The dramatic, rugged landscape of Els Ports National Park stretches between the communities of Catalonia, Valencia and Aragon, taking up a total space of around 60,000 hectares. The majestic limestone massif is filled with abrupt cliff faces, natural resources, forests, valleys and abundant wildlife. You can spot Hispannic goats (Ibex), wild boar, badgers, foxes, wild cats, squirrels, otters, Griffon vultures, eagles and many other bird species.
The part that can be found in the Valencian Community, meets with the entrance of the Natural Park of Tinença Benifassa, which is the part of the massif protected by the Valencian Community. The Catalan part of the the Els Ports National Park is known locally as El Ports, and lies across the areas of El Montsia, Baix Ebre and La Terra Alta. This has been a protected park by the Catalan authorities since 2001. In Aragon there is no protected part of the massif.
From Prehistoric Times To The 21st Century
Today the areas of most outstanding beauty are not highly populated with the exception of some small villages, but we know that they have been inhabited since prehistoric times by humans. Dry stone walls, paved paths, chalk ovens, charcoal stores, ice wells and farms are evidence of this, as are the cave paintings that can be found in the region, especially La Cova Graffiti at Alfara Carles and Vidre L’Hospital at Roquetes.
Iberians were the first permanent settlers, which we know because of the existence of the town of La Penya del Gall, which is now Horta de Sant Joan. The Arabs also settled there, at that time their town at Horta de Sant Joan was known as Les Roques de Benet. There is also evidence of Arab settlers in La Senia in their town which is La Senia today, which was then called Refalgarí.
Christians were settled in Els Ports during the 12th and 13th centuries, due to the opportunity seen by the vast natural resources of the area. Occupancy indeed grew, even in the face of famine and plague, as the growing number of settlers exploited the natural resources, using wood for the construction of warships and buildings. However even at this time some enforcements were made to control this exploitation.
By the 18th century the Royal Navy took over the control of forest management, and by the 1950s due to vast changes in the model of human occupation, there was a massive depopulation. The changes from then until the early part of the 21st century have been in favour of the natural beauty of the area, so that today, you can once again enjoy the amazing landscape marvelled at by the Arabs, around a thousand years ago.
Els Ports Natural Park Catalonia Overview
The total area of the Catalan Els Ports Natural Park is 35,050 hectares. The highest point of Els Ports Natural Park Catalonia is found at Mount Caro, at an altitude of 1447 metres, where there are marvellous views over the landscape below, including the River Ebro. On an especially clear day you can even see the Balearic islands and the Pyrenees from Mount Caro.
The source of the rivers Senia and Matarranya are located in the mountains, where erosion from the Mattaranya River has left spectacular formations. There are plenty of caves, chasms and eddies along the hiking routes to be enjoyed, as well a wealth of flora and fauna of great interest, plus impressive cave and pothole systems.
Of the total 35,050 hectares ownership is divided as follows:
- Town councils – 41.06% (14,391.71 hectares)
- Privately owned – 38.24% (13,4004.68 hectares)
- Generalitat of Catalonia – 20.69% (7,253.41 hectares)
- Flora of Els Ports Natural Park
Enter the Els Ports Natural Park and you are entering a true geo-botanical paradise, where you can find over 1000 different species of flora and vegetation. Predominantly, black and red pines are found at the sub-Mediterranean level, with yews in the wetter areas. On the ridges which are subject to strong winds most of the year, there are species such as the mountaineous Erinaceo-Anthyllidetum and Conopodio-Festucetum.
In the limestone leaks, Pinguicola Dertosensis are endemic and in the rock vegetation some of the most notable species are Armenia Fontqueri, Antirrhinum Pertegasi, Brassica Repanda Dertosensis, Erodium Celtibericum, Knautia Rupicola, Salix Tarraconensis and Saxifraga Longifolia. Of the beeches are also of great interest, being Europe’s most southerly and also partially protected under the Reserva Natural Parcial de Les Fagedes dels Ports.
Of course this description only highlights a few of the 1000 or so species that can be seen, but also worth mentioning, because of their rarity, are the Brimeura Fontqueri, Prunus Propostrata and Dryopteris Submontae.
The Monumental Trees At Parc Natural Els Ports
The monumental trees at Els Ports Natural Park in Catalonia are like silent witnesses of history, in the wild mountain range of this dramatic, historical environment. They are a wonderful example of trees that have survived the test of time.
El Faig Pare La Sénia
El Faig Pare means the Father Beech, but at 250 years old this beech tree is more like a great-grandfather. You can see the 25 metres high beech tree at Fageda del Retaule, at around 1000 metres high. It’s got lots of funky shapes intertwined around it, making it strange but cool.
El Pi Gros La Sénia
This is the largest mountain pine, according to experts, in the whole of Catalonia – the name translates simply into The Great Pine, and it is thought to be around 700 years old. This tree stands at a proud 33 metres in height, with a 4.6 metre circumference and has the largest diameter of 1.78 metres, in the Iberian Peninsula. The reason it has managed to survive felling is because it is in fact a landmark which divides up two separate plots of land.
Although this may seem a little unusual, I know that this can be the case, as quite recently we had the local topographer come to our land to define our boundaries. After much deliberation, he confirmed that our boundary at the far end of our land is marked by a line of old almond trees.
La Carrasca Grossa de les Vallcarenes La Sénia
La Carrascca Grossa can be found at the found beside the La Carrasca fountain of La Sénia. It is a great holm oak which is just under 17 metres in height with an impressively shaped crown.
El Pimpoll Arnes
A 32 metre mountain pine, which is thought to be around 500 years, El Piimpoll is located in Arnes, on a path which connects El Coll de Miralles and Terranyes. This tree is 3.2 metres in circumference with a rectangular type trunk which is visually unusual as it doesn’t have any branches until you get to around 11 metres high.
El Pi Ramut Horta de Sant Joan
Although the closest town is Horta de Sant Joan, El Pi Ramut, which means the leafy pine, is actually close to El Pimpoll, on the path which connects El Coll de Miralles and Terranyes. It is quite different to El Pimpoll however, as it has branches which are so sweeping that some of them actually touch the ground. El Pi Ramut is around 22 metres in height with a circumference of 3.5 metres.
Els Teixos del Marturi Roquetes
To see the Maturi yew trees (Els Teixos del Maturi), you need to go towards Mont Caro’s peak, so it’s not for the faint hearted. Standing at an altitude of 1300 metres, the biggest of these two yew trees is around 1000 years old, and inside there is a red pine which has grown up to around 4 metres in height.
El Teix d’en Grilló Prat de Compte
Another tree that is over a thousand years old, El Teix d’en Grilló gets its name from the path that leads to it – in English it translates into the Yew Tree of the Cricket. It stands at a height of 13 metres with a circumference of 4.6 metres.
Fauna of Els Ports Natural Park
Just like the flora of Els Ports Natural Park, the fauna is also diverse, abundant and fascinating. The Hispannic wild goat (Ibex) is the most symbolic sight, but there are plenty of other wonderful creatures such as otters, wild cats, wild boar, foxes, roe deer, badgers and a host of bird species.
It really is a birdwatchers paradise, where even rare species such as the blue rock thrush, the nuthatch or oriole can be seen. There are also plenty of eagles to be seen, as well as vultures, owls and peregrine falcons.
Over 50% of Catalonia’s reptiles are at home in the park, so you can meet up with the pink gecko, the Mediterranean tortoise, snake horseshoe vipers, amongst others.
Touring Tips For Els Ports Natural Park
Although most of us who love nature will know automatically how to behave, I have included the following touring tips for novices, just in case.
- Always stick to the paths that are highlighted on the route.
- Respect the wildlife that you encounter, remember that this natural habitat is their home so enjoy watching them but do not disturb them.
- Don’t pick flowers or plants, and respect all nature that you encounter.
- Respect private property.
- Don’t light fires, this is especially dangerous and is not permitted.
- Be sure to keep your rubbish with you and dispose of it back in the rubbish bins provided in the town that you return to.
Towns and their relevant visitor centres:
Alfara de Carles
Punto de información. Molí de l’Oli (Information Point Olive Oil Mill)
Calle Aragó, 2
Phone:977 435 728
….Where Picasso Discovered Nature…
Punto de información. Ecomuseu dels Ports (Information Point Eco Museum of Els Ports)
Calle de Picasso, 18
Horta de Sant Joan
Phone: 977 435 686
Website: Els Ports Natural Park Catalonia
Centro de visitantes del Parque Natural en el Montsià (Visitors Centre of the Natural Park in Montsià)
Paseo de la Clotada, 23-25
Phone: 977 576 156
Fax 977 575 054
Mas de Barberans
Prat de Comte
Centre de visitantes del Parque Natural en la Terra Alta (Visitors Centre of the Natural Park in Terra Alta)
Ctra. T-330 km 27
Prat de Comte
Phone: 977 428 177
Centro de visitantes del Parque Natural en el Baix Ebre (Visitors Centre of the Natural Park in Baix Ebre)
Avenida Val de Zafán, s/n
Apartado de correos 69
Phone: 977 500 845
Here are some ideas from the Catalan government website – click on Els Ports Park Routes.