Category Archives: Other protected areas

El Chorro Gorge and the Caminito del Rey

El Chorro Gorge and the Caminito del Rey, an impressive gorge formed by river erosion through the limestone mountain. In Spanish it is called El Desfiladero de los Gaitanes and is a well known natural attraction as the towering cliffs are around 200m high while only 10m wide at some points. The river below has been dammed, the Embalse Gaitanejo is one of the smaller reservoirs of five in this area. Alongside this reservoir sits the small village of El Chorro, built in the shadow of the mountain around the railway station.

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The area is probably most famous for ‘El Caminito del Rey’ or the ‘King’s Way’ which is a built, narrow path that clings to the cliffs 100m above the river Once hanging in ruins, the walkway has been repaired and is now listied among the top 10 tourist attractions of Andalucia.

This path was created between 1901 and 1905 as the service access for a canal. Its name came about as King Alfonso XIII walked the path in 1921 to view the dammed river at its inauguration. The walkway, created from a metal structure attached to the cliff supporting a concrete narrow path, had been gradually disintegrating to a point where large stretches were missing. It was closed to the public for years but was still popular forclimbers and adrenalin junkies.

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The Desfiladero de Gaitanes is slightly separated from the Desfiladero de Gaitanejo by the more open area named La Hoya. As there are three rivers that feed into these gorges El Chorro would have been a frightening place to witness times of heavy rain and flooding as there would have been a tremendous pressure of water crashing through. These dams have not only calmed this natural phenomenon but also supply electricity, drinking and irrigation water to the more heavily populated areas to the south.

The railway line from Cordoba to Malaga which is still in use weaves its way through this gorge in an impressive feat of engineering, via 12 tunnels and 6 bridges. (Closed to walkers for obvious safety reasons).

These amazing, vertical cliffs are home to Griffon Vultures, Golden and Bonelli’s eagles, Peregrine falcon as well as Alpine swifts, Crag martins and Blue rock thrush.

Although, strictly speaking, the Natural Reserve only included the Gaitanejo River Dam, we would be unable to understand the dynamics and complexity of the open area without the river dams that surround it which are the Conde de Guadalhorce, Guadalteba, Guadalhorce y Tajo de La Encantada), that make up, as a whole, one of the most important hydraulic complexes in Andalucia.
Although, strictly speaking, the Natural Reserve only included the Gaitanejo River Dam, we would be unable to understand the dynamics and complexity of the open area without the river dams that surround it which are the Conde de Guadalhorce, Guadalteba, Guadalhorce y Tajo de La Encantada), that make up, as a whole, one of the most important hydraulic complexes in Andalucia.

The drive from the gorge northwards towards Ardales village and the Guadalhorce lakes takes you through contrasting, rounded sandstone terrain with Aleppo pine forest and Mediterranean scrub. A small diversion takes you up to another small reservoir, sign posted for Bobastro. This high reservoir is filled at night when electricity consumption is low, then released back down huge tubes to turbines so creating power at peak times.

Half way up the mountain is the unique Bobastro church carved out of a single rock and village that now lays derelict and abandoned. It was the fortified base of a major revolt by “Umar ibn Hafsun” against the Moors Caliph based in Cordoba. For the first and last time in history, Hafsun managed to assemble and unite an army of Moslems and Christians under his command. In the later part of his life Umar ibn Hafsun converted to Christianity and commissioned the amazing church.

Paying respect to followers of both faiths, Bobastro church was deliberately built facing Mecca, enabling all soldiers of his army to pray in the same place. After his death, his 30-year rebellion was finally put down by the Caliph of Cordoba and his body was dug up and hanged for his crimes against the Caliphate and conversion from Islam.

Read more about Bobastro and Umar Ibm Hafsun here.

Returning to the main road and continuing northwards leads you to the first of the three large reservoirs ‘Embalse del Conde del Guadalhorce’ which is very popular for beach side picnics, fishing and water sports.

Heading next towards the dams of the rivers Guadalhorce, Teba, and Turón takes you through more pine woods where the blueness of the water adds to the lushness of the setting.

You will pass by several bars and restaurants (and the car parks for the Caminito del Rey) close to the lakes before reaching the first dam.

The scrub birds include Sardinian warbler and Rock bunting while the woodland species include Crossbills, Short-toed tree creeper, Coal and Crested tit, Goldfinches, Greenfinches and Nuthatches.

The Mediterranean scrub plants include Lentisc (Pistacia lentiscus), Grey-leaved rock rose (Cistus albidus), Prickly juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus), Anthyllis cytisoides, the silver –leaved bugloss Echium albicans, culinary Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Dwarf fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) a selection of Thymes and the unusual climbing Andalusian birthwort (Aristolochia baetica).

Although, strictly speaking, the Natural Reserve only includes the Gaitanejo River Dam, we would be unable to understand the dynamics and complexity of the open area without the other river dams that surround it which are the Conde de Guadalhorce, Guadalteba, Guadalhorce y Tajo de La Encantada.) these make up, as a whole, one of the most important hydraulic complexes in Andalucia.


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El Torcal protected area

  • Andalucia – Malaga province – Near Antequera

The dramatic and fascinating landscape of the El Torcal protected area is entrancing. Natural erosion has cut valleys and pathways through this enormous rock garden and created erratic sculptures in the process. Thin layers of rock stacked like pancakes are pinned down by massive blocks and this seemingly inhospitable terrain is host to many specialist rock loving plants.

This ‘Paraje Natural’ covers some 20 square kilometres of protected area and was first recognised for its singularity in 1929. The highest point in El Torcal is Camorro Alto at 1.378m above sea level.


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The dramatic and fascinating landscape of the El Torcal protected area.
The dramatic and fascinating landscape of El Torcal.

This mountain was actually a sea bed during the Jurassic period and underwent great upheaval during the Tertiary period. Unusually the bedrock remained level whilst being elevated, creating an upland plateaux that is unique in southern Spain. Natural erosion over centuries concentrates on weaker areas with wind, frost action and dissolution by rain water constantly shaping it anew. Silt is released during this erosion and deposits in the valleys as a clay base, forming seasonally damp meadows that contrast with the jagged cliffs of limestone. These grassy areas hold a mixture of plant life such as celandines, narcissi, peonies, orchids, bluebells and thistles.

Flora

Trees that take hold in the more soil rich parts are: Evergreen oak (Quercus rotundifolia) and Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), Gall Oak (Quercus faginea), Wild Olive (Olea europaea sylvestris), Sorbus (Sorbus aria) and two forms of Acer (Acer monspessulanum, A. granatense). Climbing Ivy (Hedera helix) and Honeysuckle (Lonicera implexa) blanket some of the white cliffs in rich greenery.

Two rock dwelling plants have taken their names from this area, they are Linaria anticaria and Dianthus anticarius, both are limited to a small area in the Baetic mountain range. Anticaria as part of the name refers to the old Roman name for Antequera in whose municipality the parkland lies.

Linaria and Dianthus at El Torcal near antequera
Linaria and Dianthus at El Torcal near antequera
Linaria antecaria at El Torcal
Linaria antecaria at El Torcal

There are some plants within the park that are on the Red List of endangered species: Atropa baetica and Sarcocapnos baetica subsp. baetica are in danger of extinction, whilst listed as vulnerable are: Saxifraga biternata, Acer opalus subsp granatense, Acer monspessulanum and Sorbus aria.

Mediterranean plants mix with more common European plants such as: Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and shrubby wild roses Rosa pimpinellifolia and Rosa sicula along with Lentisc (Pistacia lentiscus), Turpentine tree (Pistacia terebinthus), Dwarf European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) and Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo).

Fauna

The roughness of the terrain allows for many reptiles to go virtually undetected Ocellated Lizard (Lacerta lepida), Large Psammodromus (Psammodromus algirus) and Iberian Wall Lizard (Podarcis hispanica) you may see. Lataste’s Viper (Vipera latastei), Montpelier Snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) and Ladder snake (Elaphe scalaris) are more timid.

The Spanish Ibex (Capra hispanica pyrenaica) has become quite used to visitors here and may pose beautifully for you on a prominent rock.

Birds to look out for among the rocks are: Black Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Red-billed Chough, Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Redstart and Little Owl with wintering Alpine Accentors. Griffon Vulture, Eagles and Kestrels may be seen in the open skies while Eagle Owls find refuge amongst the cliffs.

Access

There is only one road that leads into the parkland, it is accessed on the southern side of the mountain on the road between Antequera and Villanueva de la Concepción. This mountain road terminates at the visitors centre, Mirador (viewpoint) and car park from where the signposted walks begin. It is recommended not to wander away from the path as it can be very easily to get lost amongst the rock formations.

Also in the area

The Antequera Dolmens Archaeological Site, included in the List of World Heritage Sites of te Unesco, is made up of the Dolmens of Menga, Viera and El Romeral in Antequera, Malaga, and is considered one of the best and best-known examples of European megalithic complexes. Megaliths were the first forms of monumental architecture in European prehistory and were developed, according to data currently available, from the beginning of the 5th millennium BC, the Neolithic period, about 6,500 years ago.

“El Caminito del Rey”, in English, “The King’s little pathway”) was initially built as an access route. It enabled workers at the hydroelectric power plants of El Chorro Gorge and Gaitanes Gorge with an easier way to transport materials, maintain and inspect the workings of the two power plants. Construction of the “walkway” began in 1901 and was finished in 1905 and in 1921 King Alfonso XIII visited and walked along the path for the inauguration of the Conde del Guadalhorce dam and since that time it became known as the “Kings path”

More information here: http://www.caminodelrey.es/

Information centre at El Torcal protected area

Access to the “Torcal Alto Visitor Center” is free. The center has an interpretive area, multipurpose room, guide service, observatory, souvenir shop, restaurant, toilets and parking.

http://www.torcaldeantequera.com/en/

Getting there.

The most recommended access is through the city of Antequera. Once in Antequera, follow the signs to “El Torcal” or “Villanueva de la Concepción”, until you reach the A-7075 mountain road. After passing the sharp curves of the “Boca del Asno”, near kilometer 42, turn towards the “Centro de Visitantes Torcal Alto“. At the end of this narrow road, there is the destination.

The access road from Málaga is the A-45, towards Cordoba-Seville-Granada up to Casabermeja exit. Take this exit and go on by A-7075 until “Villanueva de la Concepción”. When you arrive to this small town, you should continue in direction of “Antequera” until you get to the detour the “Centro de Visitantes Torcal Alto”.


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