Spanish extremes

The name Extremadura derives from the Spanish extremo, meaning “extreme”. So you can expect this remarkable region of western Spain to express full frontier flavours.

Immediately west is the border with Portugal. To the north lies the province of Castilla y Leon and the venerable university town of Salamanca. South is sunny Andalusia and the swirling city of Seville.

I travelled north to south from Salamanca to Seville loosely tracing the Silver Route along which riches, plundered by conquistadors in the New World, were transported to northwest Spain from Seville. Conquistadors from Extremadura included Hernán Cortés, Francisco Pizarro, Pedro de Alvarado and Núñez de Balboa.

A range of ridges and valleys called Las Hurdes straddles the northern reaches of the region. From here the road south drops into Extremadura proper, heading for the towns of Plasencia, Cáceres, Merida and Zafra.

Extremadura is sparsely populated compared with the rest of Spain and also less frequented by foreign visitors, despite its estimable cultural heritage, a legacy of constant human settlement there since Palaeolithic days. Prehistoric stone dolmens and Bronze Age cave paintings are links to these earliest human times. Temple ruins date from the 8th Century BC. The Romans certainly left their mark, much of it highly visible today, as have the Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Specific historical-artistic routes criss-cross the region, each connected to a different cultural period. You can follow a Roman Art itinerary, take the Hispanic-Visigoth trail or tackle various other themes including the Islamic World, Romanesque, Mudejar, Gothic, Renaissance or Baroque.

I passed through countryside noted for mixed farming and local artisan talent. On offer were flavoursome hams, sausages, preserves, pimentos, olive oils and cheeses. I drove past ancient olive groves and orchards enclosed within ancient dry-stone walls. Pigs snuffled busily in the grasses. Holm oaks cast deep shadows on fertile pastures that, in late Spring, are carpeted in a lush purple bloom.

The main livestock concern hereabouts is breeding big, testy bulls destined for “a glorious and noble death” at the hands of matadors. Immense metal silhouettes of the beasts have been erected as impressive cultural and commercial icons at various points along the highway. Contact me for complete article