Towns whose origin descends from Arabic times and from their mountain essence are the towns of this Sierra which, in contrast to others elsewhere in Andalucía, are inextricably linked to the mountains. This is the charm of these ‘pueblos blancos’, white villages, of steep streets, clean and decked with flowers, of whitewashed houses, tiny squares and pretty corners such as those in the photograph. Searching for a little more detail, we find the Roman discovery of the ruins of Omri – close to Ubrique – the prehistoric excavation of the Cueva de la Pileta – in Benaoján – and the cave paintings found here as well as in the Hundidero-Gato cave system, landmarks that enrich the ancestral frontier culture of the Sierra de Grazalema.
The Sierra de Grazalema encompasses the mountain ranges of Pinar, Endrinal and Libar, where it is strange to contemplate the tiny whitewashed villages so near the mountaintops. The landscape is defined by the conjunction of limestone mountains and the contrast in profile that caused the convulsive geological history of the remote past and the abundant rains caused by its northward orientation.
This created canyons of great beauty, such as the Garganta Verde, and a labyrinthine underground landscape of abysses and caves such as the Hundidero-Gato, which is the largest cave system in Andalucía. The dense Mediterranean woodlands of olm and cork oaks, Algerian oaks, carob and olive are complemented by the the presence in the shade of the Sierra de Pinar the symbol of the park, the pinsapo pine, Abies Pinsapo Boiss, named after the French botanist, Edmond Boissier, who first catalogued it. This is a species that evolved from the central European pines which, in the glacial periods of the Tertiary Era, colonized all the land down to the cordillera of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Different to their ancestors, they now grow in two part points in Andalucía – the Sierra de las Nieves and neighbouring Sierra Bermeja, in Málaga provine – as well as in north African, the north of Siciliy, and certain zones of the eastern Mediterranean. They are, therefore, a relic of nature, and a living arboreal fossil which originated perhaps 70 million years ago.
Griffon Vultures. OrnithologyAll the villages here have a fine tradition of homemade chacina, pork meats prepared in various ways: stuffed as country sausages, marinated, or air dried. The ‘sopa de Villaluenga’, a hearty sausage and bread soup, is very comforting in winter. Also exquisite is the Grazalema repostería, bakery and confectionery, which includes amarguillos de almendra, bitter almond biscuits, cubiletes, baked whipped butter and egg cakes, and the sopa de Grazalema, a thick soup with bread, ham and vegetables. The potent sweet liquor known as the mistela of Montejaque, and the mosto of Prado del Rey, a fermented grape drink, are the most traditional wine-based drinks of the zone.
Among the ancient artisanal practices, most noticeable are the handmade blankets of Grazalema, the leather wear and leather goods in Prado del Rey, Cortes de la Frontera and, famously, Ubrique. In Ubrique, there is also industry in cork, parasols and roofing materials fashioned from heathers, Arabic roof tiles and copper metalwork. An authentic artisanal product of the area is the gaita gastoreña, the ‘bagpipes of Gastor’, an instrument made using cow horn, and typical of the town that names it, El Gastor.
Northeast of the province of Cádiz and northwest of the province of Málaga. Area: 51,695 hectares. Altitude: between 250 and 1,654 m above sea level. Average monthly temperatures: 10ºC (January) to 26ºC (July). Average annual rainfall: 2,200 mm.
Municipalities: Cádiz: Benaocaz, El Bosque, El Gastor, Grazalema, Prado del Rey, Ubrique, Villaluenga del Rosario and Zahara de la Sierra. Málaga: Benaoján, Cortes de la Frontera, Jimera de Libar, Montejaque and Ronda.
Classics are the ascents to peaks such as El Torreón or the Reloj (clock, or watch) in an area with the highest summits in Cádiz province.
There are open routes in the Peñón Grande, Salto del Cabrero, Aguja de las Palomas and Peñón del Gastor.
- Potholing The area is a paradise for lovers of potholing. The Gato-Hundidero system, the longest subterranean route in Andalucía, has in its interior superb chambers and flooded vaults, and, during hibernation season, the largest concentration of bats in the whole of Spain: some 100,000 of them.
- Horseriding It’s possible to hire horses in various towns.
- Mountain cycling Practicable thanks to numerous itineraries of varying difficulty.
- Canoeing and other non-powered nautical sports. The reservoir at Zahara-El Gastor and the río Guadiaro are two attractive places to take to the water.
- Sport fishing Practiced at the reservoirs of Los Hurones and at Zahara-El Gastor, as well as on the río Majaceite, which is a fishing reserve. More information from the Oficina del Parque Natural at (34) 956 71 60 63 .
- Delta wing, parascending and other aeronautical sports.El Albarracín, near El Bosque, is a popular takeoff point, as are those at Puerto de las Palomas and El Gastor.