Marisa Casado - 2010-03-22
In the north-east of Segovia, below the nearby town of Sepulveda, the waters of the river Duratón carve their way through some extraordinary cliffs. This pretty area is also home to the largest colony of griffon vultures in Europe.
Las Hoces del DuratónNatural Park is one of the most beautiful parts of the autonomous communities of Castile and León, as well as one of the most visited. Steep, meandering slopes and almost vertical walls are dotted with small caves that combine to make a stunning landscape in which ochre coloured limestone contrasts spectacularly with the surrounding greenery and the blue water of the river. For millions of years, the Duratón river has shaped the landscape of an exceptional area which has become the preferred habitat for the griffon, one of the largest birds of prey.
If you’re visiting the village of Sepulveda or its surrounding area, be sure not to miss this natural paradise. After crossing the flat lands of the plateau, it’s a surprise to find yourself suddenly confronted with an immense precipice that extends for 27 miles with walls that can reach up to 100 metres in height. The contrast is striking.
Besides its natural heritage, the Hoces Duratón park boasts a wealth of historical, artistic and archaeological significance. The path of the canyon is dotted with caves featuring rock paintings dating back to the Bronze Age, the Roman roadways and bridges, small rock sanctuaries of Visigoth origin and Romanesque buildings (the Hermitage of San Frutos, the ruins of the Convent de la Hoz), proof of the human attraction this place has always held.
The Hermitage of San Frutos
The 12th century Hermitage of San Frutos offers a unique vantage point on the Las Hoces del Duratón. It’s situated on the edge of the canyon on a rocky promontory surrounded by precipices. From here you can observe the majestic flight of griffins as they hover, sometimes just a few metres, above the heads of visitors. An estimated 500 pairs are currently nesting in Las Hoces, but you’ll also find other raptors such as golden eagles, peregrine falcons, vultures and owls living here.
You can reach the Hermitage by following a dirt path that starts from the village of Villaseca that leads you directly to Las Hoces. You can also get there by car but you’ll need to drive carefully. At the end of the trail you’ll find a clearing where you can park to walk the final 400 metres or so to the monastery.
On the approach to the retreat you'll see a stone bridge built across a very deep crevasse in the rock, known as Cuchillada (the wound). According to legend, San Frutos opened this hole in the rock with his pastoral staff in an attempt to halt the advance of the Muslims, who were attempting to occupy the area.
Hiking and canoeing itineraries
The best way to get to know the Hoces del Duratón Natural Park is to follow one of the suggested walking or canoe routes. Information on the various recommended routes is available from Casa del Parque (the Park House), located in the ancient chiesa di Santiago a Sepúlveda.
There are three possible hiking routes to choose from; the first that takes in Molinilla, the second that covers Los Dos Rios and a third that connects the bridges of Talcazo and Villaseca (the latter can also be covered by bike). The routes are relatively easy going, with estimated durations of between one and three hours, and each option is highly recommended for the splendid views of the canyon. You’ll discover an area rich in flora and fauna and the magnificent historical and artistic heritage of Sepulveda.
Discovering the Hoces del Duratón Natural Park by canoe will allow you to experience a rush of emotions whilst exploring the entire length of its deep gorge. Small groups can also hike along the river, led by a guide who will offer a commentary on each stage of the journey.
Whatever your chosen route, be sure to take along a good pair of binoculars to take in the spectacle of the griffins in full flight and diving into their nests. These magnificent birds of prey bear their young between January and July, during which time visitors are expected to be particularly vigilant and mindful for fear of frightening the birds. You may find that access to the reserves may be more limited during this period.
A stop at Sepulveda
If you have time, you should take advantage of an excursion to the Natural Park by visiting the lovely town of Sepúlveda, worthy of mention not only for its landscape but also for the many medieval remains to be found in the area.
From Plaza Mayor, where the Palazzo del Conte di Sepúlvedastands, you can lose yourself in the weaving, cobbled streets and discover some of the most important monuments: la chiesa di Santiago, la porta Ecce Homo, la Chisea di San Justo and the Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de la Peña, patron saint of the city.
Finally, a recommendation to sample that most typical of Sepúlveda dishes: the renowned lamb roasted in a wood oven. The secret is apparently in the quality of the herbs, grown in the region and used to give the lamb its specific flavour and texture. All Sepúlveda restaurants offer this delicious dish that is guaranteed to make you want to return to the area as soon as possible.