Extremadura Part 1

Extremadura is the least visited region in Spain. Nobody goes here, not even my Spanish friends. Why don’t they go? Two reasons: 1. There is no coastline or beach. 2. There is no large city. Spain’s other least visited region: La Rioja also fits these criteria. 

So why did I go? Well, the main reason is because it is there! But there were only four Spanish regions open to visitors when planning the trip and I had been to the other 3. This left Extremadura as the natural spot. 

The easiest way to reach Extremadura is by driving from either Sevilla (1.5 hours) or Madrid (3 hours). However due to the COVID restrictions, I had to fly directly to the region’s sole airport in Badajoz. The flight was considerably more expensive than flying to Madrid or Sevilla but still cheaper than most domestic flights in the US. 

I was lucky enough to be joined by my friend Sean.

December 4, 2020: Elvas and Alburquerque

The Iberia regional jet touched down in Badajoz around noon. The airport is located in the middle of farms 25 kilometers from the city and gets 2 flights a day: 1 from Madrid and 1 from Barcelona. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, the airport itself was beautiful and made with the same white marble that seemingly is in every Spanish airport. 

The Badajoz Airport, which gets only 65,000 passengers/year

In a first for me, the Badajoz airport did not have anywhere to rent a car. So instead, I had to catch a 25-euro taxi to a car rental in town. They did give me the ability to return the car at the airport for 30 euros. While it wouldn’t save me money, it would give me peace of mind since I didn’t see many taxis roaming the town. 

From Badajoz, we drove towards the Portuguese border just 15 minutes away. Despite the major restrictions traveling between provinces in Spain, I was surprised to see the international border completely unguarded and open just like it was pre-pandemic. 

10 minutes into Portugal, we reached the town of Elvas. Elvas was a historic fortress town built to defend Portugal against Spain. The fortresses surround the city and are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Elvas, Portugal

Despite being so close to Spain, the town is Portuguese through and through with the yellow buildings and tile streets. Both the fortresses and town are absolutely stunning. 

Forte de Nossa Senhora de Graca- a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Beautiful Elvas

We ate lunch at a delicious Portuguese restaurant in town. 

Portuguese bread soup

Then we drove north back into Spain to the town of Alburquerque. This is the namesake of Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, United States, but notice the Spanish town as an extra r. Something else I did not notice until now is that the name Alburquerque is most likely a Moorish (Arabic) name. Many famous cities and places in southern Spain and Andalusia (Al Andaluz) start with Al such as Alicante, Almeira, and Albacete.   

Alburquerque has a special place in my heart because I adopted a highway in Albuquerque, USA. 

Alburquerque is a castle town. The imposing fortress lies atop a steep hill with the rest of the town surrounding it below. The town must have been an important military position since there are few other hills in the vicinity. The castle itself was closed. I am unsure of whether it is privately owned or a museum open during other times. 

However, you can walk on the castle walls high above the land. 

The castle at Alburquerque

It was getting dark so we headed to the car and drove to our final destination for the night: Caceres. 

Caceres is one of the largest cities in Extremadura and is considered one of the most beautiful in Spain. Its old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

We planned to explore Caceres all day tomorrow, so instead we walked along a lively walking street to dinner. 

Migas – typical food of Extremadura

On the way back, we walked to the old town. It reminded me of the old city of Barcelona except we were the only people there! Truly surreal. 

December 5, 2020: Caceres

Today was a full day to explore Caceres. 

The old town (known as La Ciudad Monumental) is relatively compact and can be seen in a day. Nearly every building is stone and from the 12th-14th centuries. It is pristine and far better preserved than anything else I have seen in Spain. That said, there are not that many buildings open to the public, as most are still homes or offices. 

Historic Caceres

Caceres gained worldwide fame when it was a filming location for Season 7 of Game of Thrones. For some reason, being in Game of Thrones is the 21st century nod of approval that it is a cool authentic medieval city. While the sights of Caceres are good, the undisputed highlight of this city is the atmosphere when simply walking around. 

We started out by exploring the Gothic cathedral, which has a nice museum and belltower. 

One of the many squares in Caceres

Then, we headed to a more modern church from the 1800’s. 

Next, we toured my favorite building in Caceres, the Palacio de los Golfines. This was a real palace for a wealthy aristocratic family from Madrid. The palace has been passed down by the family for hundreds of years. The final family member died in 2010 and converted the estate into a museum open to the public. You have to go on a guided tour in Spanish, but they have brochures in English too. Photos are not allowed but the rooms are incredibly ornate. My favorite was the Hall of Arms which displays the personal crests of the many Golfines. 

The upper floor contained artifacts of aristocratic life including hunting outfits, ornate dolls and even a manuscript collection that has an official Papal decree. 

Caceres also has a Moorish museum – the only one I have seen in Spain outside Granada – that recreates a house during the 400-year period when Caceres was in Muslim hands. This period of history often gets overlooked in Spain.

The city also has a highly regarded history museum, but we ran out of time to see it before the siesta. 

More Caceres

For lunch, we decided to drive 10 minutes north to the town of Casar de Caceres. This town is famous for a cheese called torta del casar. The town even has a museum dedicated to the cheese. 

Casar has one super famous restaurant that is 50x more popular than any other restaurant in town. It is called Casa Claudio. We arrived at 1:15. They were open but wouldn’t let us into the dining room for 45 minutes. Once inside, Sean and I ordered 3 dishes to share- all of them had the cheese. 

Our first dish was a plate of local jamon and a block of the famous torta del casar. The cheese was so smelly it caused me to gag. The taste confirmed my fear- this was way too strong and funky to enjoy. But hey, we gave it a try! 

Trying the famous torta del casar. It is on the top left.

The next dish was a risotto made with the cheese. We were nervous that this would also be inedible but it turned out to be delicious. Our final dish was a steak doused in a torta del casar sauce. This also was amazing. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that torta del casar is delicious…when diluted or mixed into other dishes. 

We then drove to the west of Caceres to an open area called Los Barrucos. We went for a hike around two reservoirs surrounded by giant boulders. At the upper reservoir, we found a funny sight: memorial plaques to a battle in Game of Thrones Season 7 that was filmed here. The plaques not only discussed the filming but details from the battle itself: such as identifying the dragon’s roost and the location of certain pivotal events such as the Dothraki charge. It reminded me of the plaques in Civil War battlefields in the US. 

Remembering the fateful 2016
The Dragon’s roost

Our hike took about 90 minutes at which point it was time to head back to town as the sun was setting. This time for dinner we visited the modern section of Caceres, which has tall buildings and looks just like any other Spanish city. We got dinner at an Argentine steak house where we were the only guests. That is a shame because the food and service was incredible. 

After dinner we explored the city’s nightlife, which was still on! The bars were open, but you had to sit at a table. We went to two bars- the last one had a DJ playing a rowdy EDM set with some people dancing at their tables with masks. Unlike in Barcelona, the curfew here was midnight. We left around 11:30. 

Cheers to an awesome time in Extremadura.

To continue with Part 2 of my Extremadura trip, click here.

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