The sheer size and scale of Cazorla Natural Park reminds me of some the great national parks of North America, such as Yosemite.
With over 2000 square kilometres of stunning nature, that encompass the sierras of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas, this park is Spain’s largest protected area, and one of Andalucía’s greatest natural assets. Immense forests, towering mountains and some Spain’s most important rivers, make this a very special place. It is also home to a huge diversity in flora and fauna and a great place to relax, or get active with hiking and canyoning.
It’s about a four to five hour drive from Marbella to this north Eastern corner of Jaén province, in Eastern Andalucía; passing across Málaga province, into Granada province and past the impressive Sierra Nevada and on into Jaén province.
The province is best known for its olive oil, with Europe’s largest groves and an increasing number of distinctive oils protected by ‘Denominación de Origen’ status, including D.O. Sierra de Segura and D.O. Sierra Mágina.
The province is sparsely populated but visitor numbers at weekends and during holidays swell the campsites, villages and towns of the natural parks.
It’s been a long held ambition to visit Cazorla and the occasion was our first anniversary, so we escaped for a few days mid week to take advantage of great weather and a peaceful park.
The town of Cazorla on the edge of the park has little of note, although the old town is picturesque. It is a good place to take a break before driving up the steep and winding roads into the park.
We stayed at the Parador – it’s a three star place, so simple but it is in the heart of nature, down a five kilometre dead end, so it is very peaceful. It is an old hunting lodge, from the turn of the century, so not built with much charm, but if you pay a little extra, you get a room with a view – and it really is a room with a view!
Alternatives include the more upscale Coto del Valle lodge, but this is on the valley floor, so has a road passing by. Villages within the park, like Arroyo Frio have plenty of hotels, B&Bs and ‘casa rurales’ for rent.
Although the natural environment is exceptional, the built environment is somewhat disappointing with most villages full of typical characterless new build, and the people are, well let’s say, ‘of few words’. Jaén is by no means sophisticated or cosmopolitan. What you see is what you get, and interactions in bars restaurants etc with local folk can be simple and a bit blunt – there isn’t the natural warmth you find in Malaga or Cadiz provinces.
The walks and scenery though compensate for everything. From the Parador you can step out and walk straight away – no need for a car; but get a good map! On the day we arrived we stepped out for what was meant to be a quick 55 min circular route, before heading back for tea and thanks to the dodgy photocopied map from reception and my desire to explore, we needed up completing a 3 hour, 11km walk and arriving back at 9pm, just in time for drinks and dinner!
Paradors specialise is menus that reflect the locality of each hotel, so I enjoyed a meal of wild game that was excellent; starting with appetisers of game pâtés; followed by a rabbit stew and then Javelina wild boar or ‘Jabalí’ as they are called in Spain.
Within a few kms drive of the hotel there are two of the most popular walks in the park, which are accessible to almost all – well signposted, and maintained paths take you through some of the best the park has to offer:
‘Sendero Cerrada de Utrero’ – this is an easy 2km circular route that takes in a spectacular gorge and waterfall.
‘Sendero Río Borosa’ – this is probably the park’s best known route through the extraordinarily beautiful gorge of Borosa river – it’s a full days walking (3 or more hours there and then the same to return) but we got distracted by the inviting crystal clear waters and never completed it! This is a pity as it takes in some amazing sites, so I look forward to returning.
Here is one of my pictures from a trip to Cazorla published in a travel supplement: