This Nature Reserve is located at the western end of the Bética Range, a set of steep sided hills and rugged terrain, its highest point is known as Aljibe Peak (1092 metres). It is the third biggest of the protected natural reserves in Andalusia and falls largely in the province of Cádiz, only the northeastern end is part of Málaga.
The protected area extends to about 167.767 hectares and the cork oaks found there have been ranked among the main EU residual forests, of great biological importance.
Los Alcornocales Nature Reserve. Alcalá de los Gazules, El Picacho. Photo: Lluís Català
VEGETATION, UNIQUE FLORA AND FAUNA
The Reserve has an area of 119,000 hectares of cork oak, almost 50% of the total found in Andalusia. In the valleys and shady areas the cork oaks give way to forest, and on the slopes with poorer soils the ground is covered with heath, cistus and oakwood bushes and heather. Vegetation unique to this area occupies the narrow headwaters of streams, forming riverbank forests termed “canutos” that extend along the wettest slopes and are called “misty forests”. Three plant species to note are: Culcita macrocarpa, Marsilea ba-tardae and Narcissus viridiflorus.
The reserve is home to some interesting fauna, thanks to the richness of these largely unspoilt ecosystems. More than 250 species of vertebrates have been identified, among them, more birds feature than any other group, followed by mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
The reserve has a rural heritage of great importance, routed in the traditional activities and the natural resources of the area, like water mills and remains associated with charcoal production. The archaeological heritage from the prehistoric period is particularly noteworthy, everything from dolmens to cave paintings, Roman remains, an abundance of castles and medieval monuments.
One of the most important activities is of course the stripping of the bark from the cork oaks and the processing of the cork. The most important social and economic event in the annual calendar of the Reserve celebrates the many uses of this material, with craft workshops and much more.
Muleteers at work. Photo: GDR de Los Alcornocales Photo background
TOWNS IN THE RESERVE
In the province of Cádiz: Alcalá de los Gazules, Algar, Algeciras, Arcos de la Frontera, Los Barrios, Benalup-Casas Viejas, Benaocaz, El Bosque, Castellar de la Frontera, Jerez de la Frontera, Jimena de la Frontera, Medina-Sidonia, Prado del Rey, San José del Valle, Tarifa and Ubrique. In the province of Málaga, we find the town of Cortes de la Frontera.
TOURS AND FOOTPATHS
There are different tours that take you around sites of interest, including one dedicated to prehistory, another to Roman times and another to medieval times.
In contrast, to simply enjoy the natural beauty of the region, there are footpaths that take you to the best spots, such as the Corredor Verde Way, the walk between Tarifa and Los Barrios or the Ribera de Palmones.
SERVICES AND FURTHER INFORMATION
The area has the following services:
- Organized environmental studies activities
- Car parking
- Picnic Areas
- Environmental Education Centre
- Visitor Centre
- Signposted itineraries
- Informative materials
- Wildlife Observatory
- Guided tours
In the town of Alcalá de los Gazules you can find El Picacho, an educational facility and the Visitor Centre El Aljibe. There are also information points in Los Barrios, Jimena de la Frontera and Benalup-Casas Viejas.
If you love active tourism and mountain biking, you should not miss the newly opened Alcornocales Mountain Biking Centre at Los Barrios.
Pontic rhododendron. Photo: GDR de Los Alcornocales Photo background
Sources: Information provided by ACER. Associació per a la Conservació de l’Entorn i la Recerca; and extracted from www.alcornocales.org, www.juntadeandalucia.es, www.andalucia.org, www.gdralcornocales.org and Wikipedia.