A day out in El Torcal.
We set out from Trabuco armed with a picnic and a map to explore Parque natural el Torcal, a national park covering some xxx hectares is set in the mountains some 13 kms from Antequera. Rather than go via Antequera, we decide to take the more direct route via the motorway. Big mistake! Try as we might we could not find the signs for Villanueva del Conception, the town closest to the park headquarters. We leave the A92 at one of the junctions that seems likely candidate only to get completely lost in the confusion of T junctions and roundabouts that seem to multiply at each of the motorway junctions in these parts. Add to this the lack of signage and it is some 20 minutes before we find ourselves driving on a winding mountain road through yet more amazing mountain scenery. The drive takes us along a narrow, roughish road, along a huge valley valley with many farms scattered along the valley sides. Olives are much less prevalent here, being replaced, it seems, by goats and almonds. We can see for miles and miles but the rain clouds seem to be gathering which does not bode well for our imminent hike through the limestone karst scenery of Torcal Alto. After some 15 kms, we reach the mountain town of Villanueva del Conception, a pleasant town which is lot larger than small rough roads leading to it had led us to expect. We find a sign to El Torcal and begin to climb up the other side of the valley.
This truly is a spectacular drive and we stop at a couple of places along the way to admire the view before the growing clouds begin to obliterate it completely. Continuing our climb up the sides of the valley, our small cars struggles a bit to cope with the steep hills but we make it in the end into the park itself. The farmland gives way to ever more rugged scenery as the limestone outcrops loom ever higher above us. By this time the cloud has descended and visibility decreases to around 20 m and, although the visibility is limited, the limestone crags, combined with the rolling mists makes it all very spooky and atmospheric. We resign ourselves to the fact that our hike will not take place as there will be little to see, added to which the temperature has dropped considerably and, every time we get out of the car we are shivering in our shorts and tee shirts!
Arriving at the park HQ we resolve to just get some information on the various walks on offer and to return another day when the weather affords us better viewing opportunities. Walking in to the centre the manager asks us if we would like to watch a short video explaining the history of the park which starts in a few minutes. Looking at the weather outside, we decide that 15 mins watching the video would be time well spent. The video, in Spanish , with English subtitles is very informative and provides a great insight into the geology and history of the area. The Spanish soundtrack accompanied by the English subtitles, is useful not only for improving our understanding of the area, but also for our Spanish language skills which are desperately in need of improvement.
By the time we have come out of the video presentation the weather has improved dramatically, the clouds are lifting, the sun is shining and we decide to check out the walks through the karst scenery directly from the HQ. There are two routes, the green and the yellow. The total distance covered by both is around 4.5 kms and should take a couple of hours.
The paths are well marked and meander through the most amazing rock formations we have seen since we were in the north west of Argentina. Steep sided, mini canyons lead off in every direction, steep cliffs and pillars carved into weird shapes by the wind and rain are everywhere. With every step we take there is something new and amazing to see. Quite why we have never heard of this place before, I really don't know. Having visited many UNESCO World Heritage Sites over the years, I am amazed that this isn't included and that we have never heard of it before. Anyone Andalucia should certainly place this high on there list of places to visit.
The walk through the canyons and rock formations is truly inspiring. At every turn and around very corner, there is a great view and something new to see. The silence adds to the grandeur of the place. Or at least it does when there are no groups of Spanish visitors around who seem incapable of doing anything quietly. But even a few noisy groups doesn't detract from the place too much as the topography of the places means that the rocks shield you from any extraneous noise, just by speeding up a little and getting around the next corner.
By now, we have clear blue skies which serves only to accentuate the dramatic rock formations. The downside being that the temperature has increased, probably by around 15c. The walk is described as being of easy to moderate difficulty, the only really challenging part is to keep looking at where you are placing your feet as there are many small rocks around and it would be very easy to trip. Along the way there are so many splendid sights it is so hard to describe it in words.
We finally make our way back to the park HQ and take a short walk out to the viewpoint from where it is apparently possible to catch a glimpse of the Malaga coastline. Clear though it now is, we can't quite manage to see the sea, although the views are undeniably impressive. We find a gate which leads to the "red route" which looks as though it leads out along the cliffs to provide a totally different perspective of the park. Spectacular indeed (although I am not great with heights!) but we have done enough for one day and we have plenty of time here so we decide to come back again and explore further, probably in the early morning or late afternoon when the light will be better for photographs.
Having spent a most enjoyable few hours in El Torcal Alto, we continue onwards along the road to Antequera to do our shopping for the weekend. Thankfully, this route is much more direct and a lot shorter than the way we came to the park. On the way back we stop at a parking stop to observe a group of 5 or 6 Griffon Vultures soaring in the thermals high above our heads. These magnificent creatures are massive, apparently reach wingspans of up to 3 metres. A sight to behold. Sadly we didn't spot any of the Golden Eagle which also inhabit the park.
A great day out and we really aren't sure why the tourism authorities don't make a lot more of this place than seems to be the case. Maybe there are lots of more impressive sights to see in the region? If so, I can't wait to find them! Highly recommended for any visitor to Andalucia.
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A day out in El Torcal.