Countless walking routes and trails follow mule tracks and shepherds’ paths across Andalucia’s stunning sierras, offering a perfect setting for mountain and hill walking.
Andalusia’s stunning and infinitely varied scenery, and its Mediterranean climate, make it a wonderful area for walking holidays, and companies like Walk Andalucia offer holidays and guided walks in the area. An added attraction is the architecture of its historic villages, and the castles and watchtowers which bear witness to its turbulent past.
A chain of Parques Natural and Parques Nacional extends from the Sierra Nevada in the east to Grazalema and Alcornocales to the north of Gibraltar in the west. These natural parks offer a splendid cross section of Andalucia’s landscape and wildlife and in them the best walking trails are to be found.
The Landscape of Andalucia
Away from the beaches of the popular resorts, many coastal walks skirt around secluded rocky bays, where unspoiled mountains sweep down to the sea. Behind the coast, in the coastal plains and foothills, are walking routes along footpaths and farm tracks which wind through orchards and olive groves carpeted with spring flowers, through fragrant pinewoods and evergreen oaks, and in the west through unique cork forests.
Further inland a tumble of mountains spills across the landscape, jagged peaks towering over dramatic gorges and ravines, some carrying rushing mountain streams. Climbing the slopes of the sierras, cultivation gives way to large areas of pine and oak forest, and to wild garrigue, a type of low scrub ablaze with wildflowers in spring, and deserted except for crumbling farms and shepherds huts, and the occasional goatherd and his flock.
Higher still the landscape is more Alpine, delicate flowers clinging precariously to crevices in the rock, giving way in turn to lichens and finally to barren rock covered for much of the year by ice and snow.
Andalucia’s History and Architecture
The long Moorish occupation of Spain, and the subsequent centuries of struggle against the Barbary pirates has left their stamp on the landscape. Many of the hill and mountain walking trails take in one of the picturesque mountain villages, often with a church incorporating a Moorish tower, or pass by a fortress or watchtower built for protection against the Barbary corsairs.
Andalucia is a nature lover’s paradise. Spring is a pageant of flower in the mountains – over 2500 species of plant have been identified in the Sierra Nevada alone, many of them unique to the area – and butterflies abound throughout the year. There is also a huge variety of birdlife, including a large number of migratory species heading for the Straights of Gibraltar and Africa. in more remote areas, wild pig root in the scrub, and ibex are regularly to be seen.
Principal Walking Areas
There are enjoyable walks to be found almost anywhere in Andalucia, but among the most rewarding and popular areas are:
The Sierra Nevada. This offers excellent mountain walking and includes Mulhacen (3400m), the highest peak in Spain. The lower slopes are notable for the unique architecture of the mountain villages, the spectacular spring flowers, the chestnut woods and abundant cherry orchards. The walking in the Alpujarra on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada is particularly good.
Although the mountains of Aqarquia are somewhat lower than the Sierra Nevada, they are more rugged, and spectacularly beautiful with some excellent mountain walking routes. The best walking in Axarquia centres on the huge 406 square kilometres of the Parque Natural de Tejeda Almijara y Alhama, with good hill walking in the surrounding villages and hills. A particularly good walking base is the attractive coastal town of Nerja.
Montes de Malaga
The Natural Park of the Montes de Malaga is quite small and very much lower in altitude, but offers attractive hill walking in its 40 square kilometres of pine forest and the surrrounding hills and agricultural land.
The Sierra de Grazalema
This area includes two natural parks, the Parque Natural de Grazalema, a spectacular area of rugged limestone mountains, and the much larger (1677 sq km) but lower Parque Natural de los Alcornocales, an area of rolling hills with extensive cork forests. Walking in the Sierra de Grazalema thus offers a particularly varied range of routes and landscape.