A colossus in our mountains! With a wingspan of 2.8 metres and weighing 8 kilos, that’s 9 foot and 17lbs in old money, Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus is our largest resident raptor here in the Serranía de Ronda and Sierra de Grazalema.
Essentially a specialist carrion eater, this enormous bird is spectacular and the most easily seen raptor in our mountains. Throughout Spain, this species has increased steadily over the past 15 years by the provision of feeding stations, the last official census carried out to ascertain the number of breeding birds put the population at 17,000 pairs.
I guess the first impressions you get from seeing a Hoopoe for the first time is a mixture of the comical as well as the beautiful! With its striking colours and very distinct black and white wing pattern the Hoopoe is a favourite among even the most casual observer.
The Hoopoe is a one-off polytypic species and is distributed widely throughout the Western Paleartic, but is only a resident in southern Spain, northern Africa, Egypt and the Lebanon. It is one of those birds whose presence during the winter months can more than make-up for the cooler temperatures.
The El Tajo gorge offers a wealth of bird species to watch, in fact many tourists book rooms in hotels overlooking the gorge specifically to setup their binoculars on hotel terraces away from the crowds.
The area between the Puente Nuevo and the Jardines del Cuenca is a deep almost enclosed part of the gorge that buzzes with life, from flying insects to spiders, lizards and geckos, and of course the many birds that nest in the gorge or hunt for food here.
The Sierra de Grazalema is one of the most scenically stunning areas in the whole of Spain. It is a diverse UNESCO Biosphere Park containing habitats ranging from mixed oak woodlands, pine forest and upland pastures to high mountains where life clings-on in the extremes of seasonal climate change. Temperatures are wide-ranging throughout the park influenced by altitudes from 400m to 1600m above sea level, as well as the eastern areas benefiting from the Mediterranean climate the western facing slopes are affected by the Atlantic climate. Unsurprisingly such a varied habitat and range of altitudes produces a great diversity in flora and fauna. Our ABS Field Meeting for December visited this important area and gave attending members a chance to marvel at the landscape and, as always, enjoy each others company.
Bonelli’s Eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus) master of our skies.
If you were to search for an emblematic species which would define the importance of the Serranía de Ronda and the Sierra de Grazalema for wildlife, then the Bonelli’s Eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus) would be the definitive and unequivocal choice.
Among the rarest species of raptor in Europe, the Bonelli’s Eagle has perhaps, for the moment, its highest breeding density in the world right here in the Serranía de Ronda!
The park Dehesa del Mercadillo is a pine forest just outside Ronda on the Ronda-Sevilla road, and is very easy to get to, however the direct route doesn’t take in any of the valley below Ronda, but using the industrial area of Ronda as a starting point passes through some gorgeous countryside with mountains on the horizon, along farm roads with numerous horse studs before finally entering the forest from the north.
We start the walk in the industrial estate, follow signs pointing to the Poligono, and look for the hotel Berlanga which is very close to the Día supermarket. Directly across from the hotel Calle Genal, which looks industrial, but after 100m begins to descend out of the city to the railway line.
If you keep going straight ahead on this road you’ll come to some olive groves around 150-200 metres from the hotel, and then a little further you’ll cross the railway line before reaching an overpass for the highway. After the overpass, turn immediately left and then immediately right.
You are now on the old Ronda-Setenil road and will continue going down hill for a kilometre or thereabouts. As you descend you’ll come across a small fuente known as Don Pedro, and shortly after this, the road naturally veers to the left.
At this point you are now on the European walking track, the E-4, also known on some maps as the GR-7 and is a walk that commences in Tarifa, and terminates in Athens. You continue on this road which bends to the right near some horse stables, and then continues toward the forest park.
When you reach the next intersection you’ll see a sign pointing to the Hotel Molino de Arco. You could detour here and travel back through the Llano de la Cruz to Arriate or to Ronda Viejo and then onto Acinipo, however for this Ronda walk we are going to continue straight ahead.
Very soon you’ll pass the municipal riding school and some other stables, and immeditately after that the intersection with the Ronda-Sevilla highway. You’ll know you’ve reached the highway because on the right is a large sign showing the route of the GR-7 walk as it crosses the Serranía de Ronda.
Turn left, but avoid the highway, instead follow the dirt track for safety reasons, and then enter the park via a wide entrance. You are now at the end of the walk and have two options; the first is to follow the dirt road inside the park past the forest fire service, or take the more scenic approach and walk from the picnic and play area you find across a small fence into the forest proper.
Once in the forest take a moment to enjoy listening to the birds, their song is fantastic and definitely a highlight of this walk. Birdwatchers and nature lovers might find the forest a little pedestrian, but if you don’t have a lot of time, or only fancy a gentle stroll you won’t be disappointed.
To get back to Ronda, continue through the forest and then follow Avenida de la Legion into town. Here are a few photos of the walk, and if you enjoy this walk please return and leave a comment below for other visitors to Ronda.
A series of road in the Genal Valley will get a much needed boost in investment over the coming months with the approval today of extra funding from the provincial highway authority.
The MA-7306 road from Cartajima to the A-397, and the MA-7303 Cartajima to Júzcar will receive a total of 150,000€ each for improvements and resurfacing.
100,000€ each will also be spent on the MA-8302, MA-7400, and MA-8307, with specific projects being improvements to the MA-8302 to Ma-8301 road at Genalguacil.
In addition, 100,000€ will see the Arriate MA-700 to Ronda road resurfaced with new tar, and problem areas where potholes are a perennial problem fixed.
In tourism news, Benarrabá will get a new birdwatching area, described as the best in Andalucía, and 103,000€ will be spent creating a new museum in Gaucín at the castle, with a special exhibit honouring Spain’s War of Independence from France in 1812.
Deep in the green Genal Valley, but only a few kilometres from Ronda, lies the tiny village of Júzcar, almost invisible as the valley roads twist and turn along the length of the Genal River. Juzcar is small, and easily walked around in less than 30 minutes, you could blink and miss this little inland Andalucia village, but don’t or you’ll really kick yourself later.
Known as Juzcareños, the population of the county is only a little over two hundred, but the history of Juzcar and the wealth of natural wonders located within her borders make a stay in Juzcar something to be recommended. The Hotel Bandolero is a small boutique hotel with 8 rooms in the village that is comfortable, charming, full of character, and has a great restaurant.
The Genal River snakes it’s way through the valley, with numerous tributaries meandering around the village and creating little pools, eddies, or waterfalls at regular intervals. It is the river that is the heart of the Genal Valley, and from which it takes it’s name. Juzcar is in the higher reaches of the valley, known in Spanish as the Alto Genal, and can be reached from both of the main highways running south from Ronda the Ronda-Jimena road via Alpandeire, or the Ronda-San Pedro highway via Cartajima.
Mountains, Caves, and Rivers near Juzcar
To the north of the village lies Jarastepar, a jurassic limestone peak with outcrops of Upper Cretaceous redbeds that rises 1427m into the heavens, all the more impressive in Juzcar because unlike many of the other Serranía villages, Juzcar is only 600m above sea level. The hills immediately around Juzcar village are green, and filled with chestnut trees, whilst to the south in the valley lie the olive tree orchards.
The road between Juzcar and Cartajima, which is the next village on the way into Ronda, is a terrifying road of narrow sections, tight bends, and fast cars; actually it isn’t that bad but it’s the impression many people have of the road. Take care when approaching traffic that you can stop quickly if the road suddenly narrows.
Looming above and around the road are the massive limestone mountains of the Alto Genal, with some of Andalucía’s most spectacular landscape. The limestone mountains to the north of Juzcar, are every bit as impressive as El Torcal over in the GuadalTeba, but much closer to Ronda, and only a short drive and walk from Juzcar.
One could almost imagine the hills are an alien landscape, they protrude in sharp angular outcrops, but are filled with caves and sinkholes, towering minarets, and other formations that make the Alto Genal a geologically fascinating district. Balancing rocks are found in abundance, and create some interesting shapes. Heavy rain in the distant past washed away all of the top soil and exposed the limestone, which is a soft rock easily sculpted by running water.
Just outside Juzcar village is a small cave entrance known as Cueva de Calderón, hinting at what might be underneath. In fact other than the Hundadero-Gato cave system between Montejaque and Benaojan, the caves in the Alto Genal specifically known as the Sierra del Oreganal between Alpandeire, Juzcar and Cartijima are the most well known and loved by cavers. Potholing is possible, though recommended only for experts, and numerous caves that may have been sanctuaries for paleolithic people surround the valley.
Abseiling and rugged adventure walks in the Genal River and other tributaries such as the Zua River are popular activities in these parts. River rappelling at the Sima del Diablo with 8m and 10m descents can be done with a qualified guide, or alone if you have the experience. Unlike other waterfalls and canyons in Málaga province, the Sima del Diablo is secluded with a thick canopy overhead. The location is dark and moody, more reminiscent of a rain forest than sunny Southern Spain. Further upstream you’ll also encounter the Cueva del Moro, the Moor’s Cave.
Legend tells that when the area was first settled a Moor discovered a cave with a natural spring with the sweetest tasting water in the world, and plugging the river in three places with trees and branches he was able to divert the water to each of the three villages where he had a girlfriend, Juzcar, Pandeire, and Baltasar. Later when he married, the village priest decreed that his dam should be destroyed so that only his bride could taste the beautiful water.
Walks From Juzcar
There are a number of countryside walks around Juzcar ranging from 45 minutes to 1hr 15mins, and most can be extended to several hours if that appeals. All of these walks are only suitable for people who can walk, and are comfortable on flights of steps because they require walking off-road on rocky terrain with occasional steeps slopes.
Starting with a walk to Farajan, a nearby village and the walk is only 45 minutes or 2.8kms, with a difficulty level of medium. The walk starts near Juzcar’s cemetery, and leads on the road to Faraján and Alpandeire for about 1km before going off-road to Faraján. Vegetation along the side of the road will be olive, holm oaks, and wild sumac. This walking route takes you past the Fuente de Trujillo, and the spring which marks the beginning of the River Zua.
The second walk from Juzcar goes to Cartajima, and is 2.85kms, and should take around an hour. This is described as a low difficulty walk, suitable for a relaxing day out in the countryside, perhaps enjoying lunch or tapas in Cartajima before returning to your hotel in Juzcar. You’ll pass Juzcar’s ruined tin factory, the el Romeral dolmen from neolithic times, a copse on ancient oaks, and the fuente de las calenturas, so named because the water is so cold people who drink from it often come down with a fever (calentura).
Our third walk from Juzcar goes to Pujerra, another of the Genal Valley villages. This walk is suitable for walking or cycling, and is 3.6kms or around 1hr 15mins, and is described as being a medium difficulty. The walk departs on the Cartajina road, but quickly goes off-road into a small forest of holm and oaks. At the bottom of the valley we cross the Genal river near a small chestnut forest, and then pass the old flour mills that until the mid 20th century provided most of the employment in Juzcar.
The entire Serranía de Ronda is a birdwatchers paradise, but Juzcar is special, not for the huge variety of birds to be seen, but for the range of terrain within the county. From the mountains descend the raptors, soaring high above looking for food, whilst down in the forest and riverbed smaller birds pick and fuss.
The forests surrounding Juzcar are filled with pine and chestnut trees, creating a leaf covered forest floor that teams with worms, grubs and insects. This is a bird’s heaven, plentiful food and cover from the watching eyes of birds of prey above. The trees and mountain cliffs provide wonderful nesting locations, one never has to walk very far during the nesting season if birdwatching is your passion.
Here’s our list of ten common birds you’ll see during the year in Juzcar;
Western Bonelli’s Warbler
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