The Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park

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The Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park: Quick facts

  • The Sierra de Cazorla Natural, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park covers 214,336 hectares.
  • It comprises three separately defined mountain ranges (sierras), Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas.
  • The highest peak in the Natural Park is Pico Banderillas at 1,993 metres, the lowest point being some 600 metres above sea level.
  • It is the largest protected space in Spain and one of the largest in Europe.
  • It is the source of the Guadalquivir, the most important river that crosses Andalusia and enters the Atlantic between the provinces of Cadiz and Huelva.
  • The Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park was named Reserve of the Biosphere in 1983 and Ornithological Special Zone of Protection in 1988 by the European Union.
  • There are 24 plants considered unique to the area, of which some are in danger of extinction.
  • Many fruits and vegetables are locally produced, as is as the “segureña” sheep, bred purely for its top quality meat.


Geography of the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park

The Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park stretches along the whole of the eastern border of the province of Jaen.

The surface of the area is characteristically mountainous, although the ranges making up the Natural Park vary greatly and are divided by deep valleys carved by water erosion, and have high cliff faces. Its craggy reliefs are most typical of the southern area of the Natural Park, since the centre and north are gentler. The height of the terrain tends to decrease from north to south.

The Sierra de Cazorla is the most south westerly section of the Natural Park, whose highest peak is Gilillo (1,847 m). It is a divisor line between the vast olive tree groves and the mountainous area of Jaen. Its easterly face drains practically all of its water into the Guadalquivir. To the north is the Sierra de las Villas, the least known range within the Natural Park, and borders with the province of Andalusia. It has more depth than Sierra de Cazorla, with steeper slopes and uninhabited areas covered with dense forests. The highest peak here is Blanquillo (1,830m).  

The Sierra de Segura covers the centre and north to northwest of the Natural Park, and is by far the largest of the three ranges making up this protected space, occupying some 68% of its total surface. Its highest point is Pico Banderillas, measuring some 1,993 metres.


Walking in the the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park

The Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park has over 50 hiking routes, offering different types of scenery and difficulty grades. It is possible to take short low level walks in order to enjoy closer views of rivers, forests etc., or long hikes into mountains that offer spectacular long range views across the Natural Park. Other activities include the following:

  • Climbing in the area around Ríogazas
  • Canoeing in the Tranco de Beas reservoir and Guadalquivir river
  • Paragliding in the El Yelmo area (an international festival is held here every year)
  • Rafting on the Guadalquivir river
  • Canyoning in the Cerrada del Utrero
  • Fishing in the Anchuricas and Guadalmena reservoirs
  • Mountain biking on forestry tracks as far as the vast plains of Hernán Perea
  • Flying from the El Cornicabral aerodrome
  • Guided routes in 4 wheel drive cars to restricted access areas


Accommodation and gastronomy in the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park

Due partly to the fact that the area of Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas has been protected for hunting since the 1960s, rural tourism has been developed here over several decades. In addition, the size of the area also provides the space for all varieties of accommodation, from small guesthouses to 3 and 4* hotels for active holidays or just relaxing. Ibernature chooses guest accommodation depending upon the type of client and proximity to the activity starting points.

The abundance of game and the local climate have strongly influenced culinary traditions in the area. In addition to roast meats such as lamb (the “Segura” sheep is bred purely for its exquisite meat), there is also a centuries old tradition of making cold products from pig and wild boar meat: this includes cured ham, sausage, black (and white) pudding. And for the most discerning palates is partridge pâté, smooth and exquisitely tasting. Vegetables and pulses are also fresh and excellent quality, and of course all of the dishes contain some “liquid gold”, olive oil from one of the most famous producing regions in the world. Here is a mouth watering sample of local cuisine:

  • “Gachamiga” - Leftover bread, mixed with peppers, chorizo (sausage) and blood pudding, and cooked slowly in a frying pan.
  • “Talarines”- A type of dumpling stew with rabbit or hare.
  • “Rin Ran” – Peppers with cod and potatoes.
  • Venison stew – Venison prepared with potatoes.
  • Sweet “gachas”- Pudding made with flour, cinammon and honey.
  • “Serrano” trout – Trout stuffed with garlic, cured ham and olive oil.

All of these recipes may be accompanied by “cuerva”, a type of Sangría, or “esparteña” wine, so called as the grapes are trodden with sandals made from “esparto” (a type of wild grass used also for basket making). And less alcoholic and perhaps healthier, a range of herbal teas picked in the area.

Seasonal fruits from local orchards include “San Icisio” cherries, “Melones escritos” (melon from the village of Peal), “Monjilla” and “Claudia” plums, winter pears, and “Burunchel” figs.


Human activity in the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park

Due to the extensive area covered by the Sierra de Cazorla Natural Park, there is also a considerable number of towns and villages (23) partially or totally within its boundaries:  Cazorla, La Iruela,Hinojares, Segura de la Sierra, Villanueva del Arzobispo, Hornos,Villacarrillo, Quesada, Santiago-Pontones,  Pozo Alcón, La Puerta del Segura, Orcera, Beas de Segura,  Iznatoraf,  Chilluévar,Siles, Peal de Becerro, Torres de Albánchez, Santo -Tomé,  Sorihuela del Guadalimar, Huesa, Benatae y Génave.

Paleolithic cave paintings in Santiago de la Espada and Quesada go some way to proving the antiquity of human presence in the area, followed by the Tartessians, Iberians, Romans, Arabs and Christians. The major legacy from the two most influential cultures (Arabic and Christian) are the numerous defensive castles.

The economy is still based on agriculture and forestry. Olive groves cover a large part of the Guadalquivir valley, whereas in hillier areas, fruit tree plantations are common: apples, cherries, plums and almonds are harvested in the Natural Park. Forestry exists but on a much smaller scale than when the area produced timber for the building of Spain’s one-time ocean ruling ship fleet. Hunting has become a strong source of income since 1960, when the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park was named a national hunting reserve. However, the most recent years have seen a spectacular growth in nature tourism, although thanks to the size of the Natural Park, the influx of mainly Spanish visitors is not noticeable except at specific holiday periods.

Local craftwork is also diverse, ranging from rug and blanket weaving, embroidery and basket making, to carpentry and pottery.


Flora in the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park

The Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park contains three eco-systems, each with its own variety of flora: high mountain, forests, and wetlands.

The variety of plants and flowers is one of the most extensive in the whole of the Mediterranean basis: of more than 1,300 catalogued species, 24 of which can only be found here (including the Cazorla violet, the smallest narcissus in the world, and a curious carnivorous plant), making this Natural Park, along with Sierra Nevada National Park, the protected area with the greatest number of endemisms, some of which are in danger of extinction, such as the Cazorla geranium.  This said, and before hopes become too high about seeing unique plants, it must be remembered that most of these species are miniscule, and require extraordinary vision to be able to spot them!

Extensive forests of pine trees are present, including the European black pine trees, an endemic variety found above 1,200 metres. On the slopes and banks of the Guadalquivir basin are other typically Mediterranean trees and vegetation, such as holm oaks, rock roses, wild strawberry trees, mastics, wild jasmine, gall oaks, hazel trees and poplars amongst others.

An easier and less time consuming way of appreciating some of the above-mentioned varieties is the Torre del Vinagre visitor centre botanical gardens, where the trees and plants are grouped together depending upon the altitude at which they are found throughout the park.


Fauna in the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park

The Natural Park enjoys an exceptionally abundant fauna, due to the fact that it was declared a national hunting reserve back in 1960. The protection given, in particular to the larger horned mammals that may otherwise have been hunted as “trophies” and whose numbers would have been drastically reduced, in addition to the immense size of this Natural Park, means that it is also one of the best Natural Parks in Andalusia to spot animals, if not in Europe, not only in purely numeric terms but also in varieties: 

  • 6 species of fish, of which the common and rainbow trout in addition to barbels are popular for fishing “aficionados”!
  • 7 species of amphibian.
  • 131 types of bird, including the bearded vulture, reintroduced via a breeding programme, plus the golden and Bonelli’s eagle, Griffon vulture, kite, Egyptian vulture, barn owl, tawny owl and kingfisher).
  • 17 types of reptile, including the Valverde lizard, discovered in 1958 and exclusive to this Natural Park.
  • 37 species of mammal have been recorded, including deer, mountain goats, mufflon, fallow deer, badgers, otters, polecats and wild boar, plus genets, weasels, foxes and squirrels.
  • In addition to being lucky enough to see animals in the wild, there is also a possibility of contemplating some of the more elusive species such as the mufflon from close-up at the “Collado del Almendral” wildlife park.


Geology in the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park

The relief of the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park is very abrupt and steep, with deep valleys and high peaks, some of which reach almost 2,000 metres. Having said this, the average height of the area means that it is classified as mid-mountain. Rock is mainly of dolomitic limestone, and it is the effect of water on this limestone that has led to a multitude of original and sometimes spectacular formations. The impressive deep and narrow ravines, the abundance of plains, volcanic tuff and the caves and openings caused by the collapse of rock or dissolving by water, offer dramatic mosaics.

In the southern confines of the Natural Park, soil deposits are predominant, producing gently rolling hills that are particularly fertile and used for intensive olive tree planting


Climate in the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park

The weather is typically Mediterranean, with rainfall spread throughout the year although more abundant during autumn and winter, with snowfall in the latter at higher altitudes. Summers are hot and dry.

Local conditions vary greatly, whereby in the lower valleys frost is practically unknown in winter, at the tops of the highest peaks, snow may last for months.

Rainfall follows a similar pattern: in Hinojares a mere 500 mm is measured, whereas in Acebeas this rises to 1,200 mm, in El Cantalar 1,403 mm and in Puerto Llano, over 1,500 mm. The mountainous area of the Natural Park has an average of between 700 and 1,000 mm per year, making it one of the wettest parts of the country. The varying geography of the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park is the reason why there are several microclimates, affected by the moist air arriving either from the Atlantic or the Mediterranean and striking the steep slopes or cliff faces before rising and condensing.

Altitude and orientation are also important, as they influence local temperatures and humidity (sun or shade).


Water and river systems in the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park

The Sierras de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park is one of the major water and river systems in the Spanish peninsula. It is the birthplace of two important rivers, each draining into a separate basin: firstly, the Guadalquivir, running from Cañada de Las Fuentes (1,350 metres) throughout the region of Andalusia as far as Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Cadiz and flowing out into the Atlantic Ocean. Its main tributaries are the rivers Borosa, Aguamulas, Guadalimar, Aguarrocín, Guadiana Menor and Guadalentín (“Guad…” is a prefix for many rivers and towns and villages in Andalusia, from the Arabic for “river”).

The other major basin is that of the River Segura, whose source is at Pontones, whose eventual flowing into the Mediterranean Sea is also increased by three tributaries: the Madera, Tus and Zumeta rivers.

The high rainfall and steepness of the mountain systems in the area producing volumes that can exceed 500 litres per second, although in spite of the high peaks in the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park, practically none of this water is attributed to melting snow. The other reason for such an important volume of water are the vast aquifers in the predominantly limestone rock.

There are three main reservoirs, the Guadalmena, Negratín and Tranco de Beas, plus several medium sized and small ones.


Festivities in Sierra de Cazorla Natural Park

Of the multiple festivals and fiestas in the Sierra de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas, here are some of the most interesting or important:

  • Caracolada de San Isicio – May – The inhabitants of Cazorla outdoor walls with small oil lamps made of snail shells forming shapes or designs. “Luminarias” or bonfires are an important part of the celebration of saints’ days as well as over the New Year.
  • Corpus Christi en Villacarrillo – June – Street corners and outside walls are adorned with flowers and altars to celebrate this religious occasion.
  • Typical dancing from Pesás de Beas – these go back to the 16th and 17th centuries, and were introduced by Spaniards from all over the country as a celebration of the national culture and victory over the Arab during the reconquest.
  • Mountain bowls – a different and curious game, thought to have been brought to the area by immigrants from the north of Spain. There is even a web page for anybody interested in learning how to play, although fortunately enough, the rules are not complex!




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