Posted by Julie Day on July 14, 2015
Guide to the Best Areas of Natural Beauty in Spain

Anyone who really knows Spain, those who have ventured away from the coastal resorts popular with the tourist masses and explored the ‘real’ Spain will already know that this is a country with some truly exceptional areas of natural beauty.

With so many different types of ecosystems where you’re guaranteed to find everything, be it arid landscapes, mountains, lakes, forest, wetlands, valleys, cliffs or beaches, it’s difficult to choose which are the best to write about.

But, we have done so, and here’s our guide to the best natural areas of the country, which are all distinctive in their own rights for their variety of flora, fauna, natural resources, ecological richness and diversity of landscapes.

If you’re looking for somewhere to go, away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life, the following places should be on your must-see list of places to visit.

Parque Nacional de los Picos de Europa – Asturias, Cantabria, Castille and León

Parque Nacional de los Picos de Europa

The Picos de Europa mountain range now encompasses Europe’s largest national park of the same name, although it was formerly known as the Montaña de Covadonga National Park from 1918 up until 1995. It is the oldest national park in Spain, and was awarded the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation in 2002. The park straddles three different autonomous regions: Asturias, Castille and León and Cantabria. Due to being so large and covering such a great surface area, the landscape is extremely diverse depending on where you are. Very popular with visitors are the deep mountain lakes of cold clear water, and those unable to cope with the tough mountain climbs are delighted by the verdant valleys and deep, winding gorges. This is also where the famous Cabrales creamy blue cheese is made. The stunning nature reserve is home to a fantastic diverse wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, deer on land, while the lakes are home to plenty of trout, salmon and otters. Looking up to the skies, you might be lucky enough to spot a few eagles, bearded vultures and griffin vultures.

Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido – Pyrenees of Aragón

Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido

This designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site sits on the border between Spain and France in the Pyrenees in the north-eastern region of Aragón. It is a fantastic mixture of different features that you would expect to find in a spectacular mountainous region: glacial canyons, limestone massifs, cliffs, mountain streams full of trout, waterfalls, conifer forests, hostile crags and deep chasms. The best way to explore this national park is on foot, and, in fact, much of the area is only accessible this way. It is best to visit during the spring and summer months and follow one of the numerous well-marked trails. These routes aren’t for the faint-hearted or weak-willed, although there are some routes that are easier than others. Walking boots are essential, and if you’re tackling the mountains, proper climbing equipment is a must. The village of Torla sits at the entrance to the park and is a popular starting off point for many visitors. One of the best routes to follow is the Torla to the Circo de Soaso via the Cola de Caballo, a breathtaking 70m-high waterfall, a good place to stop, rest and take in the natural beauty.

Parque Nacional de Doñana – Huelva and Seville, Andalusia

Parque Nacional de Doñana

The Doñana National Park is one of Europe’s largest areas of wetlands. Today it is known to be a major conservation zone due to the enormous variety and volume of different species of birds that either inhabit the area all year round or migrate for a short stay during the summer or winter months. The park spans an area of more than 1,300 square kilometres, over the Andalusian provinces of Huelva and Sevilla and consists of three different types of ecosystem: the marshlands, the Mediterranean scrublands and the coastal dunes, some of which are up to 30m high. As the dunes are situated in the path of the prevailing Atlantic winds, they shift and change shape continuously. Doñana is also home to the rare, elusive Spanish lynx, of which there are about 60 pairs left. They are not seen very often, as they are very shy mammals that tend to only come out into the open at night. Doñana receives around 400,000 visitors a year. Access is limited and controlled in order to preserve the landscape as much as possible and to ensure minimal environmental impact and deterioration. The best way to see the park and its impressive wildlife is by taking one of the official guided tours available.

Parque Nacional de Aigüestortes y Estany de Sant Maurici – Lleida, Cataluña

Parque Nacional de Aigüestortes y Estany de Sant Maurici

This is the only national park located in the region of Cataluña and receives fewer visitors than some of its more well-known neighbours. It isn’t any less spectacular than the others, or any other location situated within the Spanish area of the Pyrenees. The park, named after the Sant Maurici Lake located in the east and the “aigüestortes”, or literally the ‘twisted waters’ of the west, covers an area of 102 square kilometres. Inside, you will find about 150 crystal-clear water lakes, waterfalls and tarns, which held deep glaciers in days gone by. Many of the walks and trails around the lakes offer truly stunning scenery and amazing views, together with the chance to spot a wide variety of flora, fauna and wildlife. During the summer, this park is a popular destination for lovers of walking in nature, while during the winter, it is perfect for skiing.

Las Médulas – León, Castilla y León

Las Médulas

This ancient gold-mining site used to be the most important gold mine established by and belonging to the Roman Empire. The Romans settled in the area which is now Ponferrada in El Bierzo in the province of León and in 1 A.D. began to exploit the natural gold deposits of the region using hydraulic power. When the Romans left several centuries later, the site was left devastated and now is a dramatic example of a lost landscape partly shaped by the weather and time and partly interfered with by man. Visitors are usually left stunned by the panorama, which comprises kilometres of greenery peppered with numerous rocky hills that seem to be covered in gold. Las Médulas has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is noted for its cultural and archaeological relevance.

Parque Natural de las Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas – Castilla-La Mancha and Andalusia

Parque Natural de las Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas

The 2,099 square kilometre natural park covers an expanse of 23 different municipalities around the province of Jaén. It is the largest protected area in Spain and the second largest in Europe. It has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a Special Protection Zone for Birds, and is one of the most visited natural environments in the country. The park is popular with hikers and boaters, who enjoy spending time on the Rivers Borosa and Toba. The route from Millar to the Anguijones Caves is also a well-travelled one. As well as the many tourists that visit this area of natural beauty, quite a number of deer, mountain goats, wild boar, vultures and eagles and the Spanish ibex like it there as well.

Selva de Irati, Navarra

Selva de Irati

Not everyone is aware of just how different the landscape is in the northern half of Spain. The Irati Forest located in the region of Navarre in the Pyrenees is the perfect example of this. It is the second largest and best preserved beech and fir forest in Europe, only after Germany’s Black Forest, and seems a truly magical place once you are there. You probably wouldn’t be surprised if a few fairies or elves popped out from behind some trees! Contained within the Irati Forest are the protected areas of Mendilatz and Tristuibartea, as well as the Lizardoia Integral Reserve, which is situated at an altitude of between 850 and 1,125 metres. The whole of the natural area is irrigated by the Areta and Salazar Rivers, the hundreds of trout and salmon-filled tributary streams that run off from them and the Irabia Reservoir. The forest can be covered by bike or on foot throughout the whole year, and the mountainous areas are perfect for skiing in the winter. There are numerous routes of varying degrees of difficulty and length that will take you across the whole of the forest. The highest peak is at the top of Mount Ori at 2,017m.

Parque Natural del Cabo de Gata-Níjar, Almería, Andalusia

Parque Natural del Cabo de Gata-Níjar

The natural beauty of the Mediterranean coast is perfectly captured in the Natural Park of Cabo de Gata-Níjar, set in the province of Almería in southern Spain. The area consists of towering cliffs of volcanic rock, impressive sand dunes, natural, unspoilt beaches of fine, golden sand and a dozen or more hidden and secluded coves. The area above the sea is a sight to behold, but that’s nothing compared to what’s below the water. With a stretch of protected seabed that’s 2km wide, it is a haven for divers and snorkelers, many of whom travel long distances to come and explore the area in search of sea life and hidden treasure.

Parque Nacional del Teide – Tenerife, Canarias

Parque Nacional del Teide

The Teide is the highest mountain (and volcano) in Spain, its peak rising to a spectacular 3,718m. The park that surrounds it is the most visited national park of Spain and has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Due to its unique landscape and scenery, it has been the site for numerous Hollywood films including The Fast and the Furious, One Million Years B.C. and Clash of the Titans. As well as the mountainous and rocky areas in the Teide National Park, there are also beautiful expanses of flat land, such as the inhospitable badlands of Las Cañadas, which were created by the collapse of some of the most ancient craters and are home to some of the most rare and striking plants and flowers, some of which are unique to Tenerife. One of the craters is the Caldera de las Cañadas, which has completely collapsed inside yet is surrounded by a rim of fractured crags. The Roques de García are amazing forms of lava rocks, always photographed by visitors in their thousands, while the rocks of Los Azulejos sparkle a bluish-green colour in the sun due to the deposits of copper contained within them.

Valle del Jerte – Extremadura

Valle del Jerte

For a place to visit during the first months of spring, the Jerte Valley is up there as one of the best. This valley located in between the Tormantos and the La Vera Mountains is where at least half of all the cherries cultivated in Spain are grown. The sight and smell of the white cherry blossom in late March and early April is wonderful and one that attracts thousands of visitors a year.



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