The Remaining Blue Fir Forests: the Botanic Treasure of the Mediterranean

Víctor Lechuga
Víctor Lechuga

Seen from afar, this fir forest is the perfect backdrop for a fairytale. Seen upclose, this forest feels like a Christmas wonderland.

Wanna see it?

In between Spain and Morocco there are seven fir or pinsapo forests, that are so beautiful, you’ll wonder why you didn’t study botany. Even if you are a mine engineer, teacher or a construction worker, Nattule gives you the opportunity to enjoy this unique plant species, deep rooted in the mountain range of Andalusia.

The pinsapo forest, a very unique ecosystem, is located in Cadiz and Malaga, and a very specific area of Morocco. Here I’ll explain to you the 7 different pinsapo forests that you can visit.

1. Grazalema Pinsapo forest

The pinsapo forest of the Sierra del Pinar, expanding from 300 hectares, is the most well known forest in Spain. It’s a large forest filled with fir, oak and maple trees.

The pinsapo forest upholsters the northern slope, where there are fir trees of all sizes and ages. You’ll find all of these fir trees in an excellent state of preservation, which makes them unique.

Now, you will want to know how to get there.

It´s simple. From the town of Grazalema, take a detour from  A-372 to CA-53 until you reach the sign indicating Sendero del Pinsapar. Here you will find a fence. In order to cross it, you will need to get a permit. This permit will allow you to reach the highest point of the slope, which is where you will find an amazing view of the pinsapo forest.

This route is fairly easy. It begins with a steep slope on the first stretch, followed by a downward, long trail through the pinsapo forest until you reach Benamahoma (from the Arab word Ibn Muhammad, meaning “Sons of Mahoma”).

Keep in mind that you will need a car at the end of the journey in Benamahoma.

2. Sierra de las Nieves Pinsapo Forest

The Sierra de las Nieves hosts the biggest population of pinsapos in the Iberian Peninsula. It covers 2,000 hectares, located across the villages of Parauta, Tolox, Ronda and Yunquera. This Natural Park will soon become a National Park, which is the top environmental recognition given in Spain. The pinsapo forests are clustered along the marked hiking trails.

One of the best examples of a pinsapo forest is Puerto Saucillo, in Yunquera, that borders around the trail, and is easy to hike. The path is about 4 hours, if you go at a relaxed pace. You can begin this hike at the natural lookout of the port until you reach the highest peak of Malaga, the Torrecilla.

Another circular trail is the Pinsapo de la Escalereta, shorter than the other hike. One of its points of interest is the Natural Monument, which the route is named after.

Further up we find the Puntal de la Mesa pinsapo, also called El Pulpo. It’s 300 years old and has the expected age conditions, but it is still a majestic example of survival.

3. Other Pinsapo Forests of Ronda

In addition to the three big populations mentioned, there are little scattered pinsapo forest areas on various locations in the mountainous area of Ronda. The villages hosting those old pinsapo forests are Istán, Monda, Ojén and El Burgo.

In addition to pinsapos, there are also other species, such as the Castaño Santo de Istán, a unique tree. It has been said that King Fernando, ¨El Católico¨, once held mass under the shade of its tree.

A route to visit those pinsapo forests begins on the same path that connects San Pedro de Alcántara with Ronda. You have to go through the Natural Park, towards the recreational area of Los Quejigales, located 15 kilometers away from the exit.

The semicircular route, reaches the Cañada del Cuerno, where you will find the first pinsapo tree. Afterwards, you will walk along the Puerto de los Pilones and El Torrecilla. You have the option of returning using the same path, or by the Cañada de las Ánimas, that goes through another aged, but impressive forest.

4. Los Reales de Sierra Bermeja Pinsapo Forest

In Sierra Bermeja, just 15 kilometers away from Estepona, you can find the third natural population of pinsapos in Andalusia.

It is a smaller forest, but very original since it stems from the biggest peridotite rock outcrop of the world. These reddish rocks, with a magmatic origin, caused the development of heavy metal grounds, which makes it difficult for the vegetation to grow. That’s not a problem. As one famous Spanish writer said: “In Spain, the one who resists is the one who wins”.

The characteristics of the ground in this mountainous area allow for a high number of exclusive plants, like the pinsapo forest. That, along with other small and scattered trees in other points of Sierra Bermeja, especially the Cerro Abantos, constitutes the only pinsapo population growing on peridotite rocks.

Although it’s small, this pinsapo forest may be one of the most well known and visited forests by the general public because of its location near the coast. The high amount of visitors is due to its easy access by road, as well as the fact that it was the first pinsapo forest visited by Edmond Boissier, who discovered this species in 1837.

To get there you have to take the MA-557 road, up to Pico de los Reales. After two kilometers, a sharp curve begins the hour long trail, known as the “Paseo de los Pinsapos”, which goes through the forest on a round trail.

It’s also possible to do the Los Realillos route that connects with the previous route and reaches the Mirador de Salvador Guerrero, where you can see the Rif and Gibraltar on a very clear day.

5. Pinsapo Forest Outside its Natural Distribution: Granada

Very small, but worth the visit; this pinsapo forest is made up of scarcely three groups of ten scattered trees in a half hectare of land.

These plants were brought into being from an experiment that took place during the sixties, inside the Natural Park of the Sierra de Huétor, in the Barranco de la Umbría.

© Nacho Nuñez,

Nowadays, this population is well preserved and is listed as a singular grove.

6. Pinsapo Forest Outside of Andalusia: Orcajo

The most important pinsapo forest outside of Andalusia is located in the Aragonese village of Orcajo (Zaragoza).

This forest dates back from the beginning of the 20th century, when a successful planting of pinsapos took place in that village.

On the mount called “Fuentes del Villar” you will have a fantastic view of the basin of the Gallocanta Lagoon and the Valle del Jiloca, with its beautiful promenades.

7. Pinsapo Forest of the National Park of Talassemtane: Morocco

This pinsapo forest, which is the largest in the world and is the best preserved, belongs to the Mediterranean Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve.

You can reach it by Chefchaouen or by Bab Taza. From Chefchaouen, there is a trail nearby the Hotel Atlas, which connects with Azilane. The pinsapo is the main feature that defines this route.

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So now you know, you won’t see the pinsapo trees while drinking a beer by the beach, nor on a seafront promenade during your morning jog, but it is definitely worth a visit.

Please write me if you have any doubts or concerns on where to find pinsapo trees.

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