January 24th, 2013 by Tom Smith
Travel in Spain is first of all, easy! The train can take you to most places in the country easily and fast. However there are special places where you just need a car. Extremadura is one of those places. This would be a place you could visit on your way to Cordoba/Seville/Granada. Extremadura is a state that lies southwest of Madrid along the border with Portugal. It is ideal for nature lovers and those who want to get off the beaten track and discover old Spain. It offers beautiful drives, ancient sites from Roman times (and before!), wonderful nature preserves, the Templar towns in the Sierra Morena and the wonderful Mideval towns of Caceres, Trujillo, Merida and Guadalupe. You will need a minimum of 4 to 5 days to do this special part of Spain justice. I suggest starting out from Madrid (it is only about 2.5 hours of easy driving on one of the main highways (the A-5) get off the freeway and drive south towards Guadalupe but make a stop a Bohonal de Ibor and see the magnificent Roman Ruins that stand above the lake. In Guadalupe you will find the huge Monastary founded in the 14th century. In 1496 the monastary was the site of the baptism of some of the first native Caribbeans brought to Europe by Columbus. The Hospederia Monasterio is now a wonderful and comfortable hotel and rivals the Paradore so there are two great places to stay and explore this town.
Moving on westward you will find the town of Merida, just 127 km away. This was one of the most important towns of Roman Spain. Founded in 25 BC by Augustus, Merida was the cultural and economic capital of Rome’s most western province. There are many things to see in this town among them are: the Roman theatre, one of the best preserved in Europe, the amphitheatre and gardens, the incredible Roman bridge across the Rio Guadiana along with the aqueducts and my favorite is the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano. This museum is built within ruins and is of a modern design. It displays the rich archaelogical treasures of the area. Sculpture, mosaic, and excavations. There is a wonderful Paradore to stay that was an 18th century convent.
Moving on to Caceres, just 66km you find a wonderful town of towers, palaces and stately homes. This Renaissance town dates from the 15th and 16th centuries. Caceres has been untouched by war so you will find a preserved city. Easy to walk in and enjoy the sites. There are several grand museums and ancient churches. The town is a delight to just get lost in. The Paradore is located just down from the San Mateo Church and is in a 14th centgury palace, but the inside is totally modern. Very comfortable and a great location.
Next door is the famed restaurant (2 Michelin Stars**) and hotel Atrio. This restaurant is a desintation in itself for many “foodies” from around the world. The creators of this place Tono and Jose are the real deal. They have created a wonderful hotel and restaurant. It is upscale and expensive and worth every Euro! The wine cellar is said to be the best in all of Spain. I was a guest for lunch that lasted from 3pm to 6pm. It was truly an experience of a lifetime.
OK so from Caceres head north and east to Trujillo, 40 km away. This is the town of the Conquistadores. Orellana, Paredes and most famous Pizarro. The town is built on a hillside with a big castle on top. The main plaza, the Plaza Mayor is one of the most beautiful in Spain. It is huge with a big statue of Pizarro on is horse in the middle. There are lots of things to explore here including a small museum that was Pizarro’s home and of course the Castillo bilt in the 9th century by the Moors. Trujillo is a great place to explore Extremadura. The Paradore in Trujillo is a former 16th century convent with two cloisters. The dining room specializes in the wonderful ham that comes from those pigs who only eat acrons their entire lives! It is 43 km to Monfrague Natural Park which is a wildlife preserve and the best place to see the famous Griffen Vultures. along the way se rolling hills of ancient oak trees with pigs eatin the acorns that fall down for them to feast on. From Trujillo you can head south to Cordoba or head back to Madrid. Or you can continue west to Portufal The pace is slow here in this section of Spain. This is relaxed Spain at its best. The people are friendly, it is not overly touristy and the countryside is delightful. Viva Espana!
March 21st, 2012 by Tom Smith
Here continues the story of a wonderful trip to Spain this winter. From Barcelona I flew to Madrid. A word about the airports here. Barcelona’s airport is wonderful. New, clean, slick and easy. You can take the train into town or the bus. And it is very close to the center of Barcelona. I also drove into the airport and that is a snap as well. Madrid’s Barajas Airport is modern clean and easy as well. The train to and from the center of Madrid is fast and reliable.
Atocha Station in Madrid
Atocha Station in Madrid is the main train station. It is connected to the subway and the AVE trains (high speed) to just about everywhere in the country.
There are the Top Ten things to do and see in Madrid and here is my hit on them: #1 Palacio Real. The Royal Palace. Really magnificent. Great place to take pictures. Go early in the day as it gets crowded. They have a great changing of the guard at noon. #2 The Prado. My feeling is that it is the greatest museum in Europe. Some will argue with me, but I feel it has something for everyone and is organized so well. You can buy a Art Walk ticket that gets you admission into the Prado and other museums. This is a good deal. Purchase at the tourist office. The museum has the greatest treasures of Spanish painters and others as well. You will be blown away with Velazquez, Goya and the Flemish and Dutch painters. For me this museum is such a great place. And the cafe/restaurant has outstanding food! #3 The Plaza Mayor. A grand place. It is huge and in the center of Madrid. My place to meet friends is under the statue of Felipe III. So if you ever want to meet me in Madrid that is where I will be! The cafes and bars are really fun here and it is a great place to people watch. #4 El Rastro. This is the best open air market in Spain. It only happens on Sunday. It is crowded and fun. You can find just about anything here. #5 Reina Sofia Museum. Think d’Orsay Musee in Paris. All the great contemporary art is here. Picasso, Barcelo, Dali, Gris. The most famous painting here is Picasso’s Guernica painted during the Spanish Civil War. Spend some time with this painting and read everything you can about the Civil War before you visit. #6 Retiro Park. The big breath of fresh air in the center of Madrid, next to the Prado. Sculptures, lakes, gardens and beautiful trees….a great place to relax. #7 Museum of America. This is the museum that tells the story of conquest and settling of the new world. There is a fantastic collection of gold here. #8 Puerta del Sol. This is the place of Kilometer ”0″. Distances to anywhere in Spain are measured from this square. It is a fun and beautiful plaza. Great 18th century buildings and good cafes and bars. There is a statue here of the bear of Madrid (the symbol of the city).#9 La Latina. A great part of Madrid for good bars and restaurants. #10 Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza. What the Prado doesn’t have this museum does. Important paintings from all eras. A great museum to spend some time.
Columbus buried at Seville Cathedral
From Madrid it is an easy train ride on the AVE to Cordoba. This is such an intersting city. This city was Roman(572 AD), Arab((756 AD) and Catholic(from the 12th c). The big thing here is the Mezquita (Mosque). This was the largest mosque in the world and then the Catholics took over and built their cathedral right in the middle of it! The mixture of Islamic art and the art of the Catholic kings is an amazing blend of great styles. The Jewish quarter next to the Mezquita is a maze of narrow streets and white-washed buildings. Great restaurants and bars here. Be sure to walk across the Roman bridge over the Guadalquivir River and take in the view.
Outside the great Mezquita of Cordoba
It is a short train trip (1 hour) to Seville. This is a big town that feels cozy. This is the town that Columbus set sail for the new world! This is the town that Spain brought back the treasure of the new world for King Ferdinand. It is rich. The cathedral is the one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in the world. There is the great La Giralda, or Bell tower. You can climb up inside of it (actually a very easy walk) and get a great view of the city. Be sure to take time in the cathedral. Columbus is buried here. The cool part of town is Santa Cruz. Narrow streets, the best bars and restaurants. And treat yourself to a visit to the Alcazar. The royal palace. The story that the palace shows in Islamic and Catholic art is amazing. The gardens are breathtaking.
The gardens of the Alcazar in Seville