This stage goes between the northern foothills of Reales de Sierra Bermeja and Crestellina Mountains. It is surrounded by varied vegetation that, considering the height and humidity of this location, includes many kinds of ferns throughout the year.
Along just a little over 20 kilometres, the Gran Senda de Málaga undertakes the task of leading you from the dense woods of the shady slopes in the Valle del Genal, with its river running along on the right, to the first views of the Mediterranean. In order to achieve this goal, the walk follows quite a demanding itinerary, under the shade of the great Cork oaks, Portuguese gall oaks and Aleppo pines.
It leads along traditional paths between the villages of starting point and destination and the ones which go to Benarrabá, on the other side of the river. The walk heads in a north-south direction in general; however it also makes two loops: first one at the beginning, eastwards, and then another one to the west. The walk goes back to the main direction in its final section.
The walk uses mainly forest tracks but also some of the few livestock paths which are still in existence,especially the ones which are used to ford streams and rivers. These are tributaries of the river Genal and their headwaters are in the nearby Sierra Bermeja. Thus you are facing a Stage featuring a few ups and downs to and from the bottom of the valleys, but, altogether, it is very comfortable to walk due to a good design of the ancient paths.
During this stage you will be walking through 20 kilometres of woods, with noticeable subtle nuances between their different parts. Sometimes the woods are tamer, Cork oak dehesa style, or they turn into chestnut groves featuring the highest possible level of human intervention without losing their status of a forest. Other times the woods become a multi-coloured mix of Portuguese gall oak, Cork oak, and pine tangled with honeysuckle and shrubs.
The use of these forests is mainly big game hunting and simpli obtaining wood and cork. However, there also are many country houses here, not only close to the villages but also in the heart of the woods. Many of these form part of fi sh farms but others can vary from luxurious mansions which are only used for short breaks, to isolated, almost spiritual places, far from the mundane noise where you can commune with nature. These are many different ways of life in the forest and you can witness them all along the walk.
The woods are evidently very attractive but the rivers are the backbone of the walk. Only the Almárchal maintains a stable population of fi sh but the other rivers are important for many invertebrates and their predators, such as the Dipper, considering how clean the waters are. The GR-249 helps you get close to the numerous vegetable and fruit gardens and the fertile fluvial plains called vegas. The most outstanding ones are found half-way through the walk at the Molino de los Zaharames and, already on the other side of the Genal, at Los Pepes. Both places are sites of undoubted ethnographical interest.
Finally, the network of “caminos tradicionales” has always been very important around here as the Puerto de los Guardas and Puerto de las Viñas are the best options to cross over from the sierrat to the sea and vice versa. This was a chosen place to transport forestry and horticulture products to the coast and fish and other products coming from the sea back inland.
A special mention must go to the succession of viewpoints overlooking the villages of Genal Valley (Gaucín, Benarrabá, Algatocín and Genalguacil) with their white houses surrounded by trees and grey ridges. Cols and slopes, valleys and corners which allow the walker to fill their rucksacks with images of a very well preserved landscape full of traces of ancient traditions existing side by side with new kinds of activities integrated with the forest environment. Welcome to the woods.