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WALKING WITH THE BULLS: AN AFTERNOON AT EL TORCAL

WALKING WITH THE BULLS: AN AFTERNOON AT EL TORCAL

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IF THERE’S ONE thing that can spice up a pleasant ramble in the Spanish countryside a little, it’s the knowledge that you’re sharing the place with a bull or two. Although — given that Spain’s a country that lets bulls and humans loose together en masse in the narrow streets of Pamplona once a year, as well as taunts the animals and puts them to the sword for sport and entertainment on a regular basis — perhaps it’s only fair they get to have the run of the place in a little pocket of the planet as tranquil and beautiful as El Torcal de Antequera.

El Torcal  is a Nature Reserve to be found in the Andalucia region of Southern Spain, about 30 kilometres north of Malaga and about ten kilometres from the town of Antequera. The area covers around 17 square kilometres and consists of some of the most spectacular limestone pinnacles and crags you’re likely to see anywhere on earth. The limestone was once at the bottom of an ancient sea, was thrust up around 150 million years ago by the movement of the earth’s crust and was then shaped and carved by the elements over countless millenia into the powerfully sculptural shapes of today.

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If you’re the sort of holiday-maker who (like us) spend much of their time in cities and towns sampling and marvelling at the people-made wonders, then El Torcal is also a good reminder that nature can produce towers, “cathedrals” and edifices that comprehensively trump the artificial for sheer intricacy and rugged beauty.

In Spring (when we visited) the place is at its absolute best. Abundant with wild roses, budding and newly-leafed bushes and trees clinging to the rocky landscape and carpeted with moss, vibrant green grass and wild flowers — it is an exquisitely beautiful place.

There are lizards and at least one species of snake to be found here, together with mountain goats, badgers, polecats, weasels and the Griffon Vulture. You can navigate the area via a number of rough, sometimes slippery and often muddy, marked tracks that wind their way through the reserve. The longest is only 4.5 kilometres and it’s from this one you can take in the most spectacular views looking down across Andalucia and — on a clear day — the coast of Africa.

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In the warmer months, don’t forget to carry some water (it gets hot) and in the cooler ones the weather can change quickly and unexpectedly (in Winter El Torcal is often blanketed with snow). Meanwhile the rocks and the mud are best tackled with a pair of decent walking shoes — and keep you eyes peeled for bulls all year.

Not that we actually came across any. Besides, if people go out of their way to run with herds of them in Pamplona, then it strikes me that walking with the bulls at El Torcal is a terrific alternative for anyone looking for a more sedate way to put yourself within the proximity of the unofficial national symbol of Spain.

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GUY ALLENBY

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Guy is a past design editor of Belle Magazine and was a feature writer and section editor at the Sydney Morning Herald for a number of years. His work has also been published in The Australian newspaper plus a host of magazines internationally. He is the author of a couple of architecture books and a best-selling biography of mind-body medical pioneer Ian Gawler entitled "The Dragon's Blessing". He is the editor of the generalist.

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