Visiting Extremadura – An Insider’s 10 Enticing Reasons & Itinerary Tips
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In the joyfully endless quest of experiencing Spain, more and more travelers to the popular Iberian Peninsula are visiting Extremadura. Have you heard of this rural region of Spain? If you have, you are among the few fortunate explorers. And if you have not, get very excited about this splendid land where old-world Spain still lives on. It’s a nature-lover’s dream, the origin of many of Spain’s most beloved dishes, and home to rich historical ruins and new world explorers.
Having been several times, and with family living there, we’ve developed some great insider-perspectives and tips. We love to tell people that visiting there will immerse you into a side of Spain that will take you even further back in time. So here’s 10 enticing reasons, and our insider itinerary tips, for visiting Extremadura, Spain’s overlooked region.
#1 – Less Crowded
Above Image – View from the Castle of Jerez de los Caballeros.
Extremadura is less-frequented by visitors, foreign tourists and fellow-Spaniards alike. We have toured remarkable castles that were free of lines and savored a delicious lunch in the sun among locals. There’s room to walk the charming cobble-stoned streets, especially those that are too narrow to fit a car through. And you can land a last-minute booking in a comfortable hostal, much like we did in Trujillo our first time there.
Even their ‘busy times’ can be on an enjoyably smaller scale, like during the popular Spain-wide holiday of Semana Santa and the regional celebration of the Day of Extremadura (September 8th), which is also the Catholic and regional holiday of Our Lady of Guadalupe. If you’re wanting less-touristy and less-crowded destinations for your time in Spain, visiting Extremadura is the trip for you.
#2 – Extraordinary Castles Everywhere
Above Image – Views from the Castle of Trujillo.
When visiting Extremadura, it seems like castles are everywhere, and not just ruins, but impressive structures worthy of a visit. Even Game of Thrones feels the same way, and they’ve filmed in three different locations in Extremadura, including in the Castle of Trujillo. Yet still many times, we have found ourselves enjoying a castle practically all to ourselves.
Touring castles in Extremadura, you’ll easily feel like you’ve gone back in time. There’s ramparts to walk, bell towers of narrow stone staircases to climb (usually topped with the large nests of the local white storks), and Arab arches to pass under. Their architectural styles reflect the influences of the Moorish occupation of Spain, and eventually the Renaissance period, usually with the latter built right on top of the other.
Above Image – The Castle of Jerez de los Caballeros.
There is also the history of the Knights Templar in Extremadura and their flagship castle in Extremadura was the Castle of Jerez de los Caballeros. This charming town in the southern part of Extremadura, is one of our favorite towns and castles to visit when there. Similarly, there’s also the castle of Fregenal de la Sierra, right next to the tiny village where Amalia’s mother lives. Also a castle of the Templar Order, it is one of the few that houses a bullring and marketplace inside.
Today, some of the castles in Extremadura are becoming more popular, such as the Castle of Trujillo, yet the majority of them are in small, unknown villages, just tucked away and waiting for you to enjoy them. Further below in our itinerary tips, we fill you in on these less-frequented castles that we know personally. Most of them are free entry, or only around 5€ or less.
#3 – A Nature-Lover’s Paradise
A varying landscape of rolling hills with occasional mountain ranges, visiting Extremadura is ideal for travelers who love the outdoors. An important area for wildlife, one can enjoy bird-watching, hiking, cycling, and water sports. Two of the most important and largest nature areas are the Natural Reserve of Monfrague and the International Tagus River Natural Park. The region also has Spain’s only blue flag award-winning inland beach, the Orellana Reservoir. It’s located in the Badajoz province, is one of the largest reservoirs along the important Guadiana River, and also within a protected area for birds.
The beautiful landscape, a feast for the eyes, is also the heart of the culture and way of life. The open countryside is full of ancient olive trees, dehesas (oak forests), and grazing livestock, each serving such an important and iconic purpose in the region and Spain at large. Everywhere you go the wildlife and livestock coincide. You can see wooly-white sheep and lambs, goats, cattle, horses, and the famous black free-range pigs grazing on acorns.
What is especially remarkable, is that nature is not far removed from wherever you are, whether in the cities or small villages. Wherever you go, there’s quiet, country lanes ribboned with ancient stone walls that still serve as property boundaries today. For a great time of year to enjoy the outdoors in Extremadura, we recommend the Spring. Wildflowers will be in bloom everywhere and the vegetation will be verdant and green.
#4 – Older Ways of Life You Rarely See Elsewhere
During our numerous visits to Extremadura, we’ve seen young men and children on horseback ride into village squares, and the locals don’t see it as out of the ordinary. In the village where Amalia’s mother lives, there’s the very old man who still rides his donkey-drawn wooden cart into town from his finca in the countryside. It’s rumored that he’s the richest man in the village, but refuses to get a car or move into town. When walking, the only traffic you may encounter is a local shepherd herding his sheep down the road. Then there’s the occasional donkey that gets parked in front of the house of Amalia’s mother, right in between the other parked cars.
Many of the locals, Amalia’s mother and her boyfriend included, still collect great drinking water from the local natural springs in the hills outside their village. Here, there are fuentes (fountains) that have been built decades or more ago, to pour the water from a spout into a rectangular pool. These and other old-world traditions are endearing to experience. They remind us of slower times and simpler ways of living, making Extremadura a great place to relax and be inspired.
#5 – Home to Some of Spain’s Most Iconic Gastronomy
While many people know about Spain’s famous Jamón Ibérico, they don’t realize that the best of it comes from Extremadura. The most prized and sought-after jamón is the Jamón de Bellota, which is raised and produced in Extremadura from the black Iberian pigs who graze free-range on the acorns in the oak forests. You see them frequently traveling throughout Extremadura. Another popular Spanish dish that originates from Extremadura, is the Tortilla Española, Spanish omelette. This is a claim that many villages have made, but it was recently researched and confirmed that it was invented by two landowners in Extremadura, in the village of Villanueva de la Serena, in 1798.
Other traditional local dishes are cocido extremeño, potaje de castañas secas (chestnut soup), potaje de garbanzos y judías blancas (chic pea and white bean soup), and their embutidos (pork preserves). Let’s not forget the desserts and sweets as well. Some of our favorites are the magdalenas (an anise-flavored muffin), roscas fritas (fried doughnuts), rosquillas de vino and rosquillas de anise (cookies made with wine and cookies made with anise seeds). Most dishes are made in large pots to share with family, friends and neighbors, reflecting the generous nature of the people.
#6 – One of Spain’s Main Regions for Great Wines
Another great reason for visiting Extremadura, is to enjoy its amazing wines. All throughout the region, there are vineyards you can visit for experiencing tours and wine tastings.
When in Extremadura, make the most of getting to know and experience their varying classifications of wine. There are Vinos de Pago, wines from official estates and vineyards, and vino de la tierra, which means wine of the earth and is one step below DO (Denomination of Origin), but still very good. Then there are Pitarra Wines, which are artisan wines homemade at family vineyards and kept in earthenware jars called tinajas. The world of wine in Extremadura includes reds, whites, rosés, and even cavas.
#7 – Charming, Picturesque Spanish Villages
Complimenting the vast, open countryside are the white-washed villages of Extemadura. Still charmingly traditional with red Spanish tiled roofs on the houses nestled closely together, they are the heart of the old-world enchantment this area of Spain embodies. No matter how small they are, they always have at least one church bell tower rising up, and many times ancient fortress walls or castle battlements.
The villages are a great way to walk among this land’s history and people. Enjoy sitting in the sun at a cafe terraza for a wine and some lunch. Then walk the narrow, cobblestoned streets and photograph the architecture. You may even get a glimpse of inner courtyard entrances. On all our trips, we have found the locals to be friendly and helpful, so strike up conversations and feel free to ask for directions or recommendations. Further below in our itinerary tips, we recommend our favorite villages to visit, from some of the better known ones, to hidden gems that even many Spaniards don’t know of.
#8 – Home to Several UNESCO Sites
Visiting Extremadura is a great opportunity for taking in several UNESCO Sites. There are six in total, with three of them being World Heritage Sites: Guadalupe’s Royal Monastery, Mérida’s archaeological sites, and Cáceres’ Medieval City Center. Then you have the rest which highlight the region’s natural environment: the two Biosphere Reserves of Monfrague and Tajo International Natural Parks, and the Geopark of Villuercas-Ibores-Jara.
#9 – Incredible History, Preserved and Still Being Discovered
Above Image – The chapel tower of the castle n Fregenal de la Sierra.
Extremadura is rich with history and the evidence of several civilizations, with more still being discovered. The Romans were present in this part of the Iberian Peninsula, especially in Mérida, the capital of Extremadura today and which is full of extensive Roman ruins. Then the influence of the Moors can especially be seen in the architectural styles of the alcazabas, Moorish fortresses or castles, and Moorish villages. Literally found on top of these ruins are then those remaining from the Renaissance period, which took place after the Reconquista.
Above Image – The statue of Francisco Pizarro in the Plaza Mayor of Trujillo.
Fascinatingly enough, there are more recent discoveries of the Celts who settled during pre-Roman times in these lands. The main site of these discoveries is today a park called the Castrejón or Castro Celta de Capote. It’s located next to the small village of Higuera la Real where Amalia’s mother lives. Here, you can walk wooden bridges and natural paths nicely maintained, that tour the archeological remains unearthed of an entire Celtic village.
#10 – The People and their Welcoming Culture
The people of a place are truly the heart of it, and Extremadura is no different. Like any place as well, there are those who are outgoing and welcoming, and those who may come across as stand-offish. We attribute that to the aspect of the culture which can be a bit reserved. Yet, wherever we have gone, we’ve been greeted with warm and friendly people.
The Extremeños love telling you about their land and inviting you to try their local food. Don’t be surprised if you’re walking through the countryside, come upon a farmer working their small farm, and are invited to take with you a bag of their freshly harvested fruit. This is something that happened to Amalia during one of her visits to see her mother.
To the people of Extremadura, Extremeños, family and community are important. As is being hospitable and helpful to visitors. It is a warm and welcoming culture.
Why is Visiting Extremadura Overlooked?
So, with all these enticing reasons for visiting Extremadura (and trust us, there’s even more), why has it been overlooked by foreign and local visitors? We think that it’s a combination of several things, which starts with its past.
Throughout the history of Extremadura, it has been one of Spain’s most poor areas and under developed until the recent century. As the name indicates, it is a land of extremes with the weather being very hot in the summer and getting quite cold in the winter.
Getting to Extremadura is not as easy as other parts of Spain, with bus being the most common mode of public transportation. There are some rail lines originating from cities like Madrid and Seville, yet less frequency of trains, and there is an airport in Badajoz. But overall, driving a car is the way to go. Remember, that while the region may look small, it still takes a good amount of time to travel around.
With that in mind, Extremadura is also Spain’s 5th largest autonomous community, with the two largest provinces in Spain, Cáceres and Badajoz. Yet it is one of the least populated regions compared to the whole of Spain.
While these can be seen as disadvantages, they are the local traveler’s benefits. As a region and destination, Extremadura has not been overdeveloped by tourism, like certain areas of the southern coasts of Spain. It retains a distinct charm, natural beauty and strong culture thanks to that. This means that when visiting Extremadura, you can truly immerse yourself in a distinct experience of Spain and this area’s culture.
Itinerary Tips for Visiting Extremadura
Here are the castles and villages that are hidden-gems, and less known:
- Jerez de los Caballeros
- Segura de Leon
Some well-known castles that are great to visit are also Trujillo (a personal favorite of our’s) and Badajoz.
For touring UNESCO heritage sites, definitely visit Mérida.
For accommodations when visiting Extremadura, there are a surprising number of Paradores, the Spanish Castles turned into hotels. A stay in one of these is a great experience in and of itself.
From the north to the south, are the following paradors that we know of:
And the Hotel Rural El Castillo in Segura de Leon used to be a parador, but is now privately owned.
Fregenal de la Sierra
Jerez de los Caballeros
Segura de Leon
How to Get Around When Visiting Extremadura:
We recommend renting a car, so you can see more of the countryside and have the freedom to stop into the tiny villages. Just keep in mind that many of the villages have very narrow streets that can be nerve-wrecking to try and drive down. So look for public parking areas or a restaurant just along the edges of a village where you can park and walk into the center.
Then there are the trains which originate mainly from Madrid, and some for the southern area that come from Seville, but these are slow regional trains and run less frequently.
The trains from Madrid take the following amount of time:
- the quickest being to Cáceres in 3.5 to 4 hours
- Merida takes 4.5 to 6 hours
- Badajoz takes 5 to 7 hours
- To a town called Zafra takes about 6 hours
Written by Amalia & Eric
Founders & Producers of Move to Traveling
We’re Amalia and Eric – a traveling couple who are living a traveling lifestyle. Do you love to travel? Perfect! Come along…