It’s hair dryer blowing in your face weather and I’m craving fresh air and exercise. Not doable in this heat, even turning my head too fast produces a film of sweat on my forehead. Really, it’s that hot. So in lieu of anything more strenuous I’m writing up this post I started back in April after a hike in the stunning natural reserve of El Torcal.
We’d been hearing about how we had to go to Torcal for ages before that, but weren’t sure what or where it was, so I looked it up and found this picture:
I thought it was man-made – it looks like some kind of megalithic burial site, right? In fact it’s all natural. It’s part of a natural karst landscape (fancy word for limestone), one of the most important in Europe and one of the most surreal places I’ve ever visited.
It is part of a nature reserve in the Sierra del Torcal mountain range located just south of the city of Antequera. We set off bright and early one Saturday morning cross country from Sedella and just over an hour later arrived at the small village of Villanueva de la Concepcion at the foot of the Torcal range.
From there, you wind your way uphill to the car park, visitor centre and trail heads. I was expecting to spot traces of Torcalishness all the way up, a pile of stones maybe, but no, nothing from here:
Be patient, all the spectacle is on the plateau right at the top of the mountain.
From the car park, there are three colour-coded routes to follow – one 1.5km, one 2.5km and the longest 4.5km. They are well marked but you are advised to stick to them as you could very easily get disorientated off-trail.
Once you leave the cars and noise behind and start on the trail you quickly feel like you’ve stepped in to another world, or at least I did.
Immediately it’s like you’ve entered some kind of silent city of rock.
There are no views to the outside, you are completely enclosed by this new almost urban-like landscape
There are towers and pillars everywhere
One minute you’re tredding a well-worn path
the next you’re squeezing through a tiny alley
and then all of a sudden you emerge on to another big open grassy plaza
strewn with flat rocks.
Here’s Ray soaking up some rays.
A bit about the geology
Amazingly, this whole area was under sea until one hundred million years ago. The current rock was back then the seabed, formed by marine sediments layed down in horizontal layers over millions of years. Then an earthquake or some sort of volcanic event forced it upward into hills and mountains up to 1,300m above sea level, but the limestone still kept its layered horizontal formation.
Over the millions of years since, the rain and wind have chiseled away at these layers to form incredible shapes. Many of these shapes resemble, and have been named after, everyday objects such as the Sphinx, the Jug, the Camel, the Screw, etc. Lots of underground caves were formed including the famous Cueva del Toro (Cave of the Bull) where Neolithic artifacts have been found.
That feeling of déjà vu again..
Walking through this landscape felt other-worldly yet I kept feeling like I’d seen this place before, on TV maybe? At the time we were glued to Game of Thrones, could it be that? Or some sci fi movie? I kept feeling like a bunch of ewoks were about to appear from behind a pillar of rock or that we were going to stumble upon a nest of dinosaur eggs or something.
It also reminded me of The Burren area in Ireland where we used to live before we moved to Spain. Here’s a pic:
It’s a natural limestone landscape also. No it wasn’t that either.
I was thinking of books I’d read like The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings and reminded of Stonehenge even though I’ve never been there. I know, sounds like I was tripping off my head, but something was really nagging at me.
Then a few days later, light bulb moment, watching Ray’s favourite movie The Croods for the hundredth time, it hit me! This is a still from the movie:
You see the similarity?
And then also!! Another movie which my kids had been recently watching was El Lince Perdido which is set in Andalucia and contains a scene, the landscape of which is Torcal itself! Here’s another still found on the internet:
Phew! so I wasn’t going slightly insane after all.
This isn’t a walk I’d attempt at this time of year – it’s way too exposed. But maybe somewhere nice for late September when temperatures are dropping. It’s pretty flat all the way, though you have to constantly step over rocks and things so it’s a good work out for the old calf muscles. And it’s very short so definitely doable even with small children.
At the end of the trail is a mirador (viewing point) with great views out over the valley below. If you’re lucky you may spot a griffon vulture circling overhead.
There’s a shop, informative exhibition area and restaurant.
How to get there
El Torcal is located about 30 km north of Málaga city in the direction of Antequera.
From Málaga head 20km north on the A45 to KM 148 and the village of Casabermeja, then head west on the A7075 to Villanueva de la Concepcion and follow signs for Antequera. The road leading up to El Torcal is 3km after Villanueva de la Concepcion on the left hand side.
From Antequera, El Torcal is 15 km south on the A7075 on the right hand side descending into Villanueva de la Concepcion.
Last year El Torcal came third in the El Mejor Rincon de Espana (Top spots in Spain) list as voted for by the Spanish.
The Torcal Visitor Centre web site
Tourist web site about the surrounding area of Antequera