With everything that keeps going on in the world, my little travel gig seems insignificant. Here it is, anyway, for the sake of completion.
18th February 2022: Jam and Ham
After a crazy crazy period, and within a just-slightly-less-crazy period, we made space for a mini escapade – just under 48 hours, but it was an interesting mental reset. We took the car and drove off to Cáceres after I finished work in the afternoon. The trip should have taken a little over 3 hours and 15 minutes, but we spent about 70 minutes caught in several traffic jams – or just a very long jam with different instalments.
Cáceres is located in the autonomous community of Extremadura, which is famous because of its particular grassland with dwarf trees called a dehesa. The typical animal farmed in the area is the native Black Iberian pig – a traditional breed of the domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus). Through breeding with wild boars and millennia of adaptation, the Iberian pig has grown accustomed to eating oak acorns, and thus it has become a key part of the ecosystem. Furthermore, the breed has great tendency to accumulate intra-muscular fat. This means that its meat is delicious, especially as sausage. The most famous treat is the “Black label” (Etiqueta Negra or Dehesa de Extremadura) ham: a pig raised in the dehesa, fed acorns and natural grass, and whose meat has been cured for at least 20 months.
The area of Cáceres is also known for its sheep-milk cheese, Torta del Casar. It is a strong-flavoured creamy cheese that comes from controlled sheep, also raised in the dehesa. The cheese is especially curded with rennet made from cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). Another typical food from the area is the local paprika Pimentón de la Vera, which is made from smoked local red peppers. All three – ham, cheese and paprika – hold European Protected Designation of Origin certificates.
Of course, not everything is food in Cáceres. After we checked into our hotel near the historical centre, we headed off to the Main Square Plaza Mayor de Cáceres, which features the town hall, the former wall gate called Arco de la Estrella (Star Arch), and one of the watch towers Torre de Bujaco.
We found a place inside to grab a bite, and we tried the sausages for dinner before turning in – acorn-fed pork ham, loin, chorizo, morcón (similar to chorizo), salchichón, and patatera (pork mixed with potato and paprika in sausage form).
Walked distance: 1.79 km (2838 steps)
19th February 2022: The Old Town of Cáceres
The Old or Walled Town of Cáceres, Ciudad Vieja de Cáceres was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1986, and it is easy to see why. It is a small knot of streets between the ancient city walls and the gorge where cars can barely drive, sprinkled with Medieval and Renaissance palaces and manors. After finding an open café, we had breakfast, then headed off to explore that. Since it was a bit before 9 am, most everything was closed – but it was also empty, which was good. We crossed the Arco de la Estrella next to the Torre de Bujaco and walked into the walled area.
We walked past the co-cathedral – to which we would come back later and several palaces, and we ended up at a two-level square called Plaza de San Jorge (St. George Square), towered over by the peculiar-looking church Iglesia de San Francisco Javier – note the white-painted towers.
There was a small palace to the left, and while the building was closed off, the gardens Jardines de Doña Cristina de Ulloa were open, albeit as it was early February, still in winter mode but for some berries and roses.
We wandered around for a while, the headed off to a visit we had booked in advance – the manor / palace of the Lower Golfines Palacio de los Golfines de Abajo, which has nothing to do with their position in the social scale, but literally the position within the city hill – in the lower part. The family is known to have owned the palace from the time of the Catholic Monarchs, in the 15th century, till the death of the last descendant in 2012. This woman willed all the heirloom to a foundation that today manages the palace. The foundation got the palace renovated and brought some of the furniture from other properties belonging to the family – among them a glass lamp way too big for the room it was set in, and a sofa which was identical to the one that used to be in my great-aunt’s living room… The lower floor holds the recreated rooms – with more or less success and taste – and a smaller area decorated with Medieval paintings which were discovered by accident. The upper floor holds a small ethnography museum and some documents from the family’s library. Unfortunately, the foundation takes itself a little too seriously and won’t allow you to roam freely in the palace or take pictures, except for the inner Castilian patio.
After the palace, we walked a whole minute and a half for the co-cathedral Santa Iglesia Concatedral de Santa María. It is the oldest church in town, built around the 15th century, in a Romanesque-going-Gothic style. Outside the church, at the base of the tower, there is a sculpture of Saint Peter of Alcántara. Inside, the altarpiece was carved between 1547 and 1551, in unpainted pine and cedar. The tower can be climbed, and I decided that I wanted to do that, despite not being what I usually do. It was empty enough that I felt comfortable doing so, and I was treated to some nice views.
By the time we went out, the city had already been taken over by walking tours and guided visits. There were so many companies that the guides put stickers on their tourists so they could herd them round. We backtracked to the Baroque church with the white towers Iglesia de San Francisco Javier (also known as Iglesia de la Preciosa Sangre), where there is no worship today. Instead, there is a huge collection of nativities (hundreds of them, literally). In order to visit the nativities you have to go up a perilous metal staircase. Once on the second floor – after having survived the peril – I decided to continue on the relatively safer stone staircase to one of the towers – only one, I did not climb up both of them. The lower floor holds two last nativities, a classical one and a hilarious set up made out of Playmobil, a German company that makes plastic figure toys.
We moved onto the following manor, to the side of the square, Casa Palacio Becerra, which shows some antique elements, and the house structure.
Later, we walked to Stork Square Plaza de las Cigüeñas. European white storks (Ciconia ciconia ciconia) are typical birds in Extremadura, and one wonders how they have not decided to make food out of them. In the tower stands one of the few towers that has kept its merlons, as the Catholic Monarchs were very into tearing tower tops down when they conquered a site. The adjacent manor, Casa de las Cigüeñas, hosts the military museum Museo de Armas Aula Militar.
At the end of the square, in yet another palace – two of them, actually – lies the Museo de Cáceres, the local museum. The part in the Casa de Las Veletasis a regular archaeological museum, with the kind of things you would expect – prehistoric, Roman and Celtic remains, more modern artefacts. The other area, Casa de Los Caballos, hosts the modern art gallery.
However, the palace was erected on top of the local Arab cistern or aljibe. It is the best preserved in Spain and it has been gathering the rainfall water since the 10th century. Pretty impressive piece of engineering if you ask me.
Afterwards we still had some time to kill until it was time for lunch, so we wandered around the area of the Jewish quarters or Judería, under the watchful gaze of the local Cerberus.
We had lunch in the local Parador de Cáceres, so I of course got my stamp. As a started we ordered the famous local cheese Torta del Casar cheese.
In the afternoon we had a look at another church Iglesia de Santiago de los Caballeros. The church of St. James of the Knights was built in the 14th century over an older temple dating back from the 12th century. The altarpiece was carved and coloured by one of the most important sculptors of the Spanish Mannerism, Alonso Berruguete (1490 – 1561). This time I did not climb the tower – which had been happily colonised by a couple of storks.
After a little while, after sunset, I decided to skid around and have a walk through the old city at night. The artificial light made it look eery and romantic in the most… historical sense of the word. I came across some cats begging for food from a bunch of schoolgirls, and one of them very indignant because the girls would not beg it to take the food!
Walked distance: 9.04 km (14766 steps)
20th February 2022: Trujillo & Oropesa (Toledo)
On this day I managed two more Paradores stamps. Trujillo is a town a meagre 30 minutes away from Cáceres. It also has a traditional / Medieval city centre, set around the main Square Plaza Mayor de Trujillo. It was the birthplace of one of the so-called conquerors during the colonisation of South America, Francisco Pizarro, whose equestrian statue, Estatua ecuestre de Francisco Pizarro (by American sculptor Charles Cary Rumsey). Other highlights in main square include the corner balcony in the “Conquest Manor” Palacio de la Conquista.
One of the most interesting churches in the area is Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor. Its tower dates back from the 13th century, but was almost completely rebuilt in the 16th century. Inside the richly painted altarpiece was erected around 1490. Apparently, my newly-discovered activity of climbing towers yielded to a new adventure, as for a few minutes I ended up locked down in the bell tower – I guess I’m a Disney Princess now (≧▽≦).
I got an hour and a little to wander round the town, so I climbed up to see the Muslim fortress Alcazaba de Trujillo (also called castle). Built between the 9th and the 12th century, it is a huge building with a defensive wall, an aljibe or cistern, several towers and a Christian chapel.
Then I hurried towards the other edge of the city to get my Parador de Trujillo stamp (only cheating slightly. I was there, after all). On my way I happened upon the Torre del Alfiler, with a family of storks happily clattering away the late morning.
I backtracked to the Plaza Mayor and I had twenty minutes before our rendezvous time, so I decked into the church Iglesia de San Martín. Its origins date from the 14th century, but it was not finished till the 16th century – which makes it so that the thick Romanesque walls are mixed with Gothic and Renaissance elements. No tower this time, but the second floor holds a religious museum.
After getting a general idea of the Medieval town of Trujillo, but it being a “working Sunday”, we moved on rather quickly, and drove off until we made it for lunch in Oropesa (Toledo) which also holds a Parador – Parador Museo de Oropesa, the first monumental Parador opened in 1930. That makes three stamps in two days, I’m almost impressed with myself!
The Parador is adjoined to the castle Castillo de Oropesa, which was unfortunately closed, but I shall put in on my list of “to re-explore”. It was built by the Arabs during the 12th – 13th century, probably on a former Roman fortress. Today, the Old Castle is joined to the New Palace and both belong to Paradores.
After that, we drove back home, and as we got a couple of wrong turns, we ended up avoiding the traffic jam we had found on our way to Extremadura, which was convenient!
Walked distance: 5.57 km (8836 steps)