A tour through one of Europes most precious natural wonders.
In ancient times the mouth of the Guadalquivir, Andalusias mightiest river, was a wide lagoon dotted with islands, one of which is said to have been the capital of the mythical kingdom of Tarshish. Gradually the area silted up, giving way to a landscape of marshes, shifting sand dunes and pine forests. In the 16th century it was the hunting ground of kings, lorded over by the powerful Duke of Medina Sidonia, and became known in honor of the Dukes wife - as Doņa Ana. Today, protected as the Doņana National Park, it is one of the most valuable natural jewels in Europe.
Covering 193 square miles, Doņanas different habitats harbor an amazing variety of wildlife. The wetlands are a nesting spot for more than 100 species of birds and vital wintering ground or stop-over on the migration route for countless others. The extremely rare Spanish lynx lurks in its pine forests, and imperial eagles wheel in the skies overhead.
For nature lovers all over the world, a visit to Doņana is the stuff dreams of made of. Although here the environment takes precedence over tourism and much of the park is off-limits to visitors, travellers can enjoy a good taste of Doņana on the trips organised by the Cooperativa Marismas del Rocio, a co-operative started in 1980 and the first nature guide organisation of its kind in Andalusia. Twice a day, visitors are taken in specially adapted four-wheel-drive buses for a 40-mile journey through the park, lasting four hours. The maximum number of visitors per day is 256. You can get further insights into the parks unique wildlife at El Acebuche, one of five visitors centers serving Doņana.
For accommodation, many stay at the booming beach resort of Matalascaņas nearby, which has a large hotel infrastructure, but today there are also a number of establishments specifically aimed at travellers with an interest in nature. The Marismas de Doņana co-operative itself runs a small hotel in the village of El Rocio, the Toruņo, overlooking the park and not far from the shrine which is the object of the famous Rocio pilgrimage in spring.
And less than a mile from El Rocio, in the midst of an orange orchard, a farming estate has been converted into a comfortable hotel, with accommodation in rooms (complete with ceiling fans and mosquito netting) or in small bungalows sleeping four to six people. The focal point of Cortijo de los Mimbrales is the high-ceilinged lounge with comfy sofas and easy chairs, plenty of books and magazines, a fire place, an honesty bar, and an atmosphere conducive to quiet evening get-togethers among nature lovers.
While outdoor activities are not permitted in the national park itself, there are a number of possibilities in the nature area which forms a protective belt around Doņana, from off trail biking to hot air ballooning. Cortijo de los Mimbrales itself serves as a base for horse riding tours in the area, including all-inclusive horse riding holidays lasting 5 to 7 days organised by the Equiberia company.
Patronato Provincial de Turismo (tourist promotion board) - E-mail: [email protected] Website: www.diphuelva.es
Cooperativa Marismas del Rocio/Hotel Toruņo - Plaza Acebuchal 22, 21750 El Rocio (Huelva), Spain. Tel. 34 959 442 323. Fax 34 959 442 338. Reservations for visits to Doņana: Tel. 34 959 430 432 and 34 959 430 451.
Nearest airport - Seville (55 miles, 90 km)
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Copyright Š 2000 An Andalusian Experience. Text by Mark Little. Photography by J. D. Dallet - A Freelance Spain production
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Copyright © 2000-2006 Mark and David Little & J.D. Dallet