Dehesas de Jerez
Location and access
The route is in the dehesas of Jerez de los Caballeros, in the southwest of the province of Badajoz, where you can find one of the largest and best-conserved forest masses of Holm and cork oaks in the Iberian Peninsula. The suggested routes start from the town of Jerez de los Caballeros, which can be reached from the north and south via the N-435; from the east and west via the EX-112, from the A-66 (Zafra) and Villanueva del Fresno, respectively.
Description of the route
The route goes over a mix of asphalted roads and dirt tracks, and is about 105 km long, of which only 10 km are on tracks. The suggested route starts from the town of Jerez de los Caballeros and ends back at it. It’s designed to be done by car in one day, stopping and going for short walks at the most interesting observation points. Apart from the irrigated crops in Ardila and Valuengo Reservoir, the route mainly goes through landscapes dominated by Holm and cork oaks, in single species or mixed expanses, forming open woodland or dehesa or denser and more wooded formations, often accompanied by Iberian Pears. This natural region of the mountain ranges of Jerez de los Caballeros reveals the essence of Extremadura’s countryside in all its splendour: the dehesa. A vast sea of Holm and cork oaks with numerous mature forests in an excellent state of conservation carpets the undulating relief of the Extremaduran spurs of Sierra Morena. Together with the neighbouring Andalusian regions it constitutes the biggest continuous expanse of sclerophyllic (drought-tolerant) forest in the southwest of Spain. In fact, this region is the main reserve of indigenous trees in Extremadura, with about 350,000 ha, which represents 40% of the total wooded area in the region; about 100,000 ha belong to the dehesas of Jerez de los Caballeros. The quality of its forests and dehesas and the richness of the breeding species, such as the Black Stork, have made it deserving of its declaration as a Special Protection Area for birds.
The route starts in the town of Jerez de los Caballeros, taking the N-435 towards Fregenal de la Sierra. Turn left before you cross the bridge over the River Ardila, at point (X:0699392, Y: 4241573), onto the road that leads to the town of Valuengo. From here take the road on the right at point (X:0700264, Y: 4242231) to Valuengo Reservoir. When you reach the reservoir, from the wall downstream, you can see Grey Heron, Little Egret and Great Cormorant fishing or sunning themselves on the slates. With a bit of luck and patience it’s quite possible to see an Otter playing in the water. From here continue along a dirt track that goes around the reservoir, affording views of wide areas and corners where you can see large wintering concentrations of duck (Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler) as well as Common Coot, Great Cormorant, Great Crested Grebe and Little Grebe. A large group of Great Cormorant roost in the eucalyptuses on the opposite bank and at the end of summer it’s possible to see groups of Black Stork gathered together before undertaking their migratory journey back to Africa.
The route ends at the end of the farm La Parrilla, from where you should return to Jerez de los Caballeros via the same route. From here take the EX-112 towards Oliva de la Frontera before turning right towards the town of Higuera de Vargas at point (X:0691600, Y: 4244694). The close relationship between wildlife and traditional production systems in balance with the environment is clearly evident along this route. The benign winter temperatures make any walk through the dehesa very pleasant, where you can often see the pruning teams and charcoal kilns, laborious constructions used for the traditional production of excellent quality charcoal that has made the town of Zahinos famous. Along with this is the true source of the farming richness of the towns of these mountain ranges: the Iberian pig, whose time in the mountains is critical for its fattening up and the refinement of its cold meats and hams, popularly known as “pata negra”. As you proceed you will see Azure-winged Magpies, strangely very scarce, and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Common Redstart, an uncommon summer breeding bird that has its main population in this area of Extremadura, in the more mature, dense and better conserved forests. When you reach Higuera de Vargas turn left onto the EX-311 towards the N-435 and from here, turn right towards the town of Barcarrota. From here take the road towards the towns of Salvaleón andSalvatierra de los Barros, a famous pottery town that is worth visiting. The scenery along the route is spectacular, as it goes along the shady side of “Sierra de Peña Utrera”, with some huge cork and gall oaks and beautiful views towards the valleys surrounding the “Sierra de Valbellido”, on whose rocky crags you can see Griffon Vultures. Once you reach Salvatierra take the BA- 3021 towards Valle de Santa Ana and the N-435, probably the most spectacular part of the whole route. For a little over 25 km the road goes through a tree-covered landscape in which it isn’t uncommon to see Black Stork gliding to lower heights or fishing in some stream or pool in a dehesa.
The Holm and cork oaks are home to rich communities of birds, being of special interest for endangered species such as the Black Stork, which finds seclusion in these vast wooded areas during the breeding period. In winter a small fraction of the population remains here, in pairs or small groups scattered around the innumerable livestock pools in the area, and in summer striking post-breeding concentrations gather before the migration back to sub Saharan Africa. In spring the area welcomes Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle and other summer visitors from Africa, along with a long list of thousands of small birds that go unnoticed, hidden in the branches of the trees. The noisy Azure-winged Magpies are very common in the Holm oak groves, where they establish their breeding colonies, as are White Stork, Common Wood Pigeon, Common Cuckoo, Mistle Thrush, Spotless Starling and Hoopoe. Over the years the hundred-year-old Holm and cork oaks of the most mature forests give refuge in the holes of their trunks and branches to a huge number of animal species. As a result nocturnal birds are particularly abundant, such as Tawny Owls and Barn Owls and mammals such as the Genet and Garden Dormouse. These mature forests are the favoured habitat for the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Common Redstart.
Valuengo Reservoir has large wintering concentrations of Great Crested Grebe and the eucalyptuses on its banks are used as a winter roost by Great Cormorants. One of the first records of this species as a breeding bird was in 1993.
Best time to visit
This route can be done at any time of the year. As with other routes spring is the best season, with good temperatures during the day and the return of the summer visitors: Black Stork, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, etc. Spring is also the breeding period, and as a general recommendation for all the routes you must not stray from the established route to avoid disturbing the birds during this sensitive period. It is very hot in summer, so make sure you drink plenty of fluids and protect yourself properly from the sun, avoiding the middle hours of the day, which are also less favourable for watching the birds.
Other environmental and cultural interest
Besides the SPA “Dehesas de Jerez”, there are several other areas in the district that form part of the Natura 200 network. These include the ecological and biodiversity corridor of the Alcarrache river, the SPA Valuengo reservoir which hosts important populations of waterbirds, such as Great-crested Grebe and Great Cormorant, as well as the Alor and Monte Longo mountains and the María Andrés mountains, both with excellent populations of orchids. Other important areas include the Guadiana river, Ardila Alto and Ardila Bajo river and the valley of the Limonetes-Nogales.
The Dehesas de Jerez and their surroundings are considered a heartland of the Iberian pig, thanks to which the district is one of the most important in the whole of Spain for the production of Iberian hams and other cured pork products. The annual celebration “Salón del Jamón Ibérico” in Jerez de los Caballeros is very important. The many local producers come under the label Denominación de Origen “Dehesa de Extremadura”. There are also attractive historic towns such Jerez de los Caballeros, Fregenal de la Sierra and Zafra. Holy Week in Jerez de los Caballeros and the Living Passion in Oliva de la Frontera have been declared as festivals of regional interest for tourism. The “Festival de la Sierra” is celebrated between 10th and 15th August in Fregenal de la Sierra. The district is rich in megalithic monuments, such as the group of dolmens at Barcarrota and the Toriñuelo dolmen in Jerez de los Caballeros.
Nor should be overlooked the snow well, castle and pottery museum in Salvatierra de los Barros, famous for its earthenware pots and jars.