Extremadura Travel Guide

Flag of ExtremaduraExtremadura is an autonomous region of Spain in the west of the country. It is home to the provinces of Cáceres and Badajoz and has a long western border with Portugal. The region is one of Spain’s best-kept travel secrets with unspoilt historical cities and areas of outstanding natural beauty. It’s an ideal destination for travellers who like to get off the beaten track. Most of the region is quite flat, with the rivers Tajo and Guadiana crossing into Portugal. In the north, Spain’s central plateau provides some picturesque, and often quite deserted, wooded sierras and isolated villages and in the south the Sierra Morena provides a natural border with Andalucía.

There is only one airport of a significant size in Extremadura, at Badajoz, although this presently has only internal flights. Although Seville, Valladolid and Madrid are only between three and four hours’ drive away, by far the nearest international airport is that at Lisbon, which can be reached in just over two hours. However, with the major road route from Madrid to Lisbon crossing the region and the N630 going from north to south, the whole area is far more accessible than it used to be. With a rail and bus network now extending to all the towns in the region, it is possible to make connections to here from all major Spanish cities.

Historic Extremadura

Despite being a relatively little-known region outside Spain itself, Extremadura has more than its fair share of history. When the Roman Empire was expanding across Europe one of the places they made almost a home from home was the city of Merida. Such was the importance of this city in Roman plans that they built a complete amphitheatre, as well as a traditional Roman temple, with an aqueduct to use for supplies and trade. These buildings can still be found in Merida today along with the archway that was erected and the villas for the travelling armies.

Another part of world history that originated from this region are the ‘Conquistadors’ such as Pizarro and Balboa who left Spain in order to make their fortune in the Americas. Probably the most famous of these men was Pizarro who came from the Extremaduran town of Trujillo. Travel there today and you’ll see the riches he made for himself with its breathtaking medieval castle and mansion. Extremadura’s influence can be illustrated by the number of towns in Latin America who take their names directly from places in the region such as Mérida in Mexico and Venezuela, Medellín in Columbia and Albuquerque in New Mexico. Even Santiago, the capital of Chile, was originally called Santiago of New Extremadura.

Where to Visit in Extremadura

Mérida

Mérida’s impressive Roman sites include the longest bridge built by the Romans in Spain – 64 granite arches, to be precise; a five mile aqueduct, much of which is in imposingly impressive condition; an amphitheatre which could seat 14,000, and a theatre for 6,000 where Roman, Greek and more modern plays are still staged during the summer. The centre of the old town is very compact, so walking from site to site is quite straightforward, but try to make it to Plaza De España in order to take a few minutes to sit in the square and watch the storks nesting on the roofs around you.

Roman Temple in Merida

Roman Temple – Merida

Trujillo Spain

Pizarro Monument – Trujillo

Cáceres

The centre of Cáceres, enclosed completely within Moorish town walls with some inspiring watch-towers, is a totally magical place to visit. Almost the same as it has been for several hundred years, Cáceres has magnificent examples of Roman, Arab and Renaissance architecture. There are so many impressive, plazas, palaces and patios that you will want to just meander the Ciudad Monumental for hours. There are few more atmospheric places in Spain – and Cáceres is far less likely to be crowded than most of its counterparts.

Trujillo

Much smaller than either Mérida or Cáceres, Trujillo, perfectly situated on a hill to dominate its surrounding plain, has often, with good reason, been referred to as one of Spain’s most beautiful small towns. The expansive, grand Plaza Mayor, with its classically elegant palaces and mansions, is dominated by the statue of the Conquistador Pizarro, whose wealth helped the town to rise to such prominence. Trujillo’s upper town is enclosed within a kilometre of Moorish walls and, as you enter this enchanting place – however much you might disapprove of some of the ways its wealth was acquired – it will be like entering a time machine.

Extremadura Map

Map of Extremadura

Guadalupe

Guadalupe is a town which was closely tied with Spanish colonialism and the discovery of the New World. It was here that Columbus returned after his voyage in 1492 to honour ‘la Virgen de Guadalupe’. It attracts many visitors who come to see one of Spain’s most iconic statues known simply as ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’. The monastery was the burial place of King Henry IV and his mother.

Yuste Monastery & Jarandilla de la Vera

The Yuste Monastery near Caceres dates back to the 15th century and is famous for being the place where the reigning Emperor, Carlos V, came to die. Nearby is Jarandilla de la Vera which dates from the same period as the monastery and was actually used by King Charles I while the monastery was being completed. This is a great base for a number of interesting walks – amongst the tobacco, paprika and raspberry plants.

Monfrague Natural Park

Because the region is located so close to both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and with its two large river systems, Extremadura attracts many migratory species of birds. Many bird lovers ‘flock’ to the Monfrague Natural Park to see many rare species of birds of prey including golden eagles, black vultures, Spanish Imperial eagles, great and little bustards, the unusual black storks, and many more. As well as the birds there are over 200 species of animal in the Park including the extremely rare Spanish lynx.

Storks in Merida

Stork Nest – Merida

Merida Extremadura Spain

Roman Bridge of Merida

Valle de Jerte

If you happen to be in Extremadura in the spring, then try to find time for a drive through the Valle de Jerte, in the north east of the region. In excess of 50% of Spanish cherries are cultivated here and during April the blossom appears to fill the entire valley.

And More …

Other Extremadura towns worth more than a passing visit are Badajoz – by far the region’s biggest and most industrialised town; Plasencia – another full of fine medieval buildings; and Zafra, with its elegant parador in what was once the castle. Indeed, a tour of Extremadura paradors would provide a fascinating insight into this historical land.

Paradors of Extremadura

If you truly wish to experience all that this region has to offer then you need to stay in the region’s paradors. These are hotels that have been built in conjunction with the ancient buildings themselves, such as castles and monasteries and offer the ultimate in luxury and a feeling of being part of the heritage of this region. An ideal way of discovering this fascinating land is to take a self-drive tour of the region whilst staying in some of Extremadura’s historic paradors. The 4-star Parador de Caceres is one of the best around whilst there are other beautiful options in Zafra, Trujillo, Merida, Guadalupe and Jarandilla de la Vera. Below is a list of the building type in each destination.

Caceres – 4* – 14th century palace
Zafra – 4* – 15th century castle
Guadalupe – 4* – 15th century Hospital of St. John the Baptist
Plasencia – 4* – 15th century convent
Jarandilla de la Vera – 4* 15th century castle-palace
Merida – 4* – 18th century convent
Trujillo – 4* – 18th century convent

Parador Jarandilla

Stay at the Parador in Jarandilla de la Vera

When to Visit Extremadura

Extremadura tends to have very hot and dry summers – the average temperature in July is above 26° and it can be as high as 40°. Drought is quite common during the summers. I recall only too well 7th July 2005 as I sat in my car in Trujillo listening to events unfold in London after the terrorist attack on the city. The air conditioning was working overtime as the car’s thermostat registered 44ºC. Winters are generally mild though significantly colder in mountain areas. Rainfall is also more pronounced here with occasional snow at high altitudes. In the remainder of the region rainfall is quite low with most falling in the autumn or spring.

Festivals of Extremadura

Cáceres is the venue for its own WOMAD Festival each May, with a line-up of mainly international artists, many workshop activities and, of course, an eclectic host of stalls offering just about everything! The festival takes place mainly around the Plaza Mayor, the Plaza San Jorge and the Gran Teatro.

Very different, is the ritualised Pero Palo carnival in Villanueva de la Vera at the end of February or beginning of March. A weird wooden figure, dressed in a smart black suit but meant to be the devil, is paraded around the streets being taunted and thrashed by the residents. Needless to say, fireworks and festivities follow in abundance.

Each August, there is a festival dedicated to both cayenne pepper and tobacco in Jaraíz de La Vera. Every summer, Mérida’s Festival brings top quality ballet, opera, concerts and plays – taking place in bars and restaurants as well as in the Roman theatre itself. Much more bizarre is the Festival of Carantonas at Achehuche where the locals dress in animal skins and horribly grotesque masks to commemorate their patron saint, Sebastian.

Food and Drink of Extremadura

Some of the very best Spanish ham originates from Extremadura – the black pigs here producing supremely tasty cured ham, chorizo sausages and other pork products. The free ranging pigs, roaming amongst the cork trees in the dehesas and swallowing the fallen acorns, enjoy the perfect diet!

Guadalupe Monastery

Monastery at Guadalupe

Other local favourites include lamb cooked in paprika and Cachuela Extremeña, a coarse and spicy pate. The Spanish tortilla was allegedly invented at the Monastery of Guadalupe, along with consommé, known here as consume, which the French took back home with them during the Napoleonic Wars. Strangely enough, a similar legend exists with regard to the convent of San Benito de Alcántara, which Napoleon’s troops put under siege. The nuns were forced to use their recipe manuscripts to make rifle cartridges and, when these were discovered, the French general sent them home to France, to develop into game recipes served ‘a la Alcántara’. The renowned Escoffier was later to claim that these recipes were the ‘only profitable thing France took from the war.’

You will find some delicious cherry cakes as well as the almond-based furrinillas. Also, these form the basis of some local liquors. There is only one wine given a Denomination of Origin, the Ribera del Guadiana, which produces some good dry white wines but, more especially, some robust and earthy reds, mainly from the tempranillo grape.

Have You Been to Extremadura?

If you’ve been to Asturias and have any useful recommendation for our readers we’d love to hear from you. Great little hotels? Any nice places for lunch? Just add your tips in the comments box at the bottom of the page.

Reader Comments:

  1. Marion Allen says

    Thanks for this well written and very inspiring article!!! Oh how I wish I had a car to go off and explore – but at least I know WHERE to plan a trip when my friends come – or I win the lottery!!!!!! I wouldnt hesitate to go – even the name sounds inviting – EXTREmadura!!!!!

  2. Thomas M Dougan says

    We have toured this area for two years and agree with everything you say about it. Trujillo is a marvellous place to stay and it is full of history. It is a pleasure to sit in the main square watching the world go by in a relaxed and enchanting atmosphere. The castle is worth a look and the views around the area are excellent. Would have no hesitation going back there

  3. Chris says

    Wonderful article, which I’m keeping to read again- this is an area which is on my list to visit one day, but now we go to Argentina & Bolivia (28/3 to 14/4) for something completely different. But as lovers of Spain, keep up the good work!

  4. Ingrid says

    Truly enjoyed! Even after all my years of visiting and living in Spain through the decades, this area will be a “must see” a first for me … this September … Ojala! The reason … this compelling, super informative article. Mil gracias, Ingrid

  5. James Bucknall says

    Hi Gerry:

    I walked through Extremadura in April of 2011 on La Via de la Plata on my way from Sevilla to Santiago. This Camino is less frequented than El Camino Frances and, in my view, far more pleasant. I liked Zafra and Merida more than Caceres, but I am sure that that was due more to the weather than the cities as it was sunny in the former two cities and raining in the latter.

    I will be spending a month in Merida, Mexico next winter. It, too, is supposed to be an attractive city.

    James

    • Gerry Kerkhof says

      Hi James

      It’s interesting how worldwide our recollections of placers are so heavily influenced by the weather. Merida in Mexico is a great place … best place in the world to buy a hammock made by the inmates of the city jail!

      Enjoy your travels.

      Gerry

  6. Margaret Avery-Trujillo says

    I plan on taking my husband home to Trujillo next year…….have been in other parts of Spain but are really looking forward to experiencing Extremadura. Will follow your site with great interest!

  7. Liz Oliver says

    Extremadura is a wonderful region of Spain and anyone able to camp I would really recommend the campsite at Caceres, it is just outside the city but has a very efficient half hourly bus service in. The campsite itself has a good bar and restaurant, large swimming pools etc AND every pitch has its own shower, toilet and washing up facilities with really hot water in a large wooden hut with own key, (ideal for locking valuables up when away from site). Caceres itself is a very interesting city as are all the other areas mentioned above.

    • Gerry Kerkhof says

      Hi Liz

      Thanks for this great recommendation. We’re spending a couple of months touring & camping all over Spain this summer so will certainly head there.

      All the Best

      Gerry

  8. David P{rice says

    I have been to each of the regions you have discussed during the last 10 years and find your comments and analysis to be truly excellent. Each one makes me deeply nostalgic to be back in that glorious country. Thank you for writing so well on it.

  9. Marie Rogers says

    We live in Los Santos de Maimona and find Seville the best airport or Faro in Portugal, they are easy to get to and are by far the cheapest for flights. Extremadura is growing fast, Our little town is much the same except for more housing but Zafra, Badajoz and Merida are growing more each year. It’s a wonderful place to live in Spain with plenty to do and the people are very welcoming.

    • Gerry Kerkhof says

      Thanks Marie – It’s an area I love to tour around. Really fascinating place.

      Best Regards

      Gerry

  10. Peter Sanchez says

    Hi Gerry

    Great article regarding Extremadura! We have visited there several times and it remains my favorite part of Spain. We love the area because it is the way Spain was along time ago…unspoiled and uncrowded. I hope it always stays that way.

    Regards,
    Peter

  11. Richard Herrett says

    Hi Gerry. Your Extremadura article was far too appealing! It is by far our favourite region .. it is like a secret destination. Don’t tell too many people about it, please,!!!!!!!!!
    Regards, Richard

  12. dave sturgess says

    Gerry – thanks, this brings back great memories , when stationed in Gibraltar my mate, and I spent 5 weeks hitch hiking around Spain, and covered all the areas, which at this time was still the old Spain, but so glorious, this was in 1962 Franco was still in power, we had a marvelous time we strangely were treated with every courtesy by the Guardia who used to stop us on the roads to check our passports, and share a British cigarette, this was also the time that Spain was starting to grow as a holiday destination, thank you again for bringing these memories back.
    Regards Dave

    • Gerry Kerkhof says

      Hi Dave, that must have been some experience travelling in those days. I can barely imagine what it must have been like.

      Best Regards

      Gerry

  13. Tony Fillingham says

    Thank you Gerry for a fantastic article!

    I have put Extremadura on my list of must-see places in Spain, thanks to the wonderful images your article conjured up. Reading about it was the next best thing to actually being sat in the Plaza de Espana in Merida.

    Keep on doing what you do as we love it!!

    Kindest regards Tony.

  14. Dave Turner says

    Yet another great & informative article – I enjoy all the posts you send out. Touring Andalucia May/June this summer & Valencia in the Autumn but you have whetted our appetite for this fascinating area. Keep them coming. Thank you so much

  15. Pam Hartman says

    Thanks for this great article. My husband is Spanish and I have no idea why he has not taken me here. We drove through but did not stop there. Next time we are back in Spain we will go there for sure. Thanks.

  16. Elaine Billingham says

    Really enjoyed this article – so informative – it’s def going on my list of places to visit – thank you

  17. Christine Marcus says

    What great memories this article brought up. My family visited Extramadura in l971 when It seemed so forelorne….no redeeming qualities…..flat harsh land, harsh weather, no trees. We could see why the famous/infamous Spanish conquerors fought so hard in the new Americas….. they had nothing to come back to. The article renewed my interest and I will definitely visit it again. Yes, Rome evidence was remarkable. I really appreciate your well written article and I look forward to returning to Extremadura.

  18. Anthony Eastaway OM(Es) says

    Buenas tardes,
    I have been to Spain and enjoyed my visits immensely however I have not been to this region yet. Your article encourages me to visit Extremadura la proxima vez cuando me voy a Espana. Yo espero de visitar en setiembre 2013. Saludos y gracias por los articulas tan interesante.
    Tony Eastaway
    Canberra
    Australia

  19. Nigel Wallington says

    Gerry, I always read your articles and this one on Extremadura has stirred me up to make a visit in June. I have been visiting Spain since my first holiday in 1964. Indeed I lived and worked in Spain for 13 years from 1966. It is with great dismay that I have witnessed the destruction of its beautiful coastline over the years but despite that I still love the country and despite my vast experience in visiting the country I have never been to Extremadura. So, like many others, thank you for your great article which has inspired me to go there shortly.
    Regards
    Nigel Wallington

    • Gerry Kerkhof says

      Hi Nigel

      I’m delighted to hear that my article has provided such inspiration & have no doubt that you’ll love Extremadura. Much of the coast has been destroyed by overdevelopment but there’s still plenty that’s worth a visit. I particularly like the Cadiz coast which is beautiful & often has great weather. The north has some spectacular areas of coastline but the weather is less conducive to a visit if you want to guarantee some sunshine.

      Best Regards

      Gerry

  20. john yates says

    Hi Gerry

    Hope you’re well.

    As ever a really enlightening piece on Extremedura. Great links and info on where to stay, what to see etc etc

    I’m hoping to do a driving tour of Spain later this year and all your snippets are fuelling my anticipation
    and giving me great ideas for the anticipated route.

    Have missed out on the Feria Sevilla this year but hope to do it again next year. Are there any major/feria-size Fiestas to be had in Sept/Oct/Nov that you can enlighten me on so that I might stitch them into my route?

    Best wishes
    John

  21. Sue Maddocks says

    Always read your emails with nostagia as I was a rep. in Mallorca in the sixties! Purely on your excellent report regarding Extremadura we are planning a trip there this June. Interesting to read in the comments that one of the best airports to access the area is Seville. We live near Manchester Airport so are lucky to have a choice of flights. My husband and I are really looking forward to this trip as he has a great interest in the Peninsula Wars and we also enjoy a bit of bird watching (not even mentioning the food and drink!) Will report back!

    • Gerry Kerkhof says

      Hi Sue – I’m sure you’ll have a great time. Monfragüe is great for birdwatching.

      All the Best

      Gerry

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