A wander near Ronda: Spain’s empty quarter

Andalucía’s first parque natural is pretty unknown, yet Sierra de Grazalema is a stunning wild place of peaks, gorges, hilltop villages and vultures

A goat farmer told me no one swims in the lake at Zahara de la Sierra because it’s full of fish with crocodile heads. Is that why I’m the only person in 128 sq km of cool water on a very hot day? I later learn that this manmade lake (embalse), the mountain ranges to the south of it, and the cliffs, gorges, flower meadows, forests and caves all around are simply, for the most part, empty. Spain has a surplus of staggeringly beautiful wild spaces, but this one – almost 54,000 hectares north-east of Cadiz, overflowing into the province of Málaga – became the country’s first Unesco biosphere reserve in 1977. And Sierra de Grazalema became Andalucía’s first parque natural in 1984.

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