Sierra de la Nieves

Set in the very heart of the province of Malaga are the "Sierra de la Nieves" which literally means "Mountain Range of the Snows". They rise majestically above the surrounding valleys and are part of the Serrania de Ronda National Park, which has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

The mountains, although impressive, are not the highest in the region. In no place do they reach higher than 2,000 metres above sea level, the peak being the tip of the "Torecilla" (1919 metres).  This distinction belongs to the "Sierra Nevadas" which, although 120Km away can be seen on a clear day.  Skiing takes place here during the winter especially around "Mulhacén" the highest mountain at 3477 m.

However the Sierra de las Nieves has become renowned as a rich landscape tapestry with profound valleys, flanked by dramatic cliff faces. Bubbling brooks lined with colourful wild flowers and numerous caves are etched into the landscape. More dramatic however, is the abyss know as the "Gesm" with its 1098 metres gap making this the third deepest in the world.

The change of seasons also means that the mountains have a unique beauty all through the year. In the winter for example, the higher peaks will be thickly carpeted with snow as the temperatures frequently fall to minus ten degrees Celsius.

Spanish fir grow to magnificent sizes and the Andalucian Oak tree grows thickly on the steeper slopes, while the more common Cork Oak provides shelter for the wild flora and fauna. Chestnut trees provide a vivid palette of colour against the mountainside especially during the Autumn months, as do the plentiful wild flowers, such as Orchids, Cistus and the carpets of deep lilac heather.

A member of the mongoose family (Herpestes ichneumon - Egyptian mongoose) breeds in the wild - called a "meloncillo" in Spanish. This is the only place in Europe where the animal has been found. Wild Cats (felis sylvestria) the predecessor to our domestic animal can be found as well as the Red Fox (Vulpes Vulpes) which unfortunately is fast becoming extinct due to hunters. The area also had Iberian Lynx until relatively recently but now they are said to none in this area. Unfortunately no one has told the lynx as we have had the wonderful experience of seeing one of them on 2 occasions. Once one walked up towards our house and came as close as 25 m before slowly ambling off on to the Mesa, which has a lot of rabbits, one of their favourite foods. I wasn't able to get my camera in time so I have chosen a picture taken by someone else with their copyright acknowledged. This animal is the most endangered of all the cat species and a big campaign has started to try and save them from extinction. I truly hope it succeeds as it is a magnificent animal.

Among the larger herbivores is the Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica) a typical inhabitant of craggy and rocky places of the Sierra and the symbol of the Sierra de las Nieves - Reserva de la Biosfera. Occasionally these come on to our land in summer on their way to the close by river to drink. Whilst they are normally females we get the odd large male in the late evening.
Small Roe deer (Capreolus) are common here (which also come down to the river to drink), although being easily scared they are harder to spot and tend to live deep in the woods or in the scrub land. We have Spanish Oaks on our land which produce lots of acorns each year. These are very nice to eat, roasted like chestnuts or microwaved for 2 mininutes. Wild Boar  are very partial to them and will come on to the property to eat them. It is best to avoid these animals as they can be quite dangerous

Golden Eagle and Bonelli Eagle inhabit the highest ledges whilst further down, the Peregrine Falcon and Griffon Vulture can be often spied circling between the mountains and valleys. In the wooded areas can be found Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Goshawk and Sparrowhawk. More commonplace birds are the Crested Tit, the Nuthatch and the Great Spotted Woodpecker which are all abundant throughout this region. We have a small population of Little Owls  and these are quite friendly, often sitting on posts in the early morning watching us watering the vegetable patch.
Sometimes in the late evening a huge
Eagle Owl  will glide silently over literally making you jump with suprise. These owls can have a 4 foot wingspan and are gone in a flash. Once we saw one sitting on a post but before I could get my camera it had flown away.

The front of our house faces north and we look at a cliff face known as the Tower of Jorox  which is an overhanging cliff face where Golden Eagles sometimes nest. Sat on our front porch we were privileged to watch a pair raise a chick, teach it to fly and finally at the end of the summer drive it off to make it's own way in life.

Montpelier Snakes can be found which, in some instances grow up to two meters, and are a favourite food of the Short-toed Eagle.
Deep in our evolutionary links is a fear of snakes and many people kill them. Our attitude is that it's us that have moved into their territory and they deserve to be treated with respect.
Another species of reptile is the Eyed Lizard which is the largest in Europe with brilliant green eyes lined with blue, hence its unusual name.

There are numerous small villages dotted around the mountain range, mainly because of the natural resources available here, such as water. Ronda is perhaps the best known small town. Before this, the Romans found the city of Acinipo, an important archaeological ruin, knows as the "Ronda la Vieja (the Old Ronda).

There are other villages which are considered a part of the "pueblos blancos" (White Villages) or serranos "high lands". Two of these are Alozaina and Yunquera, the nearest villages to my house.

This is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.