Down near the Coto Donana, a major wetland bird reserve in southern Spain, not far from Seville, we stayed in the town of El Rocio as part of our trip with NatureTrek. As none of the streets were paved - all sandy - it looked like the set for a spaghetti western. It was also a site of pilgrimage for a local saint. Apparently people walked there in there in their thousans on foot across the Coto Donana. We stayed in the Hotel Turino and had a comfortable en suite room with a balcony that gave us a view over the occasional lake that emerged when there was heavy rain. The building looked like a 19th century spaghetti Western hotel - complete with hitching posts for tourists horses! - but the staff were very friendly, even if their English was limited. In the cool large foyer was a comfortable sitting area but no bar. That was just across the sandy road in the hotel restaurant which provided simple, well-cooked classic meals such as fried red mullet and solomio served with salad. The desserts were slightly strange but tasty junkets or set chocolate treat. The wine available included a delicious but very reasonably priced Ribera del Duero. Breakfast was a simple but filling and tasty affair of cold meats, cheese, fruit, bread, cereal and very good coffee. Nearby were heathlands on which all manner of birds could be seen - you did not need a permit to enter, but did have to pay a fee. If you were part of an organised tour you could enter the marshlands of the Coto Donana itself. April 2018
The bird life in the countryside surrounding the town was amazingly varied, whether on the heathland or the saltmarshes, and we were lucky enough to be taken by tour guides into restricted areas of both habitats. In the marshlands, - see above - birds were usually easier to see especially when using binoculars or 'scopes but were often at a distance that made photography difficult. The heathland areas - see below - had an interesting variety of vegetation as well as a few small lagoons and the occasional sluggish stream. Birdlife largely skulked on the ground or in the few clumps of trees or bushes that there were.