The green seems to appear out of nowhere. We have been driving through Castille Leon for 2 hours; the Spanish ‘meseta’ in July is dry, yellow and featureless.
Occasional clumps of trees or dried up river beds provide a welcome, if brief, change of scenery. Suddenly we are transported into another world: dense forest, tree-covered hills transforming into bare mountain tops, speckled with snow.
We are in Sanabria, near the Portugese and Galician borders. The area is famed for its breathtakingly beautiful lake (Lake Sanabria). It is also, perhaps, less known for having the highest concentration of Iberian wolves in Europe (up to 60 breeding pairs). Sadly, we don’t see or hear any, but it’s still wonderful to know that you don’t have to travel far in this country to find true wilderness.
Saturday morning, I am woken early by birdsong and a tongue in my face – Rocky, our 4-month old golden retriever, needs to go out. After breakfast we head to the lake shore, winding down through meadows bursting with wildflowers and woodland draped in lichen. Down on the lake shore the water shimmers in the morning sun, trees stretch their shadows far into the lake.
We are told that dogs are not allowed in the water and must be kept on leads, so we head off away from the lake’s beaches and into the thick, tree-lined shore in search of a wooded cove. Taking a barely-used track we wade through waist-high grass. Foxgloves and dandelions grow at the feet of tightly-packed trees and shrub.
We find a shaded cove, frogs propel themselves into the water, trout swim lazily in the shallows. The water is still, and crystal-clear. Hundreds of dragonflies skim low over the water in an explosion of colour. I’ve never seen so many in one place, a testament to health of the ecosystem here.
The only people we see for the rest of the day are kayakers, surprised to find a half-burnt Brit, a half-drowned dog, and a sleeping Spaniard so far away from the crowded beaches.
It amazes me how much of this country there is still to explore; in England this area would rival the Lake District for beauty and easily beats it in terms of nature and wildlife. Yet, this isn’t a national park, it’s just one of many ‘parques naturales’ dotted throughout Spain.
We’ve already pencilled in a return trip for Easter, hopefully sooner.