Sierra de Grazalema and Gibraltar – natural history

A prime destination for lovers of spring wildlife in the Mediterranean, amid dramatic limestone landscapes.

Our holiday starts in one of Andalucia’s most stunning Parks, the Sierra de Grazalema, home to many species of orchids and endemics. Our base is the enchanting village of Grazalema, from where we venture out into surrounding hills, a haven for the Spanish Pinsapar and Spanish Ibex, often spotted on mountain crests.

The old town of Ronda, overlooking the deep Tajo Gorge, is our destination one afternoon. We will look for botanical treasures, such as Ornithogalum reverchonii, the Afro-Iberian endemic Biscutella frutescens and a gem of a silvery-white knapweed Centaurea clementei. Cliffs, crags and caves provide excellent niches for Black Wheatear, Rock Thrush and Bonelli’s Eagle.

We will find open limestone areas with good flower meadows and explore the area around the failed Hundidero Dam, where carpets of Orchis mascula ssp olbiensis should be seen. On another day we experience the wildlife associated with ‘dehesa’ landscapes of oak woods. A visit to the Cueva de la Pileta is a must if you relish Palaeolithic cave paintings.

We drive south to Gibraltar, which looms out of the Mediterranean, steeped in pre-history and Moorish architecture. Overlooking North Africa, the Rock is well placed to observe the spring bird migration and provides opportunities for spotting endemic elements in its flora, including the Gibraltar Candytuft. We visit the Upper Rock, admire the views and amble down this Jurassic limestone outcrop, stopping to look for reptiles and flowers. Of course, the Barbary Macaques will welcome us to this UK overseas territory.

Dates

22 – 29 March 2017

Leader

Charlie Rugeroni

Price

£1,635
Single Room Supplement – £170

Included

Return flights from the UK. Local transport on excursions as specified in the itinerary. Seven nights’ accommodation, full board basis (except lunch on Day 6).

Not included

Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing. Gratuities. Travel insurance.

A week in this little-visited corner of Iberia, enjoying the beautiful village and limestone hills of Grazalema, spring migration and the distinctive local culture of Gibraltar.

Day 1 – From Malaga we set off for Grazalema, to our hotel at the heart of the Natural Park Sierra de Grazalema.

Day 2  – We explore the wildlife around Grazalema, a pueblo blanco, surrounded by high cliffs. From a stunning viewpoint we scan the hills and cliffs for Red-billed Chough and Alpine Swift; far below Iberian Pool Frogs sing. We visit a reservoir on Sierra Morena where we scrutinise a flower meadow, before a visit to the ruins of a chapel above the village.

Day 3 – We head for the dramatic Garganta Verde, an impressive gorge, home to a large colony of Griffon Vulture.  We retrace our steps to the high Sierras where we walk to the famous ice-age relict forest of Abies pinsapo, the magnificent Spanish Fir confined to three Sierras in Andalucia.

Day 4 – We begin our day along the River Gaduares where we should encounter stream flora, a variety of orchids and interesting herpetofauna, such as Western Three-toed Skink, Ocellated Lizard and both Large and Spanish Psammodromus. Onwards to Villaluenga del Rosario and a stop at the western end of an impressive doline, before we head for damp meadows at Benaocaz in search of Lax-flowered Orchids and Lesser Kestrels.

Day 5 – We visit the spectacular Cueva de La Pileta (optional) and its palaelolithic rock paintings dating from 50-20,000YA. We then visit the flowery slopes above Montejaque near some olive groves; a lovely, typical valley of the Sierras where spring arrives a little earlier than in Grazalema. Ronda; Hemmingway’s most romantic town in Spain, is our next destination. Moorish and Roman influences abound in this most appealing of Andalucian towns.

Day 6  – We head west to Benamahoma where we walk along a path beside a river crossed by means of small iron bridges. Time-permitting, our next stop will be El Castillejo Botanic Gardens devoted to local and endemic plants of the Sierras, before we come face to face with one of the Pillars of Hercules; the Rock of Gibraltar, looming out from the Straits.

Day 7 – We zoom to the top of the Rock in a cable car to explore the limestone outcrop. Depending on time we will visit the magnificent St Michael’s Cave, see birdringing in action, witness spring migration and enjoy Gibraltar’s endemic plants, Barbary Partridge, and garrigue vegetation. Of course, the Barbary Apes will be around to welcome us.

Day 8 – A morning visit to Europa Point with its endemic Gibraltar Sea Lavender will bring our holiday to a close, before we travel to the airport and back home.

Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.

In the Sierra we stay in the Casa de Las Piedras Hotel, a friendly and comfortable 19th century building, with en-suite rooms, in Grazalema, a typical ‘pueblo blanco’. In Gibraltar our accommodation is the well-established Rock Hotel, decorated in the colonial style. Rooms are en-suite and all have superb views of North Africa and Spain.

The holiday is full board (with the exception of lunch on Day 6), with all meals provided during the stay comprising local, North African and international dishes. We will have picnic lunches prepared by the hotels. Special diets can be accommodated.

Our travel during the trip will be by minibus or small coach.

 

The group flights are with Easyjet from London Gatwick.

22 March depart London Gatwick 09.35, arrive Malaga 13.25
29 March depart Gibraltar 11.30, arrive London Gatwick 13.30

It is possible to fly to Malaga from Manchester and Edinburgh, but the only flights back from Gibraltar are to Gatwick.

Spain and Gibraltar at one hour ahead of UK time.

If you hold a British passport, you do not currently need a visa to travel to Spain. If you do not have a UK passport, please check with your local consulate.

At this time of year we could experience clear skies with bright sunshine, occasionally cloudy days, with showers always a possibility. Temperatures should be around 10 degrees centigrade in Grazalema and nearer to 15 degrees in Gibraltar. In winter, the Sierras can be very wet – which should give rise to plenty of flowers in the spring!

On most days we are walking for much of the day, albeit at a slow pace. The walks (all under three miles long), on rough or man-made surfaces, take in some hills with short sections of steeper slopes (on days 3 & 5). Walking boots are essential. All excursions are optional and there is plenty of wildlife and local culture to see in Grazalema should you choose to enjoy a day in and around the village.