A respite from the arid monotony of the Castilian landscape, and a treat for bird watchers, is provided by the oasis of La Mancha Húmeda (“Wet La Mancha”). This is an area of lagoons and marshes, both brackish and fresh, along the high-level basin of the Río Cigüela and Río Guadiana. Drainage for agriculture has severely reduced the amount of water in recent years, so that the lakes effectively dry up in the summer, but there is still a good variety of interesting plant and bird life. You’re best off visiting from April to July when the water birds are breeding, or from September to midwinter when migrating birds pass through.
Parque Nacional de las Tablas de Daimiel
Major parks between Ciudad Real and Albacete include the Parque Nacional de las Tablas de Daimiel, 11km north of Daimiel itself, which is renowned for its birdlife (over 200 species visit the park over the course of the year). There’s an information centre (daily: summer 8.30am–8pm; winter 8am–6.30pm; t926 693 118) alongside the marshes. The park is accessible only by car or taxi, and Daimiel has little accommodation on offer.
Parque Natural de las Lagunas de Ruidera
More traveller-friendly, but crowded in the summer months, is the Parque Natural de las Lagunas de Ruidera, northeast of Valdepeñas (frequent buses from Albacete). You’ll find an information centre (July & Aug daily 10am–9pm; Sept–June Wed–Sun 10am–2pm & 4–6pm; t926 528 116) on the roadside, as you enter Ruidera from Manzanares, and several nature trails inside the park, as well as swimming and boating opportunities.