Friday, 21 October 2011

And a fairy appeared. In the surreal, ghostly, foggy land where the roaring wind came up from the Genal Valley and the soaring Spanish firs reached up the sky. There she was, on a rock. She was pointing at a path in the wall of clouds. And she was smiling.

Zooming In

Sierra Bermeja is crowned by a cluster of clouds. Pure white against the deep red background of the hills, the primitive green woods, and the bright blue sky. An unknown paradise in the middle of nowhere, hidden in the fog. The land of fairies and dwarfs and elves and maybe Tolkien’s orcs and hobbits too. The native Spanish firs rock their proud branches in the wet north slopes of the massif. The south slope defiantly faces the sea. On clear days, when the fairy takes off her cloudy tiara, Sierra Bermeja makes an extraordinary landscape: a colourful 3D map of Costa del Sol Occidental. On foggy days it morphs into a more intimate setting –a darker, powerful, secret place inhabited by imaginary beings. Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja sit on a red mountain. Red, bermeja, ochre. And a fairy lives in them.

Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja Natural Area

Three privileged villages share Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja: Casares, Estepona, and Genalguacil. Each of them owns a different piece: viewpoints for Estepona, Spanish firs for Genalguacil, and pine forests for Casares. It is a spectacular natural area, with majestic peaks (Pico de Los Reales is 1,450m high), great woods, and lots of animal species. Moreover, Los Reales is the habitat of two species that had never been seen before: the Spanish fir (a type of fir native to the Mediterranean region) and the Egyptian mongoose (a rodent of the Herpestes genus). Los Reales is remarkable for its bright red colour (hence the name of the sierras), the result of the peridotite that makes the massif, whose largest area in the world is to be found here. Moreover, the population of Spanish firs in the area is the only one growing on this type of mineral soil. There are many reasons to come to Sierra Bermeja. The fact that it is such a peculiar landscape is one of them. Its surface area is 1,236ha, 100 of which are covered with Spanish firs. It is also a 35km-long natural border between Ronda and the sea. It is 1,000m high on average, its highest peak, Pico de Los Reales, being 1,450m high. It is a protected natural area housing 250 tree species and 60 different species of butterflies. The annual average temperature is 14 ºC to 17 ºC. Several hiking trails cut across the area. The best known is Paseo de Los Pinsapos. It is 4.5km long and takes 2 hours to complete (one way only). It also gives you the chance to spot impossibly old and amazingly tall Spanish firs (they can be up to 400 years old and over 30m high). There is a shelter open on weekends where you can have a cup of coffee, a hearty stew or tripe, or even a typical mountain dish. On clear days, the Salvador Guerrero viewpoint is a must. It is a real roof overlooking Costa del Sol Occidental and its overwhelming landscape.

Spanish Firs and Egyptian Mongooses

Spanish fir (pinsapo) and Egyptian mongoose (meloncillo). Curious names. A tree and a rodent, together in Sierra Bermeja. The Spanish fir was discovered by the Swiss botanist Pierre Edmond Boissier. A few years later, the German botanist and pharmacist Felix Haenseler, who had settled in Málaga, spotted a rodent he had never seen before and called it “meloncillo.” Egyptian mongooses were introduced in the Iberian Peninsula by the Arabs. They were great snake hunters and highly appreciated as pets. They are also called “hairy snakes,” given their longish bodies and bristly fur, or “devils of the bushes.” The Spanish fir, or Abies pinsapo, is a species of the Abies genus and the pine (Pinaceae) family native to southern Spain and northern Morocco. It is related to other Mediterranean trees. Pinsapos are elegant evergreen trees growing 20m-30m tall with a conic crown, sometimes become irregular with age. They have a thin light-grey bark with darker shallow cracks. The leaves are 1.5-2cm long, expanding outwardly all round the shoots, and are strongly glaucous pale blue-green, with broad bands of whitish wax on both sides. The cones are cylindrical, 9-18cm long, greenish-pink to purple before maturity, and smooth with the bract scales short and not exerted. When mature, they disintegrate to release the winged seeds (description source: Wikipedia). Pinsapos are peculiar and majestic trees, rising up in defiance when young. Their branches lend them the looks that make them so peculiar, and the fact that they are native to a single region makes them valuable from the biological and environmental points of few. In sum, they are worth seeing.

The Tour

Coming from Estepona on a warm, clear morning, I soon realise there is a white crest covering the peaks of Sierra Bermeja. As I drive up along sharp bends, I leave an increasingly large landscape behind: Costa del Sol, Estepona, San Pedro Alcántara, Sierra Blanca, Pico de la Concha in Marbella, Sierra de las Nieves… After 15km, I come to a crossroads. To the right, Jubrique. Straight ahead, Genalguacil road and mountain trail). To the left, Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja. A bunch of tourists from Germany are sitting in several off-road vehicles in an open area. The narrow mountain trail leading to Los Reales looks so foggy. In I go. I move slowly and cautiously. The asphalt road is covered by thousands of pine needles. Paseo de los Pinsapos is 2.5km ahead; the shelter and the viewpoint, 4km. Welcome to the Magic Kingdom. The road seems to move in circles. Silhouettes seem to live in the haunted trees, appearing and disappearing as I drive on. And then there is the bright red earth too. A particularly sharp bend to the left marks the beginning of Paseo de los Pinsapos. The roadside can hold two or three cars only. As I get out, the fog wraps me in, just like it wraps in the landscape. I get ready to go. It is magical. On a clear day, the views of the Genal Valley must be spectacular. Today, however, shrouded in this thick fog, everything looks different, special. I must first get to Plazoleta de los Pinsapos. The wet, bright green forest glitters in the fog. The Spanish firs go all the way down to the valley at my feet. I seek. They hide. The white clouds swallow them up and then throw them out. The downhill trail is clearly signposted. Some stretches are quite rocky, so watch your step. The Spanish firs greet me with wide open branches, like long-armed men. Moss paints the rocks in green. The bushes brush past my legs as I walk. The ghostly atmosphere spurs my imagination, so that I can see gnomes and elves under the first mushrooms, or cunning orcs hiding behind a thick tree trunk, or hobbits stepping stones. But I had never thought I would come across a fairy. There she is, standing on a jutting rock. She is wearing a flower crown and a white and yellow dress. Her eyes are blue. Her dress is fluttering in the wind. She is carrying a drum in her right hand, and is ready to beat it. She is smiling. What a surprise! A fairy! She is telling me which way to go as she smiles. I say goodbye to her and, still jaw-dropped, I move on. The landscape shows and vanishes. Slopes covered with green bushes and fenced in by tall Spanish firs and some gall oak. The reddish earth guides my steps. The trees are looming above me. I overcome a few hurdles. The rocky watercourses find their way down into the valley. I move easily past them. This wood is brimming with life and magic. You can listen to nature here, breathing close to you. The roaring wind pushes the fog from the valley. Dew drops fall on the ground and echo in the leaves under my feet. This forest is inhabited by ghosts and magic creatures. I take a look at the most peculiar feature of Spanish firs: their needles. When I come to a bridge across a watercourse, I look down to feel the overwhelming power of nature. Then I take the trail up to Plazoleta de los Pinsapos. On a plate you can read García Lorca’s lines about trees: “Árboles / ¿Habeis sido flechas / caídas desde el azul? / ¿Qué terribles guerreros os lanzaron? / ¿Han sido las estrellas? / Vuestras músicas vienen / del alma de los pájaros, / de los ojos de Dios / de la pasión perfecta. / ¡Árboles! / ¿Conocerán vuestras raíces toscas / mi corazón en tierra?” (Trees! / Have you been arrows / falling down from the blue sky? / What fearsome warriors threw you? / Was it the stars? / Your sounds come / from the soul of birds, / from the eyes of God / from the perfect passion. / Trees! / Will your rough roots know / my heart on the ground?). Plazoleta de los Pinsapos is a crossroads leading to Pico de Los Reales (2.2km) or Puerto de Peñas Blancas (3.5km). At the small square, stone benches surround four huge Spanish fir specimens, kindly inviting travellers to rest. Not long ago, someone built a tiny shelter for a single person in case of sudden weather changes. A hideout rather than a shelter, but there it is. I take a seat, drink some water, have a snack. I am quiet. I listen to the sounds of the woods: groans, murmurs, songs, undulating whispers… The fog, like a magician, shows things to me and then makes them disappear. If the weather forecast had not told me it would be overcast, I would have climbed all the way up to Pico de Los Reales or Puerto de Peñas Blancas. But it is wise to be cautious in this weather, so I am heading for the recreational area and the viewpoint.. On my way back, I do not come across anybody. Deep in thought and silent, I gaze at the wilderness that sucks me in. I walk across the bridge and watercourse. I let the pinsapos touch me. I come to the jutting rock, but the fairy is no longer there. Of course, she is a graceful and delicate fairy of the woods. You cannot expect her to keep still. Or maybe she was just a figment of my imagination…

Viewpoint and Shelter

I shake the mud off my shoes, drink some water and get in the car to drive all the way up (cautiously). I reach an open area and a crossroads showing the way to Pico de Los Reales, the Los Reales recreational area (120m), and the Salvador Guerrero viewpoint (1km). I leave the car here and start walking along the mountain road. After a 5’ walk, I can see a ghostly building in front of me. It is the Agustín Lozano shelter –a white house with a huge wooden door built in 1899. The whole thing is quite creepy but suddenly… two kids rush out of the shelter. I say hello and see a few brave tourists sitting inside. The shelter is also a tavern. I will come back later. I move on, as the fog gets thicker and thicker. The Salvador Guerrero viewpoint –a spur ready to split the Mediterranean– is wrapped in it. A blind viewpoint. A viewpoint in the dark. I know the sea must be there, the coastline must be there too, but I cannot see anything. And the lashing wind hits my face. When I visited Genalguacil on June 30, 2009, I came here too. It was a sunny day. I think I will use the pictures I took then to illustrate this blog entry! I retrace my steps along an invisible trail, hidden under the thick fog. I go back to the shelter and greet the mountaineers and hikers there. I can smell the stew. A strong smell. Too early, though. I can even hear the pot bubbling on the stove. I am told the shelter is open on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays and they serve the menu of the day: stew, tripe, cabbage, mountain foods like loin, eggs, chorizo, potatoes, peppers… A great plan for a holiday. I order two coffees and take a seat in one of the four long wooden tables in the big room. An austere place indeed. I can smell the fireplace, although it is not burning today. This winter, on a really cold day, I will come back and try one of those hearty dishes by the fireplace. I must do it. The kids keep playing.


The fairy gets her agile feet off the rock and takes off. She sees how two silent travellers leave the Spanish firs behind and are swallowed up by the fog. She keeps track of them. She knows they are on the right track. She swiftly flies away, vanishing in the trees like a shooting star.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Hiking: This is an ideal place for hikers. The wild trails are well prepared. There are all kinds of routes, from easy to difficult. You can find them on the Net. A Visitor’s Window Into Natural Areas contains three of them.

Useful links: To learn more about Sierra Bermeja, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Government of Andalusia, A Visitor’s Window Into Natural Areas. The Casares, Estepona, and Genalguacil Town Hall websites also contain useful information.

Images: Here you can see all the photos of this blog entry.

Geolocation: Find the exact location of this Protected Natural Area on the Google map below.

Ver El Color Azul del Cielo "Espacios Naturales de Málaga" en un mapa más grande