Discovering the artisanal salt pans of the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park: a refreshing ecotourism experience
During the last Steering Committee in Cádiz in December, the partners of the ENI CBC Med -MedArtSal project enjoyed the opportunity to test the new ecotourism experience which is being developed in the saltpans of San Vicente and Chiclana in Cádiz, following the methodology of the MEET Network.
For decades, artisanal management of Mediterranean saltpans has made it possible to combine sustainable economic activity with environmental conservation, whilst promoting a typically Mediterranean cultural landscape. With the rise of industrial salt production, a large part of these saltpans closed down, partly due to their difficulty to compete with the prices of industrial producers. The loss of artisanal salt production in these sites has put several Important Bird Areas in a vulnerable situation.
Thanks to the MedArtSal project, salt pans from Spain, Italy, Lebanon and Tunisia are assessing the most viable combinations of economic activities to generate stable and sufficient income for sustaining artisanal salt pans. In this sense, the development of responsible ecotourism is proving to be one of the activities with greatest potential.
Visit to the Salina de San Vicente and Salinas de Chiclana
Currently, the province of Cádiz in Andalusia maintains a total of 9 active saltpans. Our tour begins at Salina de San Vicente, in the area of San Fernando. Manuel Ruiz (a salt worker) and his family are in charge of managing this site, where the artisanal production started in 1775. This economic activity gained great significance for the local economy and preserving cultural heritage. During our visit, we experience how a salt pan works: with the heat of the sun, the seawater running through the salt pans evaporates and crystallises the salt it contains. Don Manuel explains how both the profession and environment of a salt worker have evolved over the years.
The quality of the artisanal salt extracted from these salt pans has been acknowledged with several gastronomic awards. In order to taste it, we make a first stop at the restaurant of San Vicente. There, we can enjoy the typical gastronomy of Cádiz, including appetising dishes such as shrimp dumplings and fresh fish, often extracted from the salt marshes and seasoned with the salt produced in this site.
After our gourmet break, we head towards the Salinas de Chiclana. Besides being a facility for the production of salt, this area has become an Environmental Resource Centre which offers both guided tours, food tastings and artisanal fishing activities.
Here we can visit the salt museum, offering a view the geographic distribution of the salt flats throughout the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park, as well as the main features of the surrounding landscape and valuable biodiversity it hosts.
All this information helps the visitor understand the importance of the artisanal salt flats to maintain the biodiversity in this natural site. During the guided tour we also learn about the itinerary of the water from the sea all the way into the salt flats. When the tide is high, the salt workers open the gates to allow the water passage. Then, the sea water enters the salt flats and flows through different circuits, small lagoons and dozens of labyrinths, until the salt is extracted.
Finally, we are offered a chance to taste and buy the artisanal salt at the salt shop, where a wide variety of salt-derived products are also on display, both for human consumption and cosmetics. In the summer months, an open-air salt spa is available for the visitors.
Our day ends with a coffee in the restaurant of the salt pan. We enjoy the sunset and look forward to experience once again the special scent, flavor and landscapes of the salt flats in Cádiz.
For more information about the MedArtSal project contact Catherine Numa