Discover the Secret Attraction of Extremadura in Spain

Come World Travel is reader-supported, and it may receive a percentage from purchases made using the links in this article. Visitors to Spain — and in reality many of Europe— are often dismayed today to find the sites they most want to view are thronged with travelers. Due to the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd size and poor traffic, visitors can experience social features like Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, and even the southern regions and Mediterranean islands, which can all be challenging to communicate, depending on the season. But I’m here to share a beautiful location that is still largely unexplored and offers the best of Spain without crowds. It’s a huge area called Extremadura ( Go ahead and look it up — I had to! It is located just north of Seville and Andalusia, in northern Spain, between Madrid and the Portuguese borders. Extremadura is the epitome of off-the-beaten-path hidden gem, with gorgeous medieval towns, abundant Roman ruins, and a delicious nearby cuisine that makes mealtimes unforgettable. I’ve just made my second visit there and was when enchanted as I was the first time. What are some of Extremadura’s must-see monuments, in my opinion? Four Must-See Cities in Extremadura If you have a short amount of time, these are four locations to prioritize. Cáceres Cáceres. The charming hill town of Cáceres, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1966, is a good starting point for a journey of Extremadura. Take an organized tour or wander aimlessly through cobbled streets past Renaissance palaces, churches, and beautiful squares to find gems like a bronze monkey hanging from a wall on Calle Del Mono, which depicts a terrible story from centuries ago about a angry pet monkey who threw a newborn baby out into the street. Enjoy beautiful costumes thrown on during the city’s complex Easter Week parades inside the Iglesia de la Preciosa Sangre’s side entrance. You’ll likewise find scrumptious cookies and cakes baked by cloistered monks at the Convent San Pablo. The nuns are always visible because a wheel on the wall allows you to transfer both cash and pastries. Guided tours provide historical details, such as an explanation of why one castle’s building is so much taller than the others. Queen Isabella ordered the truncated buildings because she was unhappy with how loyal the nobility to the king were to the castles they served. Powered by GetYourGuide Càceres was the site of several scenes in “Game of Thrones ” as the entry point to King’s Landing. Particularly notable is the city’s main gate, which was crucial during filming. When your tour is over, ask to be directed to the difficult-to-access stairs that lead to the city’s medieval walls and stroll through highlights like the 12th-century Bojaco Tower. By all means, don’t sit in your hotel during the evening since the city ’s medieval skylight is entirely illuminated. Read More: 10 Things to Do in Menorca, Spain: Mallorca’s Quieter Little Sister Mérida Mérida ( Roman Bridge and Lusitania Bridge ) The city of Mérida, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, is one of the main locations where visitors can find breathtaking Roman ruins in all of Spain, just 60 miles south of Cáceres. Founded in the first century BCE by Emperor Augustus to serve as the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania, its astounding architecture shows how the Romans went all out for the cities they designated as their capitals. The city’s impressive Roman theater has two sets of arches facing semi-circular seating, which is where visitors can still watch live performances in July and August at the International Classical Theater Festival. Gladiator fights took place nearby in the sizable amphitheater. And even though the locals still refer to the city ’s still-beautiful temple as “The Temple of Diana, ” it was actually dedicated to the imperial cult of the Roman Empire. The Puente Romano Bridge passing overtop the Guadiana River and consisting of 64 graceful arches, making it the longest surviving Roman bridge in Europe, is also impressive. The National Museum of Roman Art, a contemporary architectural gem teeming with Roman statues and reliefs, mosaics, tombstones, glassware, and coins, will require at least half a day to visit the museum. Mérida so reveres its Roman heritage that it ’s left a fallen pillar in the middle of one of its busy downtown streets — Traffic still swirls around it each day. In the nearby town of Aljucén, where you can enjoy an authentic “toga party ” and eat a typical Roman meal made from centuries-old cookbooks, Termas Aqua Libera continues with the Roman theme. The meal items can either be consumed while seated around a table or by moving the food between two small boats while reclined nearby. Spa Treatment in Alange And at the town of Alange, you can enjoy a Roman spa treatment that has been operating in this setting since the third century CE. You can get massages, exfoliations, wraps, and of course hot baths in two circular pools that the Romans built so many centuries ago. You’ll frequently be walking on the same stones as the Romans did. Guadalupe Guadalupe. The gargantuan Royal Monastery of Guadalupe dwarfs the small town of Guadalupe on a hilltop in a mountainous region of eastern Extremadura, which has fortified walls of great height decorated with bell towers with conical tops and other architectural ornamentation. The monastery was constructed on top of a spot where the Virgin had requested a shepherd find a small statue of her likeness, making it a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1963. Construction began in 1340 and lasted well over three centuries, with elements of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical architecture all woven into the huge complex. Guadalupe is where Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus first met before his first expedition to the New World, and they also met again in Guadalupe, which has historical significance. A Place of Pilgrimage For the thousands of religious pilgrims who travel to the small town each year, they also take a look at the landscaped cloisters and museums of sculpture and art, including works by El Greco and Goya. The highlight of the visit for the many religious pilgrims who make their way there is a viewing of the statue of the Virgin. It’s only two feet high and one of only a handful of Black Madonnas in Spain, almost completely studded with precious gems embedded inside a brocade vestment stitched in gold. This Madonna was sorely missed on my first trip to Spain in 2013 that I had to stop watching it. An incredibly zealous priest initially declined to lift the screen that obscured the Virgin because he believed our group, a group of travel writers, lacked sufficient religious conviction to comprehend something so precious. I’m so glad he relented! Trujillo Trujillo You may be thinking you’re spending too much time in Exremadura’s hill towns, but you absolutely need to see Trujillo, my personal favorite. It was founded by the Romans, but other cultures—the Visigoths, the Muslims, the Jews and the Christians have all left their mark. Monumental architecture from all those eras can still be seen on walking tours, as in Cáceres. Trujillo, however, is filled with Spanish people living their lives, — people walking their dogs, women shopping, and children playing in schoolyards, all showing what a lively mix of people live there. Contrary to Cáceres, which has relatively few residents remaining in its medieval core. Read More: Spain Travel: Top 16 Attractions & Things to Do in Spain The Plaza Mayor and the Statue of Pizarro Your first stop on your trip to Spain’s capital city, the city’s largest square, is the Plaza Mayor. This central square is surrounded by magnificent Renaissance residences of nobles, whose owners were clearly competing for their neighbors ‘ opulence for the sheer opulence. The focal point of the square, however, is a huge bronze statue of Francisco Pizarro on horseback atop a high pedestal. You might recall Pizarro from the history books as the brutal conqueror of Peru, who attacked and decimated the ancient Incas while he was there. Despite his not-so-stellar reputation, I have a special fondness for this statue, largely due to the numerous, silly fronds that emanate from his headpiece. I chuckle to myself every time I look at it. The home where Pizarro was born is now a museum with a focus on his life, which is a testament to his deity. However, a walk through the city’s steep hills to the Castillo ( Castle ) of Trujillo, which dates back to the 13th century and is located at the city’s highest point, is my favorite part of a trip there. The castle’s ornamentation, both inside and out, is rather spartan but the true highlight of your visit here will be a grand promenade along the castle’s upper walls, where you’ll take in an extraordinary view of the city ’s beautiful surroundings with vistas of hills. Even high mountains are visible on the horizon, and farmland and farmer’s fields abound on all sides. You wo n’t want to miss this Spanish hilltop town, I assure you. Trujillo: Medieval and Renaissance History Walking Tour Extremadura’s Landscape Monfragüe National Park. Even though these four cities are as stunning as they are, there should not be any restrictions on your exploration of Extremadura. Give yourself some time to wander the countryside and observe the varied topography. Much of Extremadura’s 16,000 square miles is flat, but there are also high mountains, especially at Monfragüe National Park in the north where jagged peaks, cliffs and rock formations can be found along with dense oak woodlands. The mostly flat pastureland that the Spania call the “dehesa, ” whose acorns serve as the main diet of the so-called “pampered pigs,” is a distinctive feature of the Extremadura landscape ( more on that in a minute ). And with the lakes and rivers in Extremadura that have approximately 1,500 miles of internal coastline, there are plenty of opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing, and other activities. 4 x 4 Monfragüe National Park tour Other Small Towns to Visit And while you’re exploring the countryside, stop in at one of these quaint small towns you may pass along the way: Plascencia —With a porticoed main square, this charming town also has both an “Old ” Romanesque ” cathedral, alongside a “new ” Gothic one. Hernán Cortez, the conqueror of the Aztecs in Mexico, was born in Hervàs, with a grim fortress on a hilltop overlooking the town. Jerez de los Caballeros— This town is renowned for its numerous churches that dominate the skyline. The best place to see all of them is along the highway bypass just outside of the town. Zafra — Known as “ Little Seville, ” Zafra has both a Plaza Grande and a Plaza Chica. The town’s eerie fortress has been transformed into a cozy hotel ( See accommodations ) for Birdwatching and Dark Skies Griffon vulture ( Gyps fulvus ). Photo courtesy of the Extremadura Tourist Board Extremadura is known as a birdwatching paradise, one of the best in all of Europe, with the region overlapping two major migration flyways. 360 distinct species have been identified, with about 280 of them keeping a year-round resident status. Birdwatchers have scoured the area for the black vulture, the Spanish imperial eagle, the black stork, the lesser kestrel, and the great bustard to add to their “Life List.” A number of professional birdwatchers are available for hire for bespoke private tours or for group tours. Las Barruecos National Monument, which is located about 15 minutes outside of Càceres and is a great place for bird watching, is a must-see location. You’ll be amazed by the enormous rock formations, frequently piled one on top of another and with unusual shapes. Here, a crucial battle scene was captured on “Game of Thrones ” with computer-generated armies swarming over these rocks. And just picture what a fire-breathing dragon would look like flying overhead and taking aim at its enemies. Watch the filmed version to see how this landscape changed. Entre Encinas y Estrellas Resort Also, due to its remoteness and separation from major cities, a large portion of Extremadura is given the designation” Dark Sky,” which means that amateurs can observe world-class stargazing with telescopes or even the naked eye. We stayed at a wondrous place called Entre Encinas y Estrellas ( Between the Oaks and the Stars ), a resort of several spacious cabins built around kind of a stargazing theme park, where astronomers from around the world rent space for their telescopes. If the weather permits, nightly sky gazing seminars are offered for novices either inside an observatory that appears to be a gigantic replica of R2D2 from the film Star Wars. We saw craters on the moon and even Saturn’s rings with the aid of telescopes, and with our naked eyes, we could see the Milky Way stretching across the sky above us in its entirety. Read More: Experiencing Spain’s Olive Oil Culture, Grove to Table Food and Wine in Extremadura Torta del Casar ( Cheese ). Extremadura Tourist Board courtesy of its extraordinary agricultural abundance, which results in a unique dining experience for visitors. The black Iberian pigs that graze all over the Dehesa and consume a lot of grass and herbs as well as a lot of the numerous acorns falling from the many oak trees are the main attractions of the region. This is the main ingredient in the must-try of the region, jamón ibérico, ( Iberian ham ). You’ll find jamón ibérico served throughout Spain, but its origin point is Extremadura, where it ’s routinely offered in every restaurant, sometimes without your asking for it, in the form of a tray of thin slices, sometimes pounded so flat they’re almost see-through. Enjoy the marbles of fat in each piece because that is where the flavor comes from the most. Extremadura also produces a number of different cheeses, but Torta del Casa, a cheese with a strong creaminess and flavor made from sheep’s milk, is the most popular in the area. If it ’s to your liking, you may find yourself spooning large quantities into your mouth. smoked paprika from La Vera in Extremadura. The distinctive smoked paprika produced here using peppers that were originally brought back from the New World is now smoked over oak wood fires and hand-turned for 10 to 15 days before being ground into paprika is the most popular food item originating from Extremadura, however. You can find the paprika in three different flavors — sweet, bittersweet, and spicy — and tins of all three flavors are easily found in many shops— I recommend taking several home for use in your own kitchen. My guests swoon with delight whenever I serve chicken paprikash with this special paprika. I do as well. Wines of Extremadura The wines of Extremadura, although not as well known as in other regions such as Rioja or Ribera del Duero, are still quite flavorful, produced mostly by strict standards governing the local Ribera Guadiana Denominación de Origen. Our winery stops included stops at locations as diverse as Habla outside of Trujillo, one of Spain’s largest wineries, a sleek, modern facility where we drank unique wines that had never been produced before and never will be again. We also made a stop at a small business that makes organic wines, some of which are aged in tiny earthenware containers and amphoras using methods that date back to the very beginning of winemaking. Accommodation Options in Extremadura Me? the Roman temple of Diana, orrida. A wide range of hotels can be found throughout Extremadura, but I would suggest a chain of hotels known as “paradores,” which are located inside historic forts like castles or palaces, monasteries or centuries-old fortresses. Extremadura is especially blessed with seven paradores at Cáceres, Mérida, Trujillo, Guadalupe, Plasencia, Jarandilla, and Zafra. Numerous of these hotels have on-site restaurants serving regional and local cuisine, making many of them four-star hotels. The comfortable and sizable rooms feature period-style furniture to enhance the atmosphere. I can especially recommend the Parador at Mérida, a former 14th-century palace and later a monastery, that ’s centrally located near the city center. Bonus: There are two ghosts present, one of them a young boy who mischievously knocks on people’s doors before disappearing, and the other a monk who walks the hallways in his monk’s attire. Although I did n’t see either of them, I was happy to know that they were. see Paradores options in extremadura If You Go: For more comprehensive information on Extremadura’s many wonders, go to the region’s website. This page contains a wealth of information about popular tourist destinations in Spain, including Extremadura. What are the top 5 things to do in Extremadura, Spain? Discovering the 12 Tantalizing Treasures of SpainIn depth: A 3-Day Itinerary of Wine, Food, and Fun He is a graduate of the Elf School of Reykjavik and can tell you what the Amish wear to the beach in Florida! Latest Posts Go World Travel MagazineDigital magazine for travelers is Go World Travel Magazine. A dedicated team of travel journalists who are knowledgeable about the regions they cover creates the editorial content for our publication. We cover travel in more than 90 countries. Discover the Hidden Charm of Extremadura in Spain on April 20, 2024 Life of a Champion: An Exploration of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville on April 19, 2024 What It’s Like to Live as an Expat: Lake Chapala, Mexico, on April 18, 2024