Spain – ‘Andalucía’s Range of Light’, Eco/Nature – Activity/Adventure Holidays, Jaen provinc
As one of Spain’s most magnificent protected spaces, the mountainous natural park of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas in Andalucía’s north eastern Jaen province truly stirs the heart.
Once you arrive in Cazorla you are struck by the sheer scale of this vast area of protected nature. The grandeur of the mountains and the immense forests are reminiscent of Yosemite and other national parks of North America. It’s certainly true that there is nothing else quite on this scale elsewhere in southern Spain. The natural park is made up of a number of protected areas that together span over 2000 square kilometres. Although this is the largest protected area in Spain, and a UNESCO biosphere, this exceptional corner of Andalucía is not designated a National Park. Instead it is made up of a mixture of both inspiring untouched wild spaces that span the rugged mountain ranges, together with inhabited communities in some of the valleys. So not only is the area teeming with wildlife and plants, but there are also vibrant villages and towns whose economies are tired to the land and the tourism it supports.
In addition to the hunting sector that is an integral part of the local economy, the area is also a top destination for lovers of nature and outdoor adventure activities.
Since its status as a ‘natural’ park means that it has less access restrictions compared to a ‘national’ park, it is easy to get around and truly discover the area. In fact with its well maintained network of tracks and trails, access to some of the most fascinating areas is easy on horseback, mountain bike, by 4×4 and of course on foot.
Deep in the park is the source of the magnificent Guadalquivir River, one of Spain’s great waterways, which is also integral to the history and culture of Andalucía. From here, the mountain source becomes a river, feeding the park’s reservoir, and then flowing on as a mighty river through Cordoba and later Seville, eventually reaching the sea at the wetlands of La Doñana in Huelva province in the west.
The crystal clear waters of the River Segura also run through this wild place, fed by a myriad of canyons and dramatic waterfalls that punctuate the breathtaking landscape.
Fishing is permitted in some sections of the rivers, as is controlled hunting of wild game in the park. Yet you don’t need to be a hunter to sample some of the best local cuisine.
The park’s Parador Hotel, a historic former hunting lodge hidden in a remote, elevated spot is one of the most popular choices for accommodation.
Although mostly empty during the day, with guests exploring the park, the bar and dining room are lively at the end of the day. The Parador kitchen often prepares special game tasting menus. Hungry carnivores can tuck into tasty homemade game bird pâtés, then a typical rustic-style rabbit stew, followed by a venison or wild boar steak. The menus are paired with Spanish wines for a truly memorable experience.
For those that prefer their wildlife peaceful in the countryside, rather than resting on a plate will be pleased to know that the forests, rivers and skies are still full of abundant fauna. Raptors and song birds can be seen overhead, whilst it is not unusual to catch a glimpse of deer and other game amongst the trees or down by the rivers.
This is in fact one of the most bio diverse places in Europe, with some unique plant species, including relic plants that have been somehow trapped in the craggy landscape, like living time-capsules, giving a glimpse of life in past millennia.
The most accessible parts of the park offer well maintained and well sign- posted routes for both gentle walking, and more serious hiking. For example the simple ‘Sendero Cerrada de Utrero’ offers an easy 2 km round trip walk through a stunning gorge, delivering staggering views, without really working up a sweat.
For those with a more adventurous spirit, ‘Sendero Rio Borosa’ is one of the most popular hikes; and at 3 hours or more before getting to some of the most spectacular waterfalls and plunge pools, it makes for a full day’s activity, especially once you factor in the time to go back. Designated camp sites are available in the park, although some restrictions exist during the summer fire season.
To get the best perspective of this expansive landscape it is worth hiking towards some of the lofty summits. Decent footwear, a rucksack with first aid, water and snacks are important; and take a map too. Few mobile phone operators have coverage here, so don’t expect your smart phone to help you with navigation. This is wild Spain, so basic map and compass readings skills are a bonus to avoid getting lost once you leave the popular routes. Temperatures can be sweltering in summer, so early starts are essential, but one gets to enjoy best light for clear views.
Climbers and extreme adventurers tackle the highest peaks that can reach over 2000 metres, whilst certified guides from Cazorla town offer caving days to explore the cool caverns that lie within the mountain ranges.
Little can compare to the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas in capturing the essence of wild Andalucía. Whether it’s the seductive patina of the evening light on the sheer mountain limestone outcrops; or the vibrant greens of the pine forests in the mid day sun, this place has an extraordinary energy that delivers both tranquillity and adventure.
COPYRIGHT ANDREW FORBES