Close to where we live are beautiful natural areas and parks including La Concha Mountain, Istán, Benahavís and other green areas. When was the last time you took your family for a challenging climb or walk? One that got your hearts racing and made you breathe a little faster…

Grazalema, situated in northeastern Cádiz, is just two and a half hours away from Marbella but worlds away in terms of climate, flora, and ambience. It has become a coveted nature escape for businesspeople and high-stress workers who can benefit from a couple of nights where one’s vision can take in majestic mountain ranges and an endless horizon where not a single man-made structure can be observed. Grazalema is both a thriving village and a natural paradise. It is home to the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, which boasts a 300-hectare Abies Pinsapo forest, as well as carob tree, pines, and fir woods. This park was named Spain’s first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1977.

The Abies Pinsapo is considered the ‘national’ tree of Andalucía, yet it only grows in the Sierra de Grazalema, the Sierra de las Nieves and Sierra Bermeja. The only other country where it grows is in Morocco, though Moroccan pine cones are slightly longer and the trees boast a different hue. Grazalema is the highest point in Cádiz, home to dramatic gorges, emerald-hued firs, wild orchids and over 20 trekking routes varying in difficulty. It is the single most rained upon spot in Spain (more so that the north), with an average fall of 2,200mm. Its high moisture content is the reason why pines are able to grow in the highest altitudes (the mountain ranges stretch from 260m to 1,648m in height). Recently, scientists noted that as a result of global warming, the pines were ‘travelling upwards’, in search of the cool temperatures they need to grow. Big efforts are being made to preserve the ancient tree population (through the introduction of nouvelle watering systems) – these solve the problem of moisture during hot, dry months, but they cannot guarantee the low temperatures that will keep the pine reserve alive. Sadly, not many people are aware that we may be on the brink of losing this national treasure – which is precisely why it needs to be visited, appreciated, and protected.

Despite being ‘in the middle of nowhere’ Grazalema is home to two excellent hotels. The first is the four-star Fuerte Grazalema Hotel, reviewed this month in magazine. Luxurious yet rustic, this hotel accommodates pets and is therefore ideal for those who wouldn’t dream of going to such a stunning natural area without their dog (just think of all the fun, long walks). Equally recommendable is Hotel Molino el Puente, which is actually in Ronda rather than Grazalema. This spot is ideal for those wishing to blend cultural immersion with nature experiences, since Grazalema is just half an hour away by car. However, for those wishing to spend all their time trekking, canyoning and walking along the course of rivers, it is probably best to find accommodation within Grazalema itself.

When visiting Grazalema, your hotel will normally provide you with a list of top routes to experience. In pole position is the pinsapar (pine reserve), which you must visit alongside a registered guide. The Guardia Civil is very assiduous in Grazalema; you will come across them frequently when trekking – evidencing their determination to prevent destruction of the natural areas, forest fires, and irresponsible use of the land. At our hotel, we were recommended local company, Experiencia Outdoor. They organise a wide range of activities for nature lovers both within Grazalema and in nearby areas. The gamut of activities is huge and includes mountain biking, trekking, canyoning, kayaking, and so much more!

There is something for everyone, both novices and seasoned trekkers. The guides know each curve, every tree, and are able to give detailed information as you enter different areas. Our guides, David and Antonio, were amazing, providing us with very useful information but also great conversation about nature, environmental concerns, and other intrinsic subjects that tend to come up when you are alone with fellow nature lovers. The guides don’t simply work in adventure travel; they are keen rock climbers, cave experts, gorge walkers… they can take it as easy or difficult as you need. Entire families (adults and children alike) can have the time of their lives thanks to their fun guidance.

The pine reserve route is a steep climb, up to one of the highest peaks of the park. Bring sturdy shoes and make sure it hasn’t been a while since you wore them. I made the mistake of using an old pair of tennis shoes that crumbled before my very eyes! Luckily, there was enough of the sole left to trudge back to safety at the foot of the reserve. The walk is challenging for those who, like me, are more sedentary than they would like to be. I would suggest trekking poles, which are especially useful for climbing down rock areas. The big climb is certainly worth it once you make it to the top… the view is breathtaking and the fresh smell of the pines, life-giving. Another route we tackled on our own was the Ruta Majaceite, negotiating rocks, boulders, and gentler areas alongside this scenic river. Windy and snakelike, it had fast moving rapids as well as large round pools – so tempting to dive into though the water is chilly indeed, even in the height of summer.

We visited the area in summer, but the optimal times to do so are in spring and autumn. The sun can be quite cruel in July and August, yet there are some routes that are nearly entirely covered in shade – this was the case of the Ruta Majaceite. Not only were there shady arches of foliage above us, but also, the river itself sent up chilly vapour, so refreshing and welcoming at such a warm time of the year. In addition to the water, there are various little waterfalls along the route; so scenic and definitely worth capturing visually.

La Garganta Verde is another must-see spot. It is a spectacular rock canyon you need to visit with a guide, since prior authorisation from the Environment Minister is required. Moreover, the right gear is required to ensure a safe descent. Experiencia Outdoor organises this adventure as well, and they assure me that it is one of the easiest canyoning experiences in the area. In fact, young kids and seniors have negotiated it without any problems whatsoever.

Other highly recommended routes include El Torreón (the highest peak of the Sierra del Pinar, standing at a vertiginous 1,648m); Salto de Cabrera (featuring 80-metre rock walls separated by around 50 metres; and the Roman Walk (along an ancient Roman Road that begins in Benaocaz and continues to Ubrique). Each route can take between two and eight hours.

A great way to fully enjoy Grazalema is to work your fitness level up in the weeks leading up to your visit. It will make you feel more confident about adventures such as canyoning and kayaking. Water lovers take note: there are beautiful freshwater features surrounded by lush greenery in which you can row with family and friends, feeling like a big part of what Carl Jung called ‘the collective unconscious’: the great unknown or spiritual element, that connects us all.

I felt renewed and motivated about life after this brief getaway. In this way, my own experience backed up what so many scientific findings have postulated. Nature annihilates stress and anxiety; time with family enjoying great food and sometimes challenging, even breathtaking adventures, brings you closer together; and putting away your phone, tablet and computer heals the soul through the sight of rolling mountain ranges, cottonlike clouds, and golden sunsets. This was one trip that left me excited about returning and very inspired by David and Antonio, who are living examples that we are nothing without our green planet. Oh, and before I say adieu, here’s a little tip: don’t leave Grazalema without trying the bellota (acorn) cake – exclusively available at El Chico restaurant in the pueblo! Also, make sure to take home a kilo or two of the delicious Payoyo cheese, locally made and bearing a blend of sheep’s and goat’s milk.