Sunday, May 19, 2024

Travel with Terri: Extremadura … Spain’s best kept secret!

Experiencing Extremadura is a journey into the heart of old Spain, from the country’s finest Roman ruins to mysterious medieval cities and ancient monasteries. Extremadura is famous for its picturesque countryside and villages, plentiful historical sites, stunning architecture, winding streets, and breathtaking views. At one time this region was an essential part of the Roman Empire. Extremadura is a region in southwestern Spain bordered by Portugal, but in the past it was an essential part of the Roman Empire.. It has so much to offer and surprisingly is not very well known, so I’m excited to have discovered a true European treasure.

Despite being Spain’s most overlooked region for international travelers, Extremadura is a perfect destination for rich history, fantastic architecture and nature lovers. In fact, it proudly boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Mérida’s impressive Roman Ruins, Cáceres’ magnificent Medieval City, and Guadalupe’s Royal Monastery. There are also two Biosphere Reserves: Monfragüe and Tajo International Nature Parks. Hiking beautiful landscapes and bird watching is particularly popular here.

Did you know that Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil? But surprisingly, Italy sells more Spanish Olive Oil than Spain. The olive oil in Extremadura is highly valued for its richness and quality. I witnessed the entire olive oil process while in Extremadura and it was fascinating! Spain has very strict regulations concerning olive oil production. This system guarantees that olive oil with Extremadura labeling is produced in that particular area and adheres to the highest standards and quality requirements. For generations, families here make their own private olive oil at home, claiming their olives trees produce the best olives. It’s an ongoing friendly competition.

If you are looking for a charming and unique boutique hotel surrounded by incredible natural beauty, look no further; the place to go is Aqua et Oleum (Latin for “water and oil”). My first stop in Extremadura was this beautiful, historic boutique hotel, surrounded by an olive tree grove, in the inviting Spanish country side. I was instantly hooked and was fascinated to learn that Dallas businessman Joseph Shortell was the owner and visionary who created and designed this four-star luxurious hotel cleverly housed in an old olive mill full of character and history. What an extraordinary vision! The unique atmosphere of Aqua et Oleum makes it an excellent choice for anyone interested in an upscale getaway in a relatively untouristed region of Spain…especially if you like olives and olive oil. It’s one of the most unique places I’ve ever stayed. The food prepared at Aqua et Oleum is excellent and fresh. The service, staff and hospitality are all very professional, warm and welcoming.

Extremadura is also known to have exceptional spots where you can enjoy breathtaking starry skies. There are many areas that are certified as Starlight Tourist Destinations. This region has some of the best astrotourism in Europe. We witnessed this while staying at Aqua et Oleum where they brought in professional astronomers with giantanic telescopes and commercial equipment. The sky was crystal clear and the trillions of stars and many planets were very bright and easily visible. We got a fantastic view and education on the solar system. It was spectacular celestial spectacle!

Another fun discovery were the Paradors. They are among some of the finest hotels in Spain, who knew? These Spanish Paradors are hotels in ancient castles, palaces, fortresses, convents, monasteries and old rural retreats. Though they are classed from three to five stars, these state-run hotels offer a fabulous and unique environment, with the luxury of a modern hotel. These walls have stood for centuries and are very much woven into Spanish history. There are currently 7 Paradors in Extremadura.

Across the Extremadura countryside, you can see wild Iberian pigs roaming and eating acorns from oak groves. These pigs are caught and used for the beloved cured Iberian Ham called ‘Jamon Iberico.’ This comes from fine Spanish Iberian pigs; and the very best pigs and most delectable meat is found in Extremadura. In fact, this entire region is heaven for the foodie in search of fabulous farm-to-table gastronomic delights. Wine lovers can explore the burgeoning wine scene, Extremadura produces excellent wines that pair perfectly with local dishes. I was amazed that there are 21 Michelin-starred restaurants in Extremadura. We dined at many and I will never forget this fantastic culinary experience.

The cities, Mérida, Cáceres, and Plasencia rank among the best of Spain’s most beautiful and well-preserved historical settlements. Many of the towns in Extremadura have a storybook feel and look like a scene from Game of Thrones with their fairy tale castles, Medieval churches, Gothic cathedrals and ancient monasteries. As a matter of fact, many scenes from the television series, Game of Thrones, were actually filmed across Extremadura.

I was surprised to learn that there are a whooping 27 castles in this beautiful region of Spain. With so many castles in Extremadura, you are sure to see several when you travel around. I spotted them everywhere – from imposing hilltops, across the lush countryside, even in the center of town. Some castles still have imposing outer walls, some have impressive towers, and others have fairy-tale turrets. It’s was very surreal to see.

The historic city of Caceres, known as “the town of 1001 shields”, is a must. I could not believe my eyes. I had no idea Caceres would be so grand and huge. I felt like a time traveler as I walked along its numerous, very narrow, cobblestone streets. Caceres is perfectly maintained medieval town that is surrounded by mansions, Renaissance palaces and churches that are crowned by enormous storks’ nests. Get your camera ready to snap images of one of the prettiest historic towns in Spain. It’s easy to understand why Cáceres is a World Heritage City.

Mérida is another World Heritage City that is an authentic Roman city, still thriving today. This is a destination that unexpectedly brings the old Roman Empire back to life. It’s enormous Roman theatre is still operating after 2,000 years. During the summer evenings, it is host to the International Classical Theatre Festival. As we strolled through Merida I was shocked as every corner I turned, there were yet more Roman ruins. It seemed endless and unbelievable. Throughout, the city features numerous Roman monuments that evoke its past: a temple, the amphitheater, the circus, the baths, aqueducts, arches. A great way to complete your visit to the Roman Empire in Mérida is with a visit to the National Museum of Roman Art. It is very impressive! I hope to return and visit this fascinating city in the summer. Every June, the “Emerita Lvdica” festival is held, which returns the streets of Mérida to the Romans and the gladiators and everyone dresses in their finest Roman attire.

Plasencia is one of the larger towns in Extremadura that is also worth seeing. The main draw here is the extraordinary Cathedral de Plasencia. The first time I saw this cathedral my jaw dropped. Words cannot begin to describe this church and how stunning it is. One thing that makes this church very unique, is that it’s actually two cathedrals in one: Plasencia residents refer to it simply as the old church or the new church. Well, they are both very old by most standards. The “Old Church” was built in the 12th-13th centuries. What locals call the “New Church” was actually built inside the old church and dates back from the 15th-16th Centuries. This means that there’s a magnificent mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Everyone should experience Extremadura! This region of Spain has everything I look for in a destination: amazing architecture, fascinating historic sites, rugged natural beauty, authentic cultural experiences, outstanding accommodations, delicious food, great welcoming people, and it’s not over crowded! Extremadura truly offers a glimpse into the past and is overflowing with treasures and secrets to be discovered.

Extremadura: what to see The best tourism plans |      Home – Aqua et Oleum

Terri Guthrie
Terri Guthrie
Terri Guthrie is a member of Society of American Travel Writers, Texas Travel Alliance and International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Follow Terri on social media at Travel with Terri.

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