The Natural Park of Montes de Málaga: Quick facts
The Montes de Malaga Natural Park is on the southern extreme of the province of Malaga, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and is almost entirely within the municipality of the city of Malaga. To the east is the Axarquía, a mountainous region which is home to another Natural Park, that of Sierra Tejeda, Almijara and Alhambra. To the west is the Sierra de las Cabras, and to the north, the Sierra del Jobo.
The Montes de Malaga Natural Park is criss-crossed by some 150 km of paths and tracks, most of which are closed to outside vehicles. Although the maximum altitude within the park is just over 1.000 m, there are superb views of the Natural Park, the Bay of Malaga and Torremolinos/Benalmadena, as well as the Torcal de Antequera, due to the undulating terrain and steep valley above the city of Malaga. In spite of its closeness to the second largest city in Andalusia, the Montes de Malaga is a surprisingly peaceful and relaxing place to walk, and even the drive up to the Natural Park immediately gives the impression of an area unaffected by the bustle just 5 km below.
Accommodation and gastronomy
Accommodation within the Park itself is scarce, although there are some hotels on the outskirts of Malaga or on the road to Colmenar, for those wishing to enjoy not only the peace and tranquility of the Montes de Malaga, but also the night time relaxed atmosphere of a small hotel out of the city.
Good food and drink is still present in the several restaurants on the road between Malaga and Colmenar. There are many typical dishes, the best known of which are: Gazpacho (cold soup whose main ingredient is tomato); Ajo blanco (cold soup based on almonds and adorned with grapes); Porra (a thicker version of gazpacho mixed with hard-boiled egg and chopped serrano ham; Migas (literally, “crumbs”, made of lightly fried bread with fried eggs, Spanish sausage, fried peppers… also known as the “mountain dish”, and renowned for its high calorific value; Gachas (flour cooked in a frying pan with milk, fried bread and honey); Gazpachuelo ( a hot soup made with mayonnaise, boiled potatoes, rice, bread and fish).
At one stage, there were 34 varieties of grape in the Montes de Málaga, used to produce different types of white and sweet wine, used for drinking or cooking. This range has been reduced to 3 types: “Pedro Ximen”, used for sweet and dry wines; “Moscatel”, of the raisin and sweet wine of the same name; and “Rome”, also used for the production of wine.
The Montes de Malaga includes the towns of Casabermeja and Colmenar, and the city of Malaga.
The pine forests originally present but cut down for the production of wine grapes, olives and almonds, are now making a comeback, since these retained the soil to avoid the flooding caused by man and which so affected Malaga until the 20th century.
During the 19th Century, the area was used for the cultivation of grapevines, which is why there are still several ruins of “lagares”* where excellent quality wines were produced until the arrival in 1877 of the phylloxera, an insect that attacks the grape that had been unknowingly brought from abroad. The vines rapidly disappeared, ruining farm owners and forcing them to sell their land. The new proprietors planted almond and olive trees, which did not need such intensive management but which left the steep slopes with little or no vegetation to retain the soil. This, added to the torrential nature of rainfall in the area, produced catastrophic results for the city of Malaga, at the very base of the mountains, in particular in the floods of 1906/7 that caused many deaths and incalculable loss of property and wealth.
It was for these reasons, that the Montes de Malaga was replanted with pine and Eucalyptus trees, although in more recent times, these two varieties are being gradually replaced with more typical Mediterranean forest plants and trees, since the former, although faster growing, also make the soil more acidic and impede growth of covering vegetation.
Sheep pasturing in the public land within the Natural Park is limited and of poor quality, although some of the private farms favour grazing for the production of wool.
Bee keeping is of relative importance in the north of the Natural Park, and the town of Colmenar has a visitor centre dedicated to bees and honey production.
Within the Natural Park there is an obvious presence of human influence through the reforestation via the planting of Aleppo pine trees. This contrasts to a certain extent with the more natural occurrence of holm oaks, cork oaks, strawberry trees (arbutus unedo) and riverine vegetation at the bottom of steep valleys, accentuated by a specific lack of conservation work in order to foment undergrowth in these areas. Having said this, the importance of trees and plants in the Montes de Malaga has more to do with diversity as opposed to density.
The most northerly area of the Natural Park is home to small colonies of reforested mountain pines (Pinus pinaster), Monterey pines (Pinus insignis) and stone pines (Pinus pinea). There are also commercially grown holm oaks, thanks to the withdrawal of pine trees for this reason.
No endemisms have been found in the Montes de Malaga to date, although there is a high number of plants and shrubs whose roots help to avoid the erosion that has caused so much damage in the past within the Natural Park and the city of Malaga below.
The Montes de Málaga Natural Park has typically Mediterranean fauna, with many species common to the south of Europe, although at the same time there are animals originating from northern climes. Its proximity to the Straits of Gibraltar has converted the province of Malaga, into one of the main birdlife migratory routes, therefore enriching the Natural Park, although temporarily, with African species.
Although more qualitative than quantitative, the richness in wildlife is impressive considering the short period of time that has passed since the area was converted from mainly agricultural to forest land (less than 50 years). The major drawback to further increases in numbers is the lack of water, particularly in summer, and the proximity of the city of Malaga. The most characteristic animal species to be found are: wild boar; polecats, foxes, weasels, genets, red squirrels, pine martens, rabbits, and several species of reptiles. There is also a strong community of birdlife, including one of largest populations of short-toed snake eagles in the province of Malaga, plus other birds of prey (both daytime and nocturnal), game birds, and permanent and migratory species.
Particularly noteworthy is the presence of the chameleon, a protected species. The Montes de Malaga Natural Park is privileged to be home to one of the largest populations in Europe of this difficult to spot animal.
Controlled hunting is permitted in fenced-off areas of the Natural Park and at specific times of year, of wild boars, rabbits, partridges, thrushes, turtledoves and woodpigeons.
The Montes de Malaga Natural Park has a very high concentration of slate, with relatively small amounts of limestone and dolomite type rock. Slopes are therefore steep, leading to high soil erosion during torrential rains.
The average rainfall is just over 700 mm per year, a high proportion of which arrives in the months of November and December. Average temperatures are 17-18ºC.
Even in a relatively small Natural Park, there are 3 types of climatic influence depending upon altitude:
There are also several winds affecting the Montes de Malaga: Poniente (humid and relatively warm); South (strong and accompanied by high rainfall); Levante (dry and typically summer wind); Terral (channelled down the Guadalhorce valley from Antequera, which brings hot temperatures in summer and cold temperatures in winter).
Water and river systems
Due to the steep slopes and torrential rains, there are no less than five rivers, all of which flow into the River Guadalmedina before it reaches the Agujero reservoir above Malaga: Arroyo de las Vacas; Arroyo Chaperas; Arroyo de los Frailes; Arroyo Humaina and Arroyo Hondo.
Total annual rain water collected from these five affluents is estimated at 700 mm and can be of torrential nature, on average every seven years.
The low long term impact of torrential rain and the generally impermeable rock favour run-off as opposed to absorption, therefore leading to a lack of water, especially between June and October.