July 6th, 2010
The Cazorla Natural Park, or the Parque Natural de las Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and La Villas, to give its complete name, is Spain’s largest national park and the second largest in Europe. Most definitely, one of Spain’s best kept secrets. An area of outstanding natural beauty, it was designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1983 and created a natural park in 1989.
UNESCO biosphere reserve
Covering a total area of 214,000 hectares of extremely diverse terrain. The park covers almost a fifth of Jaen province. There are vast expanses of pine forests, river valleys, deep canyons, spectacular waterfalls, rivers, reservoirs and lakes. The sources of the Segura and the mighty Guadalquivir river are here. The Guadalquivir eventually flows through the cities of Cordoba and Sevilla before entering the Atlantic at Cadiz. Whereas the Segura eventually leads to the Mediterranean.
By far the largest reservoir in the park, the Embalse de Tranco, is actually the first attempt at damming the river Guadalquivir just after its birth. It is also an important source of hydroelectric power for the area.
All of these areas are interspersed with jagged peaks of karst that can rise up to over 2000m. The highest peak in is the Pico Empanada at 2107m, with the lowest point of the park at 450m, nearly all of the area is above 600m. You couldn’t hope for more beautiful countryside.
Abundance of wildlife
The park has always been home to an abundance of wildlife, leading it to be severely over-hunted at one point. It was even known to be General Franco’s preferred hunting area. During the 1950s the area was declared a national hunting reserve, with the idea of increasing the numbers of game. Various species were reintroduced with Mouflon brought in from France, fallow dear from the mountains of Segovia and stocks of red deer and wild boar replenished. The experiment was a success and the subsequent declaration of the park being a natural park, with far greater controls on hunting, has meant the region is one of the best in Spain for observing wild animals.
Coupled with an impressive number of birds of prey – several types eagle, griffons, vultures, goshawks – and the exceptional flora – over 2000 species with at least two dozen of them endemic to the park, you begin to get a feel for what Cazorla national park is all about. A natural paradise.