Get on your hike in a Mediterranean mist forest
Mountain bikers and hikers, stand-up paddle surfers and cave art fans will all get mileage out of Los Alcornocales Natural Park, a prehistoric cork forest three times the size of Madrid.
For years a local secret, it’s now set up for BTT (Bici Todo Terreno/mountain biking) with two reception centres where you can pick up free biking and hiking maps or hire a paddle board/kayak and head downriver to the sea. This park stretches all the way from the mountains of Ronda to just short of the Gibraltar Strait where Parqye Natural El Estrecho (the Strait National Park) takes over. Both are paradises for nature lovers.
Autumn in Los Alcornocales offers other delights: the berrea (annual deer rut) when you can listen to the melodic grunts of stags serenading their doe-eyed girlfriends; and wild mushrooms, which star in the local gastronomy. Thanks to the park’s coastal location, fungi can flourish in the fog-drenched valleys until May, a factor that has ensured this mist forest’s survival for 66 million years.
Cork from the 'alcornocales' (cork oak trees) is still harvested the traditional way by artisan extractors. Otters dive its rivers, deer and wild boar roam its glades and raptors skim its rocky pinnacles, whittled by wind into Henry Moore-ish sculptures. And the cave graffiti found near the village of Benalup-Casas Viejas has been called ‘the Sistine Chapel of Bronze Age art’.
Black pigs, fighting bulls, goats, cattle and donkeys graze the park's pastures and civilisation is never far away – but it’s still charmingly rural. Take the car to explore more than a dozen white villages dotted around its leafy perimeter; or tunnel through its limestone massifs via Mr Henderson’s Railway.
Photo Opportunity: La Montera del Torero, sculpted into the shape of a bullfighter’s hat. Carratera C440a, Los Barrios. A few clicks down the road you’ll find La Montera picnic grounds where you can cook on the permanent barbecues. Bring your own firewood.
ℹ️ Further information on biking routes and excursions from centrobttalcornocales.com (Spanish-only website).
There are two great Vistor Centres where you can pick up walking maps and information: Huerta Grande in Parque El Estrecho @ Km 96 on the N340 coast road. And El Aljibe in Parque Natural Los Alcornocales @ Alcalá de los Gazules, on the road to Benalup at Km 1.