Monday, 29 September 2008

Huelva - Spains Gem in Southern Andalucia

The Lighthouse at Rompido

If your looking for authentic Spain in an area of great natural beauty with some of the best beaches in the country as to offer then Huelva is the place for you. My family and I head for this refreshingly tranquil part of Andalusia every possible chance we have during the hot summer months.

Some of the best beaches in Spain can be found in the province of Huelva

The province of Huelva is located in Southern Spain and is situated in the western part of the autonomous region of Andalusia. It borders with Portugal and the provinces of Cadiz, Badajoz and Seville and has 79 municipalities with a population of approximately 600.000 inhabitants.

Huelva lies along the aptly named Costa de la Luz ( the coast of light ) and can proudly boast to being home of the largest concentration of top quality beaches in Spain.

The Rompido Ferry

The province of Huelva really is an area of great diversity, boasting around 3000 sunshine hours a year. About a third of its extension is taken up by the Doñana nature reserve, one of the most important wetland reserves in Europe with some 365 recorded species of resident and migratory birds, 5 of which are endangered species and include the Spanish Imperial Eagle, Iberian lynx and Egyptian mongoose. The park can be enjoyed by trekking, guided tours, 4 x 4 trips and horse riding walks, there are also museums and other informative posts scattered around the reserve.

The famous El Rocio Village is also located here. This curious pueblo is set by the side of the Doñana national park and is where hundreds of thousands of Rocieros from all over Spain make their annual dusty pilgrimage to pay homage to the Virgen del Rocio in one of Andalucias biggest festivals, the Romeria del Rocio. Although the Virgen del Rocio has been celebrated for over 800 years in 1758 it was decided that it would go ahead on the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday. There are actually two main parts, the festival of Almonte of which the Virgen del Rocio is the patron saint and the pilgrimage which starts several days earlier. The festival is a blend of catholic and local pagan beliefs.The pilgrimage to the village of Rocio is quite a spectacular and traditional affair with hundreds of brotherhoods from surrounding villages and from all over Andalucia taking part.

The picturesque fishing village of Rompido

Huelva City – the capital of the region is quite industrial area housing a petro chemical plant and at first glance the city may not be that inspiring to the visitor however it does house a few gems that are well worth visiting, such as the Barrio Obrero ( the workers neighbourhood ), the Tinto and Tharses wharfes, various historic churches including the main Cathedral, the Odiel wetlands and the provincial Museums housing thousands of Archaeological artefacts.

The province is of course famous for its historic connection to Christopher Columbus. On the 3rg August 1492 the caravels set sale from the old port of Palos de la Frontera making the city famous for playing its part in the discovery of America. Palos houses an open dock with replicas of Columbus’s ships.

Another must place to visit would be the beautiful and picturesque Sierra de Aracena. Sierra signifies mountain range in Spanish although the highest peak is only some 1.059 meters high, making it rather a big hilly area rather than mountainous. However having said that the Sierra really is a hidden gem in southern Andalusia where visitors will see typical white washed villages, spectacular views, chestnut forests in abundance and where some of the finest local home cooking can be found. I would highly recommend a trip to the Gruta de las Maravillas ( Grotto of Marvels ) which has more than 1 km of subterranean passages of pure natural beauty.

One of my personal favourites would have to be Las Minas de Rio Tinto – the Rio Tinto Mines . located in Village of Nieblas The name Rio Tinto ( Red River ) was of course coined from the impressive colour of the water that flows through the mines. When the ferrous ores come into contact with water they turn both land and the river into an incredible myriad of colours , shades of red, yellow, orange, brown and green can all be seen as the river trickles through the area.
The mines are reputedly the oldest in the world and rich in history, reportedly being the fabled mines of King Solomon himself. It was the wealth of the mines that beckoned the Phoenicians and the successive invasions of the Greek, Carthaginians and Romans. However it was inexplicably abandoned by the Romans and left to fall in the memories of time until it was rediscovered in 1556 although was not reopened until 1724. However inefficiency and bad management caused the Spanish government to sell the mines to a British consortium in 1871, which true to the dogged British commercial mentality and work ethic was fully exploited until it became one of the most important sources of Copper and Sulphur in the world.

The colonials even built a small village called Bella Vista for the employees of the mines which is identical to any perfect little country retreat in Britain with neat lawns gardens, tennis lawns and a social club, it even has its own and Presbyterian Church. It is still well maintained and can be visited to this day.