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The area is famous for its pueblos blancos (white villages). I drive to one of the most popular, Grazalema. Its whiteness doesn't disappoint. (To be fair, though, there is another colour. Looking down on Grazalema from above, the village is a dazzling pattern of white lines broken up by stepped terracotta roofs.) Picasso could have daubed a photo-realistic rendition of the view and accidentally invented Cubism right here.I bump into Clive Muir, who traded landscape gardening in the UK for a life of guiding in the mountains of Andalucia (wildsideholidays.com). He tells me Grazalema's lifeblood is tourism and its picture-perfect cuteness is no accident. "There are very strict planning controls," he says. "Walls are white, doors are brown, and all iron work black. A on, say, a bar or restaurant, has to be black with white lettering and can be no bigger than 60cm by 60 cm."
But sometimes the tourist experience of Grazalema is reassuringly disorganised. The village is well known for its wool-blanket industry, but my attempt to visit the associated museum is not inspiring. I find a blanket factory with an attached shop. When I inquire inside about the museum, a lady shoos me vaguely in the direction of a shed in the car park. There I amble between a few old wooden looms and some other rusting machines. There is no commentary or explanation of what they did, or how they worked. And that seems to be it. Nada más.The Smithsonian it ain't.Luckily, Clive has instructed me to take a hike. The "must do" walk, according to him, is around the 4,340ft summit of Coros, a mountain on the hairpin drive to Zahara, the next pretty white village. Soon I am in the domain of the Spanish fir – an ancient species that dates to the Tertiary period. Peeping through these slender elegant survivors from the age of the dinosaurs, I get tantalising glimpses of ever expanding views.Close to the Puerto de las Palomas pass, the cliff face of Coros looms; I can hear the squabbling of a colony of griffon vultures which nests amid the crags. The walk starts from a car park at the top of the pass. The route loops around the summit and is not much more than a gentle stroll, but the colossal views reveal the curvature of the Earth and play to my vanity as a wannabe mountaineer. Looking down I can see the coiled mountain road descending to Zahara, next to it a long ragged lake draws a turquoise diagonal and beyond it the arid plains of Andalucia stretch out towards Seville.Nearer to hand, the flora is equally spectacular: delicate thistles with golden crowns, red-stemmed succulents and wicked yellow thorned cacti. The most eye-catching, though, are pods that split to reveal a jewel case of fuchsia, red and blue-black beads – wild peony plants. More serious bird watchers than me would be able to identify the various darting blurs between the shrubs; wheatears, shrikes, choughs and warblers all inhabit the terrain.There is however no mistaking the bird I come upon as I round the corner towards the steeper south-west side of the mountain. With their 9ft wingspan, there are few sights in Spain's wilderness as impressive as griffon vultures up close. With a few effortless flaps they slide off the cliff, gliding past at eye level in search of the thermals that will take them soaring high above the Serranía – oblivious to the vanities of mere earthbound beings.
Walk with us any time! If you are in our area - for example staying in Ronda, Seville or Malaga or staying in Grazalema for 1 or 2 days, we would like to make a special offer for you to have a chance to get familiar with the wildlife, culture, history and landscapes of the white villages in a comfortable and easy way. Join a guided walk for a day, two or three without the necessity of booking a whole holiday. Prices and options will vary depending on number of people who would like to join and number of days. (but it is normally around 35 euros per person per day + 8 euros if you require a packed lunch).
Grazalema is a traditional white village (pueblo blanco) located in the north-eastern area of Cadiz province. It nestles amongst the beautiful mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema and has a local population of around 2000 people inhabiting the village and surrounding countryside. Set in a protected area popular for nature and outdoor enthusiasts the village itself is on the list of obligatory visits on the route of the white villages of Andalucia.
The true origins of Grazalema are still largely unknown and, like much of our past history, are shrouded in the mists of time. But, the Roman Villa of Lacidulia, situated in an estate near to the present village has been traditionally considered the ancestor of the village.
The Spanish Fir (Abies pinsapo) is a species of tree which survived the last glaciation. An elegant tree growing to a height of about 25m with a conical shape. Its growth is dense and a rich green, although there are occasional specimens of a blue colouration. The branches generally form rings around the trunk. The roots which are thick and long are sometimes very superficial. The trunk is straight and cylindrical but in some old individuals the shape can be irregular, twisted and contorted with more than one leader. (This is due to beetle damage). The leaves are needle-shaped, rigid and somewhat sharp, these needles living up to 15 years, the maximum age among all gymnosperms. They need high humidity and shady slopes or soils that retain a certain amount of water. These trees have both sexes in the same individual, but to avoid inbreeding the female cones are on the top of the tree and the male in the middle.
Quercus suber is a type of evergreen oak tree native to the Mediterranean region. The tree has adapted to the problems of fire and drought in this area by growing a thicker bark as a protective layer. This outer layer of cork has many industrial uses and huge open forests have been developed to benefit from it in 7 countries bordering the Mediterranean sea - covering some 2.7 million hectares in Spain, Portugal, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Tunisia, and France.
The wild mountain goats frequently found in herds across the Andalucian mountain ranges are Spanish Ibex. There were until fairly recently, more subspecies spaced around the Iberian peninsular, but now only two exist.These mammals which originate exclusively in the mountains of Iberia are known as Cabra montés in Spanish. They are generally shades of brown around the body with black markings on the chest, flanks and legs in the males, whereas the females are paler. The adult males can reach a weight of 80-100 kg and are approximately double the size of the females.
‘Grazalema has the highest rainfall records in Spain’. This is a phrase that is commonly found on the internet, but without further explanation could be very off putting to the holiday maker! Mountains will always alter their local climate where-ever they are in the world, and this is no exception. Note that only a few hours drive away at the eastern end of Andalucia is Europe’s only desert!
Pale pink almond blossom is a delightful sight and a harbinger of spring when it opens in late January through February. As it flowers before the leaves appear there is a delicate candy-floss appearance to the trees. You can see them grouped in orchards, or as singles marking the edges of pastures and arable fields.
February in the Sierra de Grazalema can be considered the beginning of spring from nature´s point of view. This is when the bird migration kicks in with White Storks, Black Kites and occasional Black Stork on the move and Short-toed eagles following shortly after. The offerings of early spring can vary from year to year due to weather conditions both here and in the north of Europe and, quite possibly, due to climate change.
Regular visits to the Botanic Garden in the village of El Bosque are a great way to see the plants of the region as they change through the seasons - without having to search them out individually!
There is so much of botanical interest in south western Andalucia and particularly within the natural park areas. The village of El Bosque is on the western border of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park.
After booking a Self Guided - Self Drive holiday with Wildside Holidays and armed with great advice, maps and guides supplied by Clive, we set out on our first day for a very pleasant drive to enjoy the surroundings of Grazalema. On a clear, bright winters day, we felt a little as though we had travelled back in time as we had to stop on the first incline, goats were meandering all over the road and some were even climbing onto the olive trees to browse on the leaves and none of them were in a hurry to move out of the way!.
Visible all year in the natural Park of Grazalema this bird is larger than an eagle, with a wingspan of up to 260 cm (8.53 Ft). In flight, their wings are broad, with the primaries (finger-like feathers) usually clearly visible; the tail is short, and the neck retracted. It has buff brown coloured plumage on the back, stomach and the anterior band of the wings, while the rest of the wing feathers and tail are dark brown. The head and long neck are covered with white down and there is a distinctive collar of long feathers. On adults the bill is yellow and collar white, whilst on juveniles the bill is grey and collar pale brown. They feed on carrion, most of the time in a state of decay and at other times in an initial stage (especialy large mammals). The carcasses left out by farmers are also an important part of the diet of these birds.
Whilst out and about in the countryside here in Andalucia, you are bound to come across a variety of signs and notices telling you what kind of area you are in or whether you are about to stray onto private land. You may find signs telling you to "keep out!!" or to "Please close the gate". More and more fences are going up and access to land is being restricted. In some cases trails and paths are closed and directional signs taken down illegally. Basically the rules to follow, whether on horseback, walking or cycling in the countryside are:
March brings a great joy for lovers of these spectacular birds when yet again they have made it across the Strait of Gibraltar to their breeding grounds in Europe. The first single birds start appearing at the end of February but the massive migration comes in March, when clouds of birds can be seen entering continental Europe.
Absorb the tranquillity as you meander through the narrow, charismatic streets and open squares, noting the blend of Arabic layout and design with eighteenth century grandeur and ornamentation. This guide offers you a choice of short tours passing through stunning surroundings of lush Mediterranean woodlands and high mountain passes, with each white-washed population cluster separated by impressive scenery.
This evergreen tree is most easily recognized by its outline, the dense crown is almost a round globe in young specimens whereas in older trees it is shaped like a wide spread parasol, supported on large, elegant radial branches. It originates from the Mediterranean area and is popular there and elsewhere as a cultivated tree. It is favoured both for its attractive form and edible pine kernels. For around 6000 years pine nuts have been collected as nutritional snacks!
MARCH. As shrubs begin to show colour, spring is becoming more obvious and this alters from when we enter the month with a few shy blooms, to crossing into April with the “now in flower” list ever increasing. Over the first two weeks of March, the plants in flower are scattered and you need to know where to look, during the third and fourth weeks the selection grows with colour cropping up on roadsides, pastures, rocky slopes and river valleys.
Also called Dolmen del Chopo -after the name of the farm where it is situated
Dolmens are built stone burial chambers or tombs. They are created by standing huge stones on their edges to create the basic form and then these are capped with massive slabs. Soil would have been used to totally cover the entire area, but this has washed away over the centuries. A simple shape may be box like but the one we look at here is a longer structure, forming a corridor for multiple burials.
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