By Christine Medina
The past few weeks, I’ve been powering through work to be able to set off to el campo (the country) on the weekends. I’ve discovered not only how great it feels to escape the city and reconnect with nature, but also the stunning natural beauty that surrounds me. After two years of living in Algeciras, Spain–a place known for it’s huge, ugly port and drug trafficking than for much anything else–I had no idea that just outside of the city lay one of Spain‘s largest natural parks; Los Alcornocales Natural Park.
Los Alcornocales refers to the oak trees found in the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga that are used for making cork in wine bottles, bulletin boards, coasters and more. This park spans over seventeen municipalities and contains mostly uninhabited land, though while I was hiking through it, ranches and farms would pop up every so often.
My introduction to Los Alcornocales Natural Park came via a trip to Jimena de la Frontera. After exploring this cute pueblo blanco (white village) on foot, some friends and I continued past the village into the deep pockets of forest. Some of the trees had been stripped of their bark, but remnants of the spongy exterior remained–it was definitely cork!
A friend who had read up on this natural park before coming mentioned that the cork is harvested every ten or so years in a special process that doesn’t damage the tree. In fact, the trees regenerates the bark, so we never have to worry about running out of wine stoppers for our favorite bottle of Rioja.
After exploring the park in Jimena de la Frontera, I returned this last weekend via my city of Algeciras. As I hiked deeper and deeper into the oak groves, my surroundings changed noticeably. It’s as if Algeciras shed its industrial exterior and was exposing to me a secret that few knew about. From babbling brooks, a year-round mild climate, to acres of these special oak trees, I found later that this park has its own micro-climate due to its unique geographic position; straddled between foothills and the ocean. It explained why I was marveling at the sunny, warm weather in February.
Aside from providing excellent hiking trails and gorgeous flora, there’s something else to be said about the fauna of Los Alcornocales. If lucky you may just spot Iberian lynxes, Eurasian wolves, wildcats, deer, and a large variety of birds in the park. Most of the wildlife found in Los Alcornocales are fairly elusive–the only animals I ran into were several friendly dogs.
After a couple of blissful days spent hiking and picnicking in the park, I promised myself I’d return soon.
Getting there: Are you interested in hiking in Los Alcornocales Natural Park? From Algeciras, take the local Line 10 or 10A bus which will head to El Cobre (a neighborhood on the outskirts of town). You’ll be dropped off next to signs that point you to the trail head.
Christine Medina shares her travel advice, anecdotes and photographs on http://www.christineinspain.com/