El Estrecho Natural Park

A Little Arcadia in Algeciras!

El Estrecho natural park

Et in Arcadia ego

In springtime, some of the world’s top natural history experts gather at Huerta Grande Eco-Resort for El Estrecho Natural Park Nature Fair.

There are lectures and workshops, whale and dolphin trips and front row seats at the greatest aerial show on earth: the annual spring bird migration from Africa, across the Gibraltar Strait.

Let’s hope no one has as much trouble finding the place as we did!

You’d think it would be easy to locate the entrance to El Estrecho Natural Park – an area 30 times the size of The Rock – and its neighbour, Los Alcornocales, the world’s largest cork forest, twice the size of Barcelona!

But if you blink you’ll miss the turn-off to Huerta Grande Visitors’ Centre on the Algeciras-to-Tarifa coast road, where you can get maps for hiking and biking the nature trails in both parks.

El Estrecho Natural Park

Secret garden in El Estrecho Natural Park

 

The signpost is illegible from a moving car, even when you’re looking for it. We overshot it three times!

(Check out this map reference and our video below on how not to.)

When you finally figure it out (take a sharp right turn up a one-in-four gradient into Pelayo village, a sharp left turn into a tunnel under the coast road, then along a service road to a proper sign), you’ll be very glad you did.

I thought Arcadia only existed in classical paintings and Greek and Roman mythology.

El Estrecho natural park

Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire,The Arcadian or Pastoral State,1836

 

But if any place could be a model for that mythical pastoral paradise, it’s El Estrecho in springtime, tumbling down to the sea like a natural Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The artist Thomas Cole may have thought so. Isn’t that the Rock of Gibraltar in the background of his famous painting of Arcadia?

 

 

Butterflies, wild flowers and IMAX cinema views of wheeling kites and buzzards, projected against the blue screen of the sky, are added attractions at this time of year.

 

 

How odd to find Arcadia on the doorstep of Algeciras, dismissed by many (but not me) as a soulless industrial port city. Check out the proximity in this video.

Quirky Huerta Grande was once a summer holiday camp for military top brass, and an open prison for General Milán del Bosch, one of the ringleaders in 1981’s failed coup d’état against King Juan Carlos.

Our arrival at the Visitors Centre brought forth a barking dog and its owner, Rafael Cerpa, one of the park wardens, who talked us into buying two packs of walking routes before taking us on a tour of his domain.

He showed us:

  • The nest of the largest arachnid in Europe, known as the bull spider because it lifts up its front legs like horns to scare prey. (Not everything in the garden is lovely)!
  • Arum lilies growing wild, and the largest remaining laurel forest in Europe (so much more pungent than the dried bay leaves you buy in the supermarket)

 

  • The habitat of the mammoth wasp, which grows to 6cm in length and only emerges in spring (when it lays its eggs in the larvae of the European rhinoceros beetle, ugh)!
  • The Spy House, from where Italian and German secret agents monitored shipping movements in the Strait during WW2. Today you can rent it for holidays

 

There’s also a refuge for injured birds, an observatory with bird feeders, a practice rock-climbing wall, a cafe and a 3D mosaic model of the coastline, designed in the style of Gaudi. Migres bird-watching centre also has a base here.

Later, enjoy a drink or lunch overlooking the beautiful gardens at Meson de Sancho.

El Estrecho and Los Alcornocales are part of the Mediterranean’s much bigger Mediterranean Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve, an area five times the size of Madrid.

The parks lie at the crossroads between two continents and two seas – the Land’s End of Europe!

El Estrecho natural park

Sign language

 

Have you seen how many signposts Land’s End has?

Just one (decent-sized) sign for Huerta Grande wouldn’t go amiss…

Don’t miss the Estrecho Nature Fair, on from March 27-29 … if you can find it!

 

Our video will help you … unless you suffer from sea sickness … as it’s a bit like riding the rapids!

For your free guide to my Beckett List 2015 – one great trip for every month of the year – scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe and you will receive a copy by email.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.