Sierra de Baza Natural Park
In the northeast of Granada province adjacent to neighbouring Almeria is the sparsely populated 53,649ha Sierra de Baza Natural Park, part of the Cordillera Penibética. Its steep slopes are mainly pine-clad, up to the more barren, rocky ground over 2,000m. Its central part is made up of remote, jagged limestone peaks, which can be snow covered for some of the winter and are inhabited by majestic birds of prey, like the golden eagle and another nine species of raptors.
The Sierra's topmost point is Santa Bárbara, at 2,271m, from where there are superb views; on clear days you can see the Cazorla Natural Park. Located between two arid plains - the Llanos del Marquesado, which separates it from the Sierra Nevada, and the Hoya de Guadix - the Sierra de Baza is by contrast a verdant landscape.
Many abandoned farms and villages - such as Casas de Santa Olalla, Tablas and Tesorero - are scattered about the park, evidence of the Sierra's population decline.
Near Baza is a visitors' centre, the Centro de Visitantes de Narváez (958 002 018), which is accessible by taking the Baza exit on the A92 at Km 325. Next to the centre are the starting points of three signposted walks.
The easiest entry point to the Sierra is from the A92N motorway (N-342). The park is signposted from the exits at Baza and Gor. The GR-6103 leaves the southern branch of the A-92 at km 312 and goes to Charches. The GR-8101 crosses the park south from Caniles near Baza. The park is crisscrossed by a network of forest tracks, which give access on foot or by mountain bike. During the winter months, avoid driving in the Zona de Calares - the central high, rocky area - since the tracks are often blocked with snow and the road surface is frequently icy.
There is a good choice of hotels and self-catering cottages in Baza. For something different, you can rent a cave in villages close to the park, such as Baza, Freila and Río de Baza.
Free camping is permitted at the picnic areas of Tablas and Fuente del Pino from November to May (not during summer and early autumn due to the risk of forest fires). You need to apply for permission in writing from the environment department in Granada: Consejería de Medio Ambiente, Calle Marqués 1, 958 026 000.
Camping Las Cabañuelas in Freila is the closest organized campsite to the north of the par and is situated on the shores of the Pantano Negratín, so you can swim in the reservoir. Watersports, horse riding and cycle hire are available.
Around 100 plant species endemic to the southern Iberian penisula have been found here.
The principal vegetation is pine woodland, mainly Austrian, stone, Aleppo and Corsican species. On the higher slopes are some remaining stands of native pine woodland, composed of Nevada Scots pine (pinus sylvestris subsp. Nevadensis) and laricio pine (pinus negra subsp.salzmannii).
Some of the original tree species are still here, like holm oaks, gall oaks and junipers. Mediterranean scrubland vegetation includes Kermes oaks (quercus coccifera), Spanish barberries (berberis hispanica), sloe (prunus ramburii), laurel (laurel nobilis), as well as aromatic plants such as thyme, lavender, marjoram and rosemary.
Above 2,000m the vegetation changes abruptly, with extensive areas of cushion-forming thorny shrubs that are able to withstand the strong winds and low temperatures.
The lower slopes is agricultural land with cultivated cereal crops, interspersed with Mediterranean scrubland and pine trees.
Over 100 bird species have been catalogued in the park, among them many raptors like golden eagles, short-toed eagles, booted eagles, Egyptian vultures, peregrines, kestrels and eagle owls. In the cultivated fields are hoopoes, crested larks and red-legged partridges. Woodpeckers and turtle doves are in the wooded areas.
Badgers, genets, beech martens, wild cats and foxes are the most common among the 30 species of mammals inhabiting the park. The park is rich in game, like roe deer and wild boars.
There are 17 species of reptiles and eight of amphibians, many of which can be found along the park's watercourses, including water snakes, southern toads, painted toads and painted frogs.
Unique to the Hoya de Baza region is the Baza butterfly (eucloe bazae).
The park is drained by tributaries of the Baza river, which is in the Guadalquivir basin. The permeable limestone landscape means that there is a lot of underground water, which flows out of the park's plentiful springs and fountains.
There are seven signposted walks in the park.
Via Verde Sierra de Baza is a walk along the old railway line, just north of the Park boundary for a few km north and south of the town of Baza.
Sendero Mirador de Narváez is an easy walk to a viewpoint (mirador), only 1km from the visitors' centre via a fire break. From the mirador there is a superb panoramic view of the park.
Sendero Cortijo de Casimiro is a 3km easy walk that starts in a pine wood next to the visitors' centre. Along the route there are good views of the Hoya de Guadix plain and the ruined Cortijo de Casimoio farm.