Sierra de Hornachuelos Natural Park
The Sierra de Hornachuelos extends for 60,032ha and is part of the vast 400,000ha Unesco Biosphere Reserve for the Sierra Morena mountain range, along with the natural parks of the adjacent Sierra Norte and the Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche.
An outstanding 95% of its territory is wooded, mainly with cork and holm oak dehesas (areas of mixed woodland and pasture). This is home to many endangered species, like the lynx, black vulture, black stork, golden eagle and Bonelli's eagle.
With abundant game such as red deer and wild boar, one of the most popular activities practiced here is hunting.
There is a Centro de Visitantes (Visitors' Centre), La Huerta del Rey, 1km out of Hornachuelos on the road to San Calixto, 957 641 140. It has information on the park's flora and fauna, while outside the building is a picnic area and the starting point of one of six signposted walks in the area.
The best starting point in the park is Hornachuelos, north of the A431 Cordoba-Seville road. From here, there are several minor roads crossing the park.
There is little accommodation within the park, apart from a basic hotel in Hornachuelos. Try in one of the villages just outside the park, such as Villaviciosa de Córdoba.
There are four areas where free camping (acampada libre) is permitted in the park: Llano de los Perejiles, Puente de la Cabrilla, Pasada de Algeciras and Fuente del Valle, where there is also a picnic area.
Apart from the plentiful holm oaks and cork oaks, the landscape is characterised by some dense Mediterranean undergrowth, formed by lentisc, Kermes oaks, strawberry trees, dwarf fan palms and myrtle. There is also dense vegetation along the river banks; typically, poplars, ash trees, willows and oleanders. Endemic rare plants include the clover trifolium boissieri.
The park has many birds of prey, among them are golden, short-toed and Bonelli's eagles, buzzards, kestrels and goshawks. It has one of Andalucia's largest colonies of griffon vultures, with around 100 pairs, and one of the Sierra's Morena's most important populations of black vultures, with 50 pairs. The three reservoirs in the park - Bembézar, Breña and Retortillo - are popular with numerous great comorants in winter.
Mammals include Egyptian mongeese, genets, wild boars and red deer, as well as otters in the reservoirs and rivers.
Things to see
Monasterio de Santa María de los Ángeles, a convent built in 1489 by Fray Juan de la Puebla, 10km northeast of Hornachuelos. Worth a visit to see its dramatic position on the steep hillside overlooking the Bembézar river, it is now abandoned.
There are a few easy, short walks from the Huerta del Rey visitors' centre.
Sendero del Arroyo de la Rabilarga is a short and easy circular walk of only 700m following the leafy course of a stream, lined with oleanders, poplars and elms and an attractive walk in the autumn when the leaves change colour. Sendero Botánico is a 1.2km circular walk past Mediterranean plant species typical of those seen elsewhere in the park, like holm and cork oaks, lentisc, wild olive trees and strawberry trees.
Sendero del Cordel del Águila is a 12km linear route, of medium difficulty due to some steep ascents and descents, starting from the Huerta del Rey visitors' centre. The path goes through Mediterranean woodland and past Hornachuelos village. Quench your thirst at the Fuente del Puerco before continuing the route along the Guadalora river with its willows and alder trees. This sendero links up with the Sendero del Guadalora, which in turn leads to the Sendero de las Herrerías, which will take you back to the Huerta del Rey visitors' centre.
Sendero del Bembézar is an easy linear route of 13km that follows the Bembézar river from the Hornachuelos reservoir to the Bembézar reservoir. Apart from the last kilometre or so, it is flat.
It passes the 15th-century convent, the Seminario de Los Ángeles. Look out for the terraces, made by the monks who used to do the gardening, and the caves carved out of the limestone slopes. These were used for retreats.
On the next part of the walk you may see black vultures and griffon vultures soaring overhead. The last part passes the extensive private hunting reserves characteristic of the park, before you arrive at the Bembézar reservoir.
Since it passes nesting black vultures, it can only be walked from August to December to avoid disturbing the vultures, and you need to obtain permission from the Consejería de Medio Ambiente (environment department) in Cordoba first, 957 003 300.
Sendero del Guadalora is an easy 7km linear walk starting from the Huerta del Rey visitors' centre. This route follows the course of the Guadalora river, passing a 14th-century watermill, La Paloma, which was used for grinding wheat.
Follow the Sendero de Rabillarga from the Huerta del Rey, which leads to the Sendero de las Herrarías. Follow this until the Finca Santa Elena, where there is a signposted path to the Sendero del Guadalora. The path ends at the Pasada del Algeciras.
Sendero de las Herrarías is an easy circular walk of 4.8km starting at the Huerta del Rey Visitors' Centre. Take the footpath north of the centre, which follows the Rabilarga stream. To your right is a water deposit, which used to irrigate the Huerta del Rey vegetable plot. Around 600m on from the visitors' centre is a fork; take the right-hand path to Finca San Bernardo and through holm oak woodland. The track passes three areas where lime (cal) was produced, hence the names: Calera de los Chaparros, Calera Grande de los Palmillos and Calera de San Antonio, where you can still see the limestone rocks and the jugs that they are cooked in to make cal.
A good spot for a break is the La Fuente del Valle picnic area, site of the Hornachuelos annual romería (pilgrimage). Then the path passes an impressive 300ha cork woodland, Finca Santa Cruz. Just before Huerta del Rey there is an equally outstanding woodland of 100-year-old holm oak.