Landscapes - Dehesa

Almonaster La Real one of the most picturesque villages © Michelle Chaplow
Almonaster La Real one of the most picturesque villages in Andalucia (Click to enlarge image) © Michelle Chaplow

Dehesa landscapes

West of  the hilltop town of Aracena, in the northern part Huelva Province, stretches one of Andalucía's most surprisingly beautiful landscapes - the Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche. Tree-covered hills are dotted with old stone villages where time still passes at a donkey's pace. Throughout this area there are vast expanses of dehesa - a unique ecosystem made up of mixed grassy pastureland and woodland of evergreen oak trees.

Andalucia has 1.25 million hectares of dehesa, or 14% of its total land, and half of this type of landscape in the whole of Spain.

This dehesa is where the region's famed black (or dark brown) Iberian pigs, best-known as jamon iberico, forage for the acorns which constitute most of their diet.

The Sierra de Aracena was originally covered by Mediterranean woodland of mainly gall, cork and holm oaks. Some of this was cleared in the Middle Ages to make way for the dehesa, which at the time was common land. As well as grazing livestock, mostly cows in addition to the pigs, the dehesa is used for the production of cork, firewood, charcoal (from holm oaks). It occupies over a third of the park today and is confined to the shallower gradients.

Some of the villages flanking the dehesa date back to prehistoric times, while others owe their existence to Castilian re-population after the Portuguese were driven out in the 13th century. Most villages grew up around fortress-like churches or hilltop castles constructed to deter the Portuguese.

Another extensive area of dehesa can be found in the massive Parque Alcornocales, located in Cadiz province, stretching all way the way from the Sierra de Grazalema down to Tarifa on the coast. An alcornocal is a cork-oak tree. The biggest farm estate in Europe is Finca La Almoraima, covering 16,000 hectares near Castellar de la Frontera, and is one of Spain's most exclusive hunting reserves.

And in Cordoba province, you'll find large swathes of dehesa in the Sierra Morena, a huge park which acts as a natural border with the neighbouring region to the north, Extremadura.

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