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Natural Parks

Natural Parks

With its' Moorish influences still prominent across the city, highly reasonable cost of living, an abundance of great tapas bars and seemingly no end to fun and excitement, Granada really is the ultimate destination for travelers and tourists looking to have a great experience that won't cost them the earth.

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 Guadalhorce river has sliced through limestone to create a spectacular gorge 50km northwest of Malaga, the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, otherwise known as the Garganta del Chorro. Its 4km length has sheer walls towering up to 400m in places, while its width is only 10m wide at certain points.

Only 15km northeast of Almeria city is this largely barren and rugged 8,500ha mountain range, designated a protected natural area in 1989. Riven by deep gullies, particularly on its southern slopes, it rises to 1,387m at its highest point of the Colativí peak.

Sandwiched between the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, Gador, Filabres and Alhamilla is one of the most dramatic landscapes in Spain, the desolate Desierto de Tabernas. The only semi-desert in Europe; there is a surreal, lunar quality about its wierdly eroded ravines, dry river beds and barren slopes apparently devoid of vegetation, bleached by the sun and occasionally singed with ochre hues.

Designated a natural park in 1999, this large and rugged mountainous region of 40,663ha stretches across the provincial border of Granada and Malaga. Its western part in Malaga province is known as the Axarquía and is famous for its attractive villages dating from Moorish times. It is also superb hiking country and its numerous steep mountainsides make it ideal for climbers.

The rugged Sierra Mágina Natural Park covers 19,900ha of rocky, steep limestone terrain, with precipitous cliffs and high summits that are often snow-capped in winter. Evocatively named by the Moors as the mountain of the spirits, the Sierra has a fascinating history glimpsed in its prehistoric cave paintings and defensive architecture built by warring Christians and Muslims. In the 10th century it harboured Moorish rebel leaders and much later, bandits. Its remote corners also provided a refuge for bears, wolves and the pardel lynx.

The gently rolling 74,774ha Sierra de Andújar, part of the vast Sierra Morena, is densely wooded and boasts one of Andalucia's best preserved expanses of Mediterranean forest and scrubland. Flowing through the rocky hills is the Yeguas river, with many lovely spots to sit and meditate along its banks. Its more remote areas are inhabited by an impressive number of endangered species, such as the pardel lynx, wolf, black vulture and imperial eagle.

The Sierra de Hornachuelos extends for 60,032ha and is part of the vast 400,000ha Unesco Biosphere Reserve for the Sierra Morena mountain range, along with the natural parks of the adjacent Sierra Norte and the Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche.

Part of the Sierra Morena, the Sierra de Cardeña y Montoro covers 38,449ha of gently rolling hills in the far northeastern corner of Cordoba province. Its slopes, rising from 400m to the highest peak, the 828m-high La Colmena, are dominated by Mediterranean woods and scrubland, interspersed with fields of cereal cultivation.

With a total surface area of 209,920ha and covering almost a fifth of Jaen province, this is Spain's largest protected area and one its most extensive forested zones. Located in eastern Jaen province, it connects the Sierra Morena and the Subbética mountain ranges. The highest peak in this immense park is Pico Empanada at 2,107m and the entire park is higher than 600m.

The Despeñaperros Natural Park is a magnificent sheer-walled rocky river gorge that forms the backdrop of the most dramatic gateway into Andalucia. As the only natural break in the 500km-long Sierra Morena, it used to be one of the main routes into Andalucia from the north and Madrid. Today it is occupied by the A4 motorway and the Cadiz-Madrid railway line.

Designated a natural park in 1987, the Sierra María-Los Vélez occupies the eastern end of the Cordillera Subbética in the north of Almeria province. It covers 22,670ha, a landscape of impressive contrasts, with its arid, moon-like plains overlooked by the Sierra's rocky summits, which are white with snow in winter, and the dry, barren south-facing slopes compared to its densely wooded north-facing ones.

Covering 45,663ha in the southeastern corner of Spain, Cabo de Gata-Níjar is Andalucia's largest coastal protected area, a wild and isolated landscape with some of Europe's most original geological features. The eponymous mountain range is Spain's largest volcanic rock formation with sharp peaks and crags in ochre-hues.

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.

In the northeast of Granada province adjacent to neighbouring Almeria is the sparsely populated 53,649ha Sierra de Baza Natural Park, part of the Cordillera Penibética. Its steep slopes are mainly pine-clad, up to the more barren, rocky ground over 2,000m. Its central part is made up of remote, jagged limestone peaks, which can be snow covered for some of the winter and are inhabited by majestic birds of prey.

This vast park covers 167,767ha from Tarifa in the south to the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park in the north. It is named after its handsome and beautifully kept cork tree grove, the largest in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the most important ones in the world.

The central section of the immense Sierra Morena is made up of the extensive and sparsely populated Sierra Norte de Sevilla Natural Park, a landscape of gently rolling hills clad in dense evergreen oaks. It's similar to the adjacent natural parks of the Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche and Hornachuelos, in the provinces of Huelva and Cordoba respectively.