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Doñana National Park

Costa de la Luz Property Near Donana National Park

In ancient times the mouth of the Guadalquivir, Andalusia's mightiest river, was a wide lagoon dotted with islands, one of which is said to have been the capital of the mythical kingdom of Tarshish.

Gradually the area silted up, giving way to a landscape of marshes, shifting sand dunes and pine forests. In the 16th century it was the hunting ground of kings, lorded over by the powerful Duke of Medina Sidonia, and became known - in honour of the Duke's wife - as Doña Ana. Today, protected as the Doñana National Park, it is one of the most valuable natural jewels in Europe.

The Doñana National Park is some 75,000ha in size and one of Europe's largest areas of wilderness. It is the largest National Park in Europe. The wetlands are a nesting spot for more than 100 species of birds and a vital wintering ground or stop-over on the migration route for countless others. The seasonal pattern of the delta water means that it floods in winter and then drops in spring leaving rich deposits of silt. The sandbanks and islands, which appear, are ideal for wading birds. In the salt marshes and the pine and cork forests behind there is all manner of wildlife including many species unique to this area. The park is also home to the Spanish Lynx, which is now in severe danger of extinction while in the skies above the imperial eagles soar, hunting their prey.

For nature lovers a visit to Doñana is a must. Although the environment takes precedence over tourism and much of the park is off-limits to visitors, travellers can enjoy a good taste of Doñana on trips organised by the Cooperativa Marismas del Rocio, a co-operative started in 1980 and the first nature guide organisation of its kind in Andalusia. Twice a day, visitors are taken in specially adapted four-wheel-drive buses for a 40-mile journey through the park, lasting four hours. The maximum number of visitors per day is 256 and so it is essential to book in advance. During the summer months it is necessary to book several weeks ahead. You can get further insights into the park's unique wildlife at El Acebuche, one of five visitors' centres serving Doñana.

For accommodation the Marismas de Doñana co-operative runs a small hotel in the village of El Rocio (the Toruño) overlooking the park and not far from the shrine, which is the object of the famous Rocio pilgrimage in spring.

Less than a mile from El Rocio, in the midst of an orange orchard, a farming estate has been converted into a comfortable hotel (Cortijo de los Mimbrales), with accommodation in rooms or in small bungalows sleeping four to six people. It has a high-ceilinged lounge with comfy sofas and easy chairs, plenty of books and magazines, a fire place, an honesty bar, and an atmosphere conducive to quiet evening get-togethers among nature lovers.

While outdoor activities are not permitted in the national park itself, there are a number of possibilities in the nature area, which forms a protective belt around Doñana, for off trail biking and hot air ballooning. Cortijo de los Mimbrales itself serves as a base for horse riding tours in the area, including all-inclusive horse riding holidays lasting 5 to 7 days organised by the Equiberia company www.equiberia.com