Andalucas first parque natural is fairly unknown, yet Sierra de Grazalema is a stunning wild place of crests, gorges, hilltop the towns and vultures
A goat farmer told me no one swims in the pond at Zahara de la Sierra because it’s full of fish with crocodile heads. Is that why I’m the only person in 128 sq km of cool sea on a very hot period? I subsequently learn that this manmade reservoir (< em> embalse ) em >, the mountain ranges to the south of it, and the cliffs, ravines, bloom meadows, forests and caves all around are simply, for the most part, empty. Spain has a surplus of staggeringly beautiful wild spaces, but this one- nearly 54,000 hectares north-east of Cadiz, overflowing into the province of Malaga- became the country’s first Unesco biosphere reserve in 1977. And Sierra de Grazalema became Andalucia’s first parque natural in 1984.
Most foreign visitors, myself included, discover the park by accident while driving from Ronda to Seville, do a double take on spotting the reservoir and the fairytale village of Zahara, wrap around its crag like a wonky marriage cake, slam on the brakes, make a detour, and end up biding- sometimes for a lifetime.
I check into a casa rural at an age-old olive mill on the leading edge of a village called Molino el Vinculo, eat jamon and goat’s cheese at a local saloon, imagine living here and, next morning, wake to the sound of cockerels, wood pigeons … and puffing.