level, youll pass landscapes typical of postcard perfect imagery from the region.
Perhaps even more tempting, Ronda was a key stopover on a railway line from Gibraltar built by the British (who would stay at the imposing Reina Victoria hotel, which still stands proudly in town). And while that particular route has fallen out of favour, trains continue to run daily through the Serrania de Ronda mountains and on to Malaga.
You dont have to be in town long before its clear just how special a place Ronda actually is, juxtaposing real life, tradition and tourism.
The truly impressive Plaza de Toros, AKA Spains largest bullring, once popular with Ernest Hemingway, sits proudly as the towns most famous building, yet around the corner, its still possible to enjoy €1.50 beers with 50-year-olds clad in impossibly thick retro Adidas tracksuits.
Toma & Coe offer excellent specialist tours of both the wider region and the towns most stunning corners, many of which are hiding in plain sight, such as the understated but impressive Iglesia de Santa Maria la Mayor church, or the Mondragon Palace and Museum (originally the home of Moorish ruler Abbel Mallek).
My friendly and informative guide, Jesus, led the way over the iconic Puente Nuevo Bridge – the most photographed place in town, spanning a huge gorge, river and waterfalls – into the old town, where narrow lanes were flanked by whitewashed townhouses.
The streets were set at varying levels, ensuring a great workout for your legs and some striking viewpoints – especially around the Arabic walls.
Ronda isnt just blessed with incredible ambience – the food on offer isnt bad either.
In the centre of town, those looking for tapas served as it should be could do far worse than hit Bar Casa Moreno.
You can eat outside on the cobbled alley for around 80c per dish, meaning parties of four or more could feasibly and affordably devour everything on the menu.
The altitude and rocky vistas make it easy to forget Andalusia is a coastal region, meaning seafood is par for the course, and there are few better places to sample this than Pedro Romero, a restaurant over the road from that bullring.
Proudly serving local specialties, lamb, rabbit and pork sit alongside frutos del mar, with lashings of the wine helping the experience no end.
Nature has been kind on Rondas citizens, and even kinder to those who enjoy good grapes, or uva to the Spanish. And given we are told wine flows through peoples veins in these parts, that means pretty much everyone.
There are a number of wineries in the area, but none can match the aforementioned Finca Descalzos Viejos, the brainchild of two architects with no winemaking experience, but a shared love of new challenges and experiences.
There are tours available through the entire operation, affording guests the opportunity to gaze at original religious frescoes that were covered up for aeons, and only exposed when the site was converted to its current use.
The small-scale production means youre unlikely to find bottles by chance elsewhere in the world, and first hand experience confirms the why the hell not attitude of the owners still guides the overall ethos.
Talking about wine without drinking it is like talking about jazz or sex without listening, playing or doing.
Few would argue with Flavio Salesis point, one of the bosses responsible for turning holy land into Bacchuss playground, especially when hes opening yet another bottle.
Ronda is no stranger to the performing arts either – Ronda Guitar House is just one example. You can purchase traditional instruments and enjoy live concerts in-store from impressive players, while talented buskers are omnipresent in many parks and squares.
Dont think this means theres not something to satisfy people of a louder disposition, though; taking its name from the regions favourite fruit for fermenting, Uva Festival is a weekend-long annual event that calls the Descalzos Viejos home.
A mere 750 or so people make up the notably international crowd, creating an atmosphere more in tune with a debauched garden party than anything else.
Stages are set in the monasterys grounds and, thanks to the intimate size, attendees get very familiar with each other, very quickly.
Small in scale but not reach, 2018s line-up saw a whos who of European house, techno, electronic and experimental artists take to the sound systems, with music running from late-afternoon to well beyond dawn, making the most of the truly spectacular location and views.
Watching the sun rise over the Andalusian hills while surrounded by friends youve met over the course of the night is definitely one of those pinch-yourself moments.
The offering extends beyond the gardens, too, with a warm up session on Thursday evening introducing significant Spanish and contemporary classical elements via an open-air concert, free for everyone (kids, party people, dogs), featuring local and national performers playing from a terraced outcrop in central Ronda, set against another achingly beautiful natural backdrop.
Where to stay in Ronda and how to get there:
In Ronda, stay at the Hotel Catalonia. It has a central location, rooftop bar and pool looking directly into the bullring. Doubles from £122 per night.
EasyJet has flight from London to Malaga starting from £43 return.
From there, its a short drive to Ronda.
(Top picture: Martin G Hewitt)