Deciding on my Top 10 NATURAL Attractions in Spain proved even more complicated than creating the previous list of Top Historical Attractions in Spain. Whilst I’ve visited just about everywhere of historical note I still haven’t seen all the country’s natural beauty spots. You might be surprised to hear that Spain is Europe’s second most mountainous country after Switzerland. It has nearly 5000km of coastline and almost 10% of the national territory is designated as some type of national park in what is a very ecologically conscious nation.
These are my top 10 natural places to see. They are in no particular order:
Picos de Europa Mountains
These mountains stretch along the coasts of Asturias and Cantabria in northern Spain. The scenery is stunning which attracts many hikers and the wildlife is a major attraction which includes many birds of prey and a population of around 60 bears which exist in isolated areas to the south. Beaches along the northern coastline are spectacular in places and there’s nothing like swimming there whilst looking back at the mountains.
Serra de Tramuntana Mountains
Mallorca is best known for its package tourism yet there are few places I’ve ever visited in the world with so much beauty in such a small area. My favourite part of the island is to drive from Pollensa in the northwest through the Serra de Tramuntana mountains to Port d’Andratx in the southwest. Try to go off season when the roads are quiet and stop off at small mountain villages en route.
Where do I begin? The Pyrenees stretch 430km from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean taking in the Spanish regions of Navarra, Aragon and Catalonia. There is no end of activities for the summer months and Spain’s best skiing is in these mountains. A good base for getting around from is Jaca and an essential place to visit for its unbelievable beauty is the national park of Ordesa.
Sierra de Grazalema
High above the Costa del Sol is the popular old town of Ronda which attracts many day trippers. If you get the chance you should stay in Ronda and take a day out to the Sierra de Grazalema which is yet another area of stunning natural beauty. If you’re driving to Seville from Malaga take this route and visit a few of the White Villages (Pueblos Blancos) on your way to Jerez de la Frontera.
Sierra de los Gredos
Just west of Madrid is the Sierra de los Gredos which offers more magnificent scenery and attracts many walkers to its ideal terrain. The original Parador is located here and there’s another fabulous one at Jarandilla de la Vera to the west which provides great access to ancient Monastery of Yuste and to the Valley of Jerte in Extremadura. This is one of Spain’s truly magical sights when the cherry trees are in blossom.
Costa do Morte
The Coast of Death stretches along the wild Galician coast to Cabo Finisterre. It is so named because of the number of shipwrecks that have washed up here after losing their battle against the Atlantic Ocean. Small fishing villages are dotted along the coast and it’s in this area that you’ll discover some of Spain’s finest seafood and white wines.
Mount Teide National Park
The highest point in Spain is actually on the island of Tenerife. Mount Teide (3718m) is accessible by cable car and on a clear day you can see the other islands of La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro from the top. The national park attracts four million visitors a year who come to wander along the many tracks through the park’s fascinating volcanic landscape. It’s quite a contrast to all the green scenery listed above.
Sierra de Guadarrama
North of Madrid these mountains are popular with Madrileños at the weekend but little know amongst foreigners. We used to live (and got married) in Miraflores de la Sierra so I have a soft spot for the region. It’s a great area for walking and there are ski resorts around Navacerrada. For the less active just head for one of the village restaurants for fine roast meat dishes. If you’re driving between Madrid and Segovia this is a longer but much more scenic route than taking the main El Escorial road.
The Alpujarras are the mountains lying south of the Sierra Nevada range near Granada. Driving the winding roads between villages with their flat roofed houses makes you feel you’re in the land that time forgot. Quaint villages including Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira have attracted many north Europeans settlers. Chris Stewart’s bestselling novel “Driving Over Lemons” is set here.
Doñana National Park
Spread across the provinces of Huelva, Seville and Cadiz, Doñana National Park is a unique habitat that attracts a vast number of resident and migrating birds and is home to the rare Iberian Lynx. Half day trips into the park depart from Sanlucar de Barrameda early in the morning returning in time for a superb seafood lunch at Bajo de Guia which overlooks the park.