Sierra de Alhamilla Natural Area
Authentic Spa with medicinal waters,
Only 15km northeast of Almeria city is this largely barren and rugged 8,500ha mountain range, designated a protected natural area in 1989. Riven by deep gullies, particularly on its southern slopes, it rises to 1,387m at its highest point of the Colativí peak. It is a sparsely populated area, with only 50 inhabitants within its boundaries. Despite being semi-arid, the Sierra has some outstanding examples of holm oak woodland in places over 800m.
There are various entry points into the area. In the west, the AL110 road leads up from Pechina to the Baños de Sierra Alhamilla. A few kilometres past the A92/N340 junction, towards Tabernas, is a track that goes into the northeast part of the Sierra and crosses it all the way to Turrillas; to get the most out of the wildlife and the superb views along here, you can walk this route. Just beyond the park boundaries in the east is the Níjar-Lucainena de las Torres AL102 road, which passes through some dramatic landscape in the Sierra's foothills.
The closest village with accommodation is Tabernas, but Níjar has a better choice of places to stay. For something special, visit the spa hotel at the Baños de Alhamilla.
Despite the Sierra's dry and barren appearance and its small size, it contains 40 species of flora. The Sierra is one of Spain's most important habitats for the rare rosemary rosmarinus eriocalyx, with flowers of varying shades of blue.
The most significant vegetation is an area of well-preserved holm oaks, the only woodland in an otherwise treeless area. Adapted to extreme temperatures and times of drought, these holm oaks are a relic from the days when much of Almeria was clad in Mediterranean forest. The best examples of these holm oaks can be found on the Sierra's north-facing slopes; on the south-facing ones they are concentrated in the Barranco del Rey and the Cerro del Vivero. Apart from the holm oaks and some reforested areas of Aleppo and maritime pines, most of the Sierra's vegetation is dominated by low scrubland, with pink rock roses (cistus albidus), marjoram (thymus mastichina) and thyme (thymus gracilis).
Most fauna inhabits the area above 800m, where there is the most tree cover, with the most noteworthy species being the Sierra's populations of trumpeter finches and Dupont's larks.
The Sierra harbours one of the Iberian peninsula's highest densities of certain steppe species and the province's biggest population of thekla larks. The steppe birds include stone curlews, little bustards, crested larks, short-toed larks, lesser short-toed larks and black-bellied sandgrouse. During migration periods, there are hen harriers and Montagu's harriers.
Nesting in the steep, rocky cliffs close to seasonal rivers (ramblas), particularly on the south-facing section of the Sierra, are blue rock thrushes, crag martins, alpine swifts and black wheateaters. At the highest points are birds of prey like booted and Bonelli's eagles and buzzards. Look out for kestrels and sparrowhawks in the skies above woodland areas.
Mammals include the white-toothed shrew, garden dormouse, genet, beech marten, fox and wild boar. Lizards are the most abundant reptiles; with ocellated, spine-footed, Algerian sand, Spanish sand and southern wall lizards found here. Given the aridity of the area, amphibians are not so numerous, but in the more humid parts are marsh frogs and southern toads.
Things to see
Baños de Alhamilla are natural hot springs in the west of the area and can be reached from Pechinas, from where they are signposted. They were first discovered by the Phoenicians, then the Romans - who constructed the underground sunken Roman marble baths that still exist today - and centuries later, the Moors. Set in an apparent oasis of palm trees, there are fine views over the Andarax valley and down to the Mediterranean.
Níjar is worth a stop to pick up some of its famous locally made pottery and rugs and bedspreads made from rags, known as jarapas.
You can walk or cycle from the Cerro del Puntal east to the Colativí peak, along a 10km-long stretch of mainly surfaced road. To get to the starting point, turn off the N340 at Mini-Hollywood and once past this, take a dirt track up to the hilltop TV transmitter on Cerro del Puntal. This route has magnificent views over the Tabernas desert and Cabo de Gata.
Villages just outside the area's perimeter are Lucainena de las Torres, Pechina, Tabernas and Turrillas.