El Torcal - The enchanted mountain range.
La Sierra del Torcal is situated some ten kilometres from the town of Antequera which, with its eastern foothills, the Sierra Pelada, results in an awesome view of majestic mountain ranges punctuated by intriguing rock formations and angles.
Observed from any direction, the heavy, solid form of the Sierras belies the morphological world which lies all but hidden between the mountain peaks. In order to enter this magical world, it is necessary to climb the steep inclines and delve far and beyond the mountain protagonist.
For millions of years, water has penetrated the rocks and chiselled out strange figures and formations like some crazed sculptor at work. This has been caused by that era, long gone, when the mountain ranged emerged from the depths of the sea. Also, we mustn't forget that, millions of years ago, this territory was flooded by the sea of Tetis which meant that it was subject to constant erosion when the water played a leading role creating (and destroying) the rock which results today, in the most fantastic and unusual shapes and forms.
All this can be discovered at the Torcal and, although its most marked characteristc is the bareness of the rock, the Spring and Autumn rains provoke the explosion of colourful plant life with the clay ground soil in the caves and passages covered with a green herbaceous carpet, pinpointed with lilies, nazarenes and vivid red peonies with their distinctive soft velvety texture.
The vegetation of bushes is less varied but certainly no less interesting. The wild rose trees for example, are abundant and the contrast of the grey colour of the rock and the pink and yellow of the flowers is truly spectacular. Another variety of bush which can be found here in the natural park, is the cornicabra which is typical of the Mediterranean being well adapted to the rigorous conditions of the environment. There are, in addition, many more flowers and plants which grow and live here, many of them endemic, which is to say that they only grow and live here or in nearby regions and can be found nowhere else in the world.
Animal life is a little more sparse compared to other natural spots in the area due in part, to the severe environmental conditions. Nevertheless, there are numerous species of reptile and they can generally be spied, basking in the sun lying prone on the warm, grey rocks of El Torcal. One of the most spectacular reptiles is the Montpelier Snake which can be up to two metres in length and is the largest reptile to inhabit the mountain range. Similarly stunning is the Eyed Lizard which can be usually seen during the warm Spring and Summer months and is also an avid sunbather.
As far as birds are concerned, we must not forget to include the Griffon Vultures which constantly fly above the area in search of vulnerable animals. Other smaller birds also inhabit the rocky spot including the abubilla. And, of course, there are others, too numerous to mention.
The mammals, on the other hand, are not so abundant, although the mountain goats are here in designated areas and in the lower regions are such interesting and nocturnal mammals such as the badgers and polecats, weasels and a variety of rodents.
The best time for visiting El Torcal is during the Spring and Autumn although, in the cold winter months, the snow casts its immaculate veil over the landscape and it is almost worth putting up with the chilblains and cold, just to enjoy the close-up, the awesomely beautiful mountain vistas.
The nearest town to this singularly beautiful spot is Antequera which, during Roman times was known as Antikaria: La Antigua (the ancient town). This names is particularly apt as it is generally known as the "city of monuments" because of the numerous historic building which are present on virtually every street of the town. For the traveller, Antequera offers an urban landscape which is characteristic of the larger towns of Andalucia and which brings together a sobriety, typical of such an historic city. Numerous church towers and convents can be spied peeking out from the whitewashed houses and striking for their Moorish architecture with tiles and limestone facades.
One particularly notable landmark is La Peña de los Enamorados (lovers' cliff) a looming slab of rock which hides a tragic love story revolving around a Christian boy and Arab girl who were in love but were rejected by their respective families. The story goes that, after meeting secretly for some time and fleeing from their homes, they realised that they were getting nowhere. After one final embrace, they flung themselves into the deep ravine below from the highest cliff which, today, carries their name.
At the site of the city gates, there have been considerable archaeological discoveries made including, on one side, the ancient Roman city of Singilla Barba with its marvellous mosaics and on the other, the Dolmenes de Menga, Viera and El Romeral; magnificent megalithic constructions which are more than four thousand years old.
Returning to the natural park of El Torcal, we arrive at the Refugio. Marked by yellow arrows there is a trail leading from here which is most interesting both from a botanical and hiking point of view with its many nooks and crannies and variety of plant life.
The charm of El Torcal and its magical beauty are increased still more at night. A particularly unforgettable sight is the August moon, for example, rising far above the peaks and best seen from the Las Ventanillas viewpoint. The harsh forms of the mountain soften in the distance while, in the foreground, the contrasts of light and shade are more defined. In all, the rocks take on an almost mystical appearance.
From this natural balcony, look back towards the south and you will see the lights coming from the villages of the Valle del Guadalhorce and the farmhouses which are perched high in the mountains and which twinkle in the distance. Closer by, the lights of the boats remind us that the Mediterranean is a mere forty kilometres away.
The easiest way to reach El Torcal de Antequera is via the motorway N331 which, departing from the west ring road just prior to Malaga, takes you through the winding highway. Pass by the gentle slopes of the fields planted with cereals which, little by little, climb to the summit and the first and inaccessible ledges which give a sense of the proximity of El Torcal itself.
In order to actually reach the natural mountain ranges, it is necessary to pass by the town of Antequera, from where you take the regional road, C3310, which climbs up a narrow steep road leading to the park itself. The view from the main road here is truly magnificent with the beautiful, fertile Guadalhorce valley stretching far into the distance where, on a clear day, a twinkle of blue - the Mediterranean sea, can be spied tantalisingly on the horizan.
It is obviously wise to closely adhere to the instructions in the park as otherwise it can be eary to get lost and could be dangerous. But this does not mean that you cannot enjoy an expedition which is truly exciting and memorable and which you are sure to want to repeat on many an occasion.
This article was first published in the Andalucia Costa del Sol Magazine.