Known as the “green lung” of San Roque, this nature reserve spans 338 hectares and boasts beautiful hiking trails, such as the Arroyo de Alhaja, Cerro del Águila and Tajo del Pajarraco. But there is much more to it than meets the eye; this forest was created by the hands of man…
Autumn’s steady drop in temperature has brought about the perfect time to rediscover the natural landscapes around the Campo de Gibraltar; with paradisical forests, surrounded by vegetation, fresh air and far away from the stresses of everyday life.
One of the favourite escapes for Gibraltarians, especially on weekends, is undoubtedly Pinar del Rey: a 338-hectare natural park which stands just behind the hill of the urban municipality of San Roque.
This natural orchard, “which is enjoyable at any time of the year, and at any time of the day”, as stated by the Junta of San Roque, is one of the best natural attractions in the region – the proof of this lies in the numerous adventure and hiking activities that took place on September 27th, during International Tourism Day.
El Pinar del Rey can be seen as two large areas to explore: the southern side, which has a large recreational area, with allocated picnic and barbecue sections, and which sees the largest influx of people, and the more rugged and wild section, where vehicles are completely prohibited.
If you love hiking, then you’re certainly spoiled for choice. In the southern area, where the “Aula de Naturaleza” (“Natural Classroom”) can be found, there is a beautiful trail running along the stream and the Alhaja fountain. In the northern side, the Cerro del Águila and the Tajo del Pajarraco are perfect locations to enjoy incredible panoramic views of the ‘cuevas de las palomas’, ‘la loma de la caballeriza’, the Rock of Gibraltar, the Bay of Gibraltar, the La Alcaidesa farm and, below, the tops of a vast sea of trees.
The Arroyo de Alhaja trail, which runs parallel to a 2-kilometre stream, can be done by foot or bicycle. Here you can enjoy one of the most beautiful and most accessible routes, among the four different routes, in the natural park. During your hike, you’ll notice the nearby coolness of water, an undergrowth rich in different kinds of shrubs and plants like hawthorn, mastic and kermes oak, as well as several esplanades of ferns. Likewise, you will find alders,poplars and ash trees along the riverbank,
A Fountain Shrouded in Mythology
At the end of the trail, just to the right of the entrance of the Pinar recreational area, you will come across the Fuente de la Alhaja: a spring which is open to the public that lies just beyond a bucolic wooden bridge. This fountain has always been a popular attraction for both locals and tourists for the quality of its water.
But this spring is also the setting for the legend of a princess who fell ill by pricking herself with a piece of jewellery which had been poisoned by an evil-doer but which did not kill her, because, “of the healing plants of the forest healed her of her ills” according to the fable.
Close by, you will come across the “Aula de Naturaleza” (“Natural Classroom”), which is run by the City Council of San Roque, which has an information office and a botanical garden with local species of flora.
You can also pick up an environmental guide from the Centro de Interpretación (Centre for Interpretation) which provide information on three other trails: the Tajo del Pajarraco, Cerro del Águila and Pinar del Rey.
The first two routes are more challenging (the Tajo del Pajarraco is a circular route of just over 4 kilometers, and is of medium difficulty, and the Cerro del Águila, medium-high). The third route is another circular trail that runs through the lower levels of the natural park and is suitable for everyone, including those hikers who may be a little out of shape.
Among Pinar del Rey’s native fauna, you will also see birds like Hoopoes and the Cuckoos, reptiles such as the Ocellated Lizard (the largest lizard in Europe) and small mammals such as the Iberian mole. El Pinar, where you will also see griffon vultures and bee-eaters, is also a refuge from the hot sun for migratory birds crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.
The Pinar del Rey’s Unbelievable Origins
This unique paradise, the true Green Lung of the Campo de Gibraltar (alongside the Los Alcornocales Natural Park), has an unusual origin and history which even many of the usual visitors do not know about; and that is that the landscape was created by the hand of man. Its creation dates back to the beginning of the 19th Century, around the year 1800, when the Spanish Armada (which carried seeds from Vejer de la Frontera) planted a huge number of trees, mainly pines, on the hill in order to supply warships with wood.
As mentioned by the San Roque Consistory, people should bear in mind that “Spain was a world-leading naval power at the time”, and that after Spain’s defeat in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, which saw a decline of dominance at sea, the interest in the use of those trees began to decline, and nature continued its course.
This gave rise to the true feat of nature which still exists on that hill today… a hill which, according to the oldest documents, had actually been ceded to Gibraltar 5 centuries earlier in 1310, after the Christan King Ferdinand IV managed to “re-conquer” the city.
NEXT: El Pinar del Rey has been ‘Magicked’ into a Fairy Forest
A recent initiative by a woman in San Roque has seen the construction of fairy houses for children to find throughout the Pinar del Rey natural park…