The big trip

Trip of the week: pigs and palaces in Extremadura

With vast landscapes and granite villages, Spain’s wild west has an ‘austere’ beauty

Covering an area the size of Switzerland, but with only a million or so inhabitants, Extremadura has long been “a byword for backwardness”. And this landlocked region, in Spain’s far west, can seem forbidding, says Paul Richardson in Condé Nast Traveller. But its vast landscapes and granite villages have an “austere” beauty, and among them are cultural treasures aplenty.

The south, with its vineyards and olive groves, feels like neighbouring Andalucia; the north is greener, rising to the rugged peaks of the Sierra de Gredos; and scattered throughout are stretches of dehesa, a semi-cultivated woodland of holm oaks where black-footed Iberico pigs gorge on acorns, producing the world’s most delicious and expensive hams.

The region’s greatest works of art are the eight “blindingly beautiful” portraits of monks by the 17th century painter Francisco de Zurbarán on display at the Guadalupe monastery, which was the “mothership of the Spanish enterprise in the New World”.

This harsh border country spawned more than its fair share of conquistadors, including Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, and some flaunted their new-found wealth back home – most flamboyantly in the Renaissance mansions of Trujillo, a town on a crag that rises “like a citadel” from the surrounding plains. Nearby Cáceres is glorious too, a city of “palacios, secret squares, granite churches and convents” that’s also home to a “sparkling” contemporary art museum and one of Spain’s finest restaurants, Atrio.

The region’s other beautiful towns include Zafra and Jerez de los Caballeros in the south; Badajoz and Olivenza close to the Portuguese border; and Mérida, with its splendid Roman remains. You’ll find no shortage of fine restaurants, country hotels and holiday lets, including the Casas del Naval near Villanueva, the Finca al-manzil near Montánchez, and the “dreamlike” Hotel Monasterio Rocamador.

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