Cazorla to Tranco Drive
The A319, heading northeast from Cazorla, passes through La Iruela then enters the parque natural 6km later at Burunchel, from where it winds 6km up to the 1200m Puerto de las Palomas pass. The mirador here affords wonderful views northward down the Guadalquivir valley and can be a fine spot for observing raptors gliding the thermals. Three twisting kilometres downhill from here is Empalme del Valle, a junction where the A319 turns north to follow the Río Guadalquivir downstream to Arroyo Frío (6km) – the most commercialised of the park's villages, with a rash of restaurants, tour agencies and accommodation.
Past Arroyo Frío, the A319 continues 16km along the valley to the Torre del Vinagre visitors centre and the turn-off for the wonderful Río Borosa walk. After another 10km the Embalse del Tranco reservoir opens out beside the road. Several miradors offer panoramas over its waters – often a vivid turquoise colour – as the road continues to the dam holding back the reservoir at Tranco village. From here you have the option of continuing north to Hornos and/or Segura de la Sierra.
Feature: Wild Things
If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, you have to get yourself to the Cazorla natural park. The chances of spotting wildlife are better here than almost anywhere else in Andalucía. Creatures such as red and fallow deer, ibex, wild boar, mouflon (a wild sheep) and red squirrels are all present in good numbers, and are surprisingly visible out on the trails (even along the roads in the case of deer). The autumn mating season (September and October for deer, November for mouflon and wild boar) is a particularly exciting time to observe the big mammals. The park is also home to some 180 bird species, including griffon vultures, golden eagles, peregrine falcons and the majestic quebrantahuesos (lammergeier, bearded vulture), which is being reintroduced here after dying out in the 1980s. In short, get walking and keep those binoculars at the ready!
Feature: The GR247 Circuit
One number crops up on footpath signs in every part of the Parque Natural Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas: GR247. This 317km circuit, subtitled Bosques del Sur (Southern Woodlands), travels right round the park, taking in most of its most beautiful and interesting spots. It's designed in 21 stages, with basic overnight refuges provided where other accommodation is lacking. (The refuges are usually without running water, toilets or cooking facilities, just with boards for sleeping on and a table and benches.) Nearly all the route is cyclable as well as walkable. For detailed information see www.sierrasdecazorlaseguraylasvillas.es/gr247.
Practical Tip: Walk Prepared
The best overall maps for hiking and exploring the park are Editorial Alpina's Sierra de Cazorla and Sierra de Segura. The website www.sierrasdecazorlaseguraylasvillas.es is a useful resource in English, with walk descriptions and maps. Tourist offices and park information offices can also help, but most handouts are in Spanish only.
When walking, be sure to equip yourself with enough water and appropriate clothes. Temperatures up in the hills are generally several degrees lower than down in the valleys, and the wind can be cutting at any time. In winter the park is often blanketed in snow; summer temperatures can easily reach into the 40°C range.
The websites www.ventanadelvisitante, http://guiadecazorlayubeda.com/cuadernodesenderos and (for the north of the park) www.sierradesegura.com have useful walk information and maps, but in Spanish only.
Plenty of accommodation, from hotels and casas rurales (country-house accommodation) to holiday apartments and campgrounds, is scattered around the park. It's advisable to book ahead for peak periods (Semana Santa, July, August and weekends from April to October); outside these times some room rates are reduced.
Many places to stay within the park have their own restaurants, and there's a good number of other eateries, cafes and bars scattered around the park's villages and roads.
Most menus have a meaty focus, including carnes de monte (mountain meats) such as red deer (ciervo) and wild boar (jabalí). There's often local trout or partridge too, and a variety of egg-based dishes and salads for non-meat-eaters.