On the long weekend from October 30th to November 1st, Quimera went to Aracena to reconnoitre the region. We stayed at El Madronhal Campsite, located in the town of Fuenteheridos, 14 km from Aracena and in the middle of a beautiful chestnut grove, in the middle of Sierra of Aracena and Picos de Aroche.
The Camping El Madronhal has space for tents and caravans, with drinking water and electricity; fully equipped bungalows and rural houses. We stayed in a very nice bungallow, which looked like a cabin. It is ideal for those who appreciate simplicity and being immersed in nature.
The time we went could not have been better chosen, with the autumn colors in the trees and the chestnut trees full of chestnuts. Although it rained a lot these days, we had a good time drinking a hot drink by the fireplace at the park bar. On Halloween night, a group of masked children knocked on our door asking for sweets, as we didn't have sweets we gave them some cereal bars, some fruit juices and some clementines.
On this trip, our objective was to visit the Mining Park of Rio Tinto and Gruta de las Maravillas in Aracena. However, we decided to go back one day and do some of the trails we found in the area.
Mining Park of Rio Tinto
In Rio Tinto the landscape was strongly shaped by human action. Mining has a history of 5000 years here. National Geographic Magazine considered Rio Tinto to be the most Mars-like place on Earth, on par with the Atacama Desert in Chile. In fact, several scientists and researchers are studying this environment, of high acidity and low oxygen, which resembles that of the planet Mars, to answer the question: If there is life on Rio Tinto, can it also exist on the Red Planet?
Rio Tinto is located in the province of Huelva, in Andalusia, a little further south of the Sierra de Aracena. The city of Rio Tinto was named after the river that flows there, which is red, like wine. We had already visited the Mines of São Domingos, in Mértola, Portugal, and found many similarities, like the English Quarter, but on a larger scale. This Tourism project was implemented by Fundation Rio Tinto.
The Mining Park of Rio Tinto, open to the public since 1992, offers several places to visit:
- The Mining Museum “Ernest Lluch”
Located in an old hospital, here you can learn about the history of mining in Rio Tinto and find railway elements, mining tools, historical archeology and an impressive recreation of a Roman mine.
- Peña de Hierro Mine
Here we can enter a real mine. Equipped with helmets, we walk through a mining gallery until we reach the open pit mine of Peña de Hierro, where the river Rio Tinto begins. In addition to this visit, there is an Interpretation Center where we can watch a film about the Rio Tinto Mines.
- Miner Ferrorail
The journey on this recovered mining train is the best way to get to know this desolate landscape, which was given the name “Marte en la Tierra” (Mars on Hearth), by the scientific community and which has been sought after by several filmmakers and producers for filming. The train trip is guided in Spanish and, has a stop in the middle where we can get closer to the river Rio Tinto and take some pictures. The train journey is about 12 km.
- Corta Atalaya Mine
This is, without a doubt, the most impressive open pit mine in the park, and the largest in all Europe. The visit to this mine is also guided in Spanish.
- House 21, English Quarter
This Victorian house allows the visitor to experience the life of a British family of an engineer from Riotinto Company Limited. It is a 3-storey villa, built in 1885 and rebuilt in 2013. Many British engineers came to work in the mines and live in Andalusia with their families, creating a small microcosm of England in the English Quarter.
Visiting the Rio Tinto Mining Park
Reserve a full day to visit Rio Tinto Mining Park, as there are many activities. You can buy tickets on the website https://parquemineroderiotinto.es/. There are different types of tickets, depending on the attractions you decide to visit, and different timetables. At the reception, the park staff provides you all the necessary information. Moving between the various points to visit is made in our own vehicles. We recommend starting with the Museum where we can get a general perspective on the history of the region.
There are several restaurants for lunch in Rio Tinto:
- Restaurant Casa Idolina, located in Nerva in an old bus station.
- La Fábrica restaurant
- Marobal Restaurant
- Época Restaurant
- Galan Restaurant
El Tren de La Luna (The Moon Train)
In addition to the regular visits, Rio Tinto Mining Park also offers its visitors a unique experience that consists of a train ride at sunset and, back at night, where visitors can enjoy the chromatic hues and views of the river lit by the moon. It is an experience much sought after in the summer, especially by photography lovers.
Aracena is a typical Andalusian city, with a varied gastronomic tourist offer, traditional architecture and an interesting historical-artistic and natural heritage. The main attractions are Gruta das Maravilhas (Maravillas Cave), Cerro do Castelo, where you can find the ruins of the old fortifications and the church Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Mayor Dolor, and the Museu do Presunto (Ham Museum). There are other points of interest such as Plaza San Pedro with the open-air Museum of Contemporary Art, the visitor's center Cabildo Viejo and the church Igreja Santa María de la Asunción.
The Portuguese expelled the Moors from Aracena in 1251 and later handed the city over to the Castilians. In Media, it was the scene of border conflicts between Portugal and Spain. The fortress of Aracena is part of a group of fortresses of Banda Galega, a defensive line that defends the frontier of León from the Portuguese. Built in the reign of King Sancho IV, it received this name because the region was repopulated by the Galicians after their conquest.
The main gastronomic product of this region is the pata negra ham or Iberian ham. The Iberian black pig is raised essentially in an open-air grazing regime, in cork oak and holm oak forests. In addition to hams, local restaurants serve other delicacies, such as seasonal mushrooms, winter gazpachos and pork.
The collection of wild mushrooms is a tradition in the Serra de Aracena that takes place during the first autumn rains. The most emblematic species are the gallipiernos, tanas, tentullos, níscalos and the gurumelos (Amanita Ponderosa), the mushroom par excellence of this area.
Gruta de Las Maravillas
The Gruta das Maravilhas (Wonders Cave) is a cave located below the city center of Aracena, inside the hill, crowned by the Medieval Castle and Church of Nuestra Señora de Mayor Dolor. It was the biggest cave that we have visited until today, it has a total depth of 2130m, but we only have access to 1400m.
According to a popular legend, this cave was discovered by a shepherd. When one of his sheep became separated from the flock, he went looking for it and stumbled at the entrance of the cave. Another theory, is that the cave was discovered due to mining activities. The first record found about the cave is from 1850, but it only opened to the public in 1914. Lighting and stairs were placed inside the cave in order to make the visit safe for the public. This place was pioneer in underground tourism.
This place is a water table, whose huge galleries were carved by the erosive action of the waters on the limestone. This karsification process has lasted for thousands of years and the cave is in constant formation and transformation due to the drip, sedimentation and crystallization processes of the minerals dissolved in the water.
The existing rock formations inside the cave (speleothems) present a great variety: from stalactites and stalagmites, columns, curtains, coralloids, gours, among others.
One of the most striking features of this cave are the turquoise lakes and transparent water that transport us to a magical world or a universe of science fiction.
The temperature inside the cave varies between 16º and 19º and a relative humidity of 98%.
The guided tour lasts about 50 minutes on a 1km circular circuit. The visit includes two of the three levels of the cave. The 3rd level is closed as it is a protected area used for geological investigation.
On the second level, the visit becomes even more breathtaking with the gours and rock formations submerged in the lakes.
The circuit passes through the following rooms:
- Chamber of Shells
- The Shining
- The Great Hall – Large hall with 50m and a lake with a depth of 11m.
- The Cathedral – marks the passage to the second level. It has the biggest column in the entire cave.
- The Volcano
- Sultana's Bath
- God's Crystal
- The Emerald Lake
- The “Garbanzos” Chamber – small rock formations similar to chickpeas on the walls indicate that this gallery was once submerged.
- The Gallery of the Nudes
Inside the cave it is not allowed to take photographs, which usually leaves tourists quite frustrated. I confess that we also felt that way during the visit, because we wanted to share the beauty we saw with you and leave some beautiful photos here on the blog.
Located in the north of Huelva, Serra de Aracena is an excellent place for hiking. It is a mountain with gentle slopes (the highest peaks are 1000m high), leafy forests of high ecological value, a network of rivers and streams and many examples of river architecture such as mills, weirs and fountains. It is one of the most extensive and best preserved forest areas in the Mediterranean region. The most abundant species are cork oaks and holm oaks, however, in the central area, which is higher and humid, centenary chestnut trees abound. This mountain range is also home to many species of birds of prey and it is common to see kites, golden eagles, booted eagles and black vultures soaring in the skies. In the water courses we can find amphibians, salamanders and newts. We definitely recommend a visit to this area that preserves a traditional way of life in communion with Nature.