The Conquistadores trail – Extremadura

What men in all the world have shown such daring?

Hernan Cortes

Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar. Extremadura, on the other hand, is not a go-to destination for the average tourist to Spain. The region is known for the number of Conquistadors who came from these parts. It has developed a reputation of being Spain’s best-kept secrets.

Extremadura is sandwiched between western Andalucia and Madrid and traversed by the A-5 highway, meaning most tourists speed through the region enroute to Seville from Portugal. This is a dry and dusty former Roman frontier. It has an unrelenting landscape, ochre dirt, olive groves and oak trees. It is a region which strikes you as having limited wealth or status. But what it lacks in prominence on the Spanish tourist map it makes up for with an abundance of World Heritage status and Roman ruins.

This is Spain’s ancient past, from Roman ruins, that rival those throughout Italy, to medieval quarters and castles that give a glimpse of Spanish life from years gone by. It is a land of ancient civilisation extending to the golden age of Spanish exploration. This is a region that has the potential to attract visitors and their tourist euros.

Roman domination in these parts declined when the Moors moved in, who in turn, succumbed to Alfonso in the 13th century. Merida, the regional capital, was one of the Caliphate’s most strategic regions due to its proximity to Portugal. During Spain’s golden age, Extremadura took its place in the sun under Christian domination. Cortes and Pizarro are the most famous of the men who followed in the footsteps of Columbus and explored, charted and conquered large areas of the New World.

This is a region dotted with medieval towns, where a church or fort is perched on the hilltop. It is from these vantage points that you appreciate the vast arid countryside of the region. And in each town visited, there is a graceful square, often ringed with cafes, an assortment of stores and accommodation options. Caceres is an elegantly preserved walled city with a mix of Roman, Moorish, Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Zafra with its cobblestone streets, courtyards and geraniums adorning the buildings make it a charming stop-off point. And the walled city of Trujillo showcases its Conquistador heritage in all its glory.

What appealed to us about Extremadura is that it hasn’t experienced the heavy tourism like other parts of Spain. This is largely a regional area that goes about its daily business, seemingly untroubled by outside distractions. This was evident by the fact that our rudimentary Spanish language skills were tested. If it is authenticity that you are seeking, in the food, hospitality and observing daily Spanish life, then the Extremadura region has to be in your travel plans.

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