Cork oak harvested
Lush vegetation in the valleys
The Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche Natural Park in Huelva province is a slate and sandstone massif in the western part of the Sierra Morena, roughly 186 km sq. in extent. Wind and rain erosion has produced gently rounded mountains divided by wide valleys. Both hilltop and valley are wooded with holm oak, cork oak and olive trees. Sheltering in the valleys are some of the prettiest white villages in Andalucia.
Towards the centre of the park, a granite intrusion, exposed at Peñas de Aroche, is linked to mineral deposits that have been exploited since pre-historic times. Chinflon mine was being worked about 2500 BC. The presence of many dolmens, such as those at El Pozuela, show how important the area was. In the centre of the park, limestone predominates, and chestnut trees create one of the largest forest masses on the Iberian Peninsula. The limestone is riddled with caves. One of the larger caverns is open to the public, the famous gruta de las Maravillas at Aracena.
The different nature of the bedrock, slate, sandstone, granite and limestone, together with ample rain from the Atlantic weather systems, has created a rich flora. Oak and cork forests dominate a wooded pasture that, where it ends, is accompanied by an undergrowth of strawberry trees, lavender, mastic, hawthorns and various species of rockrose and juniper. At the greatest altitude, humidity enables the presence of gall oaks and Pyrenean oak. Two of the more famous mushrooms, tana and gurumela, can be harvested in the autumn.
In turn, the vegetation allows a diverse fauna that includes genet, deer and wild boar. The mountains also have the largest breeding colony of black vultures in Europe.
The whole park is covered by tracks and walking trails; it is a hiker and bikers paradise. For those inclined to less active pursuits, the area is famous for its gastronomy, particularly game. Venison and wild boar appear on most menus whilst the area’s goat’s cheese is renowned. Iberian meats, hams, morcilla, and chorizo are all produced in the towns and villages in the Sierra and subsequently sold from the many specialist carniceria found in the towns.
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