Via Verde - Watermills
This route starts at San Juan del Puerto northeast of Huelva City and ends 36km further north in Valverde del Camino, passing through a region of gently rolling hills known as El Andévalo. The route is surfaced in places and is suitable for walkers, cyclists, wheelchair users and horse riders.
The vía verde follows a former railway line, the Ferrocarril del Buitrón, which was used from the 1860s until the 1940s by the mining companies to transport minerals from the mines in Mina Concepción 71km south to the port at San Juan del Puerto, located on the Tinto river. It was part of a network of tracks constructed by British engineers to link San Juan del Puerto´s port to many mines in the area north of Huelva city, the most important being that of Riotinto.
The route starts in San Juan del Puerto, near the elegant neo-Mudéjar old train station, where barges used to be loaded at the Muelle del Tinto with minerals. Close to the Muelle are the Salinas del Tinto, former saltpans in an area of marshland rich in birdlife. You go through the town and over the motorway, before following a route parallel and just west of the N-435, through fields of sunflowers and cereals south of the agricultural town of Trigueros. Just before Trigueros, you depart from the N-435 roadside and go through the outskirts of the town at Km 9. Once the train track was outside of town, but Trigueros has grown since the railway was abandoned in 1969 and now the old station has been demolished and another building has been constructed in its place.
If you have time, you can do an interesting 8km detour from Trigueros, to the largest and most important prehistoric dolmen in the province and one of the biggest in the Iberian Peninsula. The 20m-long Dolmen de Soto, which dates from the Bronze Age, was discovered by Armando de Soto in 1922 and is on farmland owned by the Finca Lobita. Accessible by bicycle or on foot, it is located east of Trigueros and is clearly signposted from the town. You can visit Monday to Friday from 9am to 2pm.
The Dolmen de Soto is one of three in the area, the other two being the Dolmen del Labradillo, signposted off the N-435 north of Beas and, further north, the Dolmen de Pozuelo between Valverde and Zalamea.
Once past Trigueros, the vía verde becomes more leafy, passing through cork oak woodland and gently descending to the site of the former train station of Beas at Km 15, 3km from Beas itself. You go over a bridge crossing the Arroyo Renegoso, whose waters used to power a series of watermills used for grinding wheat and barley. Around here is the Ruta de los Molinos (the Route of the Watermills), a picnic area with barbecue pits and information boards on the history of the mills. One mill has been restored to working order. At the side of the Molino de la Llave is a leafy riverside sendero (footpath) that passes six watermills, several of them also renovated.
Beas has a pleasant main square lined with a few bars, which is a good place to stop for tapas. It also boasts a fine Gothic-Mudéjar church, the Iglesia de San Bartolomé, on the same plaza.
Beyond Beas the terrain becomes steeper and the route goes through extensive plantations of eucalyptus and pine trees. After Km 21 where there is the Pallares small station, there is an increasing amount of cork oaks. At Km 27 is the Venta Eligio station, followed by the site of the former station Los Pinos de Valverde, named after this hamlet surrounded by pine trees, some of which were burnt in the forest fires of 2004 that ravaged this area.
Huelva city dwellers keen to escape the humid coast have built many spacious holiday homes up here in the relatively cooler shade of Los Pinos. The vía verde crosses the N-435 and runs alongside it on an elevated section.
The next and last town on the route is Valverde del Camino, which grew in importance in the 19th century when it became the main centre for mining villages in the area such as Río Tinto, El Buitrón and Mina Concepción. You can still see the former mining company offices (now converted into a music school), the grand Casa de la Dirección that also housed British railway engineers, next to the 19th-century station, and a water tower used for filling steam engines.
In Valverde there are many shops devoted to selling the town´s renowned high-quality leatherwear, including custom-made footwear. Here you can buy a pair of riding boots (botos rocieros), an essential item for a romería such as the famous El Rocío Pilgrimage, also in Huelva province, or a leather wide-brimmed hat, a useful accessory for anyone undertaking a vía verde in Andalucia. In recognition of the town´s handicraft history, a new museum has opened, the Museo de Etnográfico y de las Artesanías (Ethnographic and Crafts Museum), dedicated to the woodwork and leatherwork traditions of the town. Also check out the quirky shop, Artesanía Bermejo, which sells an incredible variety of bells for animals.
Another vía verde continues 35km north to Ríotinto, the Vía Verde de Ríotinto, where there is a fascinating mining museum and trips on a steam train every weekend to continue the train theme. Linked to this is the Vía Verde del Odiel, which follows the course of the Odiel river from Zalamea la Real to the abandoned mining village of Mina Concepción.