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National Parks in Spain

Spain is the base of wild life existence. She has more wild and beautiful places than any other country in Europe. These places exist in a sometimes comfortable, sometimes uneasy relationship to human settlement. Large areas of Spain have been set aside in an enlightened system of ten national parks plus hundreds of hunting reserves, natural reserves, and other protected areas. Both the marvelous diversity of wild Spain - and the tension between wild Spain and settled Spain - can be seen in three amazing national parks.

Ordesa National Park:

Ordesa National Park has been expanded to include more than 56,000 acres of lush valley forests and meadows, steep limestone slopes and delicate alpine reaches. Wildlife abounds, although some of the efforts to protect the more wary species have met with mixed success due to the popularity of the park. You can visit the park from May to mid-November. Ordesa National Park was set up specifically to protect the ibex, a wild goat. Ironically, the ibex is still in decline, along with the lammergeier, a type of bearded vulture. However, many other species are flourishing in this otherwise well preserved enclave. The valley shelters 171 species of birds - including golden eagles, griffon vultures and alpine finches, 32 mammals - including wild boar, otters and foxes, eight species of reptiles, including the asp (Vispera aspis) of Cleopatra's doom, and five amphibia. Especially notable are the only herds of Pyrenees mountain goats in existence and a healthy number of chamois deer, which in the nineteenth century were in danger of becoming extinct.

Ordesa National Park:

Covadonga is where the Spanish Christian army first held fast against the Moors. Nevermind the fact that the battle took place in 722 and it took them another seven and a half centuries to finally kick the Moors out, the Spanish lavish commemoration on the site - including setting it aside in 1918 as one of country's first national parks. Similarly to Ordesa, the park has been expanded to now include 230,000 acres - almost the entire western massif of the Picos de Europa - making it the largest national park in Europe. Late summer is probably the best time to visit Covadonga National Park. The first stop in the park is usually the shrine commemorating the Battle of 722. From the shrine, head uphill to an outlook featuring two stunning alpine lakes and a view all the way to the ocean. There are many choices for hiking, from short ambles to treks lasting several days. A popular hike is to the Mirador de Ordiales, which is relatively easy and offers incredible views.

Donana National Park:

For many migrating birds, Doñana is the meeting ground between Africa and Europe. Northern European birds stop off here on their way to Africa, and African birds sojourn here, frequently to nest. For years this was a mostly uninhabited royal hunting reserve. In fact, the park's namesake, Doña Ana de Silva, a reclusive duchess, built a residence here to get away from people entirely. In 1969, the land became a national park, taking in 180,000 acres. Agriculture has caused disastrous pesticide runoff into the wetlands. Residential development has brought in car traffic and predatory dogs and cats. Sulfur mining upriver clogs the rivers with silt. Like many other wetlands, Doñana National Park seems teeming with life - and is - but is still very vulnerable. The park is also home to the last surviving lynxes in southern Europe, and many red deer.


Other National Parks in Spain: Spain has seven other unique national parks:

  1. Tablas de Daimiel. Called "wet La Mancha," an interior wetlands in which more than 200 species of birds can be observed.
  2. Aigües Tortes and Lago de Sant Maurici. Means "twisted waters." Rugged Pyrenean highlands.
  3. Cañadas del Teide. Volcanic highlands with amazing landscapes and flora.
  4. Timanfaya. Recent volcanic landscape. Austere.
  5. Caldera de Taburiente. A giant caldera.
  6. Garajonay. In the Canary Islands, the most important remaining laurisylvan forests.
  7. Marímo-Terrestre. Spain's newest. The largest non-populated island in the Mediterranean.
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