Many of our readers will know that not many minutes inland from the concrete coast there is an entirely different and more authentic Andalucia. One such place is Los Barrios.
Mention Los Barrios to most people and they immediately think of the shopping complex adjacent to the N340 west of San Roque but, for those in the know, Los Barrios, the town and surrounding area, is something else. The easiest way to get there is to either take the road from the aforementioned shopping complex inland, a route that takes you over the misnamed Puente Romano (built in 1786), past the whistle stop railway station, (Los Barrios is on the Algeciras to Ronda line) and so into town or carry on west of the shopping area, up the A381 signposted Seville leaving at the first junction signposted Los Barrios East.
As you enter the town you will see on your right an innovative use of one of the old steam trains that was used on the line, it continues its life giving pleasure to hundreds of children as part of an adventure playground and on your left is the Betty Molesworth Memorial Park.
Betty Eleanor Gosset Molesworth Allen, to give her full name, lived in Los Barrios from the mid 1960s until her death in 2002 and spent twenty years studying the indigenous flora of Andalucia. She became famous in 1965 when she discovered Psilotum nudum, the fork or whisk fern, growing in a crevice near Los Barrios. This unprepossessing plant is a relic of the past, 300 million years in fact, and was thought, until 1965, to have survived only in the tropics and sub tropics. The whole study of plant distribution had to be rethought and rewritten. Nice one Betty. Appropriately Los Barrios has a Natural History Museum with the most extensive botanical collection in Andalucia.
Just past the park you will notice two curious buildings. Curious because they give the impression of being very primitive. They are replicas of the type of dwelling used by the late Neolithic farmers who inhabited this region 5,000 years ago. The mud and clay originally used to stick the building stones together has been replaced by cement, health and safety one supposes. The design remained basically unchanged in rural areas until the 20th century. Anyhow this is the tourist information office and one of the best in Andalucia. The staff speak excellent English, are helpful, and have a huge range of informative literature about the area, most translated into English. 15,000 years or so ago information about an area had to be recorded in a different manner. The caves paintings at nearby Cuevas de Bacinette are preserved and depict various hunting scenes.
Los Barrios is situated on the southern edge of the Los Alcornocales Natural Park considered by many to be the last jungle in Spain. The park is uniquely placed between the Atlantic and Mediterranean at the southernmost point of continental Europe only a few kilometres from North Africa. So, influenced by its surroundings that encourage a hot and wet climate, not only does it have a unique collection of fauna and flora it is also on the flight path for hundreds of migratory birds in spring and autumn. The canutos, narrow fluvial streams with their own micro climate, shelter many species of plants you will find nowhere else, and some, like Bettys fern, that are survivors from an age before animals trod the earth. The town is also strategically placed at the southern end of a cattle drovers route that dates back to the Middle Ages. Today the whole route along the droves can be walked in four days and you will end up in Puerto Real. It is called Corredor Verde Dos Bahias, The Two Bays Green Corridor, Cádiz and Algeciras. Locally the route is known as the Ruta del Toro the Route of the Bull because the cattle driven along these tracks were primarily the Spanish fighting bulls for which the area is famous.
Continuing into town you will find the usual square. This is the hub of life with cafés and restaurants and a bandstand. On one side is the Antiguo Hospital de La Caridad. Many of the casualties of the early 19th century Peninsular War were treated here. In 1831 the building gained notoriety when it became a prison for some of the Liberals involved in the Manzanares plot. In February 1831 Manzanares was in Gibraltar with General Torrijos when they received news that the people in the Serrania de Ronda were prepared to support them in overthrowing the king, Ferdinand VII, who held absolute power in Spain. Manzanares left Gibraltar with seventeen companions, hardly an army. They were betrayed and captured near Casares. In those days there was only one penalty for insurrection, they were shot. On Saturdays a far happier event takes place, the local market.
Overlooking the town there is the Saint Isidro Labrador Parochial Church. It is built in a mixture of styles, gothic, baroque and classic with a touch of Moorish influence, reflecting all the cultures that have influenced this area. As far as the storks are concerned though it just makes the perfect position for a nest.
Within the municipality of Los Barrios is the small fishing village of Palmones on the seaward side of the shopping complex, at the mouth of the Rio Palmones. It is here that the people of Los Barrios eat on a Sunday. The locals know Palmones as the Centro Gastronomico del Campo de Gibraltar and descend on the town for an extended lunch. The fish is fresh from the sea and there are two dishes to look out for, Almejas a la Marinera, Palmones clams cooked in white wine, oil, garlic and bay, and Guiso de Patatas con Choco, a dish of potatoes and cuttlefish that is delicious. Palmones also has its own version of gazpacho and is known for its chicken dishes and homemade pastries but perhaps most famously for its liquor, Cozar, produced at the local distillery.
The more active will not be disappointed either. The tourist office has details of over a dozen walks nearby and a number of cyclist routes. Pony trekking is available and there are recognised rides through the Alcornocales park. The Palmones Natural Park is accessible by small rowing dinghy or canoe from Palmones itself and is a haven for waders. The sand dunes on the bank opposite Palmones offer excellent vantage points for the twitcher.
Altogether Los Barrios is a rewarding place to visit for those of us fortunate to live nearby and is fast becoming a holiday destination for those who enjoy a more active vacation.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.