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FOUR SPANISH NATURE ESCAPES THAT HIGHLIGHT SUSTAINABILITY
 
(2023 - Winter/Spring Issue)

Writer: ADAM BISBY



Spain punches far above its weight when it comes to natural preservation. While the country is the world’s 51st largest by land area, it is home to more UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, 53 in total, than any other nation on Earth.

That said, quality outweighs quantity. Spain’s national park system spearheaded the 1973 creation of the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (ECST), which works to combine sustainable visitor experiences with environmental protection. On the eve of the charter’s semi-centennial, 44 Spanish preserves have earned ECST certification, with the four that follow standing out as iconically Spanish, and uniquely sustainable, natural destinations.

Sierra Nevada National Park

Embracing environmentally sustainable tourism is as easy as putting one foot, wheel or ski in front of the other in Sierra Nevada National Park. The preserve’s 25 multi-day footpaths, 13 cycling routes and 100 kilometres of downhill ski trails criss-cross stunningly scenic landscapes. Over 15 mountains top 3,000 metres, including Mount Mulhacén, the highest peak in the Iberian Peninsula. Picturesque villages, such as Barranco del Poqueira, Bubión, Capileira and Pampaneira, welcome visitors into a culture that has co-existed for millennia with the mountain goats, wild boars, golden eagles and griffon vultures that populate the park’s lush meadows, oak forests and pine groves.

Muniellos Biosphere Reserve

There may be nowhere better to practice forest bathing than this 56,785-hectare woodland preserve in the province of Asturias in northwest Spain. For the uninitiated, forest bathing provides physiological and psychological benefits simply by spending time amid natural greenery, and with the Iberian Peninsula’s largest oak forest blanketing the mountains of Muniellos, La Viliella and Valdebois there is no shortage of that here. The majestic oaks are joined by birch, holly, ash and beech trees, all of which make up the leafy habitat of brown bears, wolves and wild boars. With just 20 visitor permits issued daily, anyone exploring the park will feel totally secluded. Hiking trail details are provided at a visitor centre set on a ridge of Las Vachinas Peak between the scenic mountain villages of Oballo and Moal.

La Garrotxa Volcanic Area Nature Reserve

Accessed from the Romanesque architecturally rich Catalan city of Girona via a sustainable and bike-friendly rail trail, this 15,000-hectare preserve is dotted with 38 dormant volcanic cones and 20-plus long-hardened lava flows. Among the former is the 789-metre Croscat, which at around 11,000 years old is the largest and youngest volcano on the Iberian Peninsula. Once it enters the park, the 54-kilometre rail trail is joined by more than 25 footpaths, many of which link the volcanic sites to 11 towns.  Each urban centre lends a unique cultural mosaic that blends remarkably well into the surreal landscape and rich ecology of Garrotxa.

La Palma Biosphere Reserve

Few places on Earth are as thoroughly and sustainably protected as the most north-westerly of the Canary Islands. At the heart of La Palma’s lush landscape is Caldera de Taburiente National Park, much of which is cradled in a jaw-dropping crater spanning more than eight kilometres and topped by the panoramic Roque de los Muchachos viewpoint. To the north, the Las Nieves Nature Reserve is home to the lush laurisilva forest of Los Tilos, which was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1983. To the south, the Cumbre Vieja Nature Reserve is littered with volcanic cones and carpeted with Canary Island pines, firetrees, laurisilva and heather. By night, the lack of air and light pollution has earned the island “Starlight Reserve” status from the Starlight Foundation. No wonder La Palma’s nickname La isla bonita means “the beautiful island.”

Europe’s highest hams?

From Sierra Nevada National Park’s El Dornajo Visitor Centre, guided horseback riding excursions explore the ancient whitewashed villages of Las Alpujarras. At 1,486 metres above sea level, Trevélez is said to be one of the highest towns in Spain, and is justifiably famous for its mountain-cured hams.

 
 
 
 
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