The “Montes de Malaga” offer spectacular views over the city and a large expanse of the Mediterranean
Rural tourism is arousing more and more interest amongst a public which is beginning to tire of the classic sun and beach menu that is served up ad nauseum by the travel agencies and tour operators. In spite of the fact that Andalucía continues to be one of the country’s most popular destinations for sun and sea travellers, its vast extension of varied landscape and corresponding ecosystems have endowed it with an exceptional flora and fauna which represent the basis of an alternative that is practically without limits. One of the surprising aspects of areas such as the Costa del Sol is that only a few kilometres away from the busy coastal urban conglomerations are tracts of unspoilt nature that are havens of peace and tranquillity.
One such example is the Montes de Malaga Nature Park which is a mere five kilometres north of the city. The park, which was designated by the regional government in July 1989, covers an area of 4,900 hectares, by far the larger part of which fall within the municipality of Malaga and the remainder in Casabermeja. It is an area of low lying hills, ranging from 80 metres to the peak of La Reina which has an altitude of 1,032 metres, and is criss-crossed by streams which have carved diminutive valleys. In ancient times the hillsides were blanketed with forest but when Christian settlers arrived in the area after the Reconquest they replaced the natural vegetation with olive and almond trees and vines which were more productive economically. The gradual process of deforestation had a disastrous effect on Malaga, being directly responsible for the floods that devastated the city on too frequent occasions. It wasn’t until the Thirties that the situation was in some way remedied with a programme of reforestation which led to the park’s present appearance.
The upper reaches are semi-humid with a Mediterranean-Continental type vegetation, while the lower slopes are dry, supporting a sub tropical-Mediterranean ecosystem. The park shelters a variety of different species of trees, the most common being the Aleppo pine which was used in the reforestation and other coniferous types such as the Umbrella pine, Monterey pine and cypress. Within the deciduous group the most predominant are the holm oak, cork oak, olive tree, gall oak and carob tree, while the chestnut, black poplar, wild olive, ash, willow and strawberry tree exist in lesser number.
Amongst the shrubs and bushes found here are the fan palm, blackberry bush, red lavender, broom, hawthorn, thyme, gorse, rockrose, wild asparagus and spurge flax.
The park also has an abundance of wildlife, the most characteristic species found in this ecosystem being the wild boar, fox, badger, wild cat, stone marten, weasel, polecat, mongoose and genet, as well as other smaller animals such as the rabbit, squirrel, bat and hedgehog. Ornithologists will be interested to know that there are variety of birds of prey such as the spectacular goshawk, short-toed eagle, booted eagle, eagle owl and kestrel as well as more common species such as the wood pigeon, red-legged partridge, dove, thrush, jay, cuckoo, tit, bunting and nightingale.
Among the reptiles and amphibians that seek refuge in this natural environment are species such as the lizard, snake, salamander, gecko or toad, although one of the most outstanding is the chameleon, a species in danger of extinction but which finds the perfect conditions for survival here in the park.
That, in very general terms, describes the botanic and biological riches of Montes de Malaga Nature Park but as the many visitors from the nearby city will testify it is also ideal for leisure and recreation and includes camping sites, a nature centre and ethnological museum. However, one of the most agreeable pastimes is simply to enjoy the scenery and there is no better way to do that than following one of the numerous routes and itineraries that cross the park or, for the more adventurous and energetic, improvising your own route.
The “Route through the heart of the Montes de Malaga” offers the chance to get to know the nature park a little better by offering a variety of itineraries such as the one which starts at the Venta Fuente Reina, one of the typical country restaurants that abound here, and leads to the recreation and camping area of Torrijos. Visitors here will be able to see the Torrijos Ethnological Museum which has been set up in an old farmhouse that preserves its original roof beams and has a wine press over two hundred years old. An alternative is to take the route that starts at the Las Contadoras Nature Centre, an environmental education centre set in a rambling 18th century house, and ends up at the ruins of Jotrón.
Another of the itineraries that crosses this magnificent nature park is the Route of the Ventas, or countryside restaurants, which follows the C-345, the old road to Colmenar. The road snakes upwards past pine clad hillsides and offers numerous natural “miradores” with panoramic views of the mountains and sea. But the main attraction of this route are the restaurants (“ventas”) that line the road and are generally situated in locations with magnificent vistas. The “ventas” offer a varied menu of typical local gastronomy such as the “plato de los Montes” of fried eggs, chorizo sausage, fried green peppers and tasty pork loin in lard, which may scare the cholesterol conscious but is, nevertheless, extremely appetising, and “vino de los Montes”, a tawny-coloured sweet muscatel wine from the Montes, or the locally-produced eau-de-vie (“aguardiente”). One of the main attractions of these countryside restaurants is that they are very reasonably priced making them a popular choice with locals, a fact which is evident at weekends when it is hard to find a restaurant that is not full.
A further alternative is the Route from Malaga to Casabermeja which follows the N-331 road passing alongside the Pantano del Agujero reservoir, the best time being in late January or early February when the almond trees are in blossom. Casabermeja is a typical Andalusian village, with steep, narrow streets and a magnificent cemetery, which wrote its own page in the history books through an incident which occurred in 1840 when the locals expelled the landowners and declared the village a republic, a venture which was quashed by the army.
Casabermeja also forms part of another itinerary, the Route of the Almond Trees (“Ruta del almendro”), which includes the village of Almogía. Amongst the other routes running through the Montes de Malaga are the Route of the Olive Oil (“Ruta del aceite de los Montes”) which takes in Alcaucín, Alfarnate, Alfarnatejo, Colmenar, Periana, Riogordo and Viñuela; and finally the Route of the Raisin (“Ruta de la pasa”), which includes the villages of Almáchar, El Borge, Comares, Cutar, Moclinejo and Totalán.
Whatever the route the visitor chooses to take one thing is certain, there will be no lack of opportunity to try the local gastronomy, dishes such as country-style rabbit stew or partridge in broth. Then there are the delicious cakes and preserves such as “borrachuelos”, wine-flavoured fritters glazed in honey, “batata confitada” (candied sweet potatoes) or “mostachones con piñones” (pine nut macaroons).
Finally, mention should be made of the traditional handicrafts to be found in the area, where it is possible to find magnificent examples of wooden furniture or objects made from ceramic, glass, metal, leather or different kinds of vegetable fibre such as esparto, jute and rush.