Hiking (Cádiz): Pinar de Barbate
This lovely walk takes you through a Mediterranean pine forest to an ancient lookout tower that sits on the top of the cliffs with stunning views across to Africa. The longer version (7Km) also takes you along the cliff-top and down to a large expanse of sand known as Playa Hierbabuena. None of the gradients are terribly steep but the path becomes quite sandy in parts, and the longer version (along the cliffs to Playa Hierbabuena) has little shade!
You leave your car in the first parking area on the right-hand side of the road going from Los Caños de Meca to Barbate. There is a map in the car park and the route is signed. As the smallest Parque Natural in Andalusia, not only is the Pinar de Barbate a fine example of a Mediterranean pine forest but its undergrowth is also thick with all kinds of herbs (rosemary, sage, lavender) as well as junipers and cistus. The smell is intoxicating, and, together with the sound of a stiff levante rushing through the tops of the pines, you will soon find yourself immersed in this lovely forest. The 1.5km path that you take from the car park leads down to an old lookout tower, known as the Torre del Tajo, built in the sixteenth century as part of a coastal defence and communications system against pirates. The tower is positioned at the top of a 100-metre cliff from which there are stunning views across the bay to Zahara de los Atunes and, on a clear day, to the coast of Africa beyond. The cliffs are home to an array of seabirds, while the forest itself is home in the summer to Spotted Flycatchers, Serins and Woodchat Shrikes. Resident birds include Ravens, Common Buzzards and Common Kestrels. Lesser Kestrels can often be found in the countryside around the hotel, El Palomar de la Breña (stop here for a drink after your walk: signed on the right on the road back towards Caños just before the road drops), which boasts the largest dovecot in the world!
From the tower, you can either take the same path back to the car or follow the path south, along the cliffs towards Barbate. This path drops steadily, the whole time with superb views of the sea on the right-hand side. The cliff route has little shade and, facing due south, can be very hot in summer. After about 1.5Km, the path splits into two: here you can either carry on down towards the beach, Playa de Hierbabuena (long version), or take the left hand path that starts to rise gently, and which takes you back up towards the road. This path reaches another car park on the road after about 1km. To get back to where you left your car, simply veer left just before the road and work your way through the trees (staying parallel to the road), back to the original car park (approximately another 1km).