For years I have wanted to experience La Doñana National Park.
Located in the west of Andalucía, in the province of Huelva, this vast reserve, one of Europe’s most important marshlands and nature sanctuaries includes a variety of habitats from pine forests, horse ranches, and wetlands together with vast, moving dunes on one of Europe’s longest stretches of undeveloped coastline.
Of course this winter has been one of the driest on record, so the wetlands have shrunk back considerably this year, especially when one considers the competition for water now posed by neighbouring development and the extremely thirsty strawberry plantations, the biggest in Europe. In fact UNESCO has warned Spain that the park is under threat from the amount of illegal farming around the park and associated illegal water wells.
Yet despite all this we saw an abundance of wildlife, including storks, flamingos, coots and all manner of wetland birds, and in the forests were Booted Eagles, Short Toed Eagles, Black Kites, Turtle Doves, Hoopoe, Hares, Foxes, lizards and snakes.
Access is strictly controlled, so you must go with a guide. We were lucky enough to have a private guide, a Biologist, José Angel Villegas from Discovering Doñana.
One can stay in El Rocio the wild west town, famous for its annual Romeria and Pilgrimage or Sanlúcar de Barrameda and take the ferry across the Guadalquivir estuary to the virgin beaches and dunes of the National Park.
El Rocio a huge church, dedicated to the Virgin of the Rocio. The sandy streets are lined with family houses, designed to accommodate large groups for celebrations all in the name of Catholic Festival.
Wooden bars line the streets, for people to tie up these horses, and there are even bar tables at horse height so you don’t have to get off your horse to enjoy a drink!
We took a tour of the town on segways with NatureWay, following the route of the Virgin de Rocio procession, and taking in the main sights (including the 800 year old wild olive tree, standing next to one o the ancient, original El Rocio cottages. Supposedly the owner lives to over a hundred and all she took, when she felt ill, was an infusion of leaves from the olive tree!)
The Segways are a really fun way to get around! These models are all terrain models as the streets are just sand.