Trans-Andalusia 4×4 route
A week through the Andalusian natural parks
Sierra Nevada National Park
Sierra de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park
Cabo de Gata – Nijar Natural Park
Desfiladero de los Gaitanes (Garganta del Chorro) Natural Park
El Torcal de Antequera Natural Park
The Dolmens of Antequera
Tabernas Desert Natural Park
Sierra Alhamilla Natural Park
Karst in Gypsum at Sorbas Natural Park
Departure at 8;00 AM from Malaga Airport.
We head to Cartama to have coffee before starting the journey proper.
Continuing on our way, we will pass through the villages of Pizarra and Alora before taking a dirt track in the Sierra de Aguas and Sierra Blanquilla mountains towards the Villaverde Superior Dam, surrounded by beautiful landscape. The Tajo de la Encantada Dam was designed with two reservoirs at different levels, linked by a large duct. Located in the lower one we find several electricity generating turbines operated with the pressure of water from the upper reservoir, the Villaverde Dam. At night, when power is less expensive, water is pumped from the lower to the upper reservoir. The next day, the process starts again draining the pumped water.
From there we descend to the Garganta del Chorro Gorge, in the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes Natural Park, whose vertical walls, reaching 300 metres high in places, and narrow width, seldom over ten metres, make it one of the most spectacular sites in the Malaga mountains. Visitors will be struck by the sheer size of this canyon, splitting the natural scenery in two for over three kilometres.
We then proceed to the Pantano de Guadalhorce reservoir, from which a dirt track surrounding the Desfiladero de los Gaintanes Natural Park will lead us through more striking landscapes in which we can spot several medium-sized plants, such as sabina (Juniperus sabina), juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus) and mastic (Pistacia lentiscus).
We then take a county road to The Dolmens of Antequera, largest group of dolmens in Europe, surpassing Stonehenge. Here we visit the Menga Dolmen, an almost rectangular covered gallery. It measures 25 metres long, 5 metres wide and 4 metres high, and is thought to have been built in the Copper Age, around 2500 BC.
From there it is a short journey to El Torcal de Antequera, which constitutes one of the most impressive examples of karst landscape in Europe. Its name is taken from the “torcas” or sinkholes, curious circular depressions which are typical of karst formations.
-> Night in Antequera.
From Antequera we will depart to the highlands of La Axarquia, a historical region of Andalusia nestled in the province of Málaga, which we cross by dirt track until reaching the Sierra Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park. The white and grey tones of ridges and ravines predominate in these mountains, a consequence of the abundant marble in this area. The decomposition of these rocks creates sands where pine forests adapt and form the most widespread ecosystem, consisting of Pinus halepensis and Pinus nigra. In the highest shady areas Pyrenean oaks (Quercus pyrenaica) and maples (Acer) are also to be found.
Crossing the mountains by dirt track, we then descend to the coast and the beaches of Nerja, La Herradura and Almuñecar, the so-called Tropical Coast (Costa Tropical). Its name comes from the exceptionally good weather all year round, which has allowed it to become the only place in Europe where subtropical fruits like mango, chirimoya (custard apple), avocado and papaya are cultivated. Such fruits evoke flavours of exotic places, but can nevertheless be found in this, one of the most privileged corners of Andalusia.
We then take The Goats Road back into the mountains, reaching the city of Granada.
While in Granada, a walk through the Albaicín is an absolute must, as is the sight of the famous fortress of The Alhambra.
-> Night in Granada
Day 3 will involve less off-road driving in order to appreciate the charm and beauty of the high peaks of Sierra Nevada.
From Granada we ascend to the Ski Resort of Sierra Nevada (at Prado Llano), skirting it and rising to the University Hostel located at La Hoya de la Mora, 2,500 meters above sea level.
Here we take a “shuttle” to the foot of the Veleta Peak, since access is forbidden to all other vehicles. From here we will hike to the top, 3,396 meters above sea level (another option, though longer and more difficult, is to go up the Mulhacen Peak, the highest in the Iberian Peninsula at 3,479 metres above sea level).
On the way down we will visit the Prado Llano Ski Resort, then continue downwards along the old road to where the Arroyo de San Juan and Río Geníl meet, passing through some extraordinary landscape along the last stretch of the old tramway of the Sierra Nevada Tram.
-> Night in Granada
We will start with a short hike to the Cahorros of Monachil Gorge, where the water coming down from the Sierra Nevada mountains has shaped the landscape to form a beautiful canyon between limestone crags. At one point along the way we will have to cross an impressive 50-metre suspension bridge.
From here we climb to the upper reaches of the Sierra Nevada National Park, with its peculiar flora and fauna that have adapted to the adverse weather conditions at this altitude. On the way we shall pass by the Geological Fault of Niguelas, which geologists insist is still moving. The fault bears witness to what could be considered the end of the rising of Sierra Nevada (whose formation is, in fact, not yet complete) and the birth of the Lecrín Valley and the peatlands of Padul. It is also the boundary that marks the end of the Nevada range.
Biodiversity is Sierra Nevada’s main ecological asset, especially with regard to vascular flora, with over 2,100 listed species. The harsh climate of the Quaternary glaciations in Europe caused a retreat of vegetation to lower latitudes; thus species from northern Europe came to Sierra Nevada. The permanence of many of these species was favoured by interglacial periods. A high number of species are endemic: about 65 exclusive species and 175 Iberian endemics. This is due to their tolerance to an environmental limiting factor and the existence of geographical boundaries.
We then pass to The Alpujarra, a region with significant protection as historical heritage, with two broad areas having been declared Zones of Cultural Interest: The Poqueira Ravine and the Middle Alpujarra and La Taha Historical Sites. Bordering on one another, these two sites together constitute Europe’s largest single protected area, patrimonially speaking.
We will visit some of its picturesque villages, such as Lanjarón, Pampaneira, Pórtugos and Trevélez, and appreciate the abrupt terrain driving on both dirt tracks and roads. We will also take in beautiful sites such as La Junta de los Rios (a confluence of two rivers) and La Fuente Agria (a ferruginous water source) at Pórtugos.
-> Night in Trévelez.
Returning to the upper mountain reaches, we follow a dirt track in Bérchules to cross the mountain range at La Ragua Pass (Puerto de la Ragua) 2000m.
Leaving Sierra Nevada behind, we then descend to La Calahorra Castle, which looks out over the Marquesado of Cenete. Built between 1500-1512 in a military style, this castle was the first to introduce the Renaissance style in Spanish civil architecture.
From this point of the trip, we will enter a wadi to emerge at a completely different landscape, the Tabernas Desert, a Natural Park of great beauty. Located to the north of the city of Almería between the Filabres and Alhamilla mountain ranges, this site is characterised by a set of gullies crossed by wadis (dry river bed, prone to occasional flooding) that only carry water, mud, and rocks during floods. It is considered the only desert area of the European continent and it provides some tremendously stimulating and breathtaking scenery. A mean annual rainfall of less than 250 mm per year and average temperatures of over 17 º C have contributed to the formation of a type of terrain known as “badlands”. In addition to the scenic and geological interest, this area boasts some outstanding botany and fauna, as it is home to numerous rare species, many unique in Europe and even in the world.
The Tabernas Desert was the focal point for film making in the province of Almería in the 60s and 70s, when it became known as “The European Hollywood” or capital of the “Spaghetti Western”. In fact, many American films, whether westerns or other genres, were filmed here after the success of the films of the Italian director Sergio Leone. His legendary dollar trilogy starring Clint Eastwood was shot here: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).
We take the opportunity to enter the Tabernas Wadi (Rambla de Tabernas) to witness this overwhelming landscape close up, before leaving by road to head towards Sorbas.
-> Night in Sorbas
We will climb up to the top of the Sierra Alhamilla Natural Park, which will reward us with a 360º panoramic view of the distinguished Almeria landscape: its desert, mountains, sea, and large expanses of greenhouses, which supply Europe with horticultural products throughout the year thanks to its desert climate. The park’s status as wooded oasis between the Tabernas Desert, the driest part of Europe, and the Bay of Almería, confers it considerable ecological significance. Because of its value as an ecosystem, it has become one of the Sites of Community Importance of Almería.
From here we descend to the Karst in Gypsum of Sorbas Natural Park, an apparently barren and arid landscape that hides one of the most stunning beauties of Andalusia. It is an underworld wrought by the ancient action of rainwater on a powerful gypsum rock. Rainwater slowly dissolves gypsum rock, generating abundant closed depressions. There karst windows appear, sinkholes and chasms which connect the dry surface with the complex network of underground tunnels. More than 1,000 cavities, most interconnected, contain a spectacular and diverse universe of crystal formations: stalactites, stalagmites and columns.
We will cross the park by road to enter the Cabo de Gata – Nijar Natural Park the first marine-terrestrial protected area in Andalusia. The contrasts between the marine environment, the coast and the inland area, the many exclusive species to be found here, and the very characteristics of one of the most arid ecosystems in Europe, have led to international recognition of the park as a Biosphere Reserve and Geopark. Much of the ecological and scenic peculiarity of the park has its origin in the absence of winter climate and in its geological diversity. Volcanic substrates predominate, and lava flows, domes and fossil beaches form a unique landscape whose ochre, black and russet tones captivate visitors and leave a lasting impression on them. Of particular interest is man’s mark on the landscape in the form of numerous abandoned farmhouses and water and wind exploitation systems, such as wells, cisterns and mills. Collectively recognized as Items of Cultural Interest, they are integrated into the landscape and are testimony of a culture, now extinct, linked to the traditional use of natural resources.
The mountains form beautiful coves leading to fifty kilometres of coast, much of it with cliffs. Visitors will discover a succession of urban beaches, magnificent secluded beaches, almost inaccessible coves, spectacular volcanic cliffs and reefs. They will also find excellent examples of dune formations in movement originating coastal spits enclosing inland lagoons and creating attractive landscapes such as the Salinas de Cabo de Gata (Cabo de Gata Saltworks), site of an exceptional bird sanctuary.
Once in the Natural Park, we will follow a dirt track along watercourses down to the Algarrobico Beach from where the trip continues by road, as there are no dirt roads that cross the park. We will have the opportunity to visit the old Rodalquilar Gold Mines and observe Flamingos in the Salinas de Cabo de Gata (Cabo de Gata Saltworks).
-> Night in Almeria
Back to Malaga by road.