We are fortunate to have an EDEN in our backyard! Just a few kilometres down the road from Cartajima is the Sierra de las Nieves, the snowy peaks, which has been named a European Destination of Excellence. 100,000 hectares of wild land where forests of rare pines and oak thrive, where otters, eagles and mountain goats abound. Check out this clip and then come and experience the wild beauty for yourself.
I first visited the Sierra one cold winter’s day in the company of a park ranger. He showed us the secrets of this stunning protected area which has won many awards: a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a Nature Reserve, a Special Protection Area for Birds (SPA), and a Site of Community Importance (SCI).
Whilst I was wearing everything cashmere that I owned, the ranger appeared cosy in just an open-neck shirt. When he showed us the ruin of his childhood home deep in the sierra, his hardiness was no longer surprising.
He took us to see an enormous pinsapo pine, a species of spruce that only grows here and in northern Morocco. This giant was estimated to be between 350 and 500 years old. 5 metres diameter, 26 metres high, a monster that shades 200 square metres. The people of the Sierra have a legend that a generous and hospitable woman used to live on the spot where the tree grows. Her dedication to helping travellers continued after her death for the pinsapo grew here to be a guiding landmark for travellers.
Not just big trees but, our guide told us, one of the largest populations of wild goat in Andalucia, deep and spectacular gorges such as the Caina with a 1,100 metre drop, mountain peaks up to 1,919m, and potholes aplenty.
It is staggering the varied ways people have interacted with this apparently difficult environment – our ranger friend told us about the traditional crafts: the ice-makers, charcoal burners, lime-workers, shepherds, and farmers. Check out this page for lots of information about the Sierra.
A later trip some years later was in glorious blue-skied Spring. We were crafting a hike in the Sierra for our walking guests and discovered another extraordinary if chilling facet of the Nieves. At the end of a rather well-made piece of track, we found a tumbledown circle of rocks. Research revealed that the front line in the Civil War for six months had been the road from the coast to Ronda. From the rubble of rocks, we looked directly down on the road far below. The perfect place from which to control the whole area.
Whilst the scars of that terrible war remain on the ground, the only creatures spying down on the road nowadays are the majestic griffon vultures.