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Spring Flowers of Western Andalucia

Tour Code: ESP14

An 8-day holiday of gentle walks and botanising in the mountains of western Andalucia.

dates & prices to be confirmed Land Only Price: £ SRS: £

Our base for this 8-day botanical holiday is a peaceful country hotel, surrounded by nature and far away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. It is a green, sustainable and very comfortable base, offering a relaxed atmosphere to the benefit of our small groups. Timed to coincide with the peak of the early spring flowers, we will make daily excursions to explore the wide variety of habitats in the Natural Park of Sierra de Grazelema (within which the hotel is located), the Sierra de Pinar and, a little to the south-east, the Sierra de las Nieves. Join us for some early season sunshine and the study of a very special flora amidst stunning scenery.

  • Orchids, Daffodils & Irises with Griffon Vultures & Golden Eagles soaring overhead
  • Magical white-washed mountain villages nestling among the rugged peaks of the sierras
  • Excellent home cooking & a warm welcome assured in this quiet corner of Spain


All included in the price.


A charming, family-run rural hotel, all rooms with private facilities.

Ophrys tenthredinifera (Paul Harmes)

Ophrys tenthredinifera (Paul Harmes)

Outline Itinerary Download

Day 1 Fly to Malaga and transfer to hotel

Day 2/7 Driving and walking excursions in search of plants and other natural history

Day 8 Fly London

Andalucía lies at one of the world’s great crossroads, where Europe meets Africa and the Mediterranean joins the Atlantic. Here, across the Straits of Gibraltar, a constant ebb and flow of species has occurred over the Ice Ages to endow Andalucía with a great diversity of flora, fauna and human culture. Today, over 2,300 vascular plant species representing 140 families are found here, of which one third are endemic to the region. Egyptian Mongoose, Genet and several butterfly species, all with essentially African distributions, also occur. Further, the climate of Andalucía during the late Ice Age, being milder than in areas to the north, permitted the development of early human populations in the region. Indeed today many traces of their presence remain, notably in some impressive cave paintings. A succession of civilisations then followed. The Phoenicians and Greeks set up trading colonies and were followed by the Carthaginians, Romans and eventually the Moors, who brought with them high civilisation and Islam and left behind a rich architectural legacy.

Andalucía is further blessed by a fascinating diversity of geology, landscape and climate, from the gentle sun-drenched sandstone hills above the narrow coastal plain to the dramatic, jagged limestone peaks of the Serrania de Ronda. Deep river valleys and spectacular gorges dissect the area and, scattered about them are characteristic Andalucian villages, the dazzling whitewashed walls of all their houses and the Arab design of their narrow winding streets reflecting the long Muslim domination of the area. Best of all for the botanist, the landscape is surprisingly green in this well-watered part of southern Spain and little influenced by modern farming practices.

We begin our tour with a flight to Málaga. We then drive north, through orange groves and vineyards, before climbing onto the scenic ridge-top route towards Ronda, with its constantly unfolding views of mountains and wooded valleys. Our base for the week is a traditional farmhouse and outbuildings dating from Roman times, Cortijo las Piletas, lovingly converted to provide comfortable accommodation and a relaxed atmosphere for the benefit of small groups. Situated 12km north-west of Ronda, it is set amongst its own flower gardens, farmland, rocky outcrops and a tract of Mediterranean forest, and provides a perfect base for our week-long exploration of the area. We have timed our holiday to coincide with the peak of the early spring flowers and will make daily excursions to explore the wide variety of the region’s habitats in search of their special plants and birds.

Close to Ronda lies Grazelema, arguably the most perfect of the Pueblos Blancos (white mountain villages), where Hemingway wrote part of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and Oleg Polunin based himself whilst writing ‘Flowers of Southwest Europe’. The Natural Park of Sierra de Grazelema is one of Andalucía’s foremost protected areas, and was declared a ‘Biosphere Reserve’ by UNESCO in 1977. The largest stand of the rare Spanish Fir (EM>Abies pinsapo/EM>) occurs here, on the high limestone ridge of the Sierra del Pinar, whilst the grasslands, rocks and screes support a diversity of orchids and local populations of daffodils, EM>Narcissus/EM> spp. Shaded rocks and cliffs are home to several saxifrages, the spectacular endemic crucifer, Biscutella frutescens, and the endemic Centaurea clementei. On other excursions, we will travel through the largest woodlands of Cork Oak (EM>Quercus suber/EM>) in Europe, watch Griffon Vultures soaring overhead, and visit the Cueva de la Pileta with its stunning stalactites, stalagmites and perplexing Palaeolithic paintings, leaving time to visit Ronda, in its spectacular cliff-top setting, high above its famous gorge.

The Sierra de las Nieves, a little way to the south, offer a complete contrast. Here, the maquis-covered lower slopes rise to open woodland, where EM>Paeonia broteroi/EM> and EM>Paeonia coriacea/EM> flourish. Higher up, we will walk amongst the Spanish Firs where, in early spring, the ground is carpeted with the large-flowered EM>Narcissus hispanicus/EM>. Spanish Ibex range freely over the summits and Golden Eagle, Chough, Alpine Accentor and Crossbill are amongst the breeding birds of the park. From such heights the views over the Straits of Gibraltar and the Rif Mountains in Morocco are quite tremendous.

Further east, in the Baetic Cordillera, the forces of nature have created bizarre landscapes of eroded rocks. Above El Chorro, the Rio Guadalhorce has carved a dramatic defile through the sandstones, and today hosts a complex of hydroelectric dams. Around these the dense oak woodland and deep valleys provide a mosaic of habitats full of both plants and birds.

Our final highlight of the holiday will be a visit to El Torcal de Antequera which represents a dramatically eroded karst rising to over 1,300 metres. The fluted spires and bastions of gleaming white limestone that rise from the bright green turf form a surreal landscape and are home to such exciting endemic species as the pale blue toadflax, EM>Linaria antequera/EM>, and the deep blue bearded iris, EM>Iris subbiflora/EM>.

The New Bridge at Ronda (Paul Harmes)Grazalema (Paul Harmes)Our accomodation (Paul Harmes)Arisarum vulgare (Paul Harmes)Photographing orchids (Paul Harmes)Gynandriris sisyrinchium (Paul Harmes)Orchis papilionacea (Paul Harmes)Muscari neglectum (Paul Harmes)Astragalus lusitanicus (Paul Harmes)Viola demetria (Paul Harmes)Ornithogalum orthrophyllum subsp. baeticum (Paul Harmes)Orchis olbiensis (Paul Harmes)Ophrys tenthredinifera (Paul Harmes)Linaria tristis (Paul Harmes)Linaria platycalyx (Paul Harmes)Iris planifolius (Paul Harmes)Iberian Wall Lizard (Paul Harmes)Female Iberian Ibex (Paul Harmes)Hyacinthoides hispanica (Paul Harmes)Himantoglossum robertianum (Paul Harmes)El Torcal (Paul Harmes)Naturetrek groupTerrace and poolSitting roomPatio through entrance hallKitchenPuente Nuevo Bridge at dusk, RondaRonda
Mr & Mrs W.
It was lovely to have Paul as a trip leader again. He is a joy to be with. The picnics were wonderful (as Naturetrek picnics always are!) and Paul's knowledge and enthusiasm made each day enjoyable and different. The food at the finca was amazing, and having the dogs and cats to look after us was a bonus.
Paul Harmes is an excellent leader. He is a superb driver and has in-depth knowledge of all aspects of natural history. He nurtures each member of the group, bringing out their special qualities and is always good-humoured. I have travelled with him before and would wish to do so again.
As usual, Paul (Harmes) went out of his way to make sure everyone felt included, whatever their level of expertise, not always easy in a small group. Peter, our host at the Vinca, was also exceptionally friendly and obliging - and an excellent cook, even producing special dishes for a lone vegetarian.
We thoroughly recommend the trip, guide and accommodation. A huge thank you to Paul Harmes and the staff at Naturetrek.
Mr & Mrs P.
Accomodation: ...absolutely first rate in terms of comfort and facilities. Particular pleasures were the excellent meals reflecting accomplished cooking of locally sourced ingredients - and the very high standard of room cleaning and servicing. General content/interest of trip: We came away feeling that we had been given a comprehensive picture of the natural history of the area, alongside a number of insights into the human and social history too - the visit to see the Cueva de la Pileta Palaeolithic wall paintings was well worthwhile. Trip Leader: Paul's (Harmes) botanical knowledge is outstanding, impressive in both scale and depth...All of this learning and skill he shared with genuine enthusiasm and great good humour throughout the trip, always happy to answer questions, however often repeated. We also noticed the lengths to which he went to accommodate the particular interests and abilities of each member of our small but diverse group, taking care to ensure that each was engaged and involved. Paul's ability to combine deep learning with lightness of touch backed by quietly efficient organisation made the trip an enjoyable and very rewarding experience.
Paul did a great job. Excellent on botany, birds etc but also took good care of his party in a friendly sociable way.
Paul was a super leader – he took great trouble to ensure we all had a chance to view the rarer plants and birds when located. The picnics were excellent, living up to the expected high standards!!
The meals provided by the owner for the Naturetrek party were nothing short of inspired! I would go back just for the food! Having travelled with Paul Harmes previously we were not disappointed by his endless patience, encyclopaedic knowledge, good humour and organisational abilities – plus he has a great hat!
Paul coped with all our queries and was an excellent driver and guide. Accommodation was comfortable and food superb. An ideal informal base for our small group.
It was good to visit local eating places to get a taste of Spain and Spanish life. The last two nights we ate at the finca, which was a great, relaxing way to end the week. Sophie was excellent, and a good driver, staying calm even when coaches were bearing down on us on tiny mountain roads - 10 out of 10! And, as promised, we got to see Ibex!
I’m glad I went am am very grateful to David and Sophie for their patience. Sophie was delightful (make her a permanency!) - a lovely personality, genuinely charming and unobtrusively observant as to when help might be needed. The very early flight did prove an advantage as we had a good long afternoon to explore. The finca was delightful - attractively furnished, comfortable, and with an excellent selection of books, CDs and DVDs. Each day had its own focus of interest and the general itinerary was varied in pace and botanical offerings. The fine weather was a blessing. I would love to travel with Naturetrek again. I love the format, love the exploration, and love the discovery of treasures in their true habitat.
David's selfless dedication to ensure that everyone's needs and interests are satisfied is outstanding.
David Tattersfield is an excellent tour leader, knowledgeable and great company.
South Yorkshire
David T. was all a tour leader should be - knowledgeable, courteous, helpful, patient, considerate to all our whims and fancies, and a pleasure to be with. Although we didn't keep exactly to the daily programme, it was always to our advantage.
A really excellent trip and though the weather was not perfect this hardly spoiled the enjoyment at all. We cannot praise him [David Tattersfield] enough for his energy and ability to turn what might have been a slightly dismal (in weather terms only) scene into a really memorable holiday.
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We will be running this tour in the near future but as yet have not finalised dates and prices. To register your interest and be added a waiting list to be informed when details are confirmed, please contact us or phone 01962 733051.

Visiting: Spain

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Andy Tucker
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Wild flowers

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Tour Reviews

It was lovely to have Paul as a trip leader again. He is a joy to be with. The picnics were wonderful (as Naturetrek picnics always are!) and Paul's knowledge and enthusiasm made each day enjoyable and different. The food at the finca was amazing, and having the dogs and cats to look after us was a bonus.
Mr & Mrs W., Surrey