Since those days, the area has continued to captivate Spain’s elite, including Kings Philip IV and Philip V and Francisco Goya, one of Spain’s most celebrated artists.
Visitors can explore Doñana’s bewildering biodiversity from Kukutana, a lovingly restored traditional farmhouse, or ‘Cortijo’ in these parts, located on the edge of the park. Among the many experiences on offer are the 4×4 jeep safaris – or horse safaris for a more traditional outing – with talented guides on hand to help navigate the park’s impromptu wildlife performances and ever-changing landscape widely regarded as one of the most diverse in Europe.
One of the many highlights is the sight of the park’s moving sand dunes in the fertile Las Marismas wetlands. Over time these mobile dunes, known as transdunes, slowly smother the vegetation, burying even the tallest pine trees up to their canopies. Creatures thrive amongst the dunes – lizards scuttle across the sand, whilst spur-thighed tortoises lumber over the rippled sand. They can live up to 100 years – well placed to witness the terrain’s gradual but dramatic changes.
A biodiversity hotspot
Doñana National Park covers some 507 square kilometres and is considered one of the largest reserves in Europe. The World Wildlife Fund joined forces with the Spanish government in 1969 in a bid to protect the area. Twenty-five years later, UNESCO declared it a world heritage site due to its unique biodiversity; the reserve is home to about 40 species of mammals, and 29 species of reptiles, whilst 200,000 aquatic birds winter here in the warmth of the Mediterranean sun.
Joining the resident species in Doñana are huge numbers of migratory birds, such as the petite dunlin sandpipers that rest their wings in the Matalascañas coastline on their way to and from West Africa, and the Eurasian wigeons usually seen dabbling noisily in the wetlands. While kingfishers skim and dart suspiciously over lakes, high above, flocks of bright pink flamingos interrupt the cerulean skies.
Meanwhile herons swoop from their nests – crude platforms of sticks in the lofty treetops – to the water’s edge to wade quietly in the reeded shallows, swiping unsuspecting frogs and other aquatic animals. You may also spot flashes of the purple gallinule, a clumsy flier often seen padding over the floating vegetation with remarkably long, yellow toes.
The park is a refuge for various threatened species, including the Imperial Eagle, not long ago on the verge of extinction and occasionally seen hovering overhead. The Iberian Lynx, one of the planet’s most endangered wild cats, resides in the dry plains flowering with rockroses, one of the very few places on earth you can see its tawny spotted fur and tufted ears.
Wild horses, a rare breed called Marismeño, gallop along the glistening marshes of the Guadalquivir River in numbers that would seem to defy their scarce existence. The area is also home to Egyptian mongooses, wild boars, Spanish red deer, Eurasian otters and European polecats among many other animals.
A home from home
Kukutana is a family-run project born from a passion to protect and share Doñana National Park, an off-grid reservation of miraculous biodiversity. This historic farmhouse is available for exclusive hire and has been refurbished to the highest level in keeping with a true sense of traditional Andalucian style.
The house has six en-suite bedrooms, a spacious sitting room, dining room and kitchen where you can pop in for a homemade snack at your whim. With a swimming pool set within the manicured gardens, stables, an old bullfighting ring and organic vegetable garden, it is the perfect spot to relax after a day exploring the park
The family runs all-inclusive experiences and unique excursions aimed to introduce this little-known but wonderful area. Activities include horse-drawn carriage rides, nature-focused hikes, horseriding and comprehensive 4×4 jeep safaris with naturalist guides.
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