Via Verde - Odiel
This 17km vía verde follows the former Buitrón mining railway line that once linked Mina Concepción and Zalamea la Real and was used exclusively for transporting mineral extracted from the mine (mina) of Mina Concepción all the way to cargo boats in San Juan del Puerto on the Odiel estuary near Huelva city. In its later stages, the route also follows the course of the Odiel river, which it crosses over a magnificent viaduct, before arriving in the atmospheric deserted mining village of Mina Concepción.
You could start this route in San Juan del Puerto, on the Vía Verde of the Watermills, to Zalamea. If you want to find out more about mining history in the area, visit the excellent Museo Minero in Riotinto, also accessible by a former railway route that you can join at Zalamea, the Vía Verde of Riotinto. Take into account that on this route there is nowhere to stock up on drinking water or food beyond Zalamea, so make sure you have everything you need before setting off. The route is suitable for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, but not wheelchair users.
The vía verde starts just east of the N435 at the former train station called the Estación de Zalamea-Nueva, built by the Riotinto mining company for transporting its workers from Zalamea to the mines in Riotinto.This first section overlaps with the Vía Verde of Riotinto, which links Zalamea with Riotinto.
At Km 2 in the pine forest just before El Campillo, the Vía Verde of the Odiel River departs from the Riotinto route and heads northwest. It coincides for a very short distance with the C421 road, before heading up a track signposted Centro Aspromin. This leads through a small residential area, where part of the old railway line has been built over by Centro Reto, but you rejoin the original route, which is now surfaced, soon after the houses peter out. From here there are great views to your right, where you can clearly see the dramatic influence on the landscape of mining activities around the Riotinto area.
For the next few kilometres the route follows the N435, the road being the precise course of the old railway line. About 200m of this is on the hard shoulder, before the dirt track of the vía verde reappears to the right for another 1km or so. Then there is another 50m on the road verge again, taking the first right-hand track marked by concrete posts.
The track runs through pine trees and past some ruined buildings that used to house the engines utilized for pulling trains up the ascent from Cortijo El Tintillo. The gradient of this 1km slope is extremely steep. If you are a cyclist, it´s worth dismounting for the downward stretch, since there are still some old steel joists on the route that were used to secure the tracks and these could be hazardous for cyclists whizzing downhill.
In this part of the route you can see signs of how a major forest fire in the summer of 2004 ravaged the area around Riotinto; the eucalyptus trees are clearly the ones recovering the quickest, with rapid new growth sprouting around the base of their trunks, while the holm oaks have been much slower to grow again.
At the bottom of the hill is the Tintillo river which used to be crossed by an iron bridge, now no more, so you may get your feet a bit wet hopping across it if you´re walking. Once over the river, the railway line divides in two; take the main route to the left to Mina Concepción. The other track led to Mina Poderosa, which was one of the first in the area to close, in the early 20th century.
The route climbs gently towards the Odiel river. Around Km 10 is a 75m-long tunnel that is passable. The next tunnel is closed, but a clear track leads up a small hill; once up here, you have to be careful to take a track down that heads north, since there are a few to choose from, and you will come to the old railway line again.
After a stretch through pine trees, you come to the Odiel river following the route alongside. The highlight of this vía verde has got to be the 100m-long viaduct over the Odiel river. If you haven´t got a head for heights look straight ahead since this is a narrow bridge with no railings to hold on to; but if you´re feeling brave, you can enjoy the wonderful views and observe the curious reddish waters of the river and the surrounding rocks, a colour deriving from the rich mineral deposits in the earth. You can also spot the disused and crumbling loading platform used by the Mina Poderosa and, once over the bridge 1km or so later, a similar one used by Mina San Platón.
Approaching Mina Concepción you can see more loading platforms once crowded with trains filling up with minerals. At Km 17 is Mina Concepción itself, a haunting, remote village whose only function was that of a mining centre. The only signs remaining of its former importance are now derelict, such as its hospital, church and the mine itself, which closed in the early 1990s.