Locals sometimes claim that the centuries-old grove of beech trees in Montejo de la Sierra in Spain is the most southerly in Europe or indeed the world. Not true – that honour goes to a beechwood on the slopes of Mount Etna. But even so there is little doubt the beech grove running alongside the edge of the River Jarama just north of Madrid is among Spain’s most beautiful and ancient, as well as being very rare for these latitudes.
Owned communally by the mountain villagers of Montejo de la Sierra since 1460, the beech grove is small, just 617 square acres, and high up – around 4,500ft (1,370m) above sea level. But if the wood’s unspoiled silence gives the grove a magical feel at any time of year, right now the autumn ochres and browns of the soon-to-fall leaves make visits even more special.
Nor are there only ancient beeches to admire: equally venerable hazelnut trees, oaks, hollies and wild cherry trees are also dotted around, while badgers and wild boars have been spotted among the glades, as well as the odd otter close to the river.
Access to the hayedo beechwood is free, if limited to holders of tickets issued by the tourist office in Montejo de la Sierra, but leaving it may, anyway, prove trickier. Legend has it that gnomes in the beechwood use haunting music to enchant unwary visitors, prior to turning them into robins or lizards.