The Sierra María National Park
What the guidebooks say:
‘The Sierra de María-Los Vélez Natural Park is situated in the province of Almeria. It was designated a natural park in 1987 and covers 226.7 km2 (87.5 sq miles). The park encompasses pine forests & there is a variety of flora & fauna including some species unique to the Sierra. The highest peak is the María, a limestone outcrop of 2,045 metres (6,709 feet)’.
It was recommended to us by several friends, so we decided to set off for a day trip initially in Autumn. Since then, we have visited twice more (Winter & Spring) so I have updated this article for each season.
The tourist information sites, show lush green forests, rivers & snow capped mountains, however, in late October the scenery is still very dry & fairly barren.
We set off for Velez Rubio first, followed by a drive around the village of Maria & the National Park. We wanted to see the famous cave drawings with the ancient Indalo Man, unfortunately they are closed during the Autumn/Winter season. We didn’t get to Velez Blanco until the afternoon (& unfortunately it is only open in the mornings off-season) so we vowed to come back for a visit.
Our Winter visit was much the same as Autumn in terms of scenery, but this time we managed to catch the opening hours of the castle (mornings until 1pm).
Spring is a beautiful time to visit and we were greeted with spring flowers & poppies everywhere (photos below). We’d had a particularly hard winter with snow in the region, so Spring flowers were abundant. Summer seems to be the only time when the caves will be open to view the drawings, so we will have to go back then.
Castillo de Vélez-Blanco
There is a lot of information available on the internet, so I will not reproduce it here. However, I have given a short summary below:
It was built by the Governor of Murcia (Pedro Fajardo 1st Marquis of los Velez) in 1506 & completed by 1515. The construction of the castle is on the remains of an ancient and important Arab Islamic citadel. The stone structure, had wooden stairs, which could be removed in case of danger, isolating the upper level as a last defense. There are a vast number of decorative elements topping the battlements. The building has been restored in stages during the second half of the 20th century, including the floors of the towers. In 1931, it was listed as cultural monument.
More details about it can be found here.
The photo below is of the original patio, which was sold in the 1940’s & is now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York. I believe there are plans to recreate this in the castle starting this year (2018) Photo courtesy of https://www.metmuseum.org
The village of Velez Blanco is overlooked by the castle and as its name suggests, is a village of pretty white houses. It is interesting to look around and has a number of bars to grab some tapas and a beer.
Note: If you have a large vehicle, it is difficult to get in and out of.
Velez Rubio is a larger town and has two churches, which are worth a visit. The first is Iglesia de la Encarnacion. It is a beautiful example of baroque architecture & it was declared a National Monument in 1982. It is fantastic to sit in the square and gaze at the ornamental facade, crowned by two tall square towers, whilst drinking a coffee. Inside, the alter is made entirely of wood.
The second, is the smaller church of Inglesa del Carmen, which holds four ‘tronos’ (statues depicting the ‘Passion of Christ’) used in the Easter processions. We were lucky enough to have a ‘full explanation’ by a very passionate member of the church, when we visited. Unfortunately for us, her enthusiasm meant she spoke extremely fast and our Spanish wasn’t good enough to catch all of it.
Sierra María National Park in Spring time
I couldn’t finish this post without some photos of the amazing landscape in March when we visited.