The El Palancar trail runs through Los Alcornocales Natural Park and is an idyllic hike to take the family on. You’ll find stones covered with ferns, donkeys and even remains of the traditional “moriscos” (huts).
Without a doubt, the Palancar route is one of the most surprising hiking trails in the municipality of Los Barrios, Campo de Gibraltar.
Nestled within the Parque Natural de los Alcornocales, close by to the Redondo reservoir, El Palancar will lead you up through an Aleppo pine forest amongst, where you’ll discover sandstone shelters which once served as cave-dwellings, and which are today used as a breath-taking viewing platforms on which to survey the surrounding landscape.
The Junta de Andalucía’s Department of the Environment explains that the route, which leads through a grove of Gall-Oaks which obscures these curious constructions, begins at the Valdespera port. You will see an anthropomorphic tomb which has been carved into the rock, typical of ancient burial sites in the Park, which produces “ferruginous water” (water rich in iron which gives it a shocking orange colour) and which, “according to popular belief, has medicinal properties and could cure anaemia”.
On your journey you will discover the traditional “morisco” huts which have been restored, which were once home to local coal miners. These are composed of stone walls, gall oak support beams and roofs made of heather and other branches which would both protect from rain as well as allow smoke to escape from their fire pits. These dwellings were used up to the early 1970’s.
Inside some of these “moriscos” you can still make out the shape of what was once used as a charcoal or wood burning oven, where miners would cook their food and use as a heating system.
Information panels can be found throughout the start of the trail which runs through a public-access mountain; ideal for a day trip with the kids, although we recommend going on a weekday, or at least outside of hunting season. This is because during hunts you will encounter the forest guards who would prevent you from entering.
To begin your adventure, take exit 73 of the A-381 motorway and continue along the service road. Since there are no signs to mark the entrance, continue along the service road until you see iron sculptures which will serve as a landmark.
At the halfway point of your hike, you can enter a lush pine forest and descend along a path parallel to the “Mirador del Palancar”, where you’ll find a natural vantagepoint which is great for taking a rest stop while enjoying impressive panoramic views of the Charco Redondo Reservoir and the Sierra de Montecoche. Since the route is circular, you can also save this for your return trip.
Continuing towards the cave-dwellings, you’ll enter a signposted area where you can find a herd of tame Andalusian donkeys; a rare breed of donkey, considered to be the oldest in Europe (some 3,000 years old), which are currently under threat of extinction. So much so, that here, within the Los Barrios mountains, they have their own nature reserve which was set up by the city council in the 90’s.
During your journey you might also encounter the odd deer, as well as griffon vultures and booted eagles, which are usually seen flying over the area.
With regards to the local flora, you’ll come across something very unusual… a number of carnivorous flytrap plant colonies. These can be found in the Herrizas area, on the way back from the cave-dwellings along the forest path – be careful not to step on these however, as they are rare and very delicate species.
You’ll find that many areas of the route are very humid, which is why you will see an abundance of stones and rocks covered in ferns, moss and vines.
The entire trail can take approximately 2-3 hours, a little over 3km (6km if you take the reservoir route) with plenty of stops to drink water, recharge, enjoy the scenery and take photos in a leisurely manner.
If you still want more, remember that this route easily connects to two other nearby trails: the Arroyo de Valdeinfierno and the Montera del Torero, which are both well worth the visit.