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Jaén province

Jaén province

The rugged Sierra Mágina Natural Park covers 19,900ha of rocky, steep limestone terrain, with precipitous cliffs and high summits that are often snow-capped in winter. Evocatively named by the Moors as the mountain of the spirits, the Sierra has a fascinating history glimpsed in its prehistoric cave paintings and defensive architecture built by warring Christians and Muslims. In the 10th century it harboured Moorish rebel leaders and much later, bandits. Its remote corners also provided a refuge for bears, wolves and the pardel lynx.

The gently rolling 74,774ha Sierra de Andújar, part of the vast Sierra Morena, is densely wooded and boasts one of Andalucia's best preserved expanses of Mediterranean forest and scrubland. Flowing through the rocky hills is the Yeguas river, with many lovely spots to sit and meditate along its banks. Its more remote areas are inhabited by an impressive number of endangered species, such as the pardel lynx, wolf, black vulture and imperial eagle.

With a total surface area of 209,920ha and covering almost a fifth of Jaen province, this is Spain's largest protected area and one its most extensive forested zones. Located in eastern Jaen province, it connects the Sierra Morena and the Subbética mountain ranges. The highest peak in this immense park is Pico Empanada at 2,107m and the entire park is higher than 600m.

The Despeñaperros Natural Park is a magnificent sheer-walled rocky river gorge that forms the backdrop of the most dramatic gateway into Andalucia. As the only natural break in the 500km-long Sierra Morena, it used to be one of the main routes into Andalucia from the north and Madrid. Today it is occupied by the A4 motorway and the Cadiz-Madrid railway line.

Ubeda (pronounced OO-bay-da), with its wealth of Renaissance palaces and churches, has much in common with its counterpart Baeza.

Baeza is tiny, compact and provincial with a kind of perpetual Sunday air about it. At its heart is the combined Plaza Mayor and the paseo which is flanked by pavement cafes but delightfully low key and atmospheric. The Plaza de Leones is a particularly attractive cobbled square enclosed by Renaissance buildings and stands slightly back at the far end.

Close to the Andalucia-La Mancha border and the Despeñaperros Natural Park are a series of magnificent waterfalls (cascadas), making a total protected area of 534ha. On the Guarrizas river, the waterfalls spill over an impressive, sheer wall of quartzite rock, 50m tall at its highest point of Cascada de la Cimbarra.

The Alto Guadalquivir Natural Area comprises three reservoirs (embalses) covering 663ha, which are situated along the upper reaches of the Guadalquivir river. To the east is the largest one, the Embalse de Puente La Cerrada, in the middle is the Embalse de Doña Aldonza and to the west is the smallest reservoir, the Embalse de Pedro Martín.

This is one of two sites in Andalucia with dinosaur prints. The 24 prints cover an area of sandstone only 20m² on a site near Santisteban del Puerto, northeast of Úbeda. They date from the Late Triassic period over 230 million years ago, but the prints are still a mystery since scientists have been unable to identify the species of dinosaur that made the prints.