Summer in Southern Spain means hot. And I happen to live in one of the hottest cities in the country, Murcia. It no longer surprises me to see that Murcia has outdone, yet again, other infamously sweltering locales like Cordoba or Seville.

Rising temperatures generate anxiety, even among locals. The other night at dinner, friends recalled with horror The Day It Hit 48 last summer, almost 119 ºF. So far, this year has been relatively mild, but anything is possible.

Fortunately, I have recently discovered an enticing option for relief from the heat (crowded beaches aside) – the Parque Natural de Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Villas, located in Jaén, a province in Northern Andalusia.

Cazorla - Gateway to Nature

This natural park comprises the largest protected area in Spain. And while the  afternoon temperatures in July can easily climb into the upper nineties, the evenings and mornings are refreshingly cool thanks to altitude – the entire park lies above 600m, around 2000′.

During the five days we recently spent in the park, my boyfriend Manolo and I settled into a perfect summer rhythm by my standards. We’d start the day with a gentle hike and/or village excursion, having decided July was not the ideal time to tackle peaks. (Mt. Yelmo, whose bald, 6000′ summit demands a steep, largely unshaded climb, would have to wait.) One day, we followed the Río Borosa through a narrow canyon and were rewarded with some surprisingly lush vistas (for Southern Spain, that is).

Río Borosa Trail View

We navigated the narrow streets of perched villages like Segura de Sierra, whose restored hilltop fortress, from which the photo below was taken, was once the home of Moors and later of knights of the Order of Santiago.

Sierra de Segura

After the daily excursion, it was time for a leisurely lunch of regional specialties like thin filets of smoked trout or tender, stewed game, such as boar and deer. Grilled, local segureño lamb was also a good choice for its delicate flavor. Bread was essential to mop up the golden traces of olive oil left on nearly every plate. This is Jaén after all, the olive capital of Spain.

Eat Local

We’d then have a siesta (of course), and to pass the final hours of heat, a rejuvenating swim and stone-skipping session in one of the rivers that begin in the park, like the Guadalquivír, below.

Río Guadalquivir


By 8 pm, it was time for a cold beer (customarily served with a free tapa) to celebrate the fact we’d made it through the day hardly having broken a sweat.

SOME PRACTICAL INFORMATION:

Weather note: To avoid the heat completely, it would be best to visit the park in another season. I’d like to return for some longer hikes myself, and I bet the leaf changes in the fall are lovely, although the rivers might not be so enticing…

Where we stayed:

Hospedería Río Zumeta

Hospedería Río Zumeta: A rustic mountain lodge with homey rooms and DIY charm. The restaurant specializes in local cuisine, such as trout, which in two days I tried three different ways, all of them delicious – smoked, a la plancha and in escabeche, a vinegar and olive oil marinade. As of July 2010, full room-and-board was a budget-friendly 48 euros per person/per day.

Lodgings I’d like to check out:

Casa Rural Molino La Farraga

Parador de Cazorla – El Adelentado

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