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Journey to La Cartuja de Cazalla

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« on: August 19, 2007, 14:39 PM »
Hello Everyone

I shall try to describe a delightful adventure to this enchanting place that was given to me as a gift on my birthday by my dear friends Sue and Clive.

The journey was full of pleasant surprises, first of which was the route we took, not the conventional one, but then Sue and Clive always know of a special, scenic route to anywhere which is always so much more interesting than the direct one.

As we left the casa at 08.20, on Monday, 6th August, there were lots of bee eaters lined up on the wires all along the road. We were to see lots more too which was gratifying since we had felt that the large numbers that we used to have in past years had diminished.

 Leaving Zahara we took the road to Sevilla, turning off towards Marchena and along a rough road to Arahal, rough because they were in the process of totally renewing it.
Along the road towards Puerto Serrano, 3 ravens were standing in a nearby field, and later several lesser kestrels were competing for air space with many hen harriers. We stopped for a while to watch them. Large numbers of cattle egrets everywhere in amongst the drying sunflowers, what were they after I wonder!

 As we approached the plains of Sevilla, you could see for miles dry, scorched farmland and in the fields, large numbers of birds with long wings and forked tails catching insects in flight. They were also landing on the road in front of us quite unperturbed by us watching them and Clive got some good photos. We found out later that they were collared pratincoles. A close up reveals a rather pretty bird with an obvious dark collar and red at the base of the bill.

Onwards towards Carmona our journey was interrupted at times by families of red-legged partridge hurriedly crossing the road in front of us and hen harriers scooting low over the arid fields. Sue spotted 3 little bustards on the other side of the road standing in a field. We were also given a couple of fly pasts by the local hoopoes.
We stopped at a bank of eucalyptus trees on the look out for rollers which Sue and Clive had seen there before but today we were unlucky unfortunately. However several black–winged stilts were harrying a harrier! There were lots of nests in the eucalyptus trees which we think belonged to Spanish sparrows.

As we left the open fields and flat landscape to go through Carmona we found ourselves in a more inviting area of trees and distant mountains and were rewarded by the appearance of many azure-winged magpies. On asking why they are not in our area, Clive explained that they don’t like large open spaces so tend to stay where there are plenty of trees.
We were surprised to find that there were quite of lot late Asphodels growing on the banks and roadside fields, which were very tall, about 8 feet.

We had an excellent lunch of assorted tapas in a bar at El Pedroso and a well earned rest for the driver !
Then onwards towards Cazalla de la Sierra and La Cartuja. Not far from the turn to La Cartuja we were treated to a wonderful display by 3 booted eagles soaring directly above us. A few Griffon vultures too and more bee eaters preep- preeping away.

Turtle doves and red-rumped swallows as well as swifts and house martins were abundant in the grounds of the monastery. The resident nut hatch delighted us with his presence by frequently coming down from an overhanging branch to take a drink from a plastic hose connection. Sue and Clive managed to get several good photos. I’m afraid you will have to rely on Sue for the photos. I have just been given the job of writing the report, and my camera isn’t as good as theirs!!

La Cartuja is a converted Carthusian monastery located deep in the Sierra Norte de Sevilla. It is owned and lovingly restored by a lovely, Spanish lady, Carmen Ladron De Guevara. It is situated on a natural plateau surrounded by walls and a 30 metre cliff facing east. It has one of the most beautiful views of the Sierra Morena, especially at sunrise. In the centre of this plateau rises a natural spring that never dries. Archeological studies agree that this place was always used for religious purposes. It was used even before the Phoenicians opened the Ruta de la Plata (the silver road). Unfortunately, like all the Spanish monasteries, it suffered in the 19th century and was destroyed. It was subsequently used by farmers as barns and stables.
In 1973 an Englishman bought it, who sold it to Carmen in 1977. She, despite many obstacles and difficulties has achieved the preservation of this historic building and its conversion into a Centre of Contemporary Art and Culture.

It’s an enchanting place so full of natural beauty, which fills you with a warmth and tranquility. You can almost feel it reaching out and wrapping its arms around you. Inside the church, beautiful, classical music plays adding to the wonderful scenario that unfolds before you taking you into a distant past. You can feel the ghosts of the monks all around you as they go about their everyday tasks, both inside and outside the buildings, gentle, peace loving individuals who lived a very simple life in absolutely beautiful surroundings.

The art work is contemporary, some of it with a feel for a time long past, of Spanish kings and queens and the trials and wars they went through. There is a resident sculptor and many of his works of art are on display around the buildings and gardens he has a studio there.

The cultural activities complement leisure as there is also horse riding and a swimming pool filled with natural spring water, which looked very inviting. I wish I had known, I would have brought my cozzie.

The monastery has exhibition and concert rooms and weddings take place there quite often in the large halls.

The accommodation is very good; our rooms were very comfortable and nicely appointed with en-suite and air conditioning. The food was good, they use all ecological products and many of the vegetables are grown organically in the gardens. There isn’t much of a choice on the restaurant menu, you have to eat what they offer you each day but our evening there was a very pleasant 3 course meal. When Carmen found out that it was my birthday the following day, she asked me what time I was born…12 midday I said. “Right then we will have champagne on the terrace at midday tomorrow, to celebrate your birthday”. What a lovely lady.

 There was a large assortment of cats living there with similar characteristics and at all ages which Carmen denied any knowledge of!! Some with a distinctive feature of a very short tail.

After a good nights sleep we were all quite refreshed.  Sue and Clive were up quite early to witness a spectacular sunrise. Me, I was up a bit later!! After a very tasty breakfast of egg on toast and quite good coffee, Sue and I went for a walk around the grounds to take in the early morning view of the buildings and grounds and for me to take photos, to use later for painting. I did take my art materials with me but couldn’t get settled enough to spend time painting when I had so little time there. I just wanted to walk around and take in and store all the beautiful memories of this enchanting place. I always work better from photographs anyway, in my relaxed way with no pressures.

As midday neared we made our way to the lovely terraced restaurant. Carmen appeared with some rather lovely, colourful champagne glasses. Sue disappeared inside with Carmen and they reappeared a few minutes later, Carmen with the champagne and Sue with some of her famous chocolate cake alight with candles. Donald Duck holding a 5 and a 1 on its own. OK I am 15 or 51 or neither of the two. I will leave you guessing there!!

It was a lovely gesture and the champagne went very well with Sue’s excellent chocolate cake. Carmen obviously enjoyed it, she had several pieces. I am so lucky, that was a very different birthday celebration. My first without John but Sue and Clive went to great lengths to make it special for me and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

The birds in order of appearance:

Bee Eater             Abejarrieco Común     Merops apiaster
Raven                            Cuervo                         Corvus corax
Hen Harrier             Aguilucho Pálido           Circus cyaneus
Lesser Kestrel             Cernicalo Primilla          Falco naumanni
Collared pratincole         Canastera Común       Glareola pratincola
Cattle egret             Garcilla Bueyera            Bubulcus ibis
Red legged partridge       Perdiz Roja            Alectoris rufa
Little bustard              Sisón Común           Tetrax tetrax
Black-winged stilt         Cigüeñuela Común           Himantopus Himantopus
Hoopoe                Abubilla            Upupa epops
Azure-winged magpie    Rabilargo                    Cyanopica cyanus
Booted eagle           Aguililla Calzado           Hieraaetus pennatus
Griffon vulture             Buitre Leonado          Gyps fulvus      
Turtle dove            Tórtola Europea          Streptopelia turtur
Red-rumped swallows    Golondrina Daurica          Hirundo daurica
House martin            Avión Común         Delichon urbica
Swift common          Vencejo Comùn      Apus apus
Nuthatch             Trepador Azul            Sitta europaea
Woodchat shrike          Alcaudón Común           Lanius senator
Black kite          Milano negro              Milvus migrans

On the way back, north of Moron de la Frontera, we noticed a couple of dark birds over an olive grove with pine trees in the distance. On closer inspection they turned out to be black kites. After watching them for a few minutes we noticed large numbers of them in the distant sky. It would seem they were nesting in the nearby pine trees. It was good to see so many of them.

Best wishes


« Last Edit: August 19, 2007, 16:20 PM by eileen »

Offline Sue

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« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2007, 16:57 PM »
Hi All,
here are a three of the birds that we saw on our trip together
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Offline spanishfreelander

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« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2007, 18:58 PM »
Lovely article Eileen.
Great pics as well sue

Offline Clive

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« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2007, 19:54 PM »
Sue and I stumbled across La Cartuja a couple of years ago.

We were taking some photos of the blue tits from the breakfast terrace and the owner saw us and asked if we could make her a new photo of the monastery from the top of a hill about a kilometre away. We ended up producing 10 postcards of the place and reproducing some of the amazing artwork for resale.

I really need to get around to uploading all of our work but some of the reproductions can be seen at


La Cartuja can be seen at www.cartujadecazalla.com

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Offline lisa

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« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2007, 08:22 AM »
Thankyou for briefly immersing me in that tranquility Eileen - a welcome respite from the chaos of our house at the moment. I like the Collared pratincoles (and the name  >:D). Am I right in thinking they're about blackbird size?

That must be the best bee-eater photo yet Sue?
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Offline Sue

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« Reply #5 on: August 20, 2007, 11:17 AM »
Hi Lisa,
it's not the shot i'm really after though. I would prefer a branch to the wire for a more natural look. I'd say it is a youngster, 1. because it did not fly off ! 2. greeny back 3. no elongated centre tail feather yet.

Fussy Sue
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Offline Dave

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« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2007, 12:03 PM »
Hi Eileen
What a great read, your trip report, you ought to write more articles like this, as to my mind, this is what this forum is all about, at heart.

Offline Technopat

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« Reply #7 on: August 20, 2007, 13:07 PM »
Greetings Eileen,
Many thanx for that lovely account, and as Dave points out, it's the sharing of such experiences that is the essence of iberianatureforum.
Technopat's disclaimer: If this posting seems over the top and/or gets your goat (Sp. anyone?), please accept my apologies and don't take it personally - it's just my instinctive tendency to put my foot in it whenever/wherever possible. See also: