In the north-eastern corner of Andalucia’s least known province, Jaen, lies Spain’s largest Natural Park – Sierras de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas. A wild, vast area with pretty tumbling streams and steep-sided gorges, Mediterranean forests, endemic plants and wild life, remote mountain villages and high -mountain plains.
Cazorla isn’t the only Natural Park in Jaen province, it has two more Sierra Magina and Sierra Morena as well as its sea of green with more than 66,000 olive trees. The province known as Paraiso Interior or Inland Paradise, is an unrivalled expanse of nature a far cry from the general idea of Andalusia being the Costa del Sol or the famous three cities Cordoba, Granada and Seville.
Walking Routes in the Natural Park
The Natural Park is straddled with GR (Gran Recorrido) and PR (Pequeno Recorrido) walking and cycling routes but the GR 247 the Bosques del Sur or Southern Woodlands Route is the longest, forested and probably the most challenging circular route in Spain. Diverse scenery, a range of difficulty and stunning landscapes make the GR 247 a 317 km trail of incredible views where you can walk for days without spotting a soul.
From thickly-carpeted, leaf-strewn paths to rocky precipices, pretty, tumbling streams to gushing cascades and dappled sunlight flickering through the trees to desolate drovers paths and mountain refuge huts, which save lives in the depth of heavy winter snowfall.
Pine forests, river sources, wild boar and mountain goats give every a step a new sight and sensation. Silence, far-reaching views, beauty and inhospitable the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas will surprise and delight yet feed the soul through its immensity.
The path can be tackled as a whole round route or taken in stages and with an additional 162 kms of variations always within the astonishing splendour of nature adorned in its best. Well-marked and well maintained it would be easy but not sensible to side-track the planned routes, getting lost is easy but finding your way back on track in this wilderness of beauty is not. The planning and conditioning of the route was as a challenging mountain biking route as well as for walkers and the 21 stages of the route average 15 kms a day.
Passing through olive groves, mountain pastures, villages and fertile fields and reservoirs the various stages and difficulties could be chosen or avoided depending on your abilities or desire to be challenged.
Cave painting evidence shows that these mountains have been inhabited since Neolithic times. The Romans have left their traces too, most famous is a III and IV century mosaic in Quesada. The Moors built the vast array of watchtowers and castles that almost every small settlement has and in the XVI century it became a provider of timber by floating the logs downstream to be used for buildings and later railways. In fact the Tobacco Factory in the Andalusian capital Seville was constructed from timbers from this Natural Park.
Each step or bend taken provides yet another breath-taking view, this is nature at its purest. Sometimes soft other times tough but always stunning. It’s an important ecological area with 36 species of mammals, 125 species of birds and 19 reptiles families, Spain’s green lung is a far cry from the beaches or cities that most of us think about when we hear the name Andalucia. Next time think beaches, cities, sunshine and – Natural Parks too.
All images ©Rachel Webb