The tragic beauty of La Sauceda

Every year thousands of people visit the valley of La Sauceda, an enclave in the north of the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga which stretches across the municipalities of Jerez, Cortes, Alcalá de los Gazules and Jimena. The lovely woodlands and mountain scenery attract walkers, tourists, nature lovers and people of all ages, who appreciate its environmental value. However, few visitors are aware that it has a tragic history.

Nestling in a triangle of mountains in the north of the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga, where the municipalities of Jerez, Cortes de la Frontera, Alcalá de los Gazules and Jimena converge, since ancient times La Sauceda has been a community of huts and houses beneath the mantle of woodlands that cover this region. There has been a recreation area here, at kilometre 24.5 on the CA-8201 from Jimena to Puerto Galis, since the 1980s; it attracts numerous tourists, walkers and nature lovers who are instantly seduced by the beauty of the place on their first visit.


Between woods of oak trees, streams flow from the peaks of the Sierra del Aljibe, a wall of sandstone rock which separates the valley of La Sauceda from the municipality of Alcalá de los Gazules. A riparian woodland forms around the waters which flow towards the valley and the vegetation is always green, with ferns, bay trees, alders, vibernum tinus, rhododendrons and other species of the so-called laurisilva. In the centre of the community the waters form pools and serve as a drinking trough for deer, foxes, wild boar, mongooses, genets and weasels. Griffon vultures often fly overhead and jays call when they spot the presence of humans, to warn other wildlife. Cuckoos can be heard on spring mornings and in August you can hear the bee eaters which fly low, en route to the Strait of Gibraltar on their way back to Africa.

All this wildlife inhabits an area of countryside of exceptional environmental value within Los Alcornocales natural park, a protected area which is 170,000 hectares in size. It runs from the south to the north of Cádiz province and at this point it merges with Málaga province. Small stone cottages with tiled or rush-covered roofs are dotted about on the terraced land around one of the streams. These are mountain refuges, spread around what was once the nucleus of the community; they were built over the ruins of the village houses which were destroyed in 1936 by bombs which were dropped from planes and attacks by the Francoist army. But we’ll tell that story later.

The recreation area is currently managed by Cortes council. It is a lovely place to rest, chill out or go walking and discover nature at its most beautiful. Apart from the mountain refuges, which can sleep between three and 14 people, the recreation area has a kitchen, several barbecue areas, an outdoor eating area, drinking fountains, showers and toilets, a transport service for people and luggage, a shop and supplies of wood, ice and charcoal. There is also a visitors’ reception building and a social centre for different activities. Activities can also be organised for visitors, such as walking routes, mountain bike trips and excursions to watch birds and take photos of the countryside. One of the most attractive excursions is a walk up to the Aljibe peak, which at 1,092 metres is the highest in Los Alcornocales park. On a clear day when the wind is from the west or north, there are views over almost the whole of Cádiz province. You can also see, as patches of white, Jerez, Cádiz and Vejer, as well as San Roque, the Rock of Gibraltar and Castellar castle, silhouetted on a hill in the south of the Serranía.

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