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By Agnish Ray, journalist for The Telegraph

Featured in The Telegraph on 03 July. Copy written by Agnish Ray, holiday suggestions recommended by the Sunvil team.

There’s something satisfyingly off-grid about a city such as Cáceres. It’s in Spain’s south-western region of Extremadura, but the nearest international airports are Madrid and Seville, each a three-hour drive away; forget high-speed trains, too. Perhaps that’s how this achingly picturesque destination – a Unesco World Heritage site and one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe – has remained a hidden treasure for so long.

The region is home to the two ­million cherry trees of the Valle del Jerte, awash with white blossom in the spring; also nearby is La Vera, most famous for its bright red paprika. On the approach from Madrid, we drive past groves of cork and holly oaks, where Iberian pigs feast on acorns. I spot ranches used for hunting ­partridge, pheasant, wild boar and other game for which the region’s ­gastronomy is known. We skirt the Monfragüe National Park, a bird-­watching hotspot home to vultures, black storks and lesser kestrels.

In Caceres

In Cáceres, I’m greeted by José Polo and Toño Pérez, the owners of Atrio, one of 13 restaurants in Spain (and the only one in Extremadura) with three Mich­elin stars. Ask locals about the couple, both in their early 60s, and you’ll hear about the attention that their establishment has drawn to the city since it opened in 1986.

Lively little areas, such as around the Plaza San Juan, are filled with foodie spots and small shops selling handicrafts and other local goods. Outside the walled town, the leafy Paseo de Cánovas makes for a ­charming walk, where food markets sometimes pop up; Calle Pintores is a busy commercial street, while Calle San Pedro is good for souvenirs and admiring the attractive façades of the buildings, before enjoying al fresco drinks at the bars on the Plaza Mayor.

Here I meet Marco Mangut, a tour guide, who explains that the Plaza Mayor is among the 10 largest squares in Spain. He goes on to tell me about the Roman, Visigothic, Moorish and Catholic occupations, whose traces can be found in the defensive fortress of Cáceres’s Old Town.

Mangut has been showing tourists around his home town for 24 years and takes me to the late-gothic Co-Cathedral of Santa Maria. Among the engravings on its cedarwood altar is St George, patron saint of England and also Các­eres. From the bell tower, our view extends over the city’s monk-and-nun tiled roofs, out to the hilltop sanctuary of the Virgen de la Montaña.

Built during times of civil conflict, the homes of the nobility in the old town ­resemble forts, many with towers – but their turrets have been cut off. Queen Isabella I of Castile ordered this in the 1400s, a symbolic castration to ease tensions between feuding families.

Caceres, Extremadura, Spain

Atrio - Three Michelin Starred Restaurant

“In the 17th century, there was a very sophisticated cuisine in our ­territory,” explains Pérez, Atrio’s chef, who trained at both Arzak in San Sebastián and El Bulli in Catalonia. He tells me about the local origins of ­consommé – which the French ­supposedly stole from Extremadura when Napoleon passed through here – and says he wanted Atrio’s culinary offerings to touch on such peculiar elements of his region’s history.

A 40-year-old oloroso and a 1962 port later, I’m shown Atrio’s wine ­cellar – ranked among Spain’s finest – by its director José Luis Paniagua. It’s a ­circular chamber whose walls are lined with 40,000 bottles from 25 ­different countries, ranging from 54 vintages of Spain’s Vega Sicilia to numerous ­bordeaux – Mouton ­Roths­child, Lafite and Pétrus among them.

Pérez and Polo say they knew nothing about gastronomy or hospitality when they first opened Atrio, in their mid-20s. They’ve certainly made their mark since – yet their city still feels pleasingly under the radar. Enjoy it now before everyone else gets there.

Where to stay

Stay at the Parador de Caceres in the heart of the old city. 7 night holidays inclusive of flights and car hire are available with Sunvil from £993.00 per person (based on 2 sharing).

Table reservations for Atrio can be made online here

Parador de Caceres, Caceres, Extremadura, Spain Parador de Caceres, Caceres, Extremadura, Spain


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