BIRD WATCHING IN MALAGA

I never thought I’d find myself on a bird-watching walk as although I’m fond of all feathered creatures, spending time in their contemplation is not something that I ever imagined I would do on holiday.  Yet on my recent trip to Malaga with SilverSpain.com I became just as enthusiastic as any died-in-the-wool bird-watcher when I joined the walk through the wetlands of the Desembocdura del Guadalhorce Natural Park.

The name is quite a mouthful (it means river mouth of the Guadalhorce), but the simplicity of the place, the peace and tranquillity to be found just 20 Km. outside the city was something I hadn’t expected: nor had I expected the series of lagoons or man-make lakes, beautiful in the light of the setting sun.  I had always imagined wetlands to be marshy, boggy areas, with tufted grasses being the main feature of the landscape.

How wrong I was.  This area of five permanent lakes populated with fish and eels, supports a variety of plants that enjoy the presence of water and salt, the banks yielding tamarisks, giant reeds and rushes, with here and there scattered poplars.

SilverSpain.com had organized an expert in the field to guide us on the walk, Luis Alberto Rodriguez from BIRDAYTRIP.  Luis was just perfect both in the pace he set and in his ability to spot birds before we did.  SilverSpain.com had found someone who embraced their concept of the over-55s living an active life, enjoying varied and interesting activities often outside their comfort zone, and his enthusiasm for the area and its inhabitants infected us all.

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The area is one of the most important stopover places for coastal migratory birds in the province and it is said that you can spot any bird at the river mouth during the passage periods.  The Guadalhorce river estuary is on one of the main Mediterranean-crossing routes between Europe and Africa but there is no sure way to guarantee what birds you are likely to see as much depends on winds, storms, rains, predators – and our old friend, climate change.

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The snowy plover breeds in the wetlands and at different times of the year you will see glossy ibis, flamingo, spoonbill, black stork, Caspian tern and coots.  Present all year are the endangered white-headed ducks which have been successfully breeding in the estuary since 2003, little egrets, grey herons, Kentish plovers, hoopoes (above), and Cetti’s warblers.  In summer the bitterns, Audouin’s Gulls and bee-eaters are welcome visitors and in winter the short-eared owl puts in an appearance.  Ospreys, kestrels, buzzards and sparrowhawks wheel in the sky and the marsh harrier can often be seen among the reeds.

Of 350 bird species that have been recorded in Andalucia, 260 have been spotted in this Rio Guadalhorce Nature Reserve which covers 67 hectares of prime wetland.  The Park’s five lagoons are backed by palm, willow, tamarisk, eucalyptus and poplar trees and in this woodland and by the lagoon’s edges five comfortable birding hides have been erected.

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The area is also a popular place for mountain-bikers, hikers and those just looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Malaga for a few hours.  Like these seasoned sportspeople, always make sure to carry water with you as there are no facilities nearby and you can de-hydrate quickly in the heat.  Depending on the season, an anti-mosquito repellent would also be a good idea.

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This bird-watching walk was only one event organized by SilverSpain.com during the week in which we ate healthy, but delicious, meals in restaurants and hotels, visited bodegas and bars dating from 1840, watched an equestrian show, a flamenco show and had a session of mindfulness in a tranquil retreat.  Their website gives full details.

Walking in the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes Natural Park, Spain

In the Andalusian region of Spain alone, there are a total of 22 Natural Parks and 9 Biosphere Reserves, but few can beat the accessibility and beauty of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes (also known as the Garganta del Chorro), located not far from Malaga on the Costa del Sol.  Just 50km northwest of that city and you are in another world.

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This walk through the Gorge which is accessed from the village of Ardales is one of the activities on offer from a new company that is dedicated to helping the over 55s enjoy an active and healthy life, focusing on walking, exercising, a Mediterranean diet, and companionship.   The holidays organized by SilverSpain.com will be available from October of this year but I’ve been lucky enough to have had a taster of what’s on offer.  (Get Active & Healthy with Silver/Spain).

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Here in the 2,016 hectares of the Desfiladero de los Gaitanes, the Guadalhorce river has sliced through slabs of Jurassic limestone and dolomite to create a 3 km long gorge with sheer walls that tower up to more than 300 metres in places.   The Desfiladero de los Gaitanes is one of the most spectacular landscapes in the Subbetica mountains of Malaga famous for the Caminito del Rey, a vertigo-inducing, cliff hugging pathway, located some kilometres above the floor of the gorge and one of Malaga’s best attractions.

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Your senses are assailed by the perfume from the rosemary,  thyme and fennel growing beneath the Aleppo pines, willow, eucalyptus, poplar and olive trees.  Overgrown pink and white oleander  vie with rock roses, yellow gorse and pink broom to colour the landscape, and closer to the river are rushes and reeds among which butterflies dance.

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Wheeling in the sky above the high gorge walls are golden eagles, kestrels, peregrines and griffon vultures, just a few of the wide variety of birds (nearly 150 known species) which nest here.  Smaller birds to look out for are red-billed choughs, crag martins, blue rock thrushes, owls, herons and crested tits, and in spring and summer the ubiquitous swifts make a return.

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Keeping an eye peeled, it is possible to spy rabbits, Iberian hares,  foxes, bobcats, and wild boars and it is said that Spanish ibex inhabit the gorge’s more inaccessible parts, so the shy animals are usually only seen by climbers.

Writing-on-cliff-faceIn addition to the massive slabs of limestone that form the walls, the river has carved caves and chasms in the gorge.  There are over 20 caves in the area, and in nearby Ardales, paleolithic rock art can be seen in more than 1,600 meters of galleries.

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But forget the history, the archaeology and the paleolithic past, and just enjoy the sheer beauty that surrounds you on this walk through the park.   The pathway is easy to negotiate (but perhaps not after heavy rains) but do wear sensible shoes.  Look around you, smell the forest scents, look above you to see if you can spy the golden eagles, and look down at the turquoise river flowing below and marvel at this natural landscape.

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Afterwards stop off at Mesón la Posada del Conde for a meal of locally sourced items,         Restaurant_PosadadelConde (or you can reserve rooms here if you wish to spend a few days in the area) which you will enjoy with local wines. Their salads are huge and the ingredients so fresh that I would have been content with only this but I worked my way through some delicious plates of chicken, jamón, vegetables and dessert.  Another walk through the gorge was called for!

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Postscript:  Von Ryan’s Express  Starring Frank Sinatra and others, used the limestone gorge and the area around the Camineto del Rey to film the railway sequence at the film’s conclusion.  As Michael Caine would say, “Not many people know that”.

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Get Active and Healthy with Silver/Spain

New kid on the block for holidays in the sun, SilverSpain.com, is launching its programme of healthy body, healthy mind, and healthy eating holidays for the over 55s, holidays that also focus on companionship and relationships.  For people who want to improve their lifestyles, or who are in retirement and want to keep fit and healthy, these holidays for the more mature traveller, of 5 to 7 days duration with an option to extend the holiday,  are a welcome addition to those currently on offer.

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Based in Malaga on the Costa del Sol, SilverSpain is ideally placed for sussing out the perfect restaurants, walks, events and foodie trips that are included in the holidiay, and guests are based in a selection of luxury, top-end hotels both in Malaga itself and in stunning locations on the outskirts of the city, most with spas and flower-filled gardens. Exterior-Hotel-Vinuela,-Malaga

 

I’ve just had a trip to Spain to sample what they are offering later in the year (at the moment, from October) and I absolutely loved it, from the early morning exercises to the specially made morning smoothie followed by the healthy buffet breakfasts.  And, the smoothies were always luscious fresh local fruits with no green kale or spinach mixes in sight!  Plus, eggs, cheeses, hams and other foods were on the buffet table.

Walking in the National Parks and valleys in the area I found to be a special treat as these are activities I wouldn’t normally be able to do by myself.  Everyone walked at their own pace, some slowing down to take photographs, some striding out with vigour and others just ambling along and smelling the flowers, but it all served to keep us active and moving.Walking

Other events consist of  visiting vineyards, learning to cook paella and then having it for lunch,

Paella-chefbird-watching, a visit to a meditation centre, sight-seeing trips to places like Ronda, Nerja, and the famous white villages, a few hours spent in a Haman (with massage), seafood lunch on the beachfront at Malaga, and an Equestrian show with flamenco (this one not to be missed).

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All these ‘extras’ are included in the price of the holiday and together, make up a very attractive package.

Although these trips and walks are all taken at a leisurely pace, if anyone feels like opting out of them they can do so – it is a holiday after all.  Equally, for those who want more regular exercise, specialist breaks are planned, as well as specialist weeks for clients who may want to spend more time studying mindfulness and gaining insights into their life.

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P1000418Life expectancy continues to increase and holidays like these, organized by people who are dedicated to the philosophy of a healthy, active life and happy relationships as we grow older, are a breakthrough in advancing the cause of living better while we live longer lives.

Don’t think this is some freakish ‘alternative’ lifestyle holiday where you deny yourself the good things of life.  Great food and great wines, sunshine and blue skies are all there, just as you’d expect, but the added value is the feeling at the end when you find yourself fitter, healthier, and possibly happier, for the experience.

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So, get ready for a Spanish-style pub crawl on a Tapas evening in Malaga when you will enjoy whitebait, anchovies, patatas bravas, and other Spanish delicacies, washed down with a few glasses of wine in a Bodega in operation since 1840.  You don’t believe me? Ask SilverSpain about it.

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