Cáceres, the delightful surprise.

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I know I say almost every trip I go on in Spain is to one of my favourite places, but I’m going to say it again about Cáceres. I can only hope to do it justice, as I know one of my favourite readers (she will know who she is, ¡hola!) will be carefully perusing this entry to see what I am saying about her neck of the woods!

Cáceres is part of Extremadura (Extremely hard could be a loose translation). The sparsely populated comunidad autónoma is located southwest of Madrid and Toledo on the way to the Portugal and Sevilla. It’s nearly forgotten about by the Spanish who aren’t extremeños, which is a crying shame. Both the capital city and the province are beautiful.

In March 2012 (three years already *cries*), I finally made my visit to Cáceres (and Mérida on the same trip). I caught an evening train from Madrid to Cáceres, and I regret learning after it was too late that the trip would have been completely free as it arrived to Cáceres about an hour late.

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It was dark, and most everything was shut down by the time I got there. I think I had found a kebab open (Doner Kebab’s are Europe’s Taco Bells) for dinner. I was exhausted and went to bed early. The morning was spent in Mérida, but the afternoon was all about Cáceres. I fell in love with the city. It’s a less touristy, bigger Toledo. The food is good, the people are friendly, and it has that laid back vibe I miss about southern Spain. (I guess it can be found in the Basque Country. “Lasai, mañana lloverá también.” (Relax, it’ll rain again tomorrow). I digress.) I took a tour of the walls for a well-paid 2€ and walked around the old part. I was only there one night, and being there alone and shy, I didn’t take advantage in going out at night. I know they had one gay bar, but I was going through my shy stage and didn’t go.

Sunday morning I had to catch the bus back to Madrid. I saw Trujillo from the bus, and I regretted not having time to stop there. Another trip. Another Meravella to discover.

From my personal journal: I rested a bit, then went exploring in Cáceres, which is an old medieval city much like Toledo. The Plaza Mayor is breathtaking. I paid 2 Euros to go up on the walled part of the city for views of the entire city and the desert mountains surrounding it.

Every time I see a photo (or one of my friend’s breathtaking sunset photos of Alange), I want to go back to spend more time here as soon as possible.

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Cáceres Capital

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The capital city of 96,000 habitants is definitely a wonder of this province! The walled portion of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the city itself is the largest geographic city in Spain. The city goes back to prehistoric time, and its medieval, Roman, Moorish and Jewish past can all be seen today while strolling through Cáceres. It also has many churches and a few palaces (including a Parador) and museums. For me, my walk along the wall were my favourite part of a weekend getaway that included all of Cáceres and Mérida in Badajoz with its Roman treasures.

Plaza Mayor

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For fans of relaxing cafés con leche, the Plaza Mayor of Cáceres is more spectacular than the ones in Madrid, Salamanca and Valladolid, even if those three steal all the thunder and receive all the fame. The plaza goes back to the 14th Century, and the town hall (ayuntamiento) is found here, along with the Ermita de la Paz (Hermitage (Small church) of the Peace) and many houses, shops and cafés. I sat and people watched my night here for a good while. It’s the heart of the city.

Trujillo (to be discovered)

I saw this city town of around 9000 people from the bus, and I’ve seen many photos. I have to return to Cáceres just so I can go back to Trujillo. Trujillo has a castle/fortress (Alcazaba), churches, a plaza Mayor for sipping relaxing cafés con leche and many palaces. It even has a museum of cheese and wine. It was under Muslim rule for five centuries before being recaptured by the Christians in 1232. King Juan II of Castilla made the town a city in 1430. After some trujillanos went to the Americas, they returned to build the many palaces around the city.

Monfragüe (to be discovered)

Monfragüe is one of Spain’s 15 national parks (natural park since 1979 and national park since 2007) and has been a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2003. Located north of Trujillo, it’s located along the valley of the Tajo River (that is named Tagus in Portugal). The River Tietar joins the Tajo here. It also has a castle, and it is home to just one village of 28 habitants, Villareal de San Carlos. There are many types of plants, deer, boar, birds and beautiful landscape.

Valle de Jerte (to be discovered)

The Valley of Jerte has been a Bien de Interés Cultural since 1973. There are 11 municipalities in the valley, which is located between two mountain chains in the Gredos mountains (in the Sistema Central). It has a lot of wildlife and nature, but it’s fame comes from the flowers that bloom there every spring. It’s also known for cherry and agriculture. I regret never taking advantage of the several hiking excursions offered from Madrid to the Valle de Jerte as it has to be absolutely amazing.

Plasencia (to be discovered)

Plasenscia, located close to the Valle de Jerte, is home to 41,000 habitants and is another walled city (I like walled citie, eh?) It is located along the Jerte River on the famed Ruta de la Plata. It’s the home of Extremadura’s first university. Although the city is “young” by Spanish standards, being founded in 1186 (older than Bilbao!), it still manages to be rich in history. It was Muslim for less than a day, being captured and then recaptured within 24 hours. The area was inhabitated long before there was a city, and today there is a Roman aqueduct. There are also two cathedrals, a museum, many churches and the walls.

Monasterio de Santa María de Guadalupe  (to be discovered)

In Guadalupe, there may only be 2000 habitants, but there is an important monastery, the Monasterio de Santa María de Guadalupe. Located in the Sierra de la Villuercas, Guadalupe is also home to a river with the same name. The monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site and dates back to the 13th century when a shepherd from Cáceres stumbled upon a statue of the Virgin Mary hidden away from the Muslim rulers. He built a chapel and named it Our Lady of Guadalupe. When King Alfonso XI won the Battle of the Río Salado after invoking Santa María de Guadalupe, he declared the chapel a royal sanctuary and had it rebuilt. Christopher Columbus made his first pilgrimage after his first voyage (not even using the word “discovery”) to the Americas, and King Enrique (Henry) IV of Castille is entombed here. Pope Pius XII made it a “Minor Papal Basilica” in 1955.

A special shoutout goes to Alange, which could easily go on here too, I’m sure.

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Badajoz…another trip to Spain’s Roman past.

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Badajoz is one of the two provinces in the comunidad autónoma of Extremadura (Extreme and hard if you translate literally two of the words) , which is one of the most surprising places to visit as the Spanish seem to ignore it or make jokes about it. Located in the southwest corner of Spain near Portugal, Castilla La Mancha and Sevilla in Andalucía, Extremadura was a joy to visit, even if it was one of the last comunidades autónomas I visited. I would love another chance to travel to Badajoz to know the province capital and more of the comunidad.

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I had stepped foot in Extremadura on the way back from a summer camp in 2011, but it wasn’t until March 2012 when I had a chance to spend a weekend. It was either the penultimate or the last comunidad I crossed off the list, depending on how you look at it, and I was already learning the value of “more time in one place is better than little time in many places” by the time I reached here. My time in the Badajoz province was short, only one day, and it was limited to the capital extremeño of Mérida.

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Mérdia is known for its Roman ruins and is the main tourist site of the province. I woke up early Saturday morning after the worst train ride ever (it was after this experience I discovered that Renfe refunds any ticket of trains more than 30 minutes late) to take the train to Mérida. I arrived, had my tostada con tomate and café con leche, and set off to explore the ruins. The Roman Theatre is the most impressive for me. I explored the town and had lunch before heading back to explore Cáceres, where I was staying. As it is prone to do at important places (The Alhambra, on the flight to Ireland, etc), my camera decided to stop working, so my iPod Touch (Jordi I. I am now on Jordi IV) had to suffice.

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Badajoz is the largest province in Spain and one of the least densely populated provinces. Its total population is around 700,000 habitants, smaller than cities like Sevilla and Zaragoza. For any New Mexican readers out there, there is a town called “Alburquerque” located in the province.

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Teatro Romano y las ruinas de Mérida

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Without a doubt, the Roman ruins (especially the Roman theatre) are the most important attraction of the province of Badajoz and one of the most important Roman archaeological sites in Spain. The capital of Extremadura (58,000 habitants) is well worth a visit for any history buff, and even those bored by history would most likely be impressed by the ruins that are still here today. The name comes from Ermerita Augusta, which is Latin for retirement home of Augustus’ soldiers. It was the capital of Lusitania province (The name Lusitania is more connected with Portugal today) and has more Roman monuments than any other Spanish city, including the theatre, the longest still-in-existence Roman bridge, an aqueduct and amphitheatre. Despite all of this, it remains more or less undiscovered by the masses, who opt more for Madrid-Toledo-Segovia, the Andalucía coast or the Catalan and Valencian coasts. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Alcazaba de Mérida

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The alcazaba (fortress) of Mérida is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is a 9th-century Muslim fortress which has fantastic views of the city and surrounding countryside, including the Guadiana River. It was the first Muslim alcazaba built by Abd ar-Rahman II of Córdoba.

Badajoz y su alcazaba (yet to be discovered)

Also located on the Guadiana, Badajoz is the capital of the province with 152,000 habitants. It’s located very close to Portugal. The main attraction of the capital city is its alcazaba, a Spanish national monument since 1931. It boasts a number of Moorish buildings and its cathedral is unique for having one Gothic window, one Renaissance window and one Plateresque window, which architectural geeks would love. It also has a replica of the Sevilla’s Giralda and the Puerta (Gate) Palmas.

Zafra (yet to be discovered)

Zafra is a medieval town of 16,000 habitants located between Badajoz capital and Sevilla. It had an important role in the Reconquista as it was important to the Moors for its location. Today you can still see the Torre de San Francisco and the old Puertas de Jerez and Badajoz. It also has a Parador.

Jerez de los Caballeros (yet to be discovered)

Another link to Spain’s Moorish past, Jerez de los Caballeros (Sherry of the Knights! This is why you should not translate names into English) is located in the south of the province about 12 miles/20 kilometres from Portugal. It is surrounded by Moorish walls and has six gates. It also has a castle. The local legend says that in Torre Sangrienta, condemned men were executed by having their throats slit. A bit of guts and gore.

Siberia Extremeña (yet to be discovered)

Located in the northwestern part of Badajoz, La Siberia is home of 20 villages near the provinces of Cáceres, Toledo and Ciudad Real. The villages are isolated and a step back into time and offer beautiful landscapes. They are a taste of Extremadura. Puebla de Alcocer is the capital of the comarca, and the comarca has 30,000 habitants.

Castillo de Luna de Alburquerque (yet to be discovered)

 The namesake of New Mexico’s most famous city (Breaking Bad is a series, not a city!) has an extra “r” in its name. Alburquerque supposedly comes from the Latin for “white oak”, and the village of 5600 people boasts a castle, Castle of the Moon, which was declared a National Monument in 1924.