Huelva - Punta Umbria - Ayamonte
Although a provincial capital, Huelva still preserves a certain maritime air. The Phoenicians called it Onuba. The present name comes from the Arabs, who called it Guelbah and established a petty kingdom there. Most of the city of Huelva was destroyed in the earthquakes of the 18th century. Still standing, however, are an 18th-century church, the churches of San Pedro (a Baroque edifice built on the remains of the old mosque) and La Concepción (16th century, rebuilt after the Lisbon earthquake), and the convent of La Merced (now the Cathedral, with a fine entrance). Perhaps the two most charming spots in the city of Huelva are the Paseo de las Palmeras (adjacent to the port) and the white-walled Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Cinta (the local patroness) overlooking the town. From here there is a splendid view of the entire city, the estuary and the nature zone of Las Marismas del Odiel - and the sunsets are unforgettable. The Sanctuary is decorated with tiles depicting the visit made there by Christopher Columbus.
From Punta Umbría to Ayamonte
The last part of the Costa de la Luz begins at Punta Umbría. Surrounded by pine woods, the locality came into being in the 14th century when it was ordered that a tower, called Punta de Umbría, be erected to give advance warning of possible invasions. No more than a small fishing village until recently, it has now become a major summer resort. During the summer one can go to and from Huelva by “canoas”, as the locals call the boats. Nearby are Marismas de Odiel natural park and Los Enebrales nature zone, a veritable paradise for wildlife species.
The road carries on along the coast flanked on the one side by pine woods and on the other by solitary beaches. Now and again there are roadside restaurants and the odd camping site. On the way it is worth stopping at Isla de En medio, a nature zone, andLa Laguna del Portil, now classified as an ecological reserve. Further on is Cartaya, a place known to the Phoenicians, where one can still see the ruins of a small castle which was originally Roman and later Arab. Cartaya is famous for the beach and port of El Rompido, a strip of land separating the river from the sea, and for the nature zones of Río Piedras and Flechas del Rompido. The Mirador or vantage point offers a wonderful panoramic view.
Next along is the beach ofLa Antilla and white Lepe, a prosperous truck-farming town with important cooperatives and an intense devotion to the Virgen de la Bella, whose image is said to have floated in from the sea. And finally, at Ayamonte one comes to the end – or the beginning – of the Costa de la Luz. Ayamonte has always been a quiet fishing town, white houses sloping down to the harbour, where at any time one will find fishermen mending their gaily-coloured nets. “Ayamonte” is a corruption of the name originally given it by the Greeks: Anapotaman, meaning “on the river”. Set on a height is the Parador, which affords an excellent view of the town and the mouth of the river Guadiana – the best time is near sunset.
Ayamonte’s popularity derives chiefly from Canela and Moral beaches (each five kilometers long); although already becoming lively in springtime, the high season is from June to early September. The end of the Costa de la Luz marks the beginning of Portugal, now much closer since the international bridge over the Guadiana was opened in 1991.
Sierra de Aracena
Once the scene of Templar activity, this mountain area is dotted with small fortresses, a legacy of the Reconquest. There are places which were pagan before becoming Christian, legend-haunted grottoes, villages of white houses set amidst woods of holm and cork oak - and above all, the best serrano ham in Spain.
Perched on a crag shielding the lovely town of Alájar (the name means “stone” in Arabic) stands the sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, one of Spain’s most important religious sites (and the most important in this Sierra) and a good example of how our forebears always selected the most beautiful surroundings for their devotions. The rooms adjoining the church are replete with hundreds of votive offerings, objects left over the years in thanksgiving for some favour vouchsafed by the Virgin. It was to the grotto of Alájar that Arias Montano, humanist, scientist, polyglot and researcher, was forced by the Inquisition to retire from the world of mundane things, having been saved from torture only by his friendship with King Philip II.
After enjoying the magnificent view from the vantage point of the sanctuary, one leaves Alájar in the direction ofAracena, twelve kilometers away. From far off, crowning the town, one can make out the Almohad tower on which the banner of the Templars fluttered for nearly two centuries. Aracena has always been a classic summer resort for the citizens of Seville and Huelva. The most interesing feature, besides the Castle church, is a Grotto of Wonders that preserves beautiful stalactites and stalagmites which are among the most extensive in Spain (the grotto is 1500 meters long). In the interior are 12 chambers and six lakes.
Following the road to Portugal one comes toJabugo, a town famous for the ham of that name, which is immortalised in heartfelt stanzas by Lope de Vega. Among the mountains, little towns like Castaño del Robledo lie hidden, fine examples of the traditional mountain architecture. For nearly six centuries these homes of fine ham belonged to the Arabs, a people who never touched it. But they did build castles and mosques, some of them still standing today, and they left a rich cultural legacy which has come down to us in place names like Almonaster, Aracena, Galaroza and many others.
Already before the Arabs, the region had been peopled by Celts and Romans, InAroche, for example, Scipio stayed on his arrival from Rome to combat Viriato. In the neighbourhood of the present bullring, once an Almoravid castle, there are numerous legend-haunted megaliths, known by the locals as “Devil’s stones”. Contrasting with such pagan beliefs, Aroche is home to one of the most curious of religious museums, the Museum of the Holy Rosary, which boasts a collection of nearly 1300 rosaries. These have been donated by popes, monarchs, politicians and famous personalities. And Aroche has yet another museum – the Archaeological Museum, which is housed in the castle.
Natural Parks in Huelva - Natural Reservs
Besides Doñana National Park, there are three Nature Reserves: Isla de Enmedio, Laguna de El Portil and Marisma de El Burro; eight Nature Zones: Los Enebrales at Punta Umbría, Estero de Domingo Rubio, Lagoons of Palos and Las Madres, Marshes of Isla Cristina, Marshes of the river Odiel, Marshes of the river Piedras and Flecha del Rompido, Peñas de Aroche, Sierra Pelada and Rivera del Aserrador; and there is one Natural Park: Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche. Designated natural areas occupy a total of 210 hectares in Huelva in addition to the 105,000 ha of Doñana National Park.