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Monday Morning Photo - Valdepeñas de Jaén

 Land of strong goat cheese and fabulous views, Valdepeñas de Jaén.

Exploring Cazorla, Spain's Largest Natural Park

One long weekend at the end of a very warm September I headed off to Sierras de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park which is actually three different mountain ranges or sierras in one Natural Park, I'm referring to it as Cazorla. Its borders lie within my home province of Jaen yet its expanse reaches the autonomous regions of Castilla-La Mancha to the north and Murcia in the east.


As Spain's largest and Europe's second largest Natural Park this immense green lung is only one of Jaen's Natural Parks, there are two others within its borders as well as its regimented rows creating a sea of olives with more than 66 million olive trees. Just several of the reasons Jaen is known as Paraiso Interior or Inland Paradise.

Looking Down on Cazorla Town

Cazorla is a varied as it is dramatic. It's landscape from tumbling rivers in deep pine tree-covered gorges to vast, desolate plains with mountain refuge huts for the lost or snow-hindered traveller is spectacular. From its high scorching summer to temperatures to the common minus 10c or lower winter weather. From its modernity to the lingering traditions Cazorla is enchanting. Cristaline rivers, rocky gorges, river sources, peak-topped fortifications and narrow roads criss-cross this vast natural area.

La Irulea Silhouette

Sometimes a tunnel of trees where dappled sunlight oozes through at others steep ravines and jaw-dropping far-reaching views. Mediterranean forests give way to olive groves, lush green valleys to scarely inhabited wild terrain. Isolated villages dot the landscape where the older generation remember harsh times and accents differ from one village to the next as well as traditions and gastronomy which vary from one settlement to another. Life was always tough and often solitary when each hamlet was cut-off by bad weather and roads were impassible, survival was the produce laid by from the summer's harvest and their own livestock.

Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park

So vast and so diverse you can hike for days on the GR 247 and not see another soul during much of the 317 km route just touch base with pure nature. Listen to the burbling brooks, the rustling of the trees, the call of the deer or a first for me the chatter of red squirrels from one tree to the next.

Rio Borosa River Walk, Cazorla

On the high plains the Campos de Hernan Perea it's stark. The highest point on the landscape the rounded rooves of the solitary refuge huts. It's easy to imagine not seeing anyone else in this deserted scarpment then beginning to descend we see life. A herd of sheep and goats, tough and hardy constantly on the move covering the ancient pathways now part of the difficult GR 144 Trashumancia walking route.

Sheep Grazing on High Plains, Cazorla

Mountain Refuge Hut, Cazorla

We pass remote villages and the tallest tree in the park yet don't see another vehicle, then we drop down into Don Domingo a scattering of houses and the first Starlight Reserve in Spain where we feast like kings in Casa Rural Don Domingo. (See their facebook page photo if you like snow!)

Walking Route, Cazorla

Then we head to one of the many castles in the sky visible for miles, a legacy of the warring past, at Hornos de Segura. Another great spot for seeing the stars above and also home to the starlight museum, Cosmolarium. History, nature and technology merge together as we see constellations and planets through Cosmolarium's enormous telescope from high up the castle.

Hornos de Segura Castle

Our accommodation for two nights the Cortijo de Ramon a gorgeous B&B surrounded by pine trees, peace and wildlife a beautiful and restful haven after the days adventures.

Cortijo de Ramon B&B

Slow food and slow travel reign in the park. Local produce abounds on every menu we see and the quality superb everywhere we ate. From the modern restaurant on Lake Tranco where the solar powered boat almost silently glides along the waters at dawn and dusk to see animals drinking at the water's edge to a busy roadside restaurant with stuffed hunting trophies and garlands of dried peppers and garlic festooning the dark interior.

Lake Tranco, Cazorla

Cazorla is a dream for nature-lovers and foodies, those who want to escape the hoards at the coast and step-back into time-warped villages where weather-beaten faces proud of their land acknowledge all. A place you'll remember and want to return to, an escape into paradise - Inland Paradise.

This is a snapshot of our blogtrip days in Cazorla thanks to Jaen Tourist Board, there's so much more to share, watch out for posts still to come:

Cortijo de Ramon

A & F Weaving Museum and Workshop
Great Restaurants in Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas Natural Park
A Recommended Route Around Cazorla
Cazorla Town and La Iruela
Walking Spain's GR 247 in Andalucia

See another great view - Monday Morning Photo Sierras de Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas

Read about my previous visit to Cazorla.

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