February 8th, 2012
Away from the yachts and glitz that encompasses the spirit that is upmarket Marbella, on the Costa del Sol, in the sunny south of Spain, you can do more than celebrity spotting if you venture a little way further north.
In the news this week is the little known mountainous region of Sierra de Las Nieves, not quite as breathtakingly immense as it’s similarly named cousin, the Sierra Nevada, but just as beautiful.
Binoculars, bikini and sturdy boots ready? Let’s go…
Where is it?
Fly into the international airport at Malaga and head to Marbella for some sun, shopping and to cast some envious glances at the elegant jet set and their superb yachts, moored as tightly as cars in the supermarket car park at home. Explore Puerto Banus and enjoy the restaurants and people watching, take in some winter sunshine and stay in your own first class cabin, how about trying some of these Marbella holiday rentals?
But what about some exercise too? North of Marbella you can also indulge your spirit – and enjoy some of the most unspoilt views and areas of Spain.
Awarded with UNESCO Biosphere Reserve protection, and an EDEN European Destination of Excellence since 2008, this rugged area of beauty is worth spending time getting to know.
The EDEN tag is only awarded to special places that promote sustainable tourism, a label that is so important today given climate change and intense awareness of our planet. You can explore this area and get a little walking under your belt – maybe reducing the belt?! – into the bargain.
Walking with purpose
It gets better. From the 26th February until the 4th of March you can join in with the first Andalucian International Walking and Cultural Festival, the starting place is the little pueblo of El Burgo, a whitewashed mountain village surrounded by Almond and Olive groves, so typical of the area. Each day comprises walking trails for 2 different levels, depending on your fitness and whether you want to stroll or go for the burn!
What’s that? You like the idea but your partner would rather not? Then they can happily ignore the exercise and concentrate on the cultural side of the festival! Cookery demonstrations – Andalucian style of course! – or a quiet spot of bird watching in the hills….
The biggest area of Spanish Fir – El Pinsapo – in the world is just the spot for nature loversand bird watchers. Species of this and other trees normally seen in the the cooler climate of Northern Europe are found here. Also Pine, Chestnut, Oak and Ash are prevalent. Bring your binoculars and between the tree tops and views expect to catch sight of:
- Peregrine Falcon
- Golden Eagle
- Bonelli Eagle
- Booted Eagle
- Short toed Eagle
- Crested Tit
- Great Spotted Woodpecker – or you might just hear him!
- Griffon Vulture – like a flying Barn Door.
Look out too for the Egyptian Mongoose – the only place in Europe where you can hope to see him.
Besides El Burgo, the destination for the fiesta, there are eight more little villages to discover within the Biosphere – all traditional Andalucían pueblos and worth exploring for a slice of real Spanish life away from the Costa. They are:
- Casarabonela – visit the Moorish castle at the top of the village
- Ojen – take a trip to the Museum of Wine
- Alozaina – once defended from an advance by the Moors by village women and kids throwing bee hives at their attackers!
Whitewashed cube-like houses, ancient churches, flower filled streets, tiny bars and cafés, a simple Hola will go a long way…soak up the rich and varied history, and maybe some local wine and tapas too! The food is simple and inspired by the wonderful countryside that surrounds you here.
Look out for traces of Roman and Moorish history in the architecture and waterways, and even further back to Neolithic times, discover the caves…
You might not see Fred and Barney but the caves in this area are well known.
Tolox allows you the chance to visit one where ancient pottery has been found and it’s also worth a visit for the ferruginous waters these days making it a much visited Spa town. Numerous caves are dotted around the area, so take the safe option and go for the guided tour as some of these are pretty well hidden – and can be dangerous. One famous chasm known as GESM - Grupo de Exploraciones Subterránea de Málaga - has a stomach lurching drop of nearly 2000 metres, the third deepest in the world. Hold on tightly to your belongings! Unsurprisingly, it has not yet been explored fully…
Other caves within the park are those known as:
- Cuevas del Moro
- Hoyos del Pilar
- Hoyos de Lifa
Although it sounds like a holiday from hell to me, potholing is also a popular pastime here, and there are many with varying drops up to over 130 metres, and more yet to be discovered, possibly deeper. I feel sick just thinking about it!
River deep, mountain high
From the depths of the caves and potholes, there are also some highs to discover. The thickly covered snow capped peaks in winter are dominated by La Torrecilla, rising to 1919 metres, and the surrounding mountains are a joy to walk and climb. Springtime will bring the smell and sight of new shoots of wild flowers and herbs. Babbling brooks and rivers create flora and fauna on an extraordinary level and in fact the area was once explored and studied by the Swiss botanist Pierre Edmond Boissier.
Others have since followed in his famous footsteps, and you can too! Whether you choose to join in the fun of the upcoming Andalucian International Walking and Cultural Festival, or just fancy exploring the villages mentioned earlier. It all makes a complete change form the glitz of Marbella, and provides you with a holiday of contrasts, you can walk in the snow capped mountains and sunbathe on the beach all in the same day! It’s all here waiting for you in the south of Spain – so why not give it a go?!