Visit Extremadura during the cherry spring: what to see in four days?

Estrémadure

Extremadura, a little-known region of Spain, is an authentic and superb region. Here’s a list of things to see and do in four days!

Extremadura, a Spanish province bordering Andalusia and Portugal, is often overlooked by the French public in favor of Barcelona, Seville and Granada. Yet it boasts an incredible historical, agricultural, natural, architectural and cultural heritage. A visit to Extremadura invites you to take a breathless journey along the Via de la Plata, discovering the region’s breathtaking treasures: its historic towns (Plasencia, Cáceres, Mérida, Zafra), its UNESCO World Heritage monuments, its culinary wealth – Iberian ham produced in the dehesa or cherry gazpacho – and also the hospitality of the Extremegnes, who welcome you with open arms.

We toured Extremadura with fun, friendly tour guides, multilingual professionals who love Extremadura and want to share their knowledge with the public. Here’s how to visit Extremadura in four days.

Extremadura identity sheet

Visiter Estrémadure

Photo credit: Flickr- tetedelart1855

Despite its priceless riches, Extremadura has been largely overlooked by French visitors: while 4.7 million French people visited Spain in 2017, only 41,003 came to Extremadura in the same year.

Today, with a population of 1.1 million and a population density of just 26 inhabitants per km², the region stretches from north to south around historic urban centers (Plasencia, Cáceres, Mérida, Badajoz) and amidst vast stretches of unspoilt nature, a vast biosphere reserve as well as a veritable open-air museum, between past and present. The region is divided into two provinces: Cáceres to the north (Upper Extremadura) and Badajoz to the south (Lower Extremadura). Its capital – Mérida – is one of Spain’s tourist hotspots, thanks to the number of Roman remains to be found on its soil.

Although Extremadura is one of Spain’s poorest provinces, it produces most of the country’s cherries, which are exported to the European Union, and competes with neighboring Andalusia for other agricultural produce (figs, peaches, asparagus and tomatoes). It’s this rural nature that makes the region a land (still) unspoiled by mass tourism, offering a breath of fresh air for a relaxing, gourmet vacation in the peace and quiet of the region, under generous sunshine all year round: the quintessence of well-being!

Day 1: The Jerte Valley, cherry country

Visiter Estrémadure, vallée de la Jerte

Freshly landed in Spain on Air France’s Paris CDG-Madrid flight, we’re off to the south-west: the famous Jerte Valley, around 4 hours’ drive from the Spanish capital. Start with a short hike through the waterfalls and gorges of Las Nogaledas (Garganta de la Nogaledas), a natural gem in the Jerte Valley.

Nearby, take a drive through the valley, which is draped in immaculate white in spring (April): the Jerte valley lives to the rhythm of its two million cherry trees, which provide jobs and envelop the valley in white when they blossom. At the farmer’s, discover the stages of production: harvesting by hand, terraced cultivation, manual sorting by family businesses, marketing, the gradual transition to organic production and the fight against international competition… It has to be said that in the past, olives, oak and chestnuts fed the region, before being dethroned by cherries. Today, there are over 200 varieties of cherry trees in the valley. Finally, try one of the region’s flagship culinary specialities: the succulent cherry gazpacho, a must for anyone visiting Extremadura.

Day 2: Garganta de Los Infiernos and Plasencia

Visiter Estrémadure, Plasencia

On the second day, the full splendor of the Jerte Valley is revealed. Early in the morning, we set off for Garganta de los Infiernos (Gorge of the Underworld) by 4×4 for a hike, to gain height and admire the valley from above. Garganta de los Infiernos is a protected nature reserve covering 6,927 hectares. The reserve boasts numerous hiking trails. One of the best-known is the Los Pilones route, a 3-kilometre trail that leads to natural pools of turquoise-green water lined with limestone: these are known as « giant’s potholes », a grandiose and sumptuous landscape that unfolds before the hiker’s eyes.

Finally, we’ll go so far as to treat ourselves to a relaxing break at theHotel Balneario Valle del Jerte, in Valdastillas: you’ll never feel so relaxed coming out of this spa complex, with swimming pool, sauna, hammam and massage on the agenda. The town of Plasencia is an ideal place to end a busy day. In Roman times, Plasencia occupied a key geostrategic position along the Via de la Plata. You’ll see the imposing New Cathedral of Plasencia (dating from 1498) – a monumental palace of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture – and the Plaza Mayor – with its bars and restaurants – the nerve center and heart of the old town’s social activity.

Day 3: Cáceres and Mérida, central Extremadura

Visiter Estrémadure, Caceres

A visit to Extremadura also means discovering the artists who left their mark on the region, whether natives or birds of passage: the Vostell-Malpartida museum, dedicated to the works of German artist Wolf Vostell (1932-1998), is located in the natural setting of Los Barruecos, in Malpartida de Cáceres. Wolf Vostell was the father of European happening and a pioneer of the Fluxus art movement. The museum dedicated to his work houses sculptures, engravings, drawings, etc., and a contemporary art exhibition tracing the commitments of the artist and his century (Vietnam War, Cold War, capitalism/socialism, mass consumption, technology, environmental causes, etc.). Nearby Cáceres is well worth a visit.

Cáceres is the most populous city in Extremadura, with 95,688 inhabitants, and the largest in Spain (1,750 km²). With its city center listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986, it is one of the last cities in the world where medieval and Renaissance buildings have been best preserved. Must-sees when visiting Cáceres include the Santa Maria Cathedral, the Palacio de la Veletas, the Golfines Palaces, the House of the Sun, the Bujaco Tower, the Palacio de las cigüeñas Tower and the Star Arch. Around the Plaza Mayor, bars are the place to go out in the evening and get into the Spanish spirit.

Temple romain de Mérida, Estremadure

Photo credit: Samuel Métairie

Allow half a day to visit the ancient city of Mérida, including its Roman theater (seating 16,000), its amphitheater and the temple built to honor the goddess Diana. Mérida was founded in 25 B.C. by Octavian Augustus, and became the capital of Roman Lusitania. Today, it is the capital of Extremadura, with a population of 60,000. Numerous Roman remains in an incredible state of preservation make Mérida, a UNESCO World Heritage site, an open-air museum and a unique witness to the Roman presence in Europe. History buffs will be captivated by the imposing amphitheatre and the exhibits at the National Museum of Roman Art, a must-see for anyone visiting Mérida.

Day 4: Zafra and southern Extremadura

Zafra, visiter l'Estremadure

Photo credit: Samuel Métairie

We continue to head south, to feel the colors ofAndalusia: Zafra, equidistant between Mérida and Andalusia (60 kilometers), is nicknamed « Little Seville ». Founded by the Celtiberians and extended by Caesar, it was taken by the Moors and reconquered by King Ferdinand III of Castile in 1240. It flourished in the Middle Ages, thanks in particular to its ideal position along the Via de la Plata. Stroll through the narrow streets and admire the Moorish-style buildings. Don’t miss the Plaza Grande and Plaza Chica, surrounded by arcaded houses and interconnected. Before flying back to Paris from nearby Seville, a final visit is in order: to a typical Extremadura dehesa, where Iberian pigs are reared to produce the famous Jambon Ibérico, the flagship of Extremadura gastronomy.

Where to sleep and eat in Extremadura?

Day 1: 4-star hotel Hospedería Valle del Jerte, dinner at the « Fior del Cerezo » restaurant.

Day 2: Overnight at theHotel Parador de Plasencia and dinner at the Hotel Carvajal Girón restaurant.

Day 3: Lunch at Hotel NH Collection Palacio de Oquendo and overnight atHotel Mérida Palace (Mérida).

Main photo credit: Flickr – Hans Pohl