Doñana and other treasures

Wild, protected nature, good food and age-old traditions are just some of the attractions of the province

The Parque Nacional de Doñana is big protected natural area with more than 100,000 hectares between the provinces of Huelva, Cádiz and Sevilla. The original mélange of land and water created an environment shunned by people but ideal for wildlife. The park has a rich history as a royal hunting estate, property of the Kings of Castilla and the Andalusian Nobility. The National Park was officially created in 1969. The conservation laws protect the precious lynxes and the thousands of bird species such as grey herons, lanner falcons, ring and turtle doves, partridges, oxpeckers, cattle egret, storks and vultures. If you’re lucky you may also catch a glimpse of a Spanish Imperial Eagle, now down to 14 breeding pairs. You can explore the park in a veritable safari jeep and there are organised camping trips for children, as well as audio-visual shows and exhibits. Doñana comprises delta waters which flood in winter and then drop in the spring leaving rich deposits of silt and raised sandbanks and islands. These conditions are perfect in winter for geese and ducks but most exciting in spring when they draw hundreds of flocks of breeding birds. In the marshes and amid the cork oak forests behind, you’ve a good chance of seeing numerous species of the birds and animals that abound here. Doñana is particularly well known for the variety of bird species, permanent residents, winter visitors from north and central Europe or summer visitors from Africa, such as numerous types of geese and colourful colonies of flamingo. Entrance to the park is strictly controlled. You can take half day trips with official guides or explore the environs of the visitor’s centres on foot.

To visit the park take the A483 past Almonte and El Rocío to El Acebuche (near Matalascañas) where one finds the main visitors’ centre. There are trips into the park at 08.30 and 17.00 every day except Sundays in the summer (1/06 – 15/09) and at 08.30 and 15.00 every day except Mondays in the winter. Booking is recommended by phoning the visitors centre on +34 959 430432. Full day trips can also be organised for groups. The visitors’ centre ‘El Rocina‘ is nearer to El Rocío, and it has an audio visual display and nature trail. The park can also be reached (but not entered) by taking the ferry boat across the Guadalquivir river from Sanlúcar de Barrameda where a new visitors’ centre is projected.

El Camino del Rocío, the typical Spanish devotion

Every spring around one million people converge on the shrine of El Rocío, at the edge of the Doñana national park, in the biggest Romería in Spain. The devotees of the Virgen del Rocío take part in a celebration which combines religious fervour and festive color. Many of the pilgrims make their way to the shrine on horseback, in brightly decorated carriages, and multi-coloured caravans that wind across the Andalusian countryside. They dress in flamenco style and perform the traditional Andalusian songs, a mixture of tradition, religion, and a pure flamenco party with good tapas. And, of course, the excellent wines from El Condado de Huelva, the region that in the past was a private property of the counts of the medieval wall protected village of Niebla.

Sierras de Huelva, hills, forest, and good food

In the north of the province lies a mountainous area famous for its magnificent groves of chestnut, which are well-suited to the more Atlantic climate in this region. The Sierra de Huelva has a very diverse flora and fauna and the terrain is ideal for breeding black pigs (“ibéricos”) which provide the famous Jabugo ham. The nearby villages of Cumbres Mayores and Cortegana are also devoted to production of fine hams. It is said that the micro climate of these hills is ideal for the oak trees which provide the acorns on which the pigs feed. Pata Negra ham is the finest and most expensive, it is produced from pigs that have had a diet exclusively of acorns.

Another of Huelva province’s better known attractions are the Caves of Marvel in the small town of Aracena. The different parts of the cave have particularly evocative names referring to their shapes and include the Hall of the Organs, the Hall of the Jewels, God’s Glassworks and the Great Lake of the Emeralds.

Costa de Huelva, with wide uncrowded beaches

The Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light) is the western part of the Andalucía coastline that faces out to the Atlantic, including the province of Huelva until its limit with Portugal. It has beautiful golden sands and small seaside towns devoted to national and international tourism. From west to east these are: Ayamonte, Isla Cristina, Islantilla, La Antilla, El Rompido, Punta Umbría, Mazagón, Matalascañas…

Whether they belong to old fishing towns or modern resorts, the typical beaches here are more expansive and backed by sand dunes and pine trees. This part of the coast has not seen the high-rise hotel development of other areas. The temperatures are slightly milder and the often strong Atlantic winds and waves are favoured by wind surfers and surfboarders alike. The Huelva cuisine is always present on the coast too; the Chocos (local squid) and the Gambas are on the top of most people’s list of preferences.

Tuna, sword fish, and a rich variety of other species. Big spaces, pure waters, clear sand, nice weather. The Costa de Huelva has a lot to offer, along with its always warm welcome.