|Sierra de Andújar, part of the vast Sierra Morena.|
Sierra de Andújar Natural Park
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.
It is adjacent to the Cardeña y Montoro Natural Park, to the west of the Yeguas river that acts as a natural border between the two parks. In the north is Sierra Quintana, where the undulating hills give way to the rockier crags that mark the border between Andalucia and Ciudad Real. Here is the park's highest peak of Burcio del Pino, at 1,290m.
In the south of the park is the Sanctuario Virgen de la Cabeza, a hermitage perched on the top of a granite outcrop, the Cerro de Cabezo, with spectacular views of the Sierra and the Jándula river valley. It is renowned for its annual romeria (pilgrimage), held on the last Sunday in April.
First held in 1227, it is one of Spain's longest established romerías and ranks alongside El Rocío pilgrimage for Andalucia's most popular one, attracting an estimated 500,000 pilgrims every year. Its setting and popularity of its pilgrimage make up for the bleak building itself; there has been a hermitage on this site since the 13th century, but after being largely destroyed in the Civil War it was rebuilt by Franco.
The Virgen de la Cabeza is the patron saint of hunters, who are a common sight in the game-rich Sierra with its many private hunting reserves and the state-owned Coto Nacional de Lugar Nuevo.
The park's visitors' centre, the Centro de Visitantes Las Viñas de Peñallana, is on the J5010 Andújar-Sanctuario Virgen de las Cabezas road, 953 549 030. It features an exhibition on the lynx and the wolf and has information on walks and accommodation in the park.
From April to September it's open 9am-1pm Thursday to Sunday and public holidays; on Friday and Saturday it also opens from 6pm-8pm. From October to March it's open 10am-2pm Thursday to Sunday and public holidays and also 4pm-6pm Friday and Saturday.
The park is located north of Andújar, on the A4 Cordoba-Jaen road. Its southern section, with a network of tracks, is more accessible than that of the north, with only the J500 minor road, which leads out of Andalucia to Ciudad Real, traversing it north-south.
There are a few hotels within the park itself at the tiny village of Virgen de la Cabezas. The small town of Andújar has a good choice of hotels.
The only campsite in the park is at the Hotel Mirada, near the Sanctuario Virgen de la Cabeza.
Camping Andújar is in Andújar just south of the park and has a swimming pool.
The dominant vegetation is Mediterranean. Cork and holm oak woodland is dehesa, the typical area of the Sierra Morena with mixed woodland and pastureland, which is used for its cork, as well as grazing pigs and goats. The Mediterranean undergrowth comprises strawberry trees, lentisc, myrtle, wild olives and Kermes oaks, along with aromatic plants like thyme, rosemary and majoram. Conifer forests are comprised of umbrella pines and Austrian pines.
Lining the banks of the Jándula river are the park's best examples of river vegetation, like willows, poplars, oleanders and alder trees.
The Sierra is one of two of Spain's last refuges for the elusive and highly endangered lynx, whose population has around 80 adults that produce some 35 cubs a year. It is under threat from forest fires, the scarcity of rabbits that provide its main source of food and urban development. The increasingly rare wolf also inhabits the Sierra, one of the few places it is still found in Andalucia.
Birds of prey are a common sight, particularly the imperial and golden eagles that nest on the most inaccessible rocky peaks, like those in the Garganta de Valquemado, as well as griffon vultures, buzzards and owls, many of which breed here. There is a significant colony of black vultures west of the Jándula reservoir, near the Valtraviesa, Parra and Despeñaperros rivers. Nesting in the steep cliffs in the very north of the park, in Sierra Quintana, are Egyptian vultures, golden eagles and red-billed choughs.
Apart from the lynx and wolf, mammals inhabiting the Sierra include roe deer, mouflon, wild boars, wild cats and Egyptian mongooses.
Otters live in the rivers with the most densely wooded banks, such as the Cándalo and Valdelagrana rivers that feed into the Yeguas. Other inhabitants of the watercourses are common chiffchaffs, warblers, golden orioles, nightingales, grey and purple herons, little grebes, coots and the ubiquitous mallard.
The main water courses are the Yeguas river that forms the park's western border and the Jándula river on the eastern edge, with two reservoirs along its route, the Embalse del Encinarejo and the Embalse del Jándula. A network of smaller rivers and streams drains the central area of the Sierra, many of which are of great ecological interest with their wealth of wildlife, such as the Arroyo de Valmayor and the Garganta de Valquemado.
Things to see
Sanctuario de Nuestra Virgen de la Cabeza is worth a visit for its superb panoramic views and walks around the hill.
The park has five well-marked footpaths.
Sendero Encinarejo is a linear 3km walk along the Jándula river. It starts where the JV5010 enters the park, north of Andújar. The road crosses the Puente del Hierro (the Iron Bridge) and to the right of this, up the river, is a picnic area. After passing holm oak and pine tree woodland, you arrive at the Encinarejo reservoir, which is a good place for swim.
Sendero Sanctuario Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza is an easy 4km circular walk with magnificent views from the Cerro de la Cabeza. Coming from Andújar on the JV5010, the route begins 1km before the turn-off to the hermitage road. After passing through a pine forest, the path climbs up the hill to the hermitage. You return by the same route.
Sendero Sanctuario Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza-Lugar Nuevo is an easy 6km linear walk starting at the Cerro de la Cabeza. First take the forest track leading south down from the hermitage. The route passes through woodland of holm oaks and wild olive trees. Look out for partridges, eagles and vultures, which are all a common sight in this area. At the bottom of the hill the path crosses a Roman bridge over the Jándula river.
There is only one tiny village, the Virgen de la Cabeza, within the park. The following are just outside the park border:
Baños de la Encina
Villanueva de la Reina