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Los Alcornocales Natural Park. Junta de Andalucía.
On the nature trail through the 'Amazon' of Andalucía
Discover Andalucía

On the nature trail through the 'Amazon' of Andalucía

Los Alcornocales natural park is the largest extant cork oak forest on the Iberian Peninsula and where the cork is still harvested, but there's so much more to see, taste and experience

J.M.

Malaga / Cadiz

Tuesday, 9 July 2024, 15:16

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You do not have to leave Andalucía in the south of Spain to enjoy a lush, green, exotic landscape. The region is large enough to hide many little-known treasures. They call this one the 'Amazon' of Andalucía. It is located in the province of Cadiz and part of Malaga province and stretches from the main sierra mountain ranges to what is now the Natural Park of the Strait (El Estrecho), presenting a great diversity of landscapes and geomorphic features. This richness is reflected in all areas: flora, fauna, climate, history and folklore, making it an ideal place to visit and enjoy activities as diverse as mushroom-hunting and sports activities in the heart of nature. It is the largest preserved and productive mass of cork oak forest on the Iberian Peninsula - Los Alcornocales Natural Park.

'Jungle'

The main reason for this wealth is the water present in its numerous rivers, streams and reservoirs that, in addition to supplying the provinces, are suitable for fishing and recreational activities. Still, above all, it is the humidity from the coast that accumulates to form cloud forests in deep, narrow valleys known as 'canutos'. In these conditions a unique flora is preserved, belonging to the Tertiary Period (from mass extinction of the dinosaurs to the start of the ice ages), the Laurisilva (laurel forest). This subtropical forest feature is characterised by broadleaf tree species with smooth, glossy, elongated, evergreen leaves known as 'laurophyll'. The trees bordering the canutos scarcely let through the sunlight, so the humidity and relatively stable temperature really favour this type of forest. This 'jungle' can be walked through and you can experience the scent of laurel and the beauty of the flowering ojaranzo (common rhododendron), wild honeysuckle (viburnum tinus or laurustinus) and holly, accompanied by the calls of the blackbird, warblers or finches that hide among the ferns, maybe even a darting kingfisher.

Birds of prey

According to the Consejería de Medio Ambiente - the department that looks out for the natural environment of Andalucía - the sandstone soils that have favoured the dense clusters of cork oak are also home to evergreen oaks (quercus ilex, the most common subspecies here being the holm oak (quercus rotundiflora)) and Andalusian oak (quercus canariensis) in the wetter areas. Booted eagle, short-toed eagle and buzzard, as well as goshawk, sparrowhawk and tawny owl hunt in these woods. In the higher areas more rocks show up and, where the soil is poor, 'herriza' appears, a dense, stunted thicket of different plant species adapted to soils rich in metals such as aluminium - a place where aromatic plants abound. This area is home to the mountain goat and numerous birds of prey, including the griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, Bonelli's eagle, eagle owl and peregrine falcon.

Further down the slopes, where the soil is compacted and cloggy with clay, the wild olive groves have been kept cleared since time immemorial to make way for the pasture that feeds the typical livestock of the area, the Retinta cattle. On the slopes, a very Mediterranean scrubland appears, with rockrose, heather, lavender, gorse and hawthorn. The Moorish (or Andalusian) roe deer, a native species of Andalucía and emblematic of the big game that inhabits this region, as well as fallow deer and red deer can be spotted, especially during the 'berrea' (rutting season). Carnivores such as the genet, badger and, above all, mongoose (largest population in the peninsula) roam through these forests.

Activities

In such a complete and diverse parkland there is room for other activities ranging from mountaineering in the Aljibe or Picacho peaks, caving in the Ramblazo-Motillas area, or canyoning in La Garganta de Buitreras, one of the few areas prepared for this risky sport and which has been declared a natural monument due to its uniqueness. For those seeking a more traditional activity we recommend booking a horse-riding trail, such as those offered in La Almoraima.

A visit to Los Alcornocales should be rounded off with a stroll through the whitewashed villages that make up the park: Jimena de la Frontera, Alcalá de los Gazules or Castellar de la Frontera are just some of the possibilities. Its rich cultural and gastronomic heritage are two further attractions in the area.

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