Parque Natural Sierra Maria-Los Velez

Cortijada Los Gázquez is in the heart of the 22,562 hectare (56,000 acre) ‘Parque Natural Sierra Maria - Los Velez’.

Altitudes cover a range from 700 meters (2297 feet) to it’s peak, the Sierra Maria, at 2045 meters (6709 feet).

The natural park is in the north of the province of Almeria in Andalucia and is straddled by the four towns and villages which make up the ‘Comarca de Los Velez’. Maria, Chirivel, Velez Rubio and the beautiful Velez Blanco, crowned with the 16th Century ‘Castillo de Los Fajardos’.

Rainfall is an annual average of 400mm, and receiving over 3100 hours of sunshine a year it is Andalucia’s sunniest province. As a consequence it is a landscape of extreme contrasts. The arid plains of the ‘alta plana’ give way to snow capped and heavily forested northerly slopes of pine, whilst the southerly slopes are dry rocky outcrops of limestone.

There are approximately one hundred species of bird here including seventeen species of bird of prey, and you have the opportunity to see a plethora of other flora and fauna.

The natural park is also home to two UNESCO world heritage sites. ‘La Cueva de los Letreros’ is a cave of prehistoric drawings dating back to 4000 BC, including Almeria’s Neolithic provincial symbol, ‘Indalo Man’. ‘La Cueva del Gabar’ also contains prehistoric paintings and can be visited with the aid of a guide.

Cortijada Los Gázquez represents twenty hectares of the natural park and resides in a place called ‘La Hoya de Carrascal’. Hoya being bowl or basin and Carrascal is a plural of Carrasca, the Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera). It is more of a shrub than a tree and it’s leaves are small, shaped like a holly, and the cups for it’s acorns bristle with spines.

Here run the Wild Boar, the Ibex, the Genet, the Roe Deer and the Mongoose. And scratching above, on the trunk of a pine tree, the half meter long Occilated Lizard, a flash of green and blue, hunts for the eggs of the Woodchat Shrike, the European Black Redstart, the Jay and the Jackdaw, the Black Eared Wheatear and the Golden Oriole.

Walking through our terraces of almond you see Hoopoes in their swooping flight, their crests raising and falling, searching for insects amongst the Tassel Hyacinth, Tangier Pea and Pitch Trefoil. Then above you hear calls, repeated calls, binding armies of Bee-Eaters together, only breaking their exploratory flights in a ‘prise de fer’ on their quarry. Rarely a day will pass when the ground isn’t crossed by the shadow of a Griffon or Black Vulture, often so low you can hear the air brush through the flight feathers.

And when silence falls upon this wild menagerie you know that in the middle distance, between the baked earth and the kettle of vultures searching for thermals on the Sierra Larga, comes the Eagle. Golden, Short Toed or Booted they call and call as if abandoned before changing tack and quartering the forested slopes in an ambush on prey.

This is a beautiful place, a primal place, somewhere worthwhile spending time.