By Guy Hunter-Watts
The Sierra de Aracena forms the western-most tip of the Sierra Morena, the mountainous belt which forms a natural divide between Spain’s central meseta and the Guadalquivir valley.
The area gets surprisingly heavy rainfall (more than 1000mm) considering its southerly position: the Atlantic weather systems forced upwards by this last spur of the Iberian massif which rises to a height of nearly 1000 metres.
This, along with a relative absence of pesticides, ensures the wildflowers here are spectacular in all but the summer months.
The area’s most singular feature is the extensive dehesa system of woodland management whose persistence has ensured a staggering 90 per cent of the area of the Park remains forested.
The trees most characteristic of the dehesa are holm and cork oaks. These provide rich and sustainable grazing for the prized Iberian pigs which are so much a feature of the Aracena hills.
The hillsides are also characterised by large swathes of chestnut groves.
These became an important part of the local economy after being introduced in the period following the Reconquest and have flourished in the warm, damp conditions of the Sierra.
The trees are at their most impressive in the autumn when the leaves are on the turn whilst in winter their heavily coppiced forms look almost baobab-like.
To see them cloaked in winter mists is a sight never to be forgotten.