The Genal Valley: Quick facts
Geography of the Genal Valley area
The Genal Valley is the most westerly point of the province of Málaga. It is “surrounded” to the west by the Los Alcornocales Natural Park, to the north-west by the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, to the east by the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, and to the south by the Mediterranean Sea. Although surrounded by impressive protected natural spaces, it has enough diversity and features to receive its own protected status, something that for political and economic reasons has not yet occurred.
Walking & activities in the Genal Valley
Roads in the Genal Valley are relatively few, due to the combination of a complicated relief and the relatively low economic interest in an area that for geographical reasons has been self sufficient for centuries. Communications between the different villages in the past were via path or track, with villagers often having to contend with dense vegetation and fairly steep climbs from one side of the valley to the other. This has produced a network of 29 official footpaths that offer the possibility of avoiding cars and traffic for hours on end, with the added incentive of walking from village to village and being able to stop at each one for well deserved refreshment!
In addition to hiking, there are also excellent opportunities to practice canyoning in the Genal Valley tributaries, with spectacular waterfalls due to the steep slopes and dense vegetation on the riverbanks.
Thanks to the network of paths and tracks used for local transport, mountain biking is a particularly enjoyable activity, although some of the slopes may require a certain amount of effort!
Accommodation and gastronomy in the Genal Valley
The Genal Valley is a genuinely rural destination for enjoying unspoilt countryside and a relaxed traditional village life. Most villages have at least one hotel, many of which are large converted houses or mills. Ibernature Andalusia chooses the best local accommodation, depending upon the type of holiday and departure point for its activities.
As regards gastronomy, while not considered a “main” dish, chestnuts are either accompaniment in sauces with meats and stews, or a sweet in their own right.
Oven cooked lamb and pork are typical, as well as venison and wild boar from the local hunting reserves.
The high rainfall and shade from the diverse plant and tree species favour the growing of mushrooms, particularly in autumn and winter, and can therefore be found on the menu in certain bars and restaurants.
Human activity in the Genal Valley
The Genal Valley is represented by 15 towns and villages: Algatocín, Alpandeire, Atajate, Benadalid, Benalauría, Benarrabá, Cartaima, Casares, Faraján, Gaucín, Genalguacil, Igualeja, Jubrique, Júzcar, Parauta y, Pujerra.
The presence of man in the area goes back thousands of years, when the Phoenicians exploited the rich mineral resources (gold and iron), remains of which can be seen today in the local mines.
A curious, though less illustrious “industry”, was that of banditry in the 19th century: several locals in the area became infamous for their deeds, in a poverty stricken area that was difficult to search. For this same reason, 20th century opposition to Francisco Franco considered the Genal Valley as a safe haven, and members of the underground movement remained amazingly enough uncaptured until 1949, eleven years after General Franco had come into power!
Regarding more licit “careers”, the richness in forestry resources has made it the economic mainstay of the Genal Valley. The difficulty of the terrain meant that wheeled vehicles were not introduced until well into the 19th century, thus meaning that there cart tracks did not exist previously, and all transport, whether of humans or goods, was carried out by mules on narrow paths. This was called “arriería”, and there was a series of professions linked to transportation, including that of loader! The products carried on mule back for sale on the coast or in Ronda were charcoal, cork (from cork oak trees), wood, coarse grass (for weaving), olive oil, almonds, wine (from pre-phylloxera vineyards), chestnuts, lime (for whitewashing) etc. The return journey was for transporting fish or salt from the coast, or basic food products from Ronda.
Nowadays, whereas agriculture remains an important activity for the Genal Valley, it is now complemented by low level ecological tourism.
Flora in the Genal Valley
The relatively low intensity of farming and grazing, combined with a low human impact, has meant that the Genal Valley has retained many of its historical natural values. Vegetation is less controlled than in other areas, resulting in a wide biodiversity of trees, plants and flowers, including several species of wild orchid.
Flora in the Genal Valley is linked to the type of soil, in turn influenced by the three most typical types of rock: silicate, sedimentary or peridotite. The latter is fairly toxic for most species; therefore some of those trees and plants that do thrive are endemic, such as the wild strawberry bush, rock rose, heather, Kermes Oak and the mountain pine.
Flora in the sedimentary rock is that most affected by man, since it is where most trees have been felled and most grazing has taken place. Generally speaking, the most common types plant are bushes such as common lavender, rosemary, Mediterranean dwarf palm, gorse, plus some examples of Aleppo pine.
Most of the surface of the Genal Valley however is silicate rock. The northern end is home to a Mediterranean forest with a preponderance of holm oaks, Spanish broom, cistus and butcher’s broom.
Special mention must be made of two trees, one for its scientific value and the other for its economic importance: the Sierra Bermeja, on the south eastern edge of the Genal Valley is one of the few places in the world where the protected Spanish fir grows. It has survived from prehistoric times, a hardy tree that survives on the cooler, more humid northern slopes.
The chestnut occupies some 4,000 hectares, and is one of the mainstays of the local economy and the symbol of the Genal Valley: its deciduous leaves transform vast areas from spring through to autumn, the fruit being harvested at the time when a large part of the valley is covered in a blanket of golden leaves.
Fauna in the Genal Valley
The low human impact and non-destruction of natural habitats has also meant that fauna in the Genal Valley flourishes. Some 140 species of bird have been spotted in the area, whether year-round residents, winter or summer visitors, or migrants. They are found in three types of habitat: riverbanks, forests, and mountains.
Riverbanks in the Genal Valley enjoy dense vegetation and the water is crystalline. These are home to species such as the little ringed plover and the grey heron, plus the migrant sand martin, black stork, white-rumped swift and the white-throated dipper.
Away from water, in the woods and forest areas which are full of pine trees, chestnut trees, holm oaks and carob trees, the diversity of birds is even greater. This ranges from birds of prey of the likes of the short-toed and booted eagles who nest in the trees, insect eaters such as the Iberian chiff-chaff and Bonelli’s warbler.
Finally, seasonal fliers above the rocky crags in the Genal Valley, are the black kite, Egyptian vulture, harriers, the honey buzzard and the kestrel. Permanent residents include the Griffon vulture and the golden eagle.
Mammals are typically Mediterranean and, with the exception of the wolf, which disappeared in the 19th century, the same species flourish now as before. At the top end of the Genal Valley and in the Sierra Bermeja is the mountain goat, curiously easier to spot due to its increasing population. On the contrary, the roe deer, while fairly numerous, is famously difficult to see. Other animals include the wild boar and wild pig (domestic animals that have bred outside of captivity), deer, mufflon, mountain cat, badger, weasel, pine marten and mongoose.
With water having a major influence on the area, there are several species of amphibian, as well as fish such as trout.
Geology in the Genal Valley
The Genal valley is a geologically diverse region, with three major rock structures: calcareous, silicate and peridotite.
The former are sedimentary, and grey or white in colour. They are most common in the north, east and south of the valley. The most striking examples are the bizarre weather-worn forms near the villages of Júzcar and Cartajima.
Silicate rocks are the most prevalent in the Genal Valley, and are oldest rocks in the region. Local silicate mountains are known as “sierras pardas”, due to the brown colour of the iron ore they contain.
Peridotite rocks are igneous in origin, green in colour, and rich in heavy metals. It provides multiple peculiarities to the geology of the Genal Valley, some being unique on a worldwide scale. They are also home to many of the plant endemisms, and the origin of many of the mines that operated from Roman times through to a mere few years ago.
Climate in the Genal Valley
The Genal Valley is influenced by the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, open to moist air currents from the south east, with mountains to the east that act as a barrier to cold in winter and heat in summer. This produces a climate that varies quite markedly from the surrounding areas. Rainfall is way above the average for Andalusia, and similar to that of the nearby Natural Parks (Sierra de Grazalema, Los Alcornocales and Sierra de las Nieves).
At the top end of the Genal Valley, climate is more continental, with short but cold winters and generally hot summers. Frost is common between November and March, although relatively mild and for areas with little direct sunlight. Snow is not generalized, except in the region bordering on the Sierra de las Nieves. In the lower valley, both winters and summers are less severe, and frost is a rare occurrence. Taking the village of Pujerra as an example, the average temperature at the top of the valley is 15.5ºC, and somewhat warmer at the bottom.
Rainfall exceeds 1,000 mm throughout the Genal Valley, due to the humid air blowing in from the open southeast and striking mountains whose heights exceed 1,000 metres. Indeed, the higher the land, the greater the rainfall, with figures of 2,177 l/m2 registered in Alpandeire.
Water and river systems in the Genal Valley
As its very name suggests, the Genal Valley is dominated by the River Genal, the main tributary of the River Guadiaro, which eventually flows into the Mediterranean Sea near to the famous holiday resort of Sotogrande, a few kilometres from Gibraltar.
The highest point above the valley at which water arises to eventually form the River Genal is a place called Fuente del Muerto near to the Ronda – San Pedro de Alcántara road. However, the official birthplace of the Genal is generally considered to be the junction of the Igualeja and Nacimiento rivers, partly because it is very attractive, with a cave from where the water “magically” appears, and has been turned into a tourist attraction with nearby picnic area and restaurant!
This said, there are multiple tributaries flowing into the River Genal and on both sides of the valley, often with waterfalls and natural pools that are beautiful to look at and tempting to swim in, especially in the hot summer months.
Festivities in the Genal Valley
Having been historically isolated, the towns villages in the Genal Valley share many fiestas and festivals, as well as sometimes having their own specific celebrations: