Torcal de Antequera Natural Area
Thirty kilometres north of Malaga is the 12km² Torcal de Antequera Natural Area, with one of the most dramatic and exceptional karstic landscapes in Europe. This surreal and lunar grey limestone plateau, dating from the Jurassic period, is riven by deep gullies and characterised by its fantastically weathered natural sculptures, like the Tornillo Natural Monument.
The whole area was under the sea until 150 million years ago. The violent movements of the earth's crust then forced it upwards into hills and mountains, some 1,300m high. The limestone retained its horizontal strata, which over the years have been eroded by the rain and wind to form the incredible shapes you can see today.
Geologically, the area can be divided into four sections: Sierra Pelada, Torcal Alto, Torcal Bajo and Tajos and Laderas. Torcal Alto is the most impressive, divided from Torcal Bajo by a magnificent rocky ridge, Las Vilaneras, which has the highest point in El Torcal at 1,336m, known as Camorro de las Siete Meses.
There are also caves, like the Cueva del Toro, where Neolithic remains have been discovered.
At the car park is an information centre, a small museum on the area's flora and fauna, a cafe and an astronomical observatory. It is the starting points of walks.
From Malaga head 20km north on the A45. At the Puerto de las Pedrizas, Km 148, turn left to Villanueva de la Concepción and then follow the signs to El Torcal, about 1km out of the village.
Camping Torcal, 6km south of Antequera, has a swimming pool and bungalows to rent. It's on the Antequera-Villanueva de la Concepción A-7075 road.
Despite its rocky terrain, the Torcal area has an impressive range of flora, with over 650 plant species - including 30 varieties of orchid - being recorded here. There are many other wildflowers, like peonies, dwarf irises and rock roses. Lichens and bracken are also abundant here. Rock plants like various species of toadflax grow on the limestone itself.
Between the rocks are holm oaks, gall oaks, elder, hawthorn and maple.
Declared a special protection area for birds (ZEPA), the Torcal area supports a rich birdlife. Raptors seen soaring above the rocks often include sparrowhawks, common kestrels, peregrines, griffon vultures, Bonelli's eagles, and at night, little owls and eagle owls. Other birds are those commonly found in rocky areas and cliffs, like crag martins, black wheateaters and red-billed choughs.
Mammals are few in the park, but there are dormice, rabbits, badgers, weasels, foxes and the occasional Spanish ibex. Reptiles are numerous, such as ocellated lizards, spine-footed lizards, southern wall lizards, ladder snakes and Montpellier snakes.
Three walks have been signposted in the area. Make sure you've got good walking shoes or trainers and in warmer weather take plenty of water.
Ruta Verde (green route) is the easiest and shortest, at 1½km, and takes about 40 minutes.
Ruta Amarilla (yellow route), at 2½km long, covers most of the green one and another kilometre, taking you to Las Ventanillas (Small Windows) at 1,200m with panoramic views of Malaga.
Ruta Roja (red route) is the longest, at 4½km long, and takes around three hours. It has a viewpoint at 1,339m, where you can see the whole of the Torcal area and, on clear days, the African coastline.
You are highly recomended not to leave sight of these walk and not go walking (without a guide) through the rocks yourself (as the video above) since many visitors have become completely disoriented and unable to find their way back.
Searching for Spanish Ibex
Video from wildlife photographer Marcos G. Meider in search of the Spanish Ibex mountain goat in El Torcal Natural Park early one cold morning. It includes " a compilation of images that I've taken during my years visiting this brilliant place."