Nearly 3 months after the initial national lockdown, following an orderly de-escalation process, Spain is finally on the brink of reaching the “new normal”. Spain was one of the most severely affected countries in Europe, with the two largest cities of Madrid and Barcelona taking the brunt of the infections. But it may come as a surprise to many to learn that many rural and remote pockets of Spain were left untouched by the pandemic. Around 70% of the population lives in cities. The country has 2000 protected areas (including 15 national parks) which cover roughly 27% of the land. Read more about Spain’s Protected Areas on the EUROPARC Federation’s website. We only have to look at a night time satellite shot of Spain to appreciate just how sparsely populated our rural areas are. We’re going to tell you about 4 remote rural pockets of extraordinary beauty, filled with a sense of peace and tranquility, far removed from the buzz & worries of today.
The Genal Valley
Located in the province of Málaga, tucked up above the Costa del Sol, the mountain roads through the Genal Valley remind us of a car scene in a Bond film! The valley is notably full of contours, with a number of peaks and troughs and plenty of hills to hike for those who want to earn their lunch! Tiny white villages are speckled across the valley, like snow drops. Many of them are only separated by a mile or two of country paths, allowing residents to easily walk between them. The valley is a carpet of chestnut trees which bless us with flowers in late spring and spectacular colours in autumn. Time seems to move more slowly in the Genal! Yet the valley itself is just a short (but winding) drive from either Ronda or the Costa del Sol – a blissfull bubble not too far from civilisation!
Sierra de Aracena
The blessing in disguise for the Sierra de Aracena is its location, just over an hour Northwest of Seville and an hour from the Portuguese border, close to the edge of Extremadura. It’s far removed from the frequented routes that link Seville, Córdoba, Granada and Málaga. Most visitors don’t make it up this way, due to limited time and the long list of “must sees” in the cities. Cork and holm oaks speckle the pastureland and iberian pigs snuffle amongst the leaves on the ground, hunting for acorns. It’s a simple lifestyle up here. The locals work the land, producing the best Iberian pork and hams in Spain, harvesting cork, almonds, chestnuts and mushrooms. There are some charming hikes in the area that link up the smaller villages, passing by orchards, farm land, viewpoints and isolated country dwellings. In the villages you can meet all sorts of artisans, taste the exceptional Iberian pork products and even visit a pig farm to learn about Iberian ham.
Valle del Jerte
The Jerte valley is located in the region of Extremadura, about a 3 hour drive due West of Madrid. It is most famous for the fabulous cherries that are produced here, called “picotas” and with their own denomination of origin. If you come in March or April, you’ll almost certainly coincide with the cherry blossom. Over one and a half million trees burst into colour and bloom! The final 4 days of blossom are famous for their beauty, offering us a constant petal rainfall, like a natural confetti! The world-renowned “Pimenton de la Vera” (paprika) is also produced just a few miles down the road. In early autumn you can watch them drying and smoking the peppers before grinding out the delicious paprika! The Jerte valley combines memorable gastronomy with spectacular scenery, outdoor activities and a rich cultural heritage in many of its small towns and villages.
Arribes del Duero
We’ve all heard of the Douro valley in Portugal. But did you know that the same river (‘Rio Duero’ in Spanish) has over half of its 900 kilometres in Spain, flowing through some of the country’s most important wine regions? Close to Salamanca & Zamora, the river forms the border between Spain & Portugal for over 100 kilometres. Arribes del Duero is the natural park of outstanding beauty that covers this area. The wide and deep river valley, on occasion with 200 metre sheer cliffs, offers us numerous breathtaking lookout spots (Miradores in Spanish) to take it all in. Not to mention a collection of waterfalls as well! Or course, being a wine producing area, there is no shortage of vineyards. But you’ll also spot olive, almond and orange groves dotted close to the waters edge. There are some spectacular hikes throughout the valley. But if you’d rather give your legs a rest, you can take a boat ride to enjoy a different view and perhaps spot a Golden Eagle or Peregrine Falcon. The picturesque villages along both the Portuguese and Spanish sides of the valley are well worth a visit. Be sure to check out some of the excellent wineries in the region too.
It’s reassuring to know that wherever you are in Spain, you’re never far from green, lush, untouched natural spaces, filled with thriving flora & fauna. The guide books will often draw your attention to the big cities and the famous monuments. But with these 4 examples of outstanding natural beauty (just the tip of the iceberg, but some of our favourites!), we hope you will take the opportunity to wander from the trodden tourist tracks and venture into some blissful bubbles!