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The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

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The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park: Quick facts

  • The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park covers 51,695 hectares.
  • Height above sea level:between 250 and 1,654 metres.
  • It has been named a U.N.E.S.C.O. Reserve of the Biosphere.
  • The village of Grazalema is the wettest place in Spain, capable of receiving 2,000 litres of rainfall in one year.
  • The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is home to a unique species of pine tree (Spanish Fir) dating from the Quaternary Period.
  • The Natural Park is home to the famous “Route of the White Villages”.
  • The cave system known as “Hundidero – Cueva del Gato” is inhabited by the largest colony of bats in Spain: some 100,000 furry creatures!
  • It has also been name an Ornithological Special Protection Area.

Geography of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is located in the north eastern corners of the provinces of both Cadiz and Malaga. Unsurprisingly, its fame as the wettest place in Spain is reflected in the fact that several of its borders marked by important rivers and water features:

On the northern side of the Natural Park is the river Charcones, leading to the spectacularly blue Zahara reservoir overlooked by the mountains at the base of the Puerto de las Palomas, a road famed for its inclusion on cycling races. To the east is another natural border, that of the river Guadiaro that enters the sea near to the famed golf course of Valderrama. On the southern boundary are gorges created by water erosion, and encompassing another reservoir, that of Los Hurones. Finally, to the west, is the river Tavizna, feeding into the Los Hurones reservoir.

The wild and rocky character and deep valleys contrast with the exuberant vegetation to offer a particularly attractive picture of Sierra de Grazalema, an area strategically interesting for its excellent communication with Jerez de la Frontera, Seville, and Ronda and the Costa del Sol.  


Walking & activites in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park offers a great variety of walking trails in stunning and varied landscapes.

The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is home to the highest peaks in the province of Cadiz, with classic treks to El Torreón and El Reloj offering spectacular views as far as the city of Jerez and the vast Seville agricultural plains. The Spanish fir forest and other areas in the Reserve can only be visited at certain times of the year and permits are required. Since visitor numbers are limited, to avoid disappointment, it is advisable to contact the Natural Park authorities well in advance.

Other great walks are along the Majaceite River, whose banks offer and exuberance of dense riverine forest, with elms, poplars and willows. And thanks to the crystalline waters that flow throughout the year, although extremely hard to spot, is a population of otters.

For climbers, there are excellent rock faces in Grazalema, Montejaque, Benaoján, and Benaocaz; for those who enjoy sports closer to ground or below it, there are excellent canyoning opportunities and the longest cave in Andalusia.

There are also ways of seeing the surrounding countryside that do not require walking: horse riding, hang-gliding or paragliding, and kayaking.

And for those who enjoy less active pastimes, plant lovers can appreciate up to 300 species in the El Castillejo botanical garden, next to the El Bosque Visitor Centre.


Accommodation and gastronomy in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park has a number of towns and villages, although with the exception of Ronda, they are relatively small in size, therefore limiting the number and capacity of hotels. Having said this, Ibernature Andalusia works with some high quality small hotels and guest houses offering excellent accommodation.

Gastronomy is diverse and of high quality, with many dishes using local ingredients and adapted to the climate in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. They include:

Grazalema soup made from consommé with bread, egg, sausage and mint

Asparagus soup mixed with fried bread, onion, garlic and egg.

Oven baked lamb with pork fat, laurel, garlic and thyme.

Venison in a sauce made with carrots, leeks, celery, onion, garlic, red wine and thyme.

Omelette made from “tagarninas” (Spanish oyster, type of plant), garlic, fried bread and egg.

And as regards puddings and sweetmeats:

  • “Amarguillos”, made from a crushed almond base with sugar, egg and lemon peel.
  • “Cubiletes”, a rich biscuit made from lard, flour, cinammon, sugar and filled with a jam made from Siam pumpkin.
  • Sweet potato, boiled or oven baked, with honey or molasses.
  • Acorn tart, made from acorns, sugar and orange juice.

Geography of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is located in the north eastern corners of the provinces of both Cadiz and Malaga. Unsurprisingly, its fame as the wettest place in Spain is reflected in the fact that several of its borders marked by important rivers and water features:

On the northern side of the Natural Park is the river Charcones, leading to the spectacularly blue Zahara reservoir overlooked by the mountains at the base of the Puerto de las Palomas, a road famed for its inclusion on cycling races. To the east is another natural border, that of the river Guadiaro that enters the sea near to the famed golf course of Valderrama. On the southern boundary are gorges created by water erosion, and encompassing another reservoir, that of Los Hurones. Finally, to the west, is the river Tavizna, feeding into the Los Hurones reservoir.

The wild and rocky character and deep valleys contrast with the exuberant vegetation to offer a particularly attractive picture of Sierra de Grazalema, an area strategically interesting for its excellent communication with Jerez de la Frontera, Seville, and Ronda and the Costa del Sol.  


Walking & activites in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park offers a great variety of walking trails in stunning and varied landscapes.

The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is home to the highest peaks in the province of Cadiz, with classic treks to El Torreón and El Reloj offering spectacular views as far as the city of Jerez and the vast Seville agricultural plains. The Spanish fir forest and other areas in the Reserve can only be visited at certain times of the year and permits are required. Since visitor numbers are limited, to avoid disappointment, it is advisable to contact the Natural Park authorities well in advance.

Other great walks are along the Majaceite River, whose banks offer and exuberance of dense riverine forest, with elms, poplars and willows. And thanks to the crystalline waters that flow throughout the year, although extremely hard to spot, is a population of otters.

For climbers, there are excellent rock faces in Grazalema, Montejaque, Benaoján, and Benaocaz; for those who enjoy sports closer to ground or below it, there are excellent canyoning opportunities and the longest cave in Andalusia.

There are also ways of seeing the surrounding countryside that do not require walking: horse riding, hang-gliding or paragliding, and kayaking.

And for those who enjoy less active pastimes, plant lovers can appreciate up to 300 species in the El Castillejo botanical garden, next to the El Bosque Visitor Centre.


Accommodation and gastronomy in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park has a number of towns and villages, although with the exception of Ronda, they are relatively small in size, therefore limiting the number and capacity of hotels. Having said this, Ibernature Andalusia works with some high quality small hotels and guest houses offering excellent accommodation.

Gastronomy is diverse and of high quality, with many dishes using local ingredients and adapted to the climate in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. They include:

  • Grazalema soup made from consommé with bread, egg, sausage and mint
  • Asparagus soup mixed with fried bread, onion, garlic and egg.
  • Oven baked lamb with pork fat, laurel, garlic and thyme.
  • Venison in a sauce made with carrots, leeks, celery, onion, garlic, red wine and thyme.
  • Omelette made from “tagarninas” (Spanish oyster, type of plant), garlic, fried bread and egg.

And as regards puddings and sweetmeats:

  • “Amarguillos”, made from a crushed almond base with sugar, egg and lemon peel.
  • “Cubiletes”, a rich biscuit made from lard, flour, cinammon, sugar and filled with a jam made from Siam pumpkin.
  • Sweet potato, boiled or oven baked, with honey or molasses.
  • Acorn tart, made from acorns, sugar and orange juice.

 

Additionally, there are excellent fresh and cured cheeses made from goat and sheep milk, honey and cured meats, plus wines and vinegars from Prado del Rey.

Scrumptious!


Human activity in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

Given the size of the Natural Park, it is not surprising that there are numerous towns and villages located within the boundaries of the Natural Park: Ronda, Grazalema, El Bosque, Prado del Rey, Jimera de Líbar, Benaojan, Ubrique, Montejaque, Cortes de la Frontera, Algodonales, Benaocaz, Villaluenga del Rosario, El Gastor and Zahara de la Sierra.

The area has numerous remains dating from the Roman as well as the Arabic periods, although human activity in the area dates back to Paleolithic times.

During the industrial revolution, more than 4,000 workers were employed in the textile or carpentry industries due to the abundance of water need to power the necessary machinery. Most of the mills in existence were destroyed, but many of those that were saved are now having a renaissance as holiday cottages.

Local natural resources have influenced in many of the industries which have created employment in the past as well as the present: from goat cheese to honey, basket making to woollen and leather goods manufacture, hunting and fishing to ecological tourism.

Mention must also be made of the breeding of fighting bulls in large open grazing fields, still an important business in Spain: having said this, our walking routes avoid crossing paths with these animals, so there’s no chance of any budding matadors waving a red rag!


Flora in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

The most emblematic symbol of the Sierra de Grazalema Park, as well as the rarest and one of the most attractive, is the Spanish fir. It is one of the 9 types of fir tree in the Mediterranean basin, but is a true relic, a species that has survived from prehistoric times, a descendent of the central European fir trees that were present in vast forests during the last glacial periods. Covering 400 hectares, Sierra del Pinar is the best conserved Spanish fir forest in the Iberian Peninsula: in fact, the only other forests of note are in the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park, Sierra Bermeja (Estepona) and in the north of Morocco.

In spite of their hardy nature (or maybe because of it), they flourish on the northern facing mountain slopes, protected from strong sunshine and the subsequent loss of humidity. Spanish fir forests are therefore relatively dark, with the lower branches lacking needles and the ground around them with very little vegetation.

Due to the high levels of humidity in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, there are numerous other species of trees in densely wooded areas, either on the slopes of hills, in the mountains, or on the banks of the several rivers and water systems. The typical Mediterranean forest of holm oak, cork oak, Portuguese oak and carob is well represented, as are riverine trees requiring year round water: elms, willows and poplars. 

Of over 1,400 plant species


Fauna in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

The well conserved vegetation is an excellent source of food and protection to a wealth of fauna. Seeds, autumn fruit and grass provide food for larger mammals such as deer, roe deer, and mountain goat. This same cover favours the fox, mongoose and genet in their hunting activities for small rodents.

The clear waters of the river Majaceite are the reason why it is the most southern European trout fishing reserve, and also the reason why the elusive otter is also present.

The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is classed as an Ornithological Special Reserve, and not without reason: members of one of the largest colonies of Griffon vulture in Europe fly high above the rocks and mountains, and nest in hidden crags. 136 different species of bird have been registered here, including the following birds of prey: Bonelli’s eagle, peregrine falcon, short-toed eagle, eagle owl, golden eagle, Spanish imperial eagle, booted eagle, snake eagle, goshawk and Egyptian vulture.

Finally, and thanks to its extensive cave system, the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park has one of the largest bat populations in Europe: 100,000 have been estimated, but not all flying at the same time!


Geology in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

The rugged landscape and deep valleys are a classic consequence of a karstic geology that offers spectacular landscapes rich in escarpments, caves and gorges, all of which are a result of the erosion of limestone by the action of water over millions of years.

Water erosion has created stunning canyons, the best known of which is the Garganta Verde (“Green Gorge”), with a 400 metre deep drop from top to bottom, and ideal for canyoning. It is also home to a subterranean labyrinth of caves and grottos, the most outstanding of which is the Cueva de Hundidero-Gato. This is Andalusia's longest cave, and is the hibernation site for some 100,000 bats, the largest colony in Spain.


Climate in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

The Sierra de Grazalema has a curious climatic claim to fame: the wettest place in Spain!

The reason for such high rainfall is the altitude of the mountain range that is struck by the humid currents of air arriving directly from the Atlantic Ocean. The temperature of these winds increases over the flat and warm plains before rising dramatically upon reaching the Sierra de Grazalema, cooling rapidly and producing rain.
In spite of the high rainfall, this does not mean that the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is permanently under cloud. Rains occur sporadically in autumn, winter and spring, whereas the summers are hot and dry, even resulting sometimes in drought. Even during the rainy season, there are days of warms sunshine, interspersed with intense showers.
A particularly cold winter’s night can bring temperatures of -5º and a hot summer’s day can reach 45º, but both have solutions: the former sat in front of a lit chimney, and the latter bathing in a swimming pool or river!
A typical yearly weather forecast would be:

January to May – Normally clear skies during the day with occasional cloud cover. Showers or storms at night accompanied by cold temperatures.

May to June – Day and night temperatures increase, skies clear and reduced probability of showers. 

July and August – Hot and dry atmosphere, accompanied by warm winds.

September – May be dry and hot, although night time temperatures begin to drop. Possibility of storms.

October to December – Daytime and nightime temperatures continue to drop, with the increased possibility of clouds and rain.


Water and river systems in Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park has the highest level of rainfall in Spain, with an annual average of over 2,000 litres per square metre. However, and somewhat curiously, there is relatively little surface water, with the exception of the two man-made reservoirs built specifically to capture this precious resource. This is because of the infinity of cracks and crevices that sometimes become gaping holes as in the case of horizontal or vertical caves, where vast amounts of rainfall disappear into one of the largest underground limestone complexes in the Iberian Peninsula.

Water has also carved impressive gorges such as the Garganta Verde, and “poljes”, land depressions that fill with water at certain times of the year producing the perfect conditions for certain types of animal and plants (Llanos de Líbar).

Of the rivers whose source is the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, the most attractive is the Majaceite, whose clear and clean waters are home to trout and otters.

There is still evidence of the importance of water in the area: a series of large outdoor containing pools which were used for the washing of sheep wool, have now been turned into breeding tanks for trout (which can be ordered across the road in a local restaurant!), as well as a nearby metal pipeline that fed a now abandoned electricity generating power station.

Festivities in Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

Ubrique – On May 3rd is the “Burning of the gamones (white asphodels)”. The tips of this flower are traditionally burned until they explode.

Benamahoma -  At the beginning of August, the Fiesta of the Moors and the Christians is celebrated.
Grazalema – The last Sunday of May is the pilgrimage in honour of Saint Isidore, the patron saint of farmers (and of internet for the more modern!).

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