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.
In just over 20 kilometres, the Great Path takes you down the valley sides of the River Genal, from the shaded woodland to the Strait of Gibraltar. This makes it quite a demanding Stage, through mostly shaded forest of large Cork and Gall oaks and Maritime pines and using some of the traditional paths between Genalguacil, Casares and Benarrab . At first, it heads south-west while winding its way around hillsides to avoid several streams. From km 10 onwards, it heads south towards the destination. It is here, on the plains of los Zaharames (or Aljarames), where it changes municipality from Genalguacil to Casares.
The route mainly uses the forest tracks, but also some of the bridle paths that have been well-maintained. It is these that are used to cross the streams and rivers that flow into the Genal, which originate in the nearby Sierra Bermeja. This stage is therefore characterised by a number of slopes down to, or up from the bottom of the valleys. These inclines are usually not too demanding, thanks to the clever layout of the ancient paths.
The woodland is the most appealing aspect of the Stage. Sometimes it is well cared for, as in the case of the Cork oak ‘Dehesa’ land and the Chestnut groves. At other times, multicoloured Gall oak forest dominates with Cork oaks and Pines, where Honeysuckle and dense undergrowth also thrive. It also has multiple uses, from big game hunting to the harvesting of timber and cork. It also accommodates many private properties, from small mansions to barns, not forgetting some rural retreats surrounded by woodland.
The rivers and streams are another of this Stage’s attractions and form the backbone of the route. La Pasada, El Alm rchal and Los Zaharames are some examples and the Genal is very close by at the lowest point of the route, the plains of Los Pepes.
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.