The Sierra Espuña is a nature park situated in the region of Murcia, a little way inland from the Mar Menor. Travelling from Alhama de Murcia we skirt the edge of the park, and passing through Gebas we have the protected zone of the Barrancos de Gebas (The Badlands!) off to our right.
This is an area of impressive water erosion features, together with a stunning lake which is ideal for kayaking and swimming. The village of El Berro is approached through terraces of almond, olive and fruit trees, and its statue stands proudly over the village. Typically Spanish with it's quaint narrow streets, it remains an aura of times gone by. This is the gateway to the Sierra Espuña, and leaving the village the pine trees become more dense. A short ascent into the park and we are at the foot of the "Valle de Leyva".
This spectacular valley is bordered by the Morron de Alhama, 1444m in altitude, with vertical cliff faces which are a challenge for confident climbers. A small path off this valley takes us to the footprint of a dinosaur set in a rock. This dates back many millions of years ago when the Espuña was covered by an inland sea, evidenced by seams of salt still showing within the park. Journeying on we have the impressive building of the park's information centre, "Centro Interpretación Ricardo Cordoniu". Named after the forest engineer who planned the re-forestation of the park in the late 1800's, this centre displays the history, flora and fauna of the park. Nearby we have Fuente del Hilo, a picnic area where most afternoons visitors can see wild boar feeding. These boar are quite used to seeing the public, but nevertheless are definitely not approachable.
With Fuente del Hilo behind us the climb to the highest parts of the park begins. Popular with cyclists, This is an outstanding climb with many switchback bends. A turning off takes us to the old sanatorium. Originally used for TB and leprosy victims from the 1930's, this large hospital is now derelict, and exudes an eerie feeling in the forest setting.
Continuing up to the collado, the views open out giving you the reality of the altitude. Collado Bermejo gives you the opportunity to stop and admire the views, and if you're on a bike, time to get your breath back. From this point you can see as far as the Sierra Maria in the direction of Granada, and look up to the highest point in the park, the Espuña. Access is not allowed to the peak due to a military base there, but some cyclists and walkers do defy the wrath of the guards to reach the top.
It's in this area that we find the "Pozos de la Nieve". Massive amounts of ice were produced here from over 20 ice-houses, starting in the late 1500's. Two "Pozos" have been restored, together with information boards for visitors. Descending towards Totana a viewing platform has been built overlooking the village of Aledo. A short walk brings you to the "Yeso" quarries (yeso is the plaster used on internal walls in Spain.). Ovens are positioned nearby which were used to dry the yeso so it could be used for construction. This area has seen centuries old paths reconstructed both for walkers and mountain bikers.
More switchback bends, this time downhill, bring us to the Alquerias area with more picnic areas, and onward to the exit of the park and Aledo.
Footpaths allow access to virtually every area of the park, whether on foot or by mountain bike, ranging from gentle strolls to full day hikes. Wildlife such as moufflon, wild boar, squirrels, foxes and birds from crossbills to woodpeckers to birds of prey can all be found in the park. The Espuña has so much to offer the visitor, and residents, that I hope this brief tour gives ou the inspiration to take in its atmosphere.
This article was kindly contributed by Mark Langton of La Mariposa, which is a small rural hotel on the edge of the Sierra Espuña.
As well as the hotel, Mark also organises all sorts of adventure activities in and around the Sierra Espuña; guided walks, mountain-biking, quads, kayaking, parascending, etc.