Sierra de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas
Where the peaks meet the Sky - The NATURAL PARK OF SIERRA DE CAZORLA, SEGURA & LAS VILLAS, is one of Jaen’s best kept treasures. In the northeast of the province, it is the largest Natural Park in Spain and where Andalucia’s greatest river, the GUADALQUIVIR originates. The park includes two high ranges, the Sierra de Cazorla and the Sierra de Segura, within these mountain ranges is Spain's largest continuous area of pine forest.
The Sierra de Cazorla has different landscapes, valleys, gorges, ravines & high peaks. Enchanting reservoirs hidden in the high mountains and crystal-clear rivers that have carried the logs of former empires downstream await you. You can go for walks on the most extensive plateau in Spain, embrace one of the oldest pine trees and marvel at a population dispersed in a multitude of villages surrounded by mountains, all of which are unusual settings for southern Spain.
Among the mammals living in the park are deer, Spanish Ibex, mouflon, wild boar, wild sheep, fallow deer and wolves were re-introduced in recent decades. The Bearded vulture in danger of extinction is one of the emblematic species of Cazorla, whilst in the Segura golden eagles; black vulture, griffon vulture, tawny owls & falcon inhabit the skies.
The park offers a wealth of activities; you can do hiking, horse treks, mountain biking expeditions, four-wheel drive tours, canoeing, fishing, paragliding, hang-gliding, mountaineering, climbing and caving.
The collection of tiny, remote mountain villages is one of its most unique attractions. Almost all of them are situated within the county of Segura in the northern half of the park, and represent a pattern of habitation that is particularly unusual in Andalusia; indeed, it is more reminiscent of populations in mountainous regions in the north of Spain. There are more than two hundred small villages and hamlets boasting an exceptional historical and artistic heritage.
The men & women who live in the mountain ranges of Cazorla, Segura & Las Villas have made their relationship with nature, a philosophy of life. The traditional crafts have been preserved in many towns & villages in the park and reveal the close bond that exists between the people & the mountains. The harsh living conditions, long distances and communication between the villages, and the features of the landscape, forged a singular and deeply rooted character that is found expressed in the form of traditional architecture.
The territory’s climate and geography have not prevented humans from settling in more than 80 scattered hamlets where sometimes only two or three people live. Each hamlet has its own life style and occupations; a true example of the art of using resources without depleting them.
The main gateway to the park is the town CAZORLA, which is 45km east of ÚBEDA. Before heading into the park, it's worth having a stroll around Cazorla's attractive centre, its beautiful main square, the Plaza de Santa María and the Castillo de la Yedra, the Moorish castle on top of a rocky slope that overlooks the town. 2km away at LA IRUELA is another castle perched precariously in an impressive position atop a rocky pinnacle.
From LA IRUELA there are two options. Either head north towards BURUNCHEL where the road climbs over the Sierra de Segura via the mountain pass of the Puerta de las Palomas, stopping at the mirador for the magnificent views down the Guadalquivir valley.
Or, turn south towards EL CHORRO, following the signs to La Cañada de la Fuente to see the source of the Guadalquivir River. You can then turn north to join up with the A319 along the Guadalquivir valley.
Whichever route you choose, from EL VALLE the road threads its way through the beautiful wooded, narrow Guadalquivir valley. The tiny village of ARROYO FRIO has some accommodation options and restaurants. 9 km further on is the JARDIN BOTANICO a botanical garden next to the TORRE DEL VINAGRE visitors' centre showing the park's plant life grouped according to the altitude at which they are found, with a section of flora endemic to the park.
Further on is the EMBALSE DE TRANCO, Jaen's largest reservoir where you can do a variety of non-motorised water sports and have a picnic or swim.
Hugging the reservoir, the road continues north towards the small village of COTO RIOS, which has a beach on the Guadalquivir River and several campsites. Seven kilometres further is the Parque Cinegético Collado del Almendral, a game park where you can try and spot mouflon, Spanish ibex, wild boar and deer from the viewpoints on the circular footpath that leads from the car park.
Just past the game park look out for the BUJARAIZA ISLAND in the middle of the reservoir. Bujaraiza is the name of the village that was submerged when the reservoir was created and has a ruined castle, Castillo de San Miguel de Bujaraiza.
The best place to stop and view the lake is the Mirador de Rodríguez de la Fuente, with great views of the reservoir's islands and the YELMO peak beyond. TRANCO is the next small village before you leave the reservoir behind and the hilltop village of HORNOS appears on the horizon. HORNOS is one of the park's most spectacularly sited villages, perched on a rocky crag with a ruined castle and has some superb views over the Tranco reservoir. It's worth a stop to enjoy the spectacular views over the Tranco reservoir and the village's pretty narrow streets.
About 5km north of Hornos is CORTIJOS NUEVOS, turn right here to ascend the peak of YELMO. You can drive all the way up or walk to the top, for magnificent panoramic views of the park.
CUEVA DEL AGUA is just outside TISCAR on the A315 at Km 47, halfway between POZO ALCON and QUESADA. To reach the cave you have to go through a tunnel, 10m long and 1m high. The Cueva del Agua lives up to its name (the Cave of Water), since it is close to the source of the Tíscar river, which tumbles down, sometimes turbulently, over the limestone rocks and has formed magnificent waterfalls over the steepest drops. Occasional music concerts are held in the cave, to take advantage of its superb natural acoustics.
SEGURA DE LA SIERRA is the most dramatically positioned village, with narrow streets and historic corners, with whitewashed houses huddled around a hill. The village huddles beneath the restored castle, still surrounded by stretches of the old walls in some places. The village was deservedly declared Historic Artistic Site and Picturesque Village because, in addition to its wonderful environment and the village itself, the village has numerous monuments and architectural details, such as the Town Hall, the Imperial Fountain of Carlos III, the Arab baths, the Parish Church of Nuestra Señora del Collado, Jorge Manrique's House, the House of El Celemín, the Arch of Cavalcavia, the Puerta Catena Entrance and the Fuente Mora Fountain.
From SANTIAGO DE LA ESPADA, take the JF-7038 ABOUT 22 kms towards LAS JUNTAS DE MILLER. From there, and before crossing the bridge, turn left on to the road signposted “CENTRAL Y MILLER”. Two kilometres on you will arrive at the village of MILLER. This remote village is surrounded by walnut trees, pines and luxuriant orchards and is a veritable spring in its own right: it is home to the sources of at least four bodies of water, meaning that you will be accompanied by the almost-constant burble of fountains, springs and irrigation channels as you pass through the village. The streets of MILLER contain fine examples of bread ovens, olive mills and public washing areas, important examples of an ethnological heritage that has enabled many generations to survive in this harsh yet beautiful landscape. The village contains a castle or fort, of which a three-storey tower still remains, along with forty metres of a defensive wall standing six metres high. The structure was built by the Moors to defend themselves from the almogávares, Aragonese soldiers, in the 12th century. Throughout the intervening centuries, Miller’s inhabitants have used material from the castle to build houses and pens for livestock in the area around it.
You are in the home of the Segura sheep, arguably the area’s main resource, which are very different to any other kind of sheep. They have marked the destiny of this part of the Segura Mountains and will enable you to savour one of the most well-known and sought-after delicacies in Spain.
At the LAS ANCHURIAS reservoir you’ll discover one of the most stunning landscapes in the Nature Reserve. A green lake set among the mountains reflects the colour of the surrounding forests where you are sure to see vultures gliding overhead. There is also plenty of water, for this is where the sources of many rivers are to be found, including LA TOBA, the SEGURA and ZUMETA rivers, and the JUNTAS DE MILLER where the two rivers join.
If you are yearning to be in the heart of nature, this is your opportunity. There are thousands of hectares of land where the world seems to have come to a standstill and only birds, red deer and mountain goats will disturb you.
Nestled within the finest examples of Corsican pine forest in Spain are the farms and villages that dot the valley of the River Madera. In PRADOS DE LA MESTA the fruit in the orchards that surround the houses is still harvested, although the village is only inhabited at certain times of the year. The GR 147 passes through this village, in the direction of LOS ANCHOS. You will also be able to observe examples of traditional rural architecture and other characteristic features such as cast-iron grilles, whitewashed walls and wooden doors burned by the sun. A little lower down you will come across ARROYO CANALES, which is also known as RIO MADERA.
Near the River Trujala, in a country of olive groves and forests of Aleppo pine, there are a number of villages all within a short distance of one another: CORTIJO DEL SOTO, EL PORCHE and EL BATAN. They are still inhabited and hold their local festivals on the first weekend in May. Cortijo del Soto boasts two bridges, one new bridge alongside a disused older one made from brick and stone.
The village of EL OJUELO is laid out around a crossroads, alongside which are a small park and a hermitage. A little further on, a large fountain offers the perfect place to fill your canteen with fresh water and start up a conversation with the locals. Although the village’s Festival of the Olives takes place in June, EL OJUELO is known for its celebrations during the first week of August, when open-air dances draw visitors from all over the county.
If you cross the lush meadow in which EL OJUELA is situated you will reach the village of EL ROBLEDO, nestled into the foot of the mountain of EL YELMO. A long street, lined with houses on both sides, leads to a small square containing a hermitage. EL ROBELDO marks the frontier between cultivated olive groves and the pine forest. A forest trail leads off from the area up to ELYELMO where there is a stunning view of the valley.
HUELGA UTRERA takes visitors by surprise, with its remarkable plant life giving rise to the sensation that you have stumbled into a forest from another part of the world entirely. The River Segura passes directly below the village and is lined with an impressive array of exuberant riparine vegetation. Old vegetable gardens, converted into pastureland through disuse; fruit trees; ferns; pine trees; holm oaks; all are present throughout the village. The houses themselves are laid out around a square, so tranquil that the silence is only broken by the sound of water bubbling up from the fountain. Impossibly narrow alleyways and tiny windows from another era share space with renovated houses and old, disused public washing areas.
A very narrow, tree-lined road takes you into LA BALLESTERA. LA BALLESTERA is surprisingly clean and consists of two groups of houses separated by an old public washing area. The silence of this peaceful spot is only broken by the crowing of a cock or the meowing of a cat, or the rushing of the water. The orchards contain pine trees and a number of olive trees, planted due to the great need for oil in times gone by. However, just four people inhabit the village during the winter.
The road to LA CAPELLANIA is lined with cistus, rosemary and pine trees, while the land leading up to the village is home to small orchards interspersed with olive trees and more pines. In the centre of LA CAPELLANIA is an enormous meadow, from which a number of tracks lead off to the different hamlets. A small hermitage, which at times has served as a school, harks back to an earlier way of life in the area. Thanks to its privileged position the building has superb views out over the nearby mountains, which can be explored by taking the PR-150 YELMO CHICO circular trail that begins in LA CAPELLANIA.
After travelling down a serpentine road you will arrive at the small valley that is home to LA HUETA, a village that is divided into two distinct neighbourhoods. The centre of the village features a public washing area and a small oven, which bears the image of Our Lady of Fátima. The surrounding landscape is remarkably beautiful, particularly Bucentaina hill in the distance with its spectacular Piedra del Agujero, an enormous boulder with a hole through the middle that is set in a sea of pines dotted with the occasional gall and holm oak and standing in splendid contrast to the cultivated areas around the village. There are a number of waterfalls nearby and a pool that is well worth visiting, while other hamlets, such as PUENTE HONDA, are just a stone's throw away; the ruined castle bearing the same name as the hamlet is also within easy reach.
Water captivates the senses in the village of LA TOBA. Its freshness and delightful enveloping music are guaranteed to accompany a stroll down any of the streets in this delectable spot. Make sure you visit the source of the River Toba, which is located right next to the village in a cave you are free to enter – if you are willing to brave ice-cold water!
From the crossroads at LA VENTA RAMPAS a narrow road leads to the village of LOS ANCHOS. For the first 4 kilometres or so it seems as though the road will simply disappear into the mountains, but after a while you will start to see a number of terraced orchards that indicate the frontiers of human presence. After passing the first group of buildings, which includes the Alma Serrana Museum of Ethnology, you will arrive at LOS ANCHOS and be transported back in time to a place of cobbled streets, a communal oven, a small hermitage and a public washing area where the watery reflections transmit an air of tranquillity over the village
LOS ANCHOS is still home to a number of houses that have hardly changed at all in centuries; many are made from wood and feature whitewashed walls and cast-iron grilles, while a rail separates the houses from the orchards. This is truly an unforgettable place in which to stop and enjoy the landscape. The village is situated on a moor surrounded by mountains and alongside the houses are a number of orchards, fruit from which is still harvested today.
MARCHENA is situated on a slope next to a small valley, and as a result is full of alleyways, steps, ascents and descents. It is also home to tranquil corners where the silence is only broken by the sound of flowing water, and visitors will be surprised by the number of orchards in the town, which owe their continued existence to the fact that the nearest shops are some distance away. Nooks, tiny windows and doors designed for people from a bygone age, and dazzling whitewashed alleyways contrast with the deep green of the woods that surround this village.
In MARCHENA you will undertake a spectacular ascent in which you travel vertiginously upwards, along raised curves and large precipices that serve as natural viewing points. Keep an eye out for the houses built against the rock known as LA MUELA, or "THE TOOTH” in the hamlet of the same name that they will pass on the way to Marchena.
Village communities in the Segura Mountains were only able to survive because everyone came together and collaborated on communal tasks and activities. These collaborative efforts stretched beyond the basic needs of food and water: MILLER’S church, for example, was built by the villagers themselves in 1857.
A winding road will lead you along the bottom of the valley that is home to the village of MORALEJOS, which consists of two groups of houses. A spectacular house of exposed stonework welcomes visitors to the village, while features such as whitewashed walls and old wooden windows have miraculously withstood the passage of time. Still-cultivated vegetable gardens nestle against the houses, alternating with more open areas for pasture. On the other side of the River Trujala the peak of Navalcaballo rises majestically upwards, while the unmistakable silhouette of Navalperal can be seen in the distance.
The hamlet of UMBRIA DE CABEZA GORDA is situated in a sun-kissed location and surrounded by typical Mediterranean woodland vegetation. It is an isolated settlement laid out around an open area of land that was once part of the old threshing floor. Nearby, cherry trees and a cheerful fountain welcome visitors to this charming spot. The buildings are traditional structures that have barely been modified since they were first built, although the most outstanding attraction here is the view: the hamlet is a natural viewing point over a breath-taking landscape presided over by the majestic crags of Calar del Cobo and Puntal de la Misa. There is a delightful, unmarked route leading from the hamlet to the nearby village of CABEZA GORDA, which lies on the other side of a hill known as the Morro de Cabeza Gorda, or “Snout of the Big Head”.
LA ESPINAREDA is one of the park's most enchanting villages, owing to its location near the ruins of the diminutive Espinareda Castle, which gave the village its name. The village features narrow streets, whitewashed walls and small roofs that extend out to touch the sides of the slope itself, in addition to a covered rail that marks a viewing spot with superb vistas out over the rest of the valley. The ruined castle is particularly impressive, due to its elevated position and the remains of rammed-earth houses and other buildings around it. From its highest point you can look out over most of the valley and to SEGURA CASTLE, which is directly opposite, along with the Moorish towers of Santa Catalina and Orcera a little lower down.
The economy in this mountain area has always been based on agriculture, livestock farming and forestry-related activities. Historically, there were big landowners whose magnificent houses are still preserved in the towns, and small farmers, craft workers and people related to logging activities who supplemented their domestic economy with vegetable patches close to the banks of nearby streams.
Nowadays, the regional economy is based on the olive groves which grow on the Nature Reserve's mountain slopes, making them less profitable compared to the groves in other areas of the province of Jaén. Nonetheless, they produce top quality extra virgin olive oil awarded with the Sierra de Segura Guarantee of Origin and the Sierra de Cazorla Guarantee of Origin.
Another mainstay of the local economy is the Segura sheep, a breed native to the Segura Mountains that is raised in the Nature Reserve and many nearby regions. Segura lamb has its own Protected Geographical Indication –a certification similar to the guarantees of origin– that is making this outstanding product known to consumers and boosting the livestock farming industry.
Tourism has emerged as a thriving industry over the last twenty years, though it is unevenly distributed
Mountain folklore was closely related to everyday life and events like the Day of the Dead, San Antón Day, weddings, Carnival and the matanza (traditional pig slaughtering and subsequent feast). Courting and the rituals observed during the engagement period are never missing, accompanied by risqué comments and plays on words.
Many towns in the Nature Reserve have regional dance groups that keep the local folklore alive. Prime examples are the malagueñas of Siles, the jota of Benatae, the Los Cristos dance in Beas de Segura, the seguidilla in Segura de la Sierra, the malagueñas of Puerta de Segura, the fandango of Chirichipe, the Jota del Remeneo, the bolero of Villacarrillo and the fandango robao of La Iruela and Cazorla.
Every town has centuries-old traditional festivals, such as the LUMINARIAS, bonfires around which the townspeople sing and share food washed down with a type of local sangria called CUERVA. The festivities of Santa Lucía, San Antón and the Candelaria are still celebrated.
CHRISTMAS is an occasion not to be missed. An entire village of FONTANAR close to POZO ALCON is transformed into a 'real life' Nativity, with 250 actors re-enacting the birth of Jesus. The town of HUESCA holds a festival in honour of San Silvestre, in which the townspeople draw lots for the offices of captain, standard-bearer and guinche, and dress in 18th century uniforms to accompany the saint in a religious procession through the streets.
In February, VILLANUEVA DEL ARZOBISPO and other towns hold a religious procession followed by festivities in honour of San Blas, whereas Puerta de Segura and others prefer to launch thousands of fireworks.
EASTER processions are held in every town during HOLY WEEK, the Passion and Death of Jesus are re-enacted. In SEGURA DE LA SIERRA, practically all the residents have a role to play and they make use of the prettiest places in town to do the Stations of the Cross.
In May, altars with crosses are decorated in many towns and villages to worship the Virgin Mary. Spontaneous altars are set up and the locals hold a vigil during the night over a Cross adorned with sheets, flowers and aromatic plants. In CAZORLA, the CASACOLADA also takes place in May, to celebrate San Isicio's Day. It consists in lighting little oil lamps made from empty snail shells and placing them along the route followed by a religious procession in honour of the saint. The Corpus Christi religious festival is heralded in many towns by covering the streets with flower petals, rushes and other materials.
Many romerías (religious processions followed by festivities), are held year round at the sanctuaries of Tiscar and Fuensanta. The romerías held to worship the Virgen del Campo, Santa Quintana and San Isidro are also very popular.
Bulls are run through the streets of almost every town, and most notably in Iznatoraf and Santiago de la Espada. Arroyo del Ojanco and Beas de Segura celebrate San Marcos by releasing a large number of bulls on the municipality's streets.
The Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas takes the traveller back to a time when wildlife dominated, and not mankind. To be surrounded by such natural beauty, wilderness, vast skies and dramatic scenery is both breath taking and awe inspiring.