At times, living in a city can wear down the spirit of even the most hardened of individuals—urban dwellers are forced to contend not only with the seemingly perpetual background noise of others going about their daily lives but also with the grey and daunting man-made topography that surrounds them. Moreover, after months residing solely in Barcelona (or any other city for that matter), it is all too easy to disregard the beauty and diversity of the flora and fauna that so dominates the countryside. With this in mind, why not escape the clamour of urban life this month and dedicate yourself to observing the behavioural patterns of some of the many and various living wonders of the natural world.
EMPURIABRAVA BUTTERFLY PARK
Nestled between three nature reserves in the Costa Brava is this conservation centre and popular family attraction. The 1,000-square-metre greenhouse is home not only to the eponymous butterflies but also to a wealth of different species of moths, birds and tropical plants. Careful attention has been paid to the environment created within the greenhouse in order that visitors are able to view the butterflies, moths and birds in their natural habitats. As such, the interior of the greenhouse is more reminiscent of a tropical rainforest than of the Catalan countryside, a setting that is necessary in order that the winged inhabitants can thrive. Indeed, many of the plants provide both resting places and nutrition (in the form of nectar) for their co-residents. Visitors are treated to the visual feast of seeing butterflies and birds of all shapes, sizes and colours from across the globe. It’s also possible to gain an insight into the biological processes by which the butterfly comes into being as both breeding and metamorphosis are commonly witnessed at the park.
WHERE IT IS: Take the AP-7 out of Barcelona and head towards France. Take exit 4 (Figueres Sud) and follow signs to Figueres; after about 10 minutes, take the C-68. The park is located just off the road between Castelló and Empuriabrava. It’s currently open from late March to early November (the doors open at 10am and close one hour before sunset).
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST: Adults pay €8 and children €6. It’s also possible to purchase a season pass for €20. Tel. 972 45 07 61. www.butterflypark.es
SIGEAN AFRICAN RESERVE
This wildlife reserve may be somewhat far afield (it’s situated in France, just south of Narbonne) but once you’re there, the experience is sure to be well worth those few extra hours spent travelling (also bear in mind that the alternative is flying to Africa!). Founded in 1974, the reserve has grown quickly from its humble beginnings and is now estimated to accommodate nearly 900 mammals, 600 reptiles and 2,000 birds. As such, visitors to the reserve can view a plethora of exotic animals (giraffes, black bears, lions, rhinoceros, zebras and warthogs to name but a few) and enjoy 300 hectares of parkland. Indeed, there’s sure to be something at Sigean African Reserve to please even the most phlegmatic of visitor.
WHERE IT IS: Take the AP-7 motorway over the border to France. Carry along the French motorway until junction 39 (some 45 minutes after Perpignan). The reserve sits just 15 kilometres south of Narbonne and eight kilometres north of Sigean.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST: Entrance costs €28 for adults and €21 for children with discounts available for larger groups. Guided tours (both on foot and in a minibus) are available for an extra €96 and €175 respectively. Accommodation in the form of hotels, bed & breakfasts and campsites are in abundance in and around Sigean. www.reserveafricainesigean.fr
Originally from Britain but based here since the mid-Eighties, Mike Lockwood runs wildlife walks in Catalunya and Valencia throughout the year. The specific area through which each walk takes place is dependent upon the season but there are plenty of options available. The primary focus is upon different species of birds and plants but opportunities to see other types of wildlife are also on offer. On certain walks, Mike even strives to track down a variety of amphibians, reptiles and insects; for instance, he has regularly spotted ocellated lizards, viperine snakes and painted frogs in the Barranc de l’Infern area (Valencia).
WHERE IT IS: The Iberian Wildlife website lists which areas can be visited in which season and also the wildlife that is likely to be spotted on each specific walk.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST: Mike’s walks cost €120 for a half-day and €180 for a full day (for a group of up to 10 people). For a group of more than 10, a half-day tour costs €10 per person and a full day tour €15 per person. Children under 12 can accompany their parents free of charge. www.iberianwildlife.com/mike-lockwood.htm
WOLF WATCHING TRIPS
Spain is one of the last few refuges of the wolf in Europe, accounting for approximately 30 percent of the European wolf population outside Russia, and is home to the Iberian wolf. In 1970, it was estimated that only 400 to 500 Iberian wolves were still in existence and, although numbers have gradually recovered since then, it is still considered to be an endangered species. Barcelona naturalist Sergi Garcia offers the opportunity to view these incredible creatures up close in the wild. Sergi leads wolf watching trips in the Sierra de la Culebra in Zamora where there is estimated to be a population of somewhere between 50 and 60 Iberian wolves.
WHERE IT IS: The hunting reserve of the Sierra is located in the community of Castilla y León in the northwest of Spain. The easiest way to get there from Barcelona is to fly—Iberia has daily flights to León and Valladolid starting at around €60 one way. Driving to the reserve could take from eight to 10 hours each way, via the E-90 or E-15 roads, with tolls and petrol costing at least €300 in total.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST: The trip costs €75 per night (the average stay being five nights). Those taking the trip will also have to pay for transportation to and from the Sierra de la Culebra. For further details get in touch with Sergi’s wildlife organisation, Galanthus—tel. 972 49 25 63 or mail: firstname.lastname@example.org