In just a few days, we’re heading out for a road trip through Extremadura. This lesser-known region of Spain has a special place in our hearts. For starters, Amalia’s mom has been living there for over five years, in the teeny-tiny village of Higuera la Real. That’s where we’ll be staying for most of the trip. We’re also traveling with good friends and neighbors, Abel and Anna. It’s Abel’s first time to the region and holds special meaning since his family name, Mendoza, is traced back to the region. Our trip is going to be the best mix of family history and authentic, local experience. Here’s an inside peek at what that looks like.
Visiting the Village of Trujillo
We have visited Trujillo only one other time before. And it was love at first sight! We really mean that, because only after a couple of hours after we arrived for an afternoon visit, we booked a room in the Plaza Mayor of the village and spontaneously spent the night there. It gave us the chance to enjoy eating in the lovely plaza at night and the next morning, to walk around the upper part of the town and tour the fantastic Castle of Trujillo. Super impressive and we can’t wait to return!
The village of Trujillo is also special to us because Eric’s last name is Trujillo, from his family descendants who came from Mexico. Obviously, we now have an idea of where they came from before that. We will stay our first night here in Trujillo so we can enjoy the town and tour its amazing castle.
Staying at Mama's in Higuera la Real
From Trujillo, which is located in the northern part of the region, we will drive about 3 hours south to where Amalia’s mother lives in Higuera la Real. This pueblesito (very small village), is where her boyfriend Juan Antonio is from. They live in his family’s home that is now his and which he remodeled himself a couple of years ago. The entire top of the house, which is called a doblao (the attic) is remolded into the art studio of Amalia’s mother, Artist Angie Del Riego.
Getting to stay at Angie and Juan Antonio’s home means several things that we’re very excited for – delicious homemade food, living like the locals, and enjoying the charming small town and its beautiful surrounding countryside. In the back courtyard of their house, they have their own small green house where they grow their own produce and the walls are dotted with the traditional southern Spain style of ceramic pots overflowing with brightly colored flowers. You just can’t get any fresher than this!
Amalia has now been to visit her mom and Juan Antonio in Extremadura several times, staying up to a few months at a time. And every time, she loves visiting the castles there. We aren’t sure, but it seems that Extremadura could have one of the largest amounts of castles for its size of region. Sure, all parts of Spain have castles, but seriously – this area seems to have them everywhere!
The castles here are not crowded with tourist or long lines you have to wait in. Most times, we’ve visited a castle and had it all to ourselves. Our favorites are the Castle of Trujillo and, nearer where Amalia’s mom lives in the southern part of the region, the Castles of Jerez de los Caballeros and Segura de Leon. We’ll definitely be visiting the Castle of Trujillo and will prioritize the Castle of Jerez de los Caballeros. Then we’ll have to see if we have time to make it to Segura de Leon or perhaps the even closer castle of Fregenal de la Sierra which is the village right next door to Higuera la Real.
The Ancient Roman City of Mérida
On one of the days we’ll make a visit to the town of Mérida, which is truly a special place. Many people have never heard of it, yet from the 1st century B.C., it was the popular place for Roman Generals to retire. It is also situated pleasantly on the large Rio Guadiana. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, it is home to several ancient, historical sites.
There is the Puente Romano, a Roman bridge that spans the River Guadiana and is now a pedestrian walkway. It is also the longest of all existing Roman Bridges today. Then there’s the Alcazaba, an Arab fortress, and Amalia’s favorite, an Amphitheater and Roman Theater. There are even more fantastic, ancient sites and a wonderful Parador to stay in.
The Nature of the Land and Lifestyle
The name Extremadura means just what it sounds like, hard extremes. And while it can be just that in regards to weather, its nature is more beautiful than what Amalia had expected when she first visited years ago. The terrain ranges from gently rolling hills to large, rock cliffs and medium-sized mountain ranges. Wildflowers grow abundantly and there are trees of figs, citrus, pomegranates, chestnuts and more.
The various trees are gorgeous, with a variety of Oak Trees, one of which is used specifically for creating cork. So when you’re exploring around the area, you’ll see trees that look like their trunks have been peeled off. This gets turned into your wine bottle corks and other corks of delicious stuff to drink! Let’s not forget the olive trees too. There are fields and fields, not to mention that they seem to grow around every corner and in every other patio and yard in towns. Juan Antonio himself has a small olive grove of his family’s that he cares for. Perched up on a hillside, it’s a great place to have cookouts and enjoy sunset.
Then there’s the famed Black Iberian pigs, which are raised for the delicious, prized jamón in Spain – Jamón Ibérico. These animals can be seen throughout the countryside in Extremadura, grazing in fields and eating chestnuts. Aside from pigs there are ranches that raise bulls and cattle, as well as sheep and goats. Some spectacular horse ranches are also throughout the area.
When Amalia visits, she loves enjoying walks down the little dirt road around the corner from her mom’s house. It heads out of the little town into the countryside with lovely views of the hills surrounding. But her favorite is that often, she will encounter the local shepherd bringing his flocks of sheep home to a farm that is just there outside the village. There have been times she ended up surrounded by sheep and lambs! Then there’s the old man who still drives his donkey-drawn cart into the village most days, rather than ever drive a car. It is not rare here to see the young men riding gorgeous Spanish Stallions into the village’s own main plaza as well. As you can see, being here feels like going back in time.
The Gastronomy of Extremadura
Of course, talking about the nature and essentially the ‘livestock’ of Extremadura, leads to discussions about their other pride and joy – gastronomy. We are meat-lovers as you can see and we make sure to indulge that when in this region. Our first night arriving at the family’s, Amalia’s mom is making a leg of lamb dinner (pierna de cordero), which was bought from Juan Antonio’s good friend who has a farm nearby and raises his own animals.
There will be plenty of Jamón Ibérico to enjoy, especially since Amalia’s family keeps an entire pig leg on their kitchen counter (yep, that’s not just in the butcher’s and stores you see when visiting here). Another of our favorites are the amazing goat cheeses, the local figs, the sausages and the countryside tradition of migas, which is essentially what in the US we consider ‘stuffing’.
We’ll be savoring all these amazing foods throughout the weekend and especially at the BBQ we’re going to at our friend Anna’s house. A foreigner who has been living in Spain now for over 20 years, she remodeled an ancient molino (old stone mill) in the countryside just outside where Amalia’s mom lives. They’re best friends and enjoying a mid-day BBQ at her place, with her beautiful horses and gorgeous views of the countryside, is becoming a tradition for us when we visit.
All this fantastic eating will be washed down with two important things – pristine, natural water from the pitera (fountain built on a natural spring) up in the hills where Amalia’s family gets their water from. Just going there is a beautiful experience, especially for sunsets. Then the local wine will be plentifully enjoyed. Extremadura has fantastic wines as well, which we’ll share more about when we’re there and in the after-stories.
During the trip and soon after, we’ll be sharing more great stories, photos and videos, and tips from our trip. Follow along and use our map of sites we’re going to see for ideas on what can make for a great trip around the region of Extremadura in Spain.