These vast, mobile dunes move in slow motion, pushed here and there over the course of decades by the Atlantic winds that sweep over the coast.
Even the tallest pines face a slow suffocation, buried under metres of sand that will one day leave only the uppermost branches exposed – a sea of shrubs that was once a forest.
On the beach, hunched over a net, a fisherman prepares for the next day’s outing. He stops to gaze out across the endless sea where the horizon disappears in a haze.
Several thousand miles away is the Caribbean, and South America beyond; perhaps his ancestors voyaged there during the age of the conquistadors, so many generations ago.
Legend talks of a ship, sunk just off the coast. Perhaps his ancestors never made it home, encountering pirates on the final stretch.
There is little other sign of human life, for good reason.
Welcome to the Doñana National Park, home to one of Europe’s longest uninterrupted virgin beaches.
Sweeping for 28km along the Andalusian coast, from Matalascañas in the North to the mouth of the Guadalquivir River and the windswept town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the South, the beach has been protected since the park was established in 1969.
And so it should be. Doñana, incorporating coast, dunes, marshland, river delta and pine forest, is home to a huge number of migratory birds and waterfowl, and hosts over 300 species of aquatic and terrestrial birds across its myriad ecosystems.
The reserve also shelters various deer species, as well as wild boar, badgers and the elusive Iberian lynx, amongst other creatures. In fact, the park is considered the largest nature reserve in Europe, and its unique biodiversity led to it being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
The beach is somewhat of a secret in these parts, with few visitors beyond the occasional ornithologist and lonely fisherman.
Only a few kilometres from Kukutana, it forms a perfect extra leg of an excursion, by car, through the pine forests and marshes further inland as visitors explore the variety that the park has to offer. Crossing the river by ferry, lunch is served at Sanlúcar de Barrameda, looking out across the widening river mouth as it reaches the Atlantic Ocean.
Marvellously fresh and locally caught seafood is the order of the day, including whole, fried whiting and red mullet and delicate cockles and shrimps.
All washed down, of course, with a glass of the local Manzanilla – a sherry-like dry wine produced exclusively in the bodegas of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
The return journey is back along the beach, to catch the last of the sunshine as it glistens off the waves. The wide-open spaces, with ocean and sand stretching as far as the eye can see, is a glorious contrast to the forests inland.
Another reminder of the remarkable diversity this region has to offer.
Kukutana is a historic farmhouse available for private hire. Fully-serviced with all-inclusive experiences and excursions, the house has been refurbished to the highest level whilst maintaining a sense of place and style true to local tradition.
The house has six ensuite bedrooms, a large living room, dining room, family kitchen which you can wander in and out of, a swimming pool and extensive gardens with stables, a historic bull-fighting ring and an organic vegetable garden.
Kukutana means ‘meeting place’ in Swahili. This family project was born from the desire to share Doñana National Park, a little-known corner of Spain which is filled with wildlife, and so help to protect it for future generations.
I’m struggling to put into words everything that we have experienced these past days, from the very first moment it has all been exceptional. The team and the hosts are marvellous, the experiences unforgettable - we will cherish these days forever.
A unique experience surrounded by friends and hosted by this wonderful family who have poured their dreams and love into this project. The most memorable G&T in history! We will be back soon.
The magic of southern Spain and the warmth with which we have been received have made these days unforgettable. What an incredible project you have created!
Thank you for the most magical few days in this piece of Paradise! It was the most memorable time and holiday that we have ever had. The food was delicious, the horses were beautiful and cannot believe that we saw a Lynx! We cannot thank you enough for all you have done. Hope to see you again soon and best luck for the creation and adventures that you plan.
J&M.H United Kingdom