The Copper Forest
Chesnut woods in Malaga / Andalusia
À la carte
1/2 – 1 day activities
Spain / Andalusia
The Copper Forest is the name given to large extensions of chestnut trees at the Genal Valley that are colored in ocher tones at the end of autumn. Chestnut trees are deciduous that lose the leaf in the severe winter season, contrasting with the persistent Mediterranean forest of holm oaks and cork oaks. In the process of falling leaves, and before they come off, all the foliage becomes golden and coppery. It is an ephemeral spectacle in which the slopes are gradually changing color.
Although the date varies according to the years and the slopes, at some point in the month of November, the Copper Forest is born, so striking in the Mediterranean climate.
Over the past few years, this phenomenon has been widely disseminated since tourist institutions and some routes have become very popular and eventualy saturated with people during weekends. We propose routes that allow you to enjoy this natural spectacle with calm and pleasant sensation.
We remind you that these forests are located on privately owned farms and are the base of the local populations’ economy. In november, we can only advise to avoid visits during weekends and local festivals in Upper Genal because it is too crowded.
Chestnut woods in Malaga
Spanish chestnut (Castanea sativa) woods and old established plantations, with semi-natural undergrowth, located in southern Europe belong to the EU natural habitat type #9260 of conservation interest. This traditional man-made forest shapes landscapes and supports a small scale farming economy. Most notably, the ephemeral spectacle of fall foliage brings enchantment to the Mediterranean vegetation and attracts visitors.
Spanish Chesnut (Castanea sativa) wood in the Genal Valley, habitat of conservation interest in Europe.
The species has long been cultivated and dispersed by human populations and its original distribution is not well understood. Its presence spreads from NO Spain (Galicia) to the Caucasus region, with a strong implantation in the Italian and Balkan Peninsulas (“Kastanon” was the greek name of the tree).
Distribution of chesnut woods/groves in Andalusia (based on REDIAM).
Chesnut trees grows in acidic soils and need a good amount of humidity, a condition explaining the scarcity of those woods in Mediterranean regions. In Andalusia, they are limited to lower mountains with higher precipitations: Sierra de Aracena (Huelva), Sierra Norte de Sevilla, Valle del Genal (Málaga), Sierra Nevada (Granada) and a few outposts.
“Castañares” shape landscape and territory in the Genal Valley (Benalauría).
Chesnuts were stapple food, especially in regions where agriculture was very limited by relief, soil and/or climate. “Castaños” were considered until very recently a “bread tree” of considerable importance in isolated and little inhabited sierras.
Distribution of chesnut trees in the Genal Valley (based on REDIAM).
Mixed forest with chesnut woods and Mediterranean vegetation.
With over 3.000 ha cover, chestnut woods are widespread in the Genal Valley and a sign of its identity. In the Upper Genal (NE), Pujerra and Igualeja villages are mostly dedicated to chesnuts cultivation and harbour larger extensions and older parcels. Small farmers are grouped within the Cooperativa Castañas Valle del Genal. In the Lower Genal (SW), woods are generally more recent, fairly restricted to northern aspect next to Benarrabá and Benalauría villages and much more common in Genalguacil and Jubrique.
Castanea sativa is naturally self incompatible and is grown in small woods. Flowers are clustered in catkins such as in poplars, sallows and other anemogame tree specie. Contrary to a common belief that pollination is assured by wind, chestnut trees actually rely on pollination by insects, just like most other orchad fruit trees. The flower scent is very strong and noticeable in June.
Monumental trees allow to think about our place within nature (Pujerra).
Those trees are long-lived (several hundreds of years even more than a thousand years) and they also support very well the coppicing and pruning of suckers traditionally conducted in sylvo-agro-pastoralism farming. Hence the existence of monumental trees, of very old age and high perimeter such as Istán’s Holy Chestnut Tree, one of the most famous Andalusian chesnut tree…
Mataquince of Benaladid.
Castaño Mataquince, Castaño Arena, Castaño de Los Saltarines and Castaño de La Cruz are respected veterans of the Genal.
Harvesting chesnuts in small quantities is always a pleasure (Igualeja).
Chestnuts are collected in november the Genal valley… it is time for “tostones” (chesnut roast) and parties.
Andalusian chestnuts are the first available in the market, but they are quickly followed by Galician harvests, with much higher production and bigger nuts. Price varied a lot, and it is not rare that sells do not cover cost. Therefore, some years chestnut are left in the ground for the delight of of visitors (!). It must be stressed that long-term survival of this local and small scale ‘industry’ is under threat.
One individual “Castaña” is the botanical fruit. The very large and tasty seed is covered by a fluffy skin (endocarp), in turn protected by a dark brown outer envelope (exocarp).
In very dry years, chesnuts can be incredibly small.
Chesnut belongs to Fagaceae family and its fruit bears some similarities with oaks acorns (Quercus spp) and beechnuts (Fagus spp). A cluster of two-three dry fruits (akenes/nuts) are covered by highly transformed bracts which form a protective spiny cupule. Fruits are variable in size and ease of peeling. “Pilongas” are Spanish delicious chesnuts… but this term covers various meanings and is a little obscure.
Chesnut woods are pleasant to walk through…
Autumn foliage is higly appreciated in a context of evergreen vegetation.
The rugged terrain of Serranía de Ronda and Genal river valley offer the most varied and spectacular views over Chesnut woods. In this region of Mediterranean mild climate, trees are grown at mid altitude (around 800 masl) or in north-facing slopes (Lower Genal), creating a vegetation visible at distance and usually surrounded by evergreen forest or grey limestone mountains crags.
Chesnut trees are the only deciduous forest in the valley (except for riversides) and foliage always contrast with Helm oaks (Quercus ilex) and Cork oaks (Quercus suber): they are naked in winter, with warm green leaves in spring and a very nice range of yellows in the fall. A whole mosaic of colours for the eye.
In recent years, the spectacular autumn foliage of chesnuts grove has received a lot of public exposure… and is marketed under the brand of Copper forest. In the Upper Genal, any path between the villages of Pujerra, Igualeja and Parauta will cross large extension of chesnuts grooves and allow for nice half day or day long excursion. Those routes can be extremely busy in november at weekends, wiping off the magic. The best option is to avoid weekends, if this is not possible to visit the Lower Genal woods, and of course to join a multidays hiking covering a wide range of landscapes and sleeping in small rural hotels. Autumn is an ideal season for rural tourism with more attractions, fungi, wild berries and young wine (mosto).