Beech brief: Latin name for European beech: Fagus sylvatica. Beeches trees usually live a little over 100 years, though they can live several hundred years in the right conditions. The trees easily reach a height of 40 mtrs (130 ft) and a diameter of 120cms (47 in.) and are often much larger. The bark is smooth and branches start quite high in forests, though lower on individual trees in parks. Branches are usually parallel to the ground or slightly ascending, and the leaves are dense and parallel to the ground, which makes beech forests very shady. Since very little sunlight reaches the forest floor, beech forests usually don’t have a lot of vegetation in the summer, only in the spring before the leaves appear.
Beeches prefer a damp climate and cooler temperatures, so most Spanish beech forests are in the north, at 1000 – 1500 mtrs (3280-4900 ft) altitude. Beeches also prefer north-facing mountain slopes or west-facing valleys, cooler and more humid due to sun exposure and usual weather patterns.
Fall is the best time to go, here are a few beech forests near Madrid
Hayedo de Montejo (Madrid) A relic from earlier, cooler times, this pocket-sized forest is often described as the southernmost beech forest in Europe. Though far south and on south face instead of north face, it survived to our days because it’s on the steep banks of the young Jarama river, conserving the humidity that beeches love. Access: The nearest town coming from Madrid is Montejo de la Sierra (northeast of Buitrago de Lozoya). From there, take local road towards El Cardoso de la Sierra, about 8 kilometers to entrance to the forest. Recommendations: This forest is a protected area, visit permits required. Daily guided visits, three different routes, the two more challenging only on weekends. No charge. Reserve by email through Sierra del Rincon website, or by phone at visitor’s center number (very difficult to talk to them). Pre-reservations cover half the available spots: you can also go on your preferred day, but there’s no guarantee you’ll find space in any group. Cultural sites: This area is a Unesco-designated Biosphere reserve, with lots of almost unspoiled villages. Good food in many restaurants. More information: Website www.sierradelrincon.org has reservation information for the forest and more about the Biosphere reserve. The English version of website is incomplete, but the rest is pretty good, if a little hard to navigate. For information about routes and reservation: click first on “Hayedo / sendas Caja Madrid”, then on “información general” and last on “como y cuando puedo visitarlo”. Another website www.montejodelasierra.net (English version more complete) has information about the town and the forest, though no reservtion option. Visitor’s center for the Hayedo de Montejo beech forest and the Biosphere reserve: C/ Real, 64 en Montejo de la Sierra. Tel 91 869 70 58. October – March schedule: 9.30am – 3.30pm.
Pedrosa beech forest, eastern Segovia-western Guadalajara): access from Riaza (great bakery!) then south through Riofrio de Riaza and up Quesera pass. If you like driving winding back roads, continue south from there through Majaelrayo or Peñalba to return to Madrid.
Tejera Negra beech forest, western Guadalajara: access from Cantalojas, then local road to forest. NOTE! Parking is very limited, on weekends in October and November you should call or email with license number and date to reserve your parking space. Online at http://agricultura.jccm.es/parques/forms/parqf001.php or by phone Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm, 3-6pm, telf 630 367 990.