Extremadura

Mérida • Trujillo • Cáceres • Zafra • Plasencia

 

The autonomous community of Extremadura is located in the western part of the Iberian Peninsula on the border with Portugal.  When it comes to travel Extremadura is still a fairly unknown region and I have to admit it might be one of the best kept travel secrets.  This area has something for everyone starting with its mix of mountain ranges, the National Park of Monfragüe with some of Spain’s most spectacular bird life, historical towns such as: Mérida, Trujillo, Zafra, the old center of Cáceres, a succulent gastronomy which includes favorite local wines, cheeses and how can I forget some of Spain’s finest ham products. Extremadura is sure to enchant any discerning traveler looking for an adventure off the beaten path.

I became a fan of region due to my cousin Juan, who for many years has been travelling there for his hobby of bird watching, or so he says, I think it is mostly for the outstanding food.  So when I started to write about the area he jumped at the chance of telling me about his experiences and the little place he became so fond of...Garrovillas de Alconétar, so let's see what Juan had to say about his journey...

I have spent many years traveling in Extremadura.  It is no secret that it is an attractive destination for those seeking quick access to natural areas of great interest and enjoyment of popular cuisine.   The improvement of the Spanish Autovias (Highways) has made it possible and convenient to get from Madrid to the province of Cáceres in less than three hours depending on your final destination.  The good news is that soon you will have the possibility of taking the Ave train from Madrid to Lisbon stopping in Cáceres and Mérida, once there you can rent a car to travel around the towns and cities of the area.

As a novice my first adventures through the province of Cáceres were mostly related to the cities and villages that have a National Parador, not very original I know.  These are good starting points to get acquainted with the artistic treasures, gastronomy, nature and history that Extremadura has to offer.  I particularly recommend the paradores of Jarandilla de la Vera, Plasencia and Trujillo.

Already a veteran traveler in the province of Cáceres bird watching became a passion of mine, which is a great coincidence because Extremadura is one of the best European destinations for lovers of this activity.  Following the flight of cranes in winter, or of black storks in summer, and in both cases also following the claim of the delights of the gastronomy of Extremadura (notably the Iberian ham, the sheep's milk cheese and wines of the region) I ventured into areas previously unknown to me.  To be closer to the best birding spots I began to try my luck searching for lodging in the growing supply of casas rurales (rural homes) in the villages and towns of Cáceres.

 

A year ago I stumbled upon a village called Garovillas de Alconétar, I had never heard of it before.  I was looking for a casa rural (rural home) close to the Damn of Talaván, an excellent vantage point of cranes in winter, and not far from the National Park of Monfragüe.  Browsing in one of the major search engines of rural houses in Spain, I came across a property that seemed quite attractive. A quaint house with a fireplace and an orchard, located in Garrovillas.  After some research I learned that the town had a very interesting Plaza Mayor (Main Square) and I discovered that the village is located at a crossroads that leads in a short time to the city of Cáceres the Portuguese border and other places of interest.

 

My first impression was magnificent, my wife Marta and I liked the casa rural so much that we ended up buying it.  Now I not only enjoy my sessions of bird watching but also other attractions.  The Plaza Mayor is exceptional mostly surrounded by archways (Plaza Porticada), in one of its sides you will find the Hospederia de Extremadura, an Extremaduran version of the National Paradores, a medieval palace very well restored where you can eat and sleep at a good price.  In a corner of the same square you will discover one of the oldest taverns in the town called Bar de Luis.  It has no sign outside and the gloomy interior will make you doubt whether to enter or not but once inside you will see mostly local man drinking wine de pitarra (local wine).  I must warn you if you are looking for glitz and glamour this is not the place, but if you want an ice cold bottle of Mahou (Spanish beer) to quench your thirst in the heat of summer, come in, say hello to the locals and sit at the marble counter.  Once you’ve had a couple of beers you will have won the sympathy of the owner, a garovillano very fond of two things:  bullfighting and fishing tenca, a fish caught in ponds in the area.

Plaza Mayor de Garrovillas

In fact any place of interest in Garovillas is within walking distance of the Plaza Mayor, like the small Extremadurea Home Made BreadJewish quarter with its narrow streets of white washed houses where you will find the Churreria de Mary.  There is no doubt Mary makes the best churros in Extremadura, she makes them thin or thick at your request.  I definitely recommend the bigger ones! They are a blessing and the best way to start the day in Garrovillas.  Very close to the plaza you will find the Convent of Our Lady of Health (Nuestra Señora de la Salud) where a small community of nuns hand make extraordinary sweets of various kinds.  You have to buy them in the traditional style through a winch that opens up only when a client rings the bell.  In the square itself, is a typical extremenian food store where you can buy another one of Garrovillas delights, the famous patatera.  The patatera is a sausage made with potatoes, bacon and paprika and if it is not too cured you can spread it on a slice of bread.  Served with white bread that is baked in the village and accompanied with the local wine it will become a vice not easy to escape.

Garrovilla has two churches that you must visit both very close to the Plaza Mayor, la Iglesia de San Pedro (St. Peter) and Our Lady of Consolation or Nieves (Nuestra Señora de La Consolacion o de las Nieves).  The architecture and altarpieces of both churches are spectacular.

The best place to eat in Garrovillas is the restaurant of the Hospederia, the dining room is an old winery, quiet and pleasant, where you can savor some good traditional dishes from Extremadura.  Other than that your best alternatives are in the city of Cáceres (half an hour by car), El Figón de Eustaquio does not disappoint, offering good migas, good lamb stew and traditional roasted suckling pig.  I highly recommend taking a drive to the town of Coria, to visit the castle, the cathedral and taking a walk into the old town where the Casa Campana restaurant awaits you. It's somewhat ramshackle appearance is deceiving inside you will enjoy a wide variety of seasonal plates specializing in game dishes and mushrooms.  It also offers some of the best ham found in Extremadura and a superb selection of wines from the region.  Another option is to visit the town of Alcantara and its magnificent Roman bridge and head to the Hospederia (a converted convent) to eat some of the best stewed partridge in Extremadura.

As you can see of the treasures hidden in Extremadura, Garrovillas is one of the best and least known options that should surely be enjoyed...

 

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