The Natural Park of Sierra Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama: Quick facts
It is one of the most rugged in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula.
It covers 40,662 hectares.
La Maroma, measured at 2,068 metres, is the highest peak not only in the province but all the way across to the Atlantic coast of Portugal. To the east, on a clear day, El Mulhacén, the highest mountain on the Iberian peninsula, is perfectly visible.
It forms a mountainous natural barrier between the most easterly extreme of the province of Malaga and the west of the province of Granada, but also reaches down to the Mediterranean Sea via the picturesque towns of Frigiliana and Nerja.
Altitude: 100 metres to 2,068 metres.
It is dotted with abandoned buildings which once offered board and accommodation to the mule trains that took provisions from the coast of Malaga to inland Granada and beyond.
Its past industries included pine resin production, “esparto” (coarse grass) weaving and ice production from snowfall: its major surviving industry is that of marble mining, although there is still commercial production of sugar cane syrup.
Geography of Sierra Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park
The Natural Park of Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama is located within the provinces of Malaga and Granada on the southern coast of Andalucía. Tejeda is the most westerly of the three ranges, in the heart of an area named by the Arab settlers as the Axarquía, whereas Almijara, the largest is on the eastern edges of Málaga, directly overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. In contrast, the part of the Natural Park known as Alhambra, is landlocked, and located within the western reaches of the province of Granada.
Walking in the Sierra de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama
The Sierra de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park is home to an immense network of tracks and paths, based on the centuries old routes created by travellers between the Axarquía (western hills of the province of Malaga) and the Alhama region of Granada.
In spite of being surrounded by steep mountains, hiking can be leisurely, since in addition to ascents to the peaks, there are also walks that offer spectacular views without having to make difficult climbs.
Accommodation and gastronomy
The villages on the outskirts of the Natural Park are small, with the nearest town being Nerja. For this reason, accommodation is generally in small hotels and guesthouses, with the exception of Frigiliana, which has a medium sized hotel.
The local gastronomy is based on stews, wild boar, goat meat, with fresh vegetables grown in the highly fertile plains in the area of Alhama. Sugar cane syrup is still produced on a commercial scale in Frigiliana, and complements fried aubergines and desserts. The surrounding area is also famous for tropical fruits, such as avocados and mangos. During the summer months, many of the lower south facing slopes of the Natural Park are literally covered with the famous Malaga grapes, which are sun dried before being made into one of the multiple varieties of sweet wine sold throughout the world.
The Sierra de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park is home to a number of picturesque whitewashed mountain villages, the majority of which are located in the province of Malaga: Alcaucin, Canillas de Aceituno, Canillas de Albaida, Competa, Frigiliana, Nerja, Salares and Sedella, with Alhama de Granada, Arenas del Rey, Jayena and Otiva in the province of Granada.
In spite of being located in different provinces, the above-mentioned villages have a shared history and economy, and even the political boundaries have been modified in the past. Due to the rugged terrain, there are no roads crossing the heart of the park, with trade and communications limited to tracks and paths criss-crossing the mountains and valleys. It is for this reason that there are now many abandoned buildings which in their heyday, offered food and accommodation to travellers and traders.
Of the diverse cultures that have left a mark within the confines of the Natural Park, the strongest is certainly the Arabic, with small white villages disseminated throughout the hills and mountains. The area around Alhama preserves the hallmark of one of the last Nazarite kingdoms in Spain, and whose fertile lands, famous for the production of tropical fruit, still influence local gastronomy.
The Natural Park of Sierra Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama is home to one of the most impressive ranges of plant species in Spain, many of which are rare or endemic. This is partly due to the contrasting orientation of the slopes: from northwest to southeast.
In terms of trees, there is a high density of boxwood, yew and acebuche, a variety of wild olive tree. At one point, the concentration of yew trees was such that it gave its name to one of the areas within the Natural Park (Tejeda). Yew was particularly prized for its wood (furniture and medicines purposes), but was eventually destroyed on a large scale due its toxicity towards grazing animals. Having said this, there is a small yew forest, the most southerly in the Iberian Peninsula, that can be seen one on of the multiple walking routes.
Other numerous woodlands are home to several families of pine: Corsican, Maritime, Mountain and Aleppo. These trees thrive due to their resistance to the generally acidic ground, and the lack of soil that favours their generally horizontal root spreads. On the higher slopes, the trees are more typically indigenous: cork, holm, Pyrenean and gall oaks, in addition to junipers.
The endemic flora in the Sierra de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park is limited to plants that have colonized the gravel and acidic sand covered areas: saxifrage erioblasta, toadflax, kidney vetch, fairy foxglove, purple columbine and milkwort, amongst others.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the local flora is the richness in aromatic plants, formerly used in the preparation of food (the picking of plants is now prohibited in any natural park): lavender, lemon thyme and other species of thyme, sage, oregano, and rosemary.
The Natural Park has an immense diversity of animals, of which birds occupy a large proportion. The most common are birds of prey, with permanent residents such as Bonnelli’s eagle and the golden eagle, the peregrine falcon, the common kestrel, the Eurasian Eagle Owl, and the goshawk. The short-toed eagle and the booted eagle can be spotted during migration periods.
Sea and other aquatic birds are also of particular note, due to proximity to the Mediterranean Sea and the inland reservoirs and rivers. These include various members of the gull family, cormorants, coots, ducks, plovers and dippers. Within the woodland and mountain areas, the variety is just as impressive: woodpeckers, nightingales, rock buntings, rock and blue rock thrushes, crag martins and alpine accentors.
In and around the streams and rivers, amphibians abound: salamanders, newts, toads and frogs, as do reptiles in the rocks and lower latitudes: chameleons, lizards, and at least 4 species of land snake (very difficult to come across!).
The best known of the mammals in the Natural Park is the mountain goat. Once under threat of extinction, its recent protection has led to an increase in numbers to around 2,000 , one of the biggest populations of its type in Spain. Additionally, there are several pairs of deer, red and grey squirrels, various species of bat, and the wild cat.
The Natural Park is rich in quartzite and gneiss, dating from over 300 million years ago. The Sierra Almijara has one of Spain's most important areas of dolomitic marble, which is apparent from the grey and white tones produced by surface erosion. In contrast, Sierra Tejeda is mainly limestone from the Eocene period, which has weathered to leave steep-sided ravines and plunging cliff faces. This erosion has also occurred underground, resulting in a high concentration of caves, the most famous of which is that of Nerja. Others are found on the Maroma and close to the village of Canillas de Aceituno.
The Natural Park of Sierra Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama receives high levels of rainfall, ranging between 400 mm to 1000 mm per year. The wettest months of the year are December, January,and March, with the driest being July. Temperatures vary depending upon the sloping of the land, plus latitude and distance from the Mediterranean sea: the marine area enjoys between 4ºC and 30ºC, the more mountainous hinterland between 0ºC and 22ºC, whereas the Alhama valley area is suffers the most extreme temperature changes: from -3,1ºC in winter to 40ºC in summer.
Water and river systems
Rivers and streams descend rapidly the steep slopes, creating waterfalls such as that of The Petrified Trees, where the high limestone content in the water “froze” ancient tree trunks. Elsewhere, water has carved more spectacular gorges, known locally as Cahorros. The most famous effect of water erosion in the area are the numerous underground caves, in particular that of Nerja, declared a National Monument, as well as pit cave on the Maroma mountain.