Sierra Castril Natural Park
Designated a natural park in 1989, this rugged and spectacular limestone mountainous region in the north of Granada province, adjacent to the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park and part of the Sierras Bética, is exceptional for its geological features, with a dramatically eroded landscape of gorges, vertical cliffs, waterfalls and, below ground, numerous caves. It has abundant water, with an average rainfall of 700mm on its highest points, while many watercourses drain the area. There are also numerous springs and lots of waterfalls. The park has a total of 14 habitats, which means that it supports a wide variety of flora and fauna. Its altitude rises from 900m to over 2,000m.
It is north of the pretty village of Castril, with its steep streets and huddle of whitewashed houses, overlooked by the spectacular Peña de Castril.
Next to the Embalse del Portillo, 200m from Castril village, on the C330 Pozo Alcón road at Km 0.2, is the park's visitors' centre (958 720 059), the starting point for six signposted walks. The centre has an audiovisual display and ethnographic exhibition on the park and a 3D model of the park.
The park is easily accessible from the village of Castril, which can be reached by taking the A92 from Granada to Baza, and then turning north on to the A315 to Pozo Alcón, where the A326 leads northeast to Castril. From the park's visitors' centre are signposted walks, or follow the walk from the village along the Sendero Río Castril.
There are a few hostales in Castril and cottages to rent around the village. Paz y Calma offers self-catering accommodation just outside Castril.
There is a municipal campsite in Castril village. Camping El Cortijillo is 12km north of Castril, within the park, at the source of the Castril river.
Caves in the park
In the Sierra Seca area of the park is the Cueva del Muerto, with superb stalagmites and stalagtites and the impressive Cueva de Don Fernando. Two-and-a-half kilometres long and 241m below sea level at its deepest point, the Cueva de Don Fernando is Granada's largest cave and the second biggest in Andalucia.
On the highest peaks are Austrian pines, tall trees that grows up to 40m high and can withstand the low temperatures and icy winds of winter. On the lower slopes are junipers and holm oaks, although much of the original holm oak woodland has cut down to make way for Aleppo, Austrian and Scotch pine plantations. Maples and gall oaks grow on the Barranco de Magdalena and the Barranco de Túnez.
Along the Castril river there is a rich diversity of plants. On the river banks are many poplars, used locally for making furniture, and ash trees and willows.
Paper used to be made from the esparto grass that grows in the Sierra.
Aromatic plants include lavender, rosemary and thyme. A locally produced honey, miel de la Sierra, is made from bee pollen derived from these plants.
The park was designated a bird protection area (ZEPA) in 2002 for its outstanding ornithological interest. Nesting on the limestone cliff faces in the park are Egyptian vultures, Griffon vultures and peregrine falcons. Other raptors inhabit the pine and holm oak woodland areas, such as short-toed, golden and booted eagles.
The rivers and the trees lining their banks are home to grey herons, wagtails, kingfishers and dippers, while in the water itself are otters and trout.
Mountain goats, muflon, wild boar, fallow deer and martens are the main mammals, although there is speculation on the presence of the threatened Iberian lynx. There are many butterflies endemic to the Iberian peninsula.
Due to its numerous watercourses, the park is rich in reptiles and amphibians, many of which are rare elsewhere. It is the only place in Spain apart from Jaen and Albacete provinces where the Spanish algyroides, also known as Valverde's lizard, can be found and the park also has painted frogs, southern midwife toads, Lataste's vipers, salamanders and grass snakes.
The main river is the Río Castril, home to a rich birdlife and many mammals, with many tributaries feeding into it. The park is dotted with many springs, such as Juan Ruiz, Tubos, Lézar and Magadalena, and waterfalls.
Ask in the visitors' centre for a map of walks in the park.
Sendero Río Castril is a 12km linear easy walk, which takes around four hours. It follows the course of the Castril up to its source.
Four kilometres after leaving Castril village on the A326 road to Puentezuela is a left-hand turn-off for the hot spring Fuente de Tubos, less than 1km off the A326. There are some good views of the Embalse de Portillo and then of Sierra de Castril to the left. To the right of the track is the Sierra Seca, with the cliff face of the Puntal de la Zurdica, with nesting pairs of Griffon vultures.
Heading down the valley towards the Castril river, the path goes through Aleppo pines, junipers, Hermes oaks, gorse bushes, rosemary and wild marjoram. It passes Las Tabernillas and its walnut and strawberry trees.
Tha path now follows the river bank, past the lush vegetation of willows, poplars and elm trees that provide welcome shade in hot weather. Further on is Camping El Cortijillo. After this, the path climbs up and away from the river bed until it reaches the Cortijos del Nacimiento, the source of the Castril river, where there are superb views down the river valley.