This vast unspoilt, rural region of Spain, west of Madrid and bordering with Portugal is steeped in history and has something for everyone. Roman ruins, amazing gastronomy, wine and olive oil tasting, walking trails, bird watching and beautiful contrasting scenery from mountains, forests, lakes and reserves. Extremadura has three UNESCO World Heritage sites notably Monfragüe National Park a paradise for bird watching renowned across Europe; Mérida the Capital of Extremadura and home to The Alazaba (Plaza Del Rastro) an Arab castle which is at the north end of the longest Roman Bridge in the world. The third area is the Medieval walled city of Cáceres. When you visit any of these three areas you will understand why they have gained this status. And if you watch Game of Thrones, some of the scenes were filmed in this historic region. Extremadura covers an area which is larger than Holland, Belgium or Denmark.

Day 1

Seville to Zafra

Zafra


Flying in to Seville airport we headed North along the Silver Route (Via de la Plata) to Zafra (this was the original trading route). This medieval town also known as Little Seville, is dominated by a 15th century fortress (Alcazar). Originally Zafra was surrounded by a wall, which has now mostly disappeared, though a couple of imposing gates remain. We meandered through this beautiful narrow cobblestone streets which lead to Plaza Grande in the heart of the town, and its little sister, Plaza Chica. The square is surrounded by whitewashed buildings with wrought iron balconies and railings. Both Plazas have plenty of restaurants and bars. Zafra has many beautiful churches and convents including The Covent of Santa Clara (also the site of the museum with the same name) dedicated to the history of the city and to the nuns of the order of the Poor Clares who have inhibited it since its foundation.

Other things to do

Wine and olive tasting - bodegas-medina-el-convento

Family run company dating from 1931. The winery for ageing wines is in the centre of the city of Zafra. It has cellar for barrels, exhibition room, museum and a small brick bullring located at the top of the building, which make is one of the most attractive wineries on the Ribera del Guadiana and Extremadura Wine Route.

Zafra – Mérida

Continuing up the Silver Route through mountain ranges of Sierra Grande and the Tierra De Barros, we arrived in Mérida the Capital of Extremadura which was once also the capital of Roman province of Lusitania. Mérida lies at the point where the Ruta de la Plata crosses the
river Guadiana and its Roman bridge over the Guadiana is the longest Roman Bridge in the world. Over time the Extremadura region was held under Christian, Moorish and Portuguese control and you can see how these different societies not only influenced the culture, but
also the distinct types of architecture found throughout. We stayed at the beautiful Parador Mérida a former 18th-century convent built on the remains of a temple dedicated to the Augustan Concord (converted in 1933). A perfect combination of tradition with a modern twist. There are plenty of spaces throughout the Parador to relax including lounges, terrace and bar areas. We had a standard room which was a really good size with a small little balcony which overlooked the beautiful manicured gardens and the pool. Amenities include gym and small sauna (need to let the hotel know 30 minutes in advance if you want to use it, plus an outdoor pool open June to September. Parking is to the back of the Parador you enter via a one-way street, press the bell to be let in the through the gates and go to the underground car parking (€14-20 per day). The staff were excellent and incredibly helpful. Parador Mérida is perfectly located and within some 5 minutes of many historic attractions in this area, including Roman, Visigoth and Arab Mérida, as well as the modern, contemporary part of the city.

Zafra, Extremadura Zafra, Extremadura

Day 2

Mérida

Mérida is a small city with an abundance of restaurants, tapas, cafes and bars which really comes to life at night. (NB lunchtime is from 2:00pm – 6:00pm, restaurants do not open again until 8:30pm.) All attractions (well sign posted) are within easy walking distance of each other.

As we walked up the orange tree lined Calle Jose Ramon Melida, towards the amphitheatre, we turned right into a narrow side lane and there in the middle of modern buildings was the Temple of Diana, we nearly walked right passed it, you really wouldn’t be expecting an ancient ruin in such a place. Temple of Diana is the only religious building remaining on its original place in Mérida. It’s well preserved with 6 columns and statues still intact, you can’t go into the Temple but standing outside the railings you can still appreciate how majestic it is. There are plenty of information boards telling you all about this building plus it’s free, (spend about ½ hour).

We then walked for a couple of minutes to Termas Romanas – Roman baths, where you could see the locations of the different pools and exercise rooms. Again, there is plenty of information to get a good understanding of this site. (spend about ½ hour).

After visiting Termas Romanas, we went back to the main street passing shops selling artefacts, local breads, Olive Oil and Jamón ibérico (Iberian ham) you really get a sense of the real Spain but at the same time being surrounded by so many Roman ruins you could be forgiven for thinking you might be in Rome (but without the hustle and bustle of the crowds).

On reaching the top of the street to the left is the Museum and in front the Amphitheatre.
It’s hard to imagine that you are in rural Spain when you enter the amphitheatre which is still intact, and in its day, could seat 15,000 spectators. We followed the well sign posted route which took us around the top of the grandstand, through corridors where the animals and battlers were kept, through alcoves and the gladiators quarters until we reached the battlefield. As we walked out it was hard not to imagine the roar of 15,000 people and battle commencing, it was time to channel our inner gladiator!

As we left the Amphitheatre we walked across into the Roman Theatre, this truly is spectacular, it’s been well preserved and features Corinthian columns, several inscriptions and marble statues, it really is breath-taking. The Theatre is still used throughout July and August for concerts including include Greek dramas, tragedies, comedies, musicals, and dance shows, this would be amazing to see. (Spend ½ day).

After leaving the Amphitheatre, we walked a couple of minutes back to the Museo National de Arte Romano. This is an excellent, well organised museum with actual artefacts from the ruins stored here and there is a superb display of mosaics. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend a lot of time here, you would probably need ½ a day to really do it justice. NB, a lot of the information boards are only in Spanish.

Other things to do:

As we left the Museo National de Arte Romano, we noticed a road tourist train stopped outside the Amphitheatre, which stops at all the attractions, including the Aqueducto Los Milagros, or Aqueduct of the Miracles and the Roman Bridge.
We had a fascinating day in Mérida and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in archaeology and history. (Suggest 2 days)

Merida, Extremadura Merida, Extremadura

Day 3

Mérida – Garrovillas


The journey from Mérida to Garrovillas took about 1hr 10 minutes and was mostly by motorway. The town is quiet, relaxing and a little bit remote. However, it would be a great place to base yourself if you wish to visit the beautiful Parque Natural Tajo Internacional (International Tagus Natural Park) which is only 30 minutes’ drive.

Hospedería Puente de Alconetar dates back between 15th and 16th centuries and was built for the Counts of Alba and Ready, it has been beautifully restored, as you walk through the property you can sense the history. The café/bar behind reception has beautiful arches and was originally the stables. The property has an old and new wing which is joined by an internal walkway. The old wing has beautiful stone floors and furnishing and on the first floor is a lovey sun terrace which overlooks the Plaza Mayor which holds events/festivals. From the back of the property lovely views overlooking the rooftops of Garrovillas as well as the Church of San Pedro. The new wing is more modern, it also has a terrace at the back of the property overlooking the swimming pool. Amenities include a gym (with shower and changing facilities) and a sauna is being built in 2018. The property is set back from the Plaza Mayor which has cobbled streets and is surrounded by stone colonnades and white washed buildings. The food at the Hospedería was wonderful, a traditional menu of local produce served with regional wines. However, if you want to eat out there is one restaurant and a couple of local bars in the main square.

Please note: Renovations to old wing will take place in 2018

Other things to do:


Parque Natural Tajo Internacional (30 minutes from Garrovillas) where you can enjoy a boat ride on Río Tajo (which borders Spain and Portugal) and walk through the riversides of Tajo, an area where the Mediterranean forest hasn’t been altered and it’s found in its most natural state. You will find a vast variety of botanicals, registered birds including endangered specifies.

Garrovillas de Alconetar, Extremadura Garrovillas de Alconetar, Extremadura

Garrovillas to Cáceres

From Garrovillas we headed to Cáceres which took about 45 minutes, where we stayed at the Parador de Cáceres, a Renaissance palace in the heart of the city's old quarter. NB, the drive up the Parador is through incredibly narrow streets, beware of taking a wrong turning as the streets become progressively narrow, do not follow instructions from sat nav but get the instructions from the hotel in advance. There’s parking to the back of the Parador, however there is only space for 12 cars, if this is full there is underground garage parking outside the city walls which the hotel staff will need guide you too.

The Parador has been beautifully renovated and combines tradition with modern. There are lots of areas to relax including restaurants, outdoor areas and guest lounge. The location of the Parador is perfect, from once you step out the front door you are stepping back in to past times.

Our evening in Cáceres consisted of a walking tour with the incredibly knowledgeable guide, Marco Mangut. Walking through the narrow-cobbled streets which twist and climb among ancient stone walls lined with palaces, mansions, arches and churches and a skyline decorated with turrets, spires, gargoyles and enormous storks' nests, you get the feeling that you have stepped back into the Middle Ages, each building with its own unique piece of exciting history. The City is protected by the almost intact 16th century defensive walls and as you leave the old town to enter the Plaza Mayor you can see the Moorish and Christian influences on the architecture.

Entering the new town in Plaza Mayor we found lots of restaurants and bars, however we chose to eat at a little tapas bar, La Cacharreria near St Mateo’s church a 5-minute walk from the Parador (that’s if you don’t take the wrong alley!) The food was gorgeous, portion sizes were just right, and the service was excellent. This little find was terrific value for money, would highly recommend it.

Other things to do:

Atrio


Situated in the heart of the old town amongst churches and palaces we found Relais Chateaux hotel which has Atrio a Michelin 2-star restaurant run by world renowned chefs, Toño Pérez (who was born in Cáceres) and José Polo. If you are looking for an amazing culinary experience with hospitality to match and a wine cellar with a unique collection of wine with brands that every wine connoisseur dreams of then Atrio is worth putting on your places to visit.

There is a lot to see in Cáceres, would recommend spending a day or two here to explore and relaxing in this beautiful city.

Caceres, Extremadura Caceres, Extremadura

Day 4

Cáceres to Jarandilla


We left the Parador Cáceres and headed to Jarandilla to view Parador de Jarandilla de la Vera. The journey took about 1 hour 45 minutes, through barren landscape, when turning on to the motorway to Salamanca there in front of you are beautiful rolling mountains, driving through the mountains we crossed the Rio Tajo and were engulfed in a thick mist which is quite common for this area. On our way we passed through a few pretty, sleepy, traditional villages.

Parador de Jarandilla de la Vera is a castle/palace with fortified towers and a parade ground and is in the heart of the region of La Vera and the Tiétar River, the setting is stunning with river gorges, natural pools, woods of chestnuts and oaks, and natural landscapes that shows wealth of its historic and monumental surroundings. There is a large swimming pool, surrounded by olive and orange trees. Inside the Parador is very tranquil and private with a lovely cloisters area for lunch and dinner.

Jarandilla is a small but beautiful town where you can overlook some stunning scenery and non-ecclesiastical architecture and many medieval bridges. There are also many religious buildings, including San Francisco Monastery and Ntra. Sra. de la Torre Church.

Parador de Jarandilla, Extremadura Parador de Jarandilla, Extremadura

Jarandilla to Hervás

We left Jarandilla travelling to Hervás which took about 1 hour 40 minutes, the roads are very winding and you climb up into the mountains you can see little villages below with smoke coming from the houses, we also passed through fields of olive trees, a very pleasant drive to Hervás.

Driving in to Hervás we were struck with how beautiful the landscape/scenery was. The town is sheltered by Monte Pinajarro and is the perfect location for those who love nature as there are many walking and cycling trails. Ambroz Valley offers some of the most beautiful landscapes of Extremadura, especially in autumn. In the spring over 1 million Cherry Blossom trees come in to bloom and there are festivals in the local hamlets to celebrate this. Hervás also has natural pools in the summer and a ski resort in the winter.

Hospedería Valle de Ambroz is built on the former 17th century convent of Trinitarios. It has been careful renovated and has the original flooring surrounding the cloisters. It’s a lovely comfortable and relaxing accommodation and is only a 5 minutes’ walk to the historic Jewish quarter. This area is steep in Jewish history, it’s lovely just to meander through the narrow, steep street which is lined with houses clustered together and made with adobe and chestnut-wood frameworks their roofs plastered with Arab tiles. The area includes many churches dating through the ages from 13th to 18th Century, including Parish church of Santa Maria, convent of the Trinitarian Fathers, the hermitage of San Andres and the hermitage of San Anton. Hervás is also home to the museum of classic motorcycles the first in Spain and second in Europe.

This area of Ambroz has the best quality food and variety of restaurants, bars and tapas in the area. The food and service the Hospedería was excellent.

Other things to do:

The festival at the end of March/April for the Cherry Blossom would be must.

Hervas, Extremadura Hervas, Extremadura

Hervás to Plasencia

Our next stop took 35 minutes from Hervás to Plasencia back along the Silver Route and across the Jerte River. We stayed at the Parador de Plasencia, probably our favourite of all the Paradors.

To enter the car park, you buzz reception who direct you through the gated entrance and give you a bay number. Once through the entrance you drive your car into a lift, yes, a lift! This then takes you down the car park. Parking is €13 per day; however you can also park on the street at the back of the Parador, but not at the front.

This Parador is a stunning fifteenth century convent Santo Domingo located in the heart of this vibrant city. As you walk around the Parador you are engulfed by the magic of this place, which is steeped in history. It’s thick stone walls, huge vaulted hallways, ancient rooms, antique furniture and appropriate decorations. The restaurant is a beautiful room located in the old church and is complete with old tiling and a pulpit. The food was first class and the staff could not do enough to help.

There is an outdoor pool, lovely views of the city from the higher floors, a gym (which you need to get the key from reception) and a small sauna (again you would need to speak to reception about 30 minutes before use for them to put on). Downstairs in the basement is the most wonderful bar and wine cellar, this really is beautiful.

In the gardens there use to be a Jewish Synagogue and the Rabbai’s house was where the reception area is now. The Dominican Monks left the monastery in 1985 but they still live locally in Plasencia.

Other things to do:

The city has the remains of the medieval walls, its towers and its doors. In the centre of Plasencia is the Plaza Mayor where you will find one of the most representative monuments of the area, formed by the Old Cathedral, Romanesque, and the New Cathedral, with Gothic and Renaissance elements.

Plasencia, Extremadura Plasencia, Extremadura

Day 5

Plasencia to Monfragüe


Driving out of Plasencia there are lots of one-way streets and roundabouts (sat nav struggled to keep up). The drive is along windy roads from from Plasencia to Monfragüe took us through lovely olive trees and up and down through lush green mountain ranges and right through the National Park which has stunning scenery. Speed limit between 30 to 50kms and took about 1 hour 15 mins to get to Monfragüe.

Monfragüe is a small village with one or two bars/restaurants. The Hospedería Parque National De Monfragüe was built in 1999 and has the appearance of lodges. There is free car parking to the front of the accommodation. This is a relaxing place to base yourself to visit Monfragüe National Park a UNESCO World Heritage sites which is a paradise for bird watching renowned across Europe in fact it is the top European destination for birdwatching (Feb-May and Sept-Dec) and has the biggest colony of vultures in Europe. There are also some fantastic walking trails in the area.

There are great amenities including tennis courts for paddle tennis, a large outdoor pool and all in the surrounds of the National Park. There is also an excellent spa which includes a Turkish bath, biothermal shower, heated pool with counter current swimming, swan necks and water jets plus hot stone.

For those who are interested in star gazing, the National Park and the Monfragüe Biosphere Reserve have been distinguished as the Starlight Tourist Destination of Extremadura, which certifies the quality of its sky without light pollution. The darkness of the sky in the whole area, mild weather and atmospheric transparency, as well as the effort made by regional, local and neighbouring administrations to preserve these conditions, has led the Starlight Foundation to grant the title. When we visited the Hospedería they were just installing new equipment for the ‘starlight project’.

There is also a lovely terrace where you could relax with a glass or two of local wine, bread and olives and watch the amazing sunsets.

We had a lovely lunch at the Hospedería made with all local produce to the area. The staff were knowledgeable and attentive.

Monfrague, Extremadura Monfrague, Extremadura

Monfragüe to Trujillo

After lunch we headed from Monfragüe to Trujillo, about 40 minute scenic drive on the EX-208 through olive tree farms and across the Rio Almonte passing a stunning viaduct bridge.

We stayed at Parador de Trujillo a former Convent of Santa Clara. A peaceful and calm atmosphere with two lovely cloisters, one with Renaissance arches and columns. There is a car park at the back of the Parador, make sure you don’t miss it, or you will be right in the middle of very narrow one way lanes.

We met with Marco Mangut who took us on a walking tour of this charming historic city. Trujillo is a beautiful city surrounded by the city walls. The old town contains main medieval and renaissance buildings which were built or renovated by the conquistadors born in the city including, conqueror of Peru, Francisco Pizarro (who has a bronze statue of him astride his horse in the middle of Plaza Mayor). We walked all around the city and visited the castle, the church of Santa Maria and the church of San Francisco. One of the buildings recently renovated the owner asked his builders to put a coat of arms on one of the turrets … they put Athletic Bilbao FC on!

The Plaza Mayor is a busy and thriving place the lanes to the Plaza Mayor are very narrow. There are many restaurants, tapas and bars something for everyone, we had dinner at a tapas bar but unlike the tapas we had in Cáceres the portions were really big, lesson - listen to what the waiter is saying “mucho”!

The views in this area are spectacular, this area has recently been used to film some of the scenes from Game of Thrones. We spent a pleasant evening in Trujillo, recommend spending a day here.

Trujillo, Extremadura Trujillo, Extremadura

Day 6

Trujillo to Guadalupe


The final day of our trip we drove 108KM about 1 hour 20 minutes from Trujillo to Guadalupe. It was easy to get out of Trujillo and on to the main road. As we drove the sun was coming up and the mountains in the distance took on a blue look.

Our first port of call was to visit Parador Guadalupe located on The Plaza de Santa Maria. Parking is at the side of the property and is €12 per day. The Parador has beautiful views of the mountains and the monastery. The inner courtyards are lined with lemon and orange trees and there is a lovely lounge with fireplace, a number of restaurants and terraces where you overlook the well-kept gardens and the swimming pool.

Guadalupe is a charming town, a beautiful hamlet of cobbled, narrow streets, houses of traditional architecture and monuments. This small town is home to a valuable artistic historical site belonging to the 15th and 16th centuries

We again meet with Marco Margut for a tour of Monastery of Santa Maria, unfortunately due to timings we were unable to spend as much time as we would have liked here, but for the time we had we would highly recommend spending a day in this beautiful town and UNESCO World Heritage site. The monastery was endorsed by Queen Isabella of Spain and Columbus on his return from the Americas and was considered the most important cloister in Spain until the secularization of monasteries in 1835. Catholic Monarchs granted Christopher Columbus to give him the caravels (sailing ship) that would take him on his journey to the New World.

Inside the Monastery of Santa Maria we saw the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe which is one of the most important Marian shrine in the medieval kingdom of Castile. Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of three Black Madonna’s in Spain. The statue was canonically crowned on 12 October 1928 by Pope Pius XI with a crown designed and crafted by Father Felix Granda.

Make time to try out one of the many cafes or restaurants as Guadalupe is renowned for the delicious gastronomy of Extremadura.

From Guadalupe we headed to Madrid Airport which took about 3 ½ hour heading through National parks and on winding roads which were not busy. Be prepared when you join the A5 (toll road but not as busy), the traffic really picks up. The airport is well sign posted and the car hire drop of is easy to find.

This was a fabulous trip, there truly is something for everyone, the people are traditional and friendly, the region is magical from its medieval cities steeped in history, to stunning architecture, the scenery and the food. If you are looking for the “real Spain” you will find it in the Extremadura region.

Guadalupe, Extremadura Guadalupe, Extremadura
The Sunvil Family

By The Sunvil Family

11th January 2018



The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family
The Sunvil Family

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