Nature and landscape - Jaén Paraíso Interior
A LUSH, ENERGETIC AND DIVERSE LANDSCAPE
There is a verdant paradise in southern Spain: the Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas mountain ranges. Only here can you experience the luminous blue of Mediterranean skies, the pure white snow of mountain peaks and the rich green of the largest forested area in Spain. This magical combination of light, high mountains, extensive forests and tiny villages is unequalled anywhere else in the country.
The Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park's vast expanses of rugged, mountainous territory are truly awe-inspiring. Human presence in these mountains takes the form of more traditional activities, which allows for a balanced landscape dominated by the forces of nature. However, it can also be homely and welcoming, with its whitewashed villages, crystal-clear rivers and streams and attractive olive groves.
A BALANCED, LUMINOUS CLIMATE
The natural park has an extremely balanced mountain climate. It could be defined as a continental Mediterranean mountain climate, implying a number of great contrasts (although these would be somewhat mitigated by the park's altitude). However, if we compare the park's climate to that of other mountainous regions in Spain it is very difficult to find another location that boasts the same balanced proportions of light, temperature, rainfall and snow.
Here, we do not suffer those interminable winters in which the unceasing rain and snow forces everyone to stay indoors for months on end, nor do we suffer those torrid summers in which it is an ordeal to leave the safety of the shade during daylight hours.
While the park's mountains have strong personalities and their own individual climate-related characteristics, none of them take it to the extreme. There are cold spells, certainly, above all in the higher regions, when it is time to enjoy the snow and relax by the fire. However, winter in the lower areas is more than bearable. And while there are also periods of hot weather, the omnipresent mountains and abundant plant life temper the heat and ensure the nights are always refreshing. Moreover, summer is the perfect time for a walk in the shade of the pine forests in the higher reaches or along the banks of the rivers and streams. Of course, the balance and temperance of spring and autumn make them the most pleasant seasons. And if it is light you are after, do not forget that this is airy, luminous Andalusia.
Fossils showing that this area was once a sea, spectacular mountains and rocky outcrops, folds, faults, ravines, caves and chasms can all be seen in the natural park and speak of a story that challenges our minds to navigate through timescales far beyond our normal perception.
In the section entitled "Where the Land Speaks" you will find detailed information on 27 places where you can see the marks left on the park by geological movements that are immensely strong yet so slow that they are practically unnoticeable from a human perspective. The section entitled "A Prodigious Landscape" provides information on the park's terrain and its fascinating geological formations.
Geologically, the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park forms part of the mountainous area of Andalusia known as the Baetic Cordillera, which extends from Cádiz to Jaén and continues through the province of Albacete to the Levante, where it disappears below the surface of the sea and later emerges to form the Balearic archipelago.
The park's mountains are the best representation of the Prebaetic section of these mountain ranges, formed mainly by carbonate rocks, limestone and dolomites, with an abundance of fossils and intermediate marl and detrital layers, mainly sandstone.
WATER ADORES THE NATURAL PARK
The River Guadalquivir, the body of water that breathes life into Andalusia, has its source in the Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park. For this reason, it is said that Andalusia is born in these mountains. The River Segura also begins here, and so the park is the source of the two rivers that generate the most wealth in the south of Spain. The abundance of water in the park is something you will marvel at, and it proves particularly refreshing to the senses in the context of the area's Mediterranean climate. Water adores the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park. It is irresistably drawn to the park's mountains and forests and flows through the landscape by as many routes as it can find. Water flows across the surface of the park, shaping the landscape and forming valleys, ravines and canyons; it works its way into the very heart of the land and carves out an enigmatic world of caves and grottoes. It travels via plants and animals, brings life to even the most inaccessible corners of the mountains and allows itself to be harnessed by humans, collected in serene reservoirs between wooded slopes or used to provide vital irrigation for orchards and olive groves.
When you first step into the park you will feel as though you are standing under a protective, welcoming green dome, beneath which you will encounter a surprisingly large variety of plant life. Finding out about the park's flora, taking photographs or just contemplating the countless beautiful plant specimens is an immensely satisfying experience, here in one of the few natural spaces of its kind left in Europe.
A bird's-eye view of the Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas mountain ranges shows the impressive extent and density of the park's forest cover, which is the largest wooded area anywhere in Spain, while a more detailed examination reveals the even more impressive variety of species that make up this vast tract of woodland: over 2,200 species of stem plants are known. In other words, an area that does not even account for 0.5% of peninsular Spain is home to no less than 25% of the country's plant species.
Some of the most outstanding plants in the park belong to the beautiful and sophisticated orchid family: 52 species grow here, which is over half of all those that can be found in the Iberian peninsula.
THE PARADISE OF THE SOUTHERN MUSHROOMS
For mushroom lovers, the Natural Park of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas is simply a paradise, both for the variety of species and for the great abundance of specimens. The collection of níscalos -here called guíscanos- (Lactarius deliciosus, L. sanguifluus) is a true popular sport for the inhabitants of the park, that every autumn throw themselves passionately to the pine groves to return home with great baskets full of this delicacy.
Many other edible mushrooms are popular, such as the cuckoo thistle mushroom (Pleurotus eryngii), the cagarria (Morchella esculenta, M.conica, M. elata), the poplar mushroom (Agrocibe aegerita) and the stump mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus). Especially coveted are the exquisite mushrooms known as umbrella (Macrolepiota procera) and spring mushroom or St. George's mushroom (Calocybe gambosa).
FEEL A PART OF THE VIBRANT FABRIC OF LIFE
In few places in Europe you will be able to see so many wild animals in full freedom as in the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas Natural Park, where the Iberian fauna has an exceptional refuge.
Get excited in that magical moment when your gaze captures the mountain goat climbing up unlikely rocky ridges. The deer, the fallow deer and the mouflon will also appear in any corner. You will contemplate the family groups made up of females and youngsters, even large solitary males. The friendly native squirrel will surprise you playing acrobat in the woods. If you look at the sky, you will be surprised how easy it is to contemplate the griffon vulture dominating the snowy highlands and embedded valleys with leisurely flight. And if you are lucky you will see an animal that today is the pride of the park: the bearded vulture.