Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche Natural Park Huelva
Sierra de Aracena & Picos de Aroche Natural Park – Huelva
Natural Park Sierra de Aracena & Picos de Aroche
In the Sierra of Huelva, extending across the province of Sevilla to Portugal is the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche. Its area of 186,827 hectares makes the Natural Park the second largest in Andalusia after the Parque Natural de Cazorla. It consists of 28 municipalities in the north of the province of Huelva and an approximate population of 41,000 inhabitants. It is crossed by a river network collected in three watersheds: the Guadalquivir (Rivera de Huelva – Pantano de Aracena) Guadiana (Caliente, Múrtigas, Ingenio) and Odiel (Rivera de Linares, Rivera de Santa Ana).
We have to mention the municipalities that are part of the Natural Park of Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche: Alájar, Almonaster la Real, Aracena, Aroche, Arroyomolinos de León, Cala, Cañaveral de León, Castaño del Robledo, Corteconcepción, Cortegana, Cortelazor, Cumbres de Enmedio, Cumbres Mayores, Cumbres de San Bartolomé, Encinasola, Fuenteheridos, Galaroza, Higuera de la Sierra, Hinojales, Jabugo, La Nava, Linares de la Sierra, Los Marines, Puerto Moral, Santa Ana La Real, Santa Olalla del Cala, Valdelarco and Zufre.
The “Gruta de las Maravillas” has a great geological and scenic interest, with great size and beauty drilled into the limestone substrate of this mountain, one of the largest of the Iberian Peninsula, with its 1,200 metres length.
The interest of the visit to this Park is justified by the richness of its landscapes of meadows with oak trees, chestnut forests and riparian forests, as well as the quality of their gastronomic products, among we can emphasize the Iberian ham.
In the western area of Sierra Morena, and to the north of the province of Huelva, there is a set of half-height mountain ranges where the domain of slate and quartzite gives the floor a dark colour characteristic, and in which the dominant vegetation is constituted by large forests of oaks and cork trees. There are also limestone materials that break the relief and that have resulted in caves as the Gruta de las Maravillas in Aracena, or resurgences as the Peña de Arias Montano in Alájar. In the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche is possible to find the Iberian lynx, the most threatened carnivore in Europe, and the nutria, an old abundant species and nowadays is only found in the cleanest water streams. However the bear disappeared forever, and just a few decades ago, the wolf.
The special mountain slope of the mountain ranges creates a barrier to the air masses penetrating from the Atlantic determining a high rainfall in the region. The climate is ideal for the development of hardwoods such as chestnut, introduced in Roman times and occupies over 4,000 hectares in the shady areas and higher among Aracena and Cortegana.
Poplars, Corsican pines and umbrella pine and eucalyptus are other alien species that have replaced the original native forest. This is mainly composed of oaks, corks and gall oaks accompanied in the shadows and valleys, and a thicket of kermes oaks, cornicabras and sarsaparilla. In the meadows of Cala y Aroche there area magnificent oaks, relics of ancient forests. In only a few enclaves, as in the one of El Castaño, in Castaño del Robledo, extend some scattered stands or Pyrenean oak trees, a reduced by their use as a source of firewood in the last decades.
At the bottom of the gorges of streams and rivers are colonized by species adapted to wet soils and waterlogged, as willows, alders and ash trees, which sometimes are real gallery forests, as in the case of Múrtigas, downstream from Galaroza.
Despite the changes in the original native forests of the Sierra de Huelva in pastures, orchards and crops the wildlife of the Natural Park is of extraordinary wealth.
Among the species of raptors that nest regularly in the park are the black stork, golden eagle and the lesser kestrel.
The meadows with holm oaks and cork trees provide the habitat to species like the wild cat, genet, fox, marten, and other valuable hunting wild boar and deer, reintroduced in recent years. Here nesting buzzards, black kites and real and the black vulture.
This region of Sierra Morena preserved in their towns and villages a valuable cultural heritage. There are prehistoric remains in Aroche: dolmens and menhirs known as the “Piedras del Diablo”. The Church-Fortress of Aracena, built by the Knights of the Order of Santiago (s. XIV), sits on a limestone hill on which lies the Gruta de las Maravillas, a gallery of over 1 km and open to public since the beginning of the century (1914). Cortegana Castle and the fortress of Cumbres Mayores, Aroche, Cala and Cumbres de San Bartolomé are an important architectural legacy of the past, and a small mosque from the X century in Almonaster la Real. In the village of Zufre you can observe its City Council, a beautiful XV century building, which hosted the views of the Inquisition.
La Peña de Arias Montano in Alájar was the retirement place of this scholar in the XVI century, master of Felipe II. Refuge for centuries of prehistoric man, since it you can observe the magnificent views of the Park.
From the Reconquest and after the repopulation of the saw with Castilians and people from Castilla León, the main economic activity of the mountain is the agriculture and the cattle raising. The extensive cultivation of the chestnut is now a major source of wealth for the region. In the last months of the year the collector crews gather chestnut from the ground. The abandonment of traditional orchards in recent times (Fuenteheridos and Galaroza) has encouraged the development of poplar plantations which occupy the valleys of many river basins in the central area of the Park and are used for timber. There is also chestnut woodwork in Galaroza.
Another traditional use is mining. During the prehistoric, mining activity was linked to the nearby mines of Rio Tinto and there are also indications that there were silver mines near Aracena. Currently there are marble quarries in Fuenteheridos and an iron mine in Cala.
However, the main economic resource of the area comes from the vast expanses of cork, which have led to an important cork industry and the use livestock, mainly pigs. Although it is well known the Iberian pig hams of Jabugo, Cortegana and Cumbres Mayores, in all the villages in the park is possible to find all types of domestic dried meats. They are also typical the crumbs, the “revoltillo” of kid’s tripe, sausage from Cortegana in brandy, the ajo gañán, the guiso de papas chicas in Jabugo and the pie from Higuera de la Sierra where it is also produced the cherry liqueur. After the autumn rains, inhabitants of the Sierra collect various species of mushrooms which produce delicious and tasty dishes: tanas, gurumelos, milk mushrooms…. The homemade sweets are another gastronomic, such as the chestnut cake from Fuenteheridos, the huevos moles in Corteconcepción, acorn cream, etc..
In September, the Peña de Arias Montano welcomes the residents of the villages in the region who come in carts to the Ermita de la Virgen de los Angeles.
The craft pottery is present in some mountain villages, as in Aracena.
The Sierra de Aracena is well known, not only for its attractive heritage, both historical and natural, but for the most resounding of the elements composing its cuisine: the ham. There, where the interior of the mountain is shown as beautiful as the landscape, the possibilities are many; both for a young hiker who spends the night in a camping area and for the most discerning of travellers stay at any of the unique properties that abound in the area.
The variety of the mountain range is reflected in the capacity of its cuisine to offer a range of dining options. More than a hundred dishes are always on the cards and restaurants.
But without detracting from the Iberian pig known as the protagonist of the fame of the Sierra, nowadays, any restaurant in the Sierra de Aracena y los Picos de Aroche offers a wide range of traditional food, thanks to the recovery of their dishes. Therefore, you can taste tanas and gurumelos, two examples of the variety of mushrooms in the area; eating the homemade stews like Cortegana cheek, or the ones that formerly did in certain occupations in agriculture and livestock the Sierra, as the sopa de peso, which was prepared when the farmers marched to the field despite the pigs, enjoy desserts like flan fruit, huevos nevados or very appropriate snowy sweet soup made with chestnuts that abound in the landscape.
This cuisine from Huelva also proposes the rice with cod, delicious in Linares de la Sierra, or the simple and tasty made with cilantro in Aracena, the buns of papas in Galaroza, winter gazpacho in Almonaster, vigil stew from Higuera de la Sierra or the pheasant with coriander or cilantro, from Cortelazor, or mushroom soup in Almonaster. And if you want, to finish there is nothing like the fantastic sweet cream pumpkin, peras a lo pobre or poleás.