Guide to Extremadura – Spain
Extremadura is an unspoilt land of lush forests and majestic mountains, far removed from Spain’s crowded costas – both in terms of kilometres and character.
It’s one of the country’s most sparsely populated regions, roughly the size of Belgium, and its distance from the coast has kept mass tourism at bay.
The region is divided into the two provinces of Caceres in the North and Badajoz in the South. Relatively few tourists, Spanish or foreign, venture to this western region of the Iberian Peninsula, sandwiched between Portugal and the central plains of La Mancha. It has little appeal for the package holidaymaker, but for anyone seeking ‘a real Spanish experience’ away from the beaten track, Extremadura offers an unforgettable journey of discovery.
Here there are vast agricultural plains peppered with towns and hamlets seemingly frozen in time. With its wealth of World Heritage sites and protected nature reserves teeming with wildlife, Extremadura is a place which beckons history buffs, explorers and the curious wanderer determined to dig deeper into Spain beyond the golden sands of the Costa del Sol.
The fascinating Roman city of Merida is the regional capital though Badajoz is the biggest city in terms of inhabitants. A visit to both is a must for those interested in the rich history and culture of a region once regarded as a great prize by the Roman empire as well as by Moorish Sultans and Christian Conquistadors. Evidence of Extremadura’s turbulent past oozes from the walls of countless castles, palaces, medieval monuments and awesome aqueducts which have weathered the many man-made and heaven sent storms of centuries old.
Merida is home to some of the world’s most important Roman remains including a magnificent bridge with 64 granite arches (the longest bridge ever built in Spain by the Romans). Other must-see sights include the five-mile aqueduct, the amphitheatre and the theatre where summer plays are still staged, more than 2,000 years after it was constructed under the orders of the Roman General Agrippa.
The beautiful walled city of Badajoz, near the Portuguese border, is well worth a visit with its mighty Arab citadel and wealth of museums and historic sites. Extremadura’s many other historic treasures include the walled city of Caceres, founded by the Romans in 34 BC, and nearby Trujillo with its Moorish castle (Right), glorious central square and monument to its famous son Francisco Pizarro, who conquered Peru.
Beyond the fortified walls of these historic cities, you’ll find vast tracts of the unspoilt countryside which attracts flocks of bird lovers from all over Europe and beyond. One of the most extraordinary sights in the whole of Spain is that of the region’s immense population of storks which build their huge nests on top of everything from palaces, telegraph poles to church spires and convent roofs. The region is believed to be home to more than 11,000 storks along with many rare and protected bird species which flourish in Extremadura’s nature reserves.
Monfrague National Park is one of the important raptor reserves in Europe and is the best place in Spain for a glimpse of Black Vultures and the rare Spanish Imperial Eagle. Here you might also be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the endangered Iberian Lynx. The park is also a hikers’ paradise and has been declared a protected zone by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) because of its rare flora and fauna.
Places of interest in Extremadura
Merida preserves some of the most outstanding Roman monuments including a colossal theatre, an amphitheatre, two aqueducts, and a bridge, not to forget the Museum of Roman Art with its invaluable collection.
The capital of Upper Extremadura has a beautiful old quarter, enclosed by Moorish town walls with great watch-towers. Additional attractions include some exceptional Renaissance palaces.
The birthplace of the famous conqueror Pizarro is well known for its beautiful main square. There are also a great medieval castle and the well-preserved town-walls with seven doors.
This beautiful town is dominated by a colossal Mudejar style monastery which preserves valuable works of art.
A beautiful town with a Gothic-Plateresque cathedral, medieval town-walls and several palaces.
The capital of Lower Extremadura is worth a visit thanks to its Moorish Alcazaba, town-walls and watch-towers.