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Report 1963: Through Extremadura, on to Madrid, into Cordoba

By kathyk from Michigan, Spring 2011

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Page 3 of 6: The Country Part - Extremadura

I have long been intrigued by a stretch of road that goes through the Siberia of Spain. It runs from Ciudad Real into Extremadura. I posed the question in the forum and got details of time necessary to drive this route. To save drive time, we flew from Barcelona, on a Vueling flight, that landed in Ciudad Real. Here we picked up our rental car. I made sure the attendant showed me how to open the latch to the gas cover – a problem on a previous trip. The car was nicely parked so that I could drive out straight forward, onto a lightly traveled highway and we were on our way. The open road!

After a few hours, it was Spanish midday meal time and we were hungry. We pulled into a venta, a restaurant along the road in open country. It was full of other vehicles, many dirt covered due to coming and going from the fields on a work day, a good sign. About 90% of the customers were male, in work clothes, with reinforced patches on the elbows, knees and shoulder (for holding up the butt of a rifle or shotgun). We could see the cook grilling over an open fire inside, another good sign. On the menu del dia was venison. That was my menu choice.

After an excellent meal we got into the car again. Hmm ... why can’t I get it into reverse? I am following the diagram on the stick. After much frustration, two of my companions get out to physically push the car back so that we can drive forward. At that exact moment, a car of the Guardia Civil pulls up beside us. They say, “It looks like we arrived at just the right moment.” I patiently explain the predicament, the broken reverse gear ... surely it must be that. One of the Guardias gets in the car, lifts a small and very insignificant plastic “collar” around the stick and then slides it easily into reverse. I thank him and also asked that he not repeat this incident of foreign women drivers to any of his companions. He, muy caballero, of course promised not to - until we got five kilometers down the road.

We continued along the road through Siberia, beautiful scattered oak trees and open green plains, at this time of the year many flocks of sheep, a few shelters off in the distance, pure undisturbed country. I do recommend this route, it has none of the negative connotations that “Siberia” could suggest, especially since there was no snow.

Guadalupe

After a few hours, the road started to climb as it approached our evening destination, Guadalupe. This was my third visit, over a period of 30 years. We pulled up to the Monastery and got our rooms, which I reviewed in the hotels section.

That evening we did tapas and turned in. The next day we did the official tour of the church, sacristy and museum of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We were four foreigners in a larger group of Spaniards who had traveled from Madrid. In the upper chamber of the Virgin, one of the women sang a solo to the Virgin. Very moving.

After more tapas in a bar in the charming plaza, we got back in the car and started the journey South to our next destination. The road slopes down the mountain, the fields are dedicated to flocks of sheep and not much else. It is an unpopulated but serene countryside.

Merida

We spent only one night here, in the Parador. The daylight hours were used to wander around town and see all the Roman ruins. The best part was walking back and forth on the stone bridge across the Guadalquivir, the very same bridge that Roman legions used!

There is also the forum and/or amphitheater to visit. I think it is written that Merida has the greatest concentration of Roman ruins outside of Italy? Even if it is short that title, there is a lot to see.

Olivenza

Next day we headed West, right to the border, but just short of, Portugal, to the town of Olivenza. This town and territory has been in dispute between the two countries over centuries – to the advantage of Olivenza itself. It has gained influences from both cultures and it shows in its unique architecture, food and spoken language. We did a lot of walking around town, visited museums, churches and watched workmen laying down an intricate pattern in pieces of stone on one of the main streets in the older part of town. This was to replace the boring smooth pavement.

I had visited this most pleasant town years ago with my brothers and we still rave over a pastry from there called, Tecula Mecula. Was it really as good as I thought I remembered? Yes! It was. The four of us on this trip each bought a piece for dessert to savor after our midday meal. But after we sampled just one little bite, we finished up our entire pieces while we sat in the sunny plaza. So much for saving them.

We did not spend the night there but continued on. We took the road around Badajoz to link into the road that headed us North, still snaking along the invisible Portuguese border towards our next stop.

Alburquerque

Personally, I have wanted to visit here for a long time, because of the namesake (our N. Mexico) and from descriptions in old (from the 70’s) Spanish travel guide books. So, this is a first time visit for me as I drag along my unsuspecting companions. Seen from many kilometers away the town rises up from the plains, capped by a fortress castle. But that castle is under repairs and we could only approach the lower bulwarks which are now residential streets of the town. This means I will be returning because it looks to be a very impressive site.

In the meantime we did the aperitivos in a bar on the main plaza and lunch in a restaurant which was good but nothing to write home about – or report on here. English is not spoken here, the menus are only in Spanish. This is the kind of solid Spanish town that probably has its double in the towns we live in back home – except for the castle.

We departed late afternoon heading mostly East on the very lightly traveled EX 303. It goes through a big expanse of “dehesa” open land, small oaks and bushes, shallow ravines, rock outcroppings. We saw herds of bulls and sheep. In my opinion, some of the most evocative countryside I have seen.

There were no towns or settlements on this stretch until we joined onto the A5. It is now a limited access freeway that skirts around many villages that one used to drive through. One can see the old highway running parallel almost all the way. We skirted around Caceres to make for our next destination.

Trujillo

My favorite small Spanish town. Having visited here several times over the years, this time I took a guided tour and learned many new facts about this charming town of almost unbroken architectural cohesiveness. I write few words on it because I have covered it in past Trip Reports. We spent two nights here and the search for a hotel was an event in itself. It is covered in the hotel review section.

Continuing on our way to Madrid, we stopped at Oropesa to tour the Parador/castle there. There is a fantastic vista of the surrounding plains from many windows and balconies. Soon after, we left the main highway and circled around Toledo, seeing the outline of the city from many angles. We did not enter because of time and our next destination.

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