Andalucía is a land of extremes, whose contrasting colours, textures, landscapes and sights cannot but leave a strong impression. The most typical of Spain's regions, its passion, history and the richness of its southern light bewitch and enchant the first-time visitor. It can be shocking at times, but Andalucía is never dull, it always rouses feelings one way or another.
Modern development may have blunted some of the region's authenticity and uniqueness, but head into the country, the mountains or a secluded stretch of coastline, and the unmistakable flavour and ambience of southern Spain hangs thick in the air. Caught in the invigorating light that bathes the Costa de la Luz and its hinterland in such a rich glow, everything looks clearer, its beauty enhanced
Andalucía is also fascinating for its rich variety of different kinds of climates and landscapes, making its nature reserves among the most fascinating in Europe. One of the finest of these is the Parque Natural Los Alcornocales, a large and thinly populated natural domain that covers 170.025 hectares just to the north-east of Tarifa. Here towns and villages are thinly spread and the expanse of untamed greenery is punctuated only by the occasional hamlet or lonely farmstead.
Even agriculture has made little or no impact on this typically Mediterranean landscape, finding itself restricted mainly to sheep pastures and fragrant orchards of citrus fruit. This is a land of forested hillsides that descend to where fields and valleys of green, delightfully dotted with the colour of wild flowers, flourish under a warm blue sky.
The colours, textures and moods of this landscape change with the seasons, producing a spectacle that is different each time one visits it; in spring, the famous almond blossom and wild flowers breathe new life into the world, while the heavy green of summer is tinged with the melancholy tones of falling leaves in autumn. From their sources in the heights of the Serranía de Ronda mountain range, fast-flowing brooks of cold, crystal-clear water tumble over rapids and waterfalls into natural plunge pools before reaching a more mature stage further downstream. Over the millennia, these water courses have carved the series of narrow river valleys, known as canutos (tubes), that characterise the park's topography.
Los Alcornocales is named after the vast expanses of cork oak that dominate the scenery and make these the most extensive Mediterranean woodlands in Europe. The cork oaks and wild olive trees are also joined by one of the richest concentrations of gall oaks, palmettos, rhododendrons and white poplars. Together with turkey oaks, heather, strawberry trees and myrtles, they add colour and definition to the fine scrub flora that is so endemic to this part of the world. The laurisilva species that have been preserved in the park's microclimate provide a rare and fascinating relic to the vegetation of the distant Tertiary period. Thanks to its size and generous vegetation, Los Alcornocales provides a home for large numbers of hare, pheasant and partridge, as well as sizeable communities of deer, roe-deer, fox, genet, mongoose, otter, weasel, wild-cat and badger. Look up to the blue skies and you might spot the rare imperial eagles or Egyptian vultures circling high above, while a quick eye will catch the sudden dart of movement from a peregrine falcon or sparrow hawk.
Within an hour's drive from Tarifa, Parque Los Alcornocales offers nature lovers all the space, beauty and natural serenity they could wish for.