Andalusia's Natural Richness
Andalusia's array of contrasts in landscapes and microclimates mean that on the same day you can enjoy the snowy peaks of Sierra Nevada and the sub-tropical surroundings of the beaches of Granada province. There is the source of the warm Guadalquivir River, the wild beauty of the Almería desert and the moist atmosphere in the rainy woodland of Grazalema. Each one of Andalusia's eight provinces has its own unique traits, arising from their geographical situation and cultural heritage.
The main attraction of the landscape of Andalusia centres on its impressive contrasts: mountains and beaches, deserts and salt flats, plains and countryside where Mediterranean crops alternate with pastureland. Andalusia's contrasting landscapes, geographical situation and varied climate mean it can boast a huge array of flora and fauna, including birds, mammals and reptiles. The natural vegetation, with holm-oaks, cork trees, pines, etc., lives alongside swathes of olive groves. Together they form an idyllic cloak that covers the whole of Andalusia. The countryside will conquer the heart of the most daring travellers, all those who want to take active advantage of its geographical situation, or who prefer to delight in its most hidden spots.
Andalusia is the Autonomous Region in Spain with the most protected nature areas, and each one is outstanding in its own right
These are locations of outstanding importance for their wildlife and geology, with ecosystems that have been little altered by human activity. They have the highest degree of protection, sometimes with restricted access to certain areas within them. There are two national parks in Andalusia: Doñana and Sierra Nevada.
The Doñana National Park is one of the largest and most important remaining wetlands in Europe. This area contains fresh and brackish areas, including permanent and seasonal marshes, mobile and stabilised dunes, and permanent and seasonal lakes. This diversity has led to a composition of diverse typological environments in which large populations of bird and animal life settle. For example the flamingo, the Spanish imperial eagle and the lynx, either temporarily or permanently, constituting one of the main attractions of the Park. Access to the practically all of the Doñana National Park is strictly by guided tour only; trips run from the main visitors' centre in El Acebuche and the tourist office in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cadiz province. However, between El Rocío and Villamanrique de la Condesa there is a drovers' track (vía pecuaria) called the Raya Real, which gives access to the northern part of the park by non-motorised transport (horses, bicycles or on foot) only.
The Sierra Nevada in Granada, declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in 1986 is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in Europe. The natural, cultural and scenic wealth of the Sierra Nevada massif converts this enclave into one of the natural spaces of greatest interest in Andalusia. The flora and fauna is diverse and includes for example the golden eagle and peregrine that are nesting in the area. As well it is the habitat of the cabra montes (the impressive mountain goat), the weasel and the fox. The singular natural, cultural and scenic wealth of the Sierra Nevada massif converts this enclave into one of the natural spaces of greatest interest in Andalusia. Sierra Nevada reaches heights of over 3,000 m, which makes it the massif of highest altitude in western Europe, after the Alps. The peak of Mulhacén (3,481 m) is the ceiling of the Iberian peninsula. In the surrounding area there are numerous glacial lakes, the highest one being the Laguna de Altera, at 3,146 m.
The Alpujarra, last Moorish redoubt in the Kingdom of Granada is at te south of the massif forming a natural region of marked personality. Its natural resources have been used for a long time: from the old occupations of the snowfields to the new form of tourist exploitation through its winter ski stations.
These numerous protected areas demonstrate an enormous range of geology, climate and habitats, such as coastal dunes, beaches, semi-desert steppe, mountain forests, Mediterranean woodland, saltmarshes and marine zones. Park legislation is aimed at protected cultural and architectural traditions as well as the natural environment.
Virtually all of the parks have unrestricted access, but a few may have areas where you need to obtain special permission before visiting them due to the risk of forest fire or disturbing nesting birds, as is the case with the reserve zone in the Sierra de Grazalema.
The Sierra de Grazalema Mountains in Cadiz is a natural park, designated a Unesco Biosphere reserve in 1977, the Sierra de Grazalema was declared the first natural park in Andalucia in 1984 and is one of Spain's most ecologically outstanding areas. The 51,695ha park is famous for its spectacularly rugged limestone landscape of cliffs, gullies, caves and gorges and home to many colonies of vultures, including a few pairs of Egyptian Vultures, a species which is seriously threatened. By far the most impressive gorge is Garganta Verde, with its and rocky walls that tower vertically for 400m. Andalucia's largest cave system is also here, the Hundidero-Gato with its biggest cavern measuring 4km long and an entrance of 60m tall.
The Cabo de Gato Nature Reserve in Almería, is a natural park in southeastern Spain near the city of Almeria. It is the largest terrestrial-maritime reserve in the European Western Mediterranean Sea, covering 460 km² including the town of Carboneras, the mountain range of Sierra de Cabo de Gata, and 120 km² of the sea as a part of a Marine reserve. It is of volcanic origin and is centred around the Cabo de Gata headland. Its climate is semi arid to the extent of being the driest location in Europe. In 1997 it was designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve. In 2001 it was included among the Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance with one of the most beautiful and ecologically rich coastal strips in the western Mediterranean. The first Natural land and sea park in Andalusia. The Natural Park includes, likewise, a coastal border of saltworks of 300 hectares which, due to their geographical location, are the obligatory stopping place between Europe and Africa for numerous birds on their migratory routes and they are also an ideal nesting habitat for other species.
The Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama is an impressive natural reserve, designated a natural park in 1999 which is rich in wildlife, particular raptors, numerous mountain birds and the Iberian mountain goat. It is a large and rugged mountainous region of 40,663 ha and stretches across the provincial border of Granada and Malaga. The western part in the province Malaga is known as the Axarquia, for example famous for its attractive villages dating from Moorish times. It is as well a perfect hiking country and its numerous steep mountainsides make it ideal for climbers. The highest peak is La Maroma, at 2,080m. The centre of the park isn't easily accessible by car. There are, however, roads around the edges of the park, the main one being on the park's western side. There are spectacular views throughout the area, of the snow-capped Sierra Tejeda in winter and the blue of the Mediterranean away to the south
Parque Natural Montes de Málaga.
To the north of the city of Málaga, almost completely surrounding the city, the Malaga Mountains Natural Park can be found. Rich in vegetation and fauna and one of the few enclaves where the chameleon is still to be found. The polecat, weasel, wild cat and marten also inhabit the area.
Very known are the country restaurants serving cured meats, local wines or those from neighbouring villages, and the typical mountain dish of French fries or breadcrumbs with spicy pork sausage and eggs. The Verdiales dance festivals are generally held here.
The Park is located in an area of abundant mountain streams ranging in altitude between 91 and 1,031 metres above sea level and covers 4.995 hectares. Its unusual landscape of hills and the small valleys which have formed between them, normally populated by pine trees, confer upon the area a special beauty rarely found in other mountainous regions.
These are areas, known as Parajes Naturales, that are protected due to their unique wildlife and landscape. Like natural parks, these vary greatly in geology, climate and habitats.
Quite impressive is the Paraje Natural Los Acantilados de Maro-Cerro Gordo. Where the Sierra de Almijara plunges into the sea, erosion has created a spectacular coastline of cliffs, coves and small beaches over an area of 1,814 hectares, on the border between Granada and Malaga, including a protected part offshore. Located on very edges of the Sierra Almijara, these limestone outcrops have been eroded by the sea and weather into fantastic shapes, with offshore stacks and arches and undersea caves like the Cueva de los Genoveses and the Cueva de la Cajilla.
Mammals like the mountain goat,weasel, marten, fox, hedgehog and badger and reptiles such as lizards and chameleons inhabit the area. The acantilados are rich in birdlife, particularly gulls, like black-headed, lesser black-headed and herring gulls. Gannets, grey herons and raptors such as black kites, Bonnelli's eagles, kestrels and buzzards can be seen wheeling overhead. In the offshore section of the protected area, a paradise for divers, are some important underwater marine species of plant, like a type of seaweed found here, the posidonia oceanica, and coral.
Nature Reserves are nature areas that are set up to protect ecosystems, communities or biological elements that due to their rarity, fragility, importance or uniqueness deserve special treatment. An area is declared a Nature Reserve Park by Andalusian Parliament Law.
Thanks to the variety of soil types in the area, Laguna Amarga, the wetlands in the south of the province of Cordoba provide a uniquely suitable habitat for a large number of bird and plant species. The Nature Reserve of 263 hectares includes permanent lakes, such as Zóñar, Rincón and Amarga and also seasonal ones like Tíscar, Los Jarales and El Salobral. They have all been declared protected areas because of their importance as winter migration and nesting areas for waterfowl. The name of Amarga lake comes from the characteristic taste in its water ("amarga" is the Spanish word for bitter). Aquatic plants provide food for numerous animals. The silverside fish is a species rarely found in inland watercourses on the Iberian Peninsula. The famous white-headed duck, identifiable by its thick bluish bill and its raised, pointed tail, is the area's most emblematic species. It was on the edge of extinction a few years back, but is now experiencing excellent recovery. Amarga Lake is also home to thriving populations of pochards and coots. Surrounded by bulrushes and reeds contrast sharply with the fertile landscape of Cordoba's olive groves, vineyards and cereal fields. Amarga lake has a long stretch of dense tamarisk vegetation. On the Carrizosa Trail you will be able to identify the different plant species typical of Mediterranean scrubland: buckthorn, mastic, broom and climbers such as honeysuckle and smilax.