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The Natural Park of Sierra de las Nieves

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The Natural Park of Sierra de las Nieves: Quick facts

  • The Natural Park of Sierra de las Nieves is classified as a Natural Protected Area of Andalusia, and a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
  • It covers 681 square kilometres.
  • It is located in the province of Malaga, one of the most mountainous provinces in Spain, and within the wider Ronda mountain range.
  • The highest peak is Torrecilla, measured at 1.919 metres, is just under 600 metres taller than Scotland’s Ben Nevis.
  • The name Sierra de las Nieves comes from the Spanish word for snow, which was once present all year round.
  • The chestnut is one of the most famous local products.

Geography of Sierra de Las Nieves Natural Park

The Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park is located on the western border of the province of Malaga, and forms part of the Serranía de Ronda geographical area. Its predominantly mountainous geography translates into an average height of 1,000 metres: the highest point of the Natural Park is the peak known as Torrecilla, one of the highest in southern Spain and which enjoys excellent views of the Strait of Gibraltar and Africa on clear days. The lowest point is the La Concepción reservoir, at 100 metres and which supplies water to the nearby city of Marbella.

The predominantly greyish limestone mountains contrast with the undulating, reddy hills of the Sierra de Las Nieves Nature Park, the colour of which is due to peridotite rocks give the landscape a reddish hue. The latter is more impermeable than limestone, and its special composition favours the appearance of interesting species of flora.


Walking in the Sierra de Las Nieves Natural Park

The Sierra de Las Nieves Natural Park has over 30 different routes, of varying difficulties and offering different scenery and underground conditions. Many mountain walkers choose to go up Torrecilla, 1,919 metres, a long but non- technical hike. Other walks are along tracks that join villages, or ancient footpaths that were used by local shepherds and other tradesmen. Given the average height of the Natural Park and the type of terrain, spectacular views of mountains and the Mediterranean are common, as well as of the Straits of Gibraltar and the north of Africa.

It is not uncommon to spot mountain goats, and a highlight is to see the unique Spanish Firs close up, with their unique pine needles.

Amongst other activities available is caving, where enthusiasts may descend into the GESM, at 1,101 metres deep.


Accommodation and gastronomy

Due to the low number of villages and towns, and the reduced of the same, accommodation is available in small urban or countryside hotels or hostels, which reflect the local character.

The Sierra de Las Nieves is no exception to the typically universal Mediterranean cuisine, and uses top quality local products for its vegetable and meat based dishes, as well as excellent olive oil. In addition to farmhouse meats and cheeses, it is very common to find stews and hot or cold soups depending upon the time of year, led by the ubiquitous gazpacho. Main dishes include stewed or oven cooked pork, goat or lamb sprinkled with local herbs. Sweets are no less varied, and sourced from local almonds, chestnuts, walnuts and honey.

There are also recipes which could be considered specific to the Sierra de Las Nieves region, many of which are based on purés and soups, and can be found in the many excellent restaurants.


Human activity

The area now covered by the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park has been settled by several cultures, although it was undoubtedly the Moors that left the greatest legacy, from irrigation to defensive castles and even the original names of villages. The mountainous geography has meant a low density of roads, thus preserving the natural and human heritage.

The chestnut is an integral part of the local economy, especially in and around the village of Parauta. It is sold both throughout Spain as well as being exported to northern Europe. In autumn, the chestnut also becomes the central theme to the local festivities, and its spectacular changing colour attracts visitors from afar.  

One of the most curious local human activities is linked to the snow that used to collect all year round on the highest peaks. It was stored in huge wells that were dug out of the ground, and then transported by mule at night to the surrounding villages and towns.

The following towns and villages are located within the boundaries of the Natural Park: Alozaina, Casarabonela, El Burgo, Guaro, Istán, Monda, Ojén, Tolox and Yunquera. Most have between 2,000 and 3,000 inhabitants, the highest of which is Yunquera with 3,300 and the least populated is Istán, with approximately 1,500. For those attracted to areas with little or no urban construction, the Sierra de Las Nieves Natural Park is one of the least dense: just 0.3% of its surface is occupied by towns and villages.


Flora

Flora is extremely diverse, as the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park is at the crossroads of North African and Iberian influences. The geology, soil complexity and altitudes of over 1,500 metres are factors that determine an important variety of botanical species.

Of all the plants and trees found in the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, the most outstanding is the Spanish Fir (abies pinsapo), a species native to southern Spain and northern Morocco. It is a highly protected tree, due to its reduced numbers and threatened habitat: it is found in only two other areas of the Iberian Peninsula, and in two locations in Morocco. This is due to the fact that the Spanish Fir requires high humidity, therefore best surviving in areas of most rainfall, and secondly because it does not germinate following fires, a relatively common phenomenon in the geographical latitudes in which it survives. Spanish Firs originated during the last glacial period, and can live for up to 400 years.

In addition to Spanish Firs, there are also healthy populations of holm oak and cork oak trees at lower altitudes, plus carob and dense chestnut tree plantations. Indeed, the latter is one of the local industries, and used for jams, puddings, and for roasting.

Finally, several varieties of pine tree are present, native and non-native.


Fauna

The Sierra de Las Nieves Natural Park is home to one of the most numerous populations of mountain goat in Andalusia, so much so that controlled culling is permitted at certain times of the year. Along with the roe deer, it is the largest indigenous wild animal in the area. Introduced species include the mouflon and the fallow deer.

There are also less numerous populations of predators including wildcats, foxes and mongeese. Otters still survive in some of the rivers, although they are extremely rare.

There are some 150 bird species either living or passing through the Natural Park: from peregrine falcons, golden eagles, Bonelli’s eagles and short-toed eagles to the green woodpecker, crag martin and the woodcock.


Geology

The Natural Park has a complex geological structure, both in composition as well as in the origin of rock matter, resulting in a huge geological richness. This complexity is due to the convergence of 3 mountain systems, the most important of which are the Cordillera Betica and the Cordillera Penibética. The variety of rock is impressive, ranging from sedimentary to igneous, karstic to marble.


Climate

The climate in the Sierra de Las Nieves Natural Park is generally mild. Average temperatures range from 10ºC to 17ºC, with rainfall of over 800 mm per year in the lower regions and reaching 1,700 mm at the Quejigales weather station. For several weeks of the year, snow is a regular feature above 1,600 metres.

Rainfall is predominant between October and March, whereas in the summer period, rain is practically non-existent (less than 15mm). Such a prolonged dry period is highly influential over the flora, as is the altitude of a considerable area of the Natural Park.

The snow that falls in winter is a consequence of the northerly winds that at other times of the year also provide most rain, especially in the north of the region.


Water and river systems

The Sierra de Las Nieves Natural Park is the source of diverse rivers and streams, which drain either to the eastern or western seaboard of the province of Malaga. The Río Turón and the Río Grande run through the Guadalhorce basin, flowing into the sea at the city of Malaga, whereas on the other side of the province, tributaries flow into the Río Verde and the Río Guadiaro, the latter entering the sea near Sotogrande and the former being collected in Istán at the La Concepción reservoir.

Rainfall is generally torrential, and only a few of the rivers and tributaries flow throughout the year.

The high limestone content has resulted in karstic aquifers, with water filtering extremely quickly into the mountains and forming underground springs.

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