The province of Málaga presents to nature lovers as varied and inspiring a territory as can be imagined. This is especially true of its interior but there are also large and surprisingly well-preserved spaces displaying nature with all her beauty intact along the teeming coastal fringe that is the usual destination of heavy tourist traffic.
The diversity of Málaga’s territory—many do not hesitate to call it a small continent—comes from its complex terrain. It is extremely mountainous except in the northern part where fertile and well-tilled plains spread over the Antequera lowlands. The rest of the province is a succession of mountain systems, some with peaks rising above 2,000 metres. This explains the abundance of paradisiacal valleys that have been formed by rivers and streams, the leafy plant cover that in some cases is adorned with such unique species as the Spanish fir, and some singularly beautiful rock formations that are considered true marvels of nature.
Málaga boasts 23 protected natural spaces that are classified as natural parks (Sierra de las Nieves, Montes de Málaga, Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama, Los Alcornocales and Sierra de Grazalema); natural areas (Acantilados de Maro, Desembocadura del Guadalhorce, Los Gaitanes Gorge, Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja, Sierra Crestellina and El Torcal de Antequera); nature preserves (the lakes of Fuente de Piedra, Archidona, Campillos and La Ratosa); greenbelt parks (Sierra de Gracia, Dehesa de Mercadillo and Pinar del Hacho), or natural monuments (Pinsapo de las Escaleretas, Tornillo de El Torcal, Cañón de las Buitreras, Falla de la Sierra del Calamorro and Dunas de Artola or Cabopino).
The excellent surface communications that link all the regions to one another and to the city of Málaga allow quick and easy access to the most secluded corners of the province although some especially rugged areas must be entered by foot or all-terrain vehicle, as the case may be. The most scenically and ecologically remarkable spaces have been designated as natural parks, natural areas, nature preserves, greenbelt parks or natural monuments, and are subject to certain rules that are necessary to maintain their environmental balance.
The Ronda Mountains stand out above all the other places in Málaga that invite one to enjoy nature in all her splendour. Within them are found the natural parks of Sierra de las Nieves, Sierra de Grazalema and Los Alcornocales, and the valleys of the rivers Genal and Guadiario.
All these places share certain characteristics due to their physical proximity, such as generous precipitation that makes possible luxurious plant life. At the same time, however, each presents certain peculiarities that make it a unique landscape. These places are genuine living nature museums where one can finds traces of ancient cultures, observe enormously interesting flora and fauna and enjoy unsurpassed scenic beauty. That being said, the true “trademark” of these parks and spaces—especially Sierra de las Nieves and Sierra de Grazalema—is the Spanish fir. This beautiful species, a legacy from the Ice Age, has survived due to the special conditions in these surroundings.
The Sierra de las Nieves Nature Park is made up of the municipalities of Alozaina, El Burgo, Casarabonela, Guaro Istán, Monda, Ojén, Tolox and Junquera, which are remarkable for maintaining a perfect state of balance with relation to the environment. It has been designated a Biosphere Preserve and within it are found both the province’s highest peak, the 1,919-metre Torrecilla, and the deepest chasm in Spain, the GESM, which has been explored to 1,098 metres.
Both the Sierra de Grazalema and the Los Alcornocales natural parks share their areas with municipalities in Cádiz. The Málaga towns included in the former (Benaoján, Montejaque, Cortes de la Frontera, Jimera de Líbar and Ronda) are filled with history and some of them, such as Ronda, possess an exceptionally interesting historical and artistic heritage.
The rugged terrain of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park has formed such unusual caverns as the Hundidero-Gato complex, the largest cave in Andalusia to be carved out by an underground stream, and the La Pileta Cave in Benaoján, which is world famous for its beautiful prehistoric paintings.
Only one village in the province of Málaga, Cortes de la Frontera, penetrates the boundaries of Los Alcornocales Park. Cañón de las Buitreras, designated as a National Monument in Andalusia, is found here. The waters of the River Guadiaro have carved out a splendid crevice that in some areas exceeds 100 metres in depth. This park is noteworthy for containing the most extensive cork oak forest on the Iberian Peninsula and one of the largest in the world. Through it flow several waterways that diversify and enrich these exceptional lands.
The Genal and Guadiario valleys wind through the aforementioned parks, but in their own right they are landscapes worthy of a trip along their respective rivers.
How to get there
It is advisable to enter these areas by way of Ronda. From the city of Málaga take the A-357 highway towards Campillos. After going some six kilometres beyond Ardales, take the A-367 which, after passing through Cuevas del Becerro, leads straight to Ronda. Another approach begins at San Pedro de Alcántara. The A-376 highway turns off from the AP-7 (N-340) and you should stay on it until you get to Ronda. If coming from Manilva by way of the AP-7 (N-340) take the A-377 to Gaucín and there take the A-369, which connects with the A-376 just three kilometres before you arrive at Ronda.
The Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Natural Park, on the easternmost edge of the province of Málaga, separates the extensive La Axarquía region from the territory of Granada. This is a formidable mountain mass that serves as a barrier between these Andalusian provinces and provides an impressive backdrop for the villages that seem to seek shelter on its slopes. These mountains, which include the 2,068-metre peak of La Maroma, have traditionally been a bottomless well of legends dealing with rebellions, poaching and smuggling, and even of well-documented remarkable historic events.
Nerja, Frigiliana, Cómpeta, Canillas de Albaida, Salares, Sedella, Canillas de Aceituno and Alcaucín are the Málaga municipalities that nestle on the slopes of these mountains. Several of them make up the so-called Mudéjar Route.
One of the remarkable things about the Tejeda Mountains is that, in the municipality of Nerja, their foothills sink into the sea to form the Los Acantilados de Maro-Cerro Gordo Natural Area, perhaps the most spectacular coastal landscape on the Costa del Sol. Its virgin coves, accessible by all-terrain vehicles provided by the Autonomous Administration, are a lure to anyone who enjoys peaceful beaches with the sea providing an incomparably beautiful background.