Sierra de Aracena y los Picos de Aroche Natural Park

Sierra de Aracena y los Picos de Aroche Natural Park
 

Overview
The Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche natural park covers an area 184,000 hectares in the western area of the Sierra Morena in the north of the province of Huelva. The park contains three separate three watersheds: the Guadalquivir (Rivera de Huelva), del Guadiana (Caliente, Rio Múrtigas, Ingenio) and the Odiel (Linares Rivera, Rivera de Santa Ana). Its habitats are varied, with its high rocky peaks, valleys swathed in wood and gentle rolling hills. It has a predominately wooded landscape which consists of mainly Mediterranean oak. This Natural Park is a walkers paradise with many well-marked routes.

Much of the area is given over to agriculture including cattle and pig farming. In past times there would have been a seasonal movement of livestock and people from the low ground to the mountains with the seasons. This transhumance no longer takes place on a large scale and the area offers few economic opportunites beyond small scale farming and cork harvesting. During prehistory mining activity was undertaken in the nearby mines of Rio Tinto and there are indications that there were silver mines near Aracena. Currently there are marble quarries Fuenteheridos and an iron mine in Cala.

The area has a rich cultural heritage including: dolmens and a menhir known as the Devil's Stone. The Church Fortress of Aracena, built by the Knights of the Order of Santiago in the fourteenth century, sits on a limestone hill on which lies the Cave of Wonders, a gallery of over 1 km which is open to the public. Cortegana Castle and strengths of Cumbres Mayores, Aroche, Cala and Cumbres de San Bartolomé is an important architectural legacy of the past, and a small tenth century mosque in Almonaster la Real. The park is located to the west of the Sierra Norte de Sevilla Natural Park and the Sierra de Hornachuelos Natural Park.

 

Walking
There is a tourist office in Aracena.  Here you can obtain maps and books (in Spanish) relating to the walks within the park. The Discovery Walking Guides map and book on the Sierra de Aracena is available in English from UK bookshops.  As summertime in Spain can be so hot, the best time to visit would be spring or autumn.  Three of the best places to start various walks are from Aracena, Fuenteheridos and Alájar.

Sightseeing
The Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche natural park and its surrounding area are not only rich in wildlife, but also steeped in history.  There are many picture card whitewashed villages and castles.

There are many of Spain’s pretty whitewashed towns and villages around the park.  One particularly worth visiting is Alájar.  Another is Almonaster which has a stunning ancient hilltop mosque set in amongst ruins of a castle.

Aroche is another village which should be visited.  The village is perched on a hilltop and surrounds a medieval castle.  Less visited than most places in the Sierra it provides the visitor with beautiful natural scenery and rich history.

Although the village of Castaño is very small, it is worth a stop to see its imposing and unfinished Iglesia Nueva and its centuries-old houses.

There are outstanding caves in Aracena called the Gruta de las Maravillas.

 

Animals/Birds
In the Natural Park Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche is possible to find the Iberian lynx, the most threatened carnivore in Europe, and the nutria, a species once abundant and which today is only the cleanest water streams.

Despite the changes in the original native forest of the Sierra Huelva in pastures, orchards and fields, the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche natural park fauna is extraordinarily rich. Among the species of raptors that nest regularly in the park are the black stork, golden eagle and the lesser kestrel.

There are many birds of prey including Black vultures, include a variety of eagles, goshawks, sparrowhawks and red and black kites. Due to their nature, the Black vultures are more likely to be spotted in the quieter areas of the park, away from roads and humans. The rivers are home to a variety of reptiles, amphibians and insects. Small mammals such as mongoose, polecats, beech martens, weasels, badgers and wild boar are found in the Sierra. You may also spot a muflon which is a type of wild sheep which has been introduced to the area.

The meadows with oak trees provide habitat to species like the wild cat, genet, fox, marten, wild boar and deer, reintroduced in recent years.

Plants
The mountains create a barrier to air masses moving in from the Atlantic which causes a high rainfall in the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche natural park making it ideal for the growth of hardwoods such as chestnut, introduced in Roman times and which occupy over 4,000 hectares in the area of Cortegana Aracena.

Poplar, Pine and eucalyptus are alien species that have replaced some of the original native forest within the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche natural park. This is mainly composed of oak and cork. In the meadows of Cala and Aroche oaks are magnificent examples of relics of ancient forests. In only a few enclaves, as in Chestnut Hill in Castaño del Robledo, extend some scattered stands or Pyrenean oak trees, a species which has been much reduced by its use as a source of firewood.

Many of the ravines, creeks and streams are colonized by species adapted to wet soils such as willows, alders and ash trees.

 

 
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