Things to do in Cáceres
Cáceres, a sleepy city located in the agricultural heartlands of the Extremadura region of Spain, has until recently managed to slip under the tourism radar. But there are a lot of things to do in Cáceres. In 2015 the city was named the Spanish Capital of Gastronomy and was suddenly thrust into the international limelight as the foodie world finally started to take notice. The Extremadura region is a humble, hard-working place with a long and proud history of agriculture and the local gastronomy reflects these origins: simple flavours prepared rustically, in generous proportions and with top quality ingredients. In other words: farm-style food taken to the next level.
Dating back to prehistoric times, Cáceres has been through Roman, Visigoth, Arab and Christian rule and the multitude of these cultural influences can still be seen today in her architecture, most notably in the old town and the medieval walled city in the centre. It was precisely because of this blend of ancient designs that Cáceres was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986.
There is no lack of choice when heading into the city centre for tapas, and the general rule of thumb is to choose a place that is full of locals
Where to eat in Cáceres
During the age of the Reconquista and discovery of the Americas, Cáceres flourished as many of the wealthier Extremadura families made their fortunes in the New World and brought their riches back home with them. The famous Pimentón de la Vera arrived on Spanish shores at this time, brought back by Christopher Columbus after his second voyage to the Americas and cultivated in the region by monks. The smoked paprika created with these peppers has been an integral part of Spanish cuisine ever since and as the name suggests, is still cultivated to this day in the La Vera region of Extremadura. Little tins of this quintessentially Spanish spice are just one of the must-have souvenirs available for purchase in gourmet food stores such as Sierra de Montanchéz and Gabriel Mostazo, a high-end charcuterie specialising in Extremaduran delicacies.
“Tapas” is a well-known Spanish concept of small bites of food to accompany a drink or two before dinner and in the Extremadura, this is very much a way of life. Cáceres is full of taperias and most of the traditional restaurants have a small tapas bar in addition to the main dining room, an indication of how deeply ingrained the drinking and snacking culture is here. There is no lack of choice when heading into the city centre for tapas, and the general rule of thumb is to choose a place that is full of locals. La Minerva on the Plaza Mayor, the main central square, is a great starting point. Their tapas menu features the best of the Extremadura’s produce: Jamon Iberico de Bellota, made with 100% acorn-fed Iberian, and patatera, a sausage made with a blend of potatoes, Iberian pork and the famous pimentón and traditionally served spread over hot toast. Queso de Torta is a powerful little sheep’s cheese, runny on the inside and generally eaten with the top cut off to scoop out the cheese from inside but at La Minerva it is presented in a little bowl with a variety of homemade preserves and crackers. Another favourite on the menu is Toast with Cantabrian Anchovies, a colourful tapa with strips of flame roasted red and green peppers interspersed with salty bursts of anchovy served on a slice of home-style bread. Also on the Plaza Mayor is La Taperia, a bustling place with tables spilling out onto the street, always full of locals and an ever-changing menu of locally sourced bite-sized treats. A short walk from here you find the Plaza de San Juan, a tree-lined square surrounded by restaurants and taperias, where you will find Taperia Yuste, serving a more refined version of the city´s classic tapas.
Where to stay in Cáceres
But the star of Cáceres’ restaurant scene is without a doubt Atrio, housed in a redesigned palace tucked away within the medieval walls of the old town. Chef Toño Perez and partner José Polo first opened Atrio in 1986 and since then have been slowly transforming the Cáceres food scene, winning 2 Michelin stars and spearheading the city’s transformation into a gastronomic destination. As well as an award-winning restaurant Atrio also boasts an incredibly vast wine cellar as well as a hotel, centred around the building’s interior courtyard, a typical feature of the palaces inside the city walls. It is a calm oasis of lush greenery, an unexpected and welcome surprise hidden behind the monotony of the ancient terracotta walls.
Another great hotel within the ancient city walls and overflowing with old world charm is the Parador de Cáceres, a Renaissance-era palace and World Heritage site that has been restored and renovated in a perfect balance between the ancient and the modern.
The estate takes a somewhat holistic approach to winemaking, focusing on sustainable agriculture, organic farming techniques
Wine is always a good idea
To the south and covering a vast expanse of the lower Extremadura you will find a multitude of wineries in the Guadiana River Valley, together making up an extensive wine route through the region. Pago los Balancines is one of the most recent wineries on the route but in spite of being a relative newcomer, they have already proved themselves to be a top quality estate producing some of the most highly acclaimed Extremadura wines. The estate takes a somewhat holistic approach to winemaking, focusing on sustainable agriculture, organic farming techniques and working together with the land and the climate to ensure that the best of the region’s qualities are reflected in the wine they produce.
Bodegas Habla is another wine estate producing some of the region’s best wines and although technically not on the same route, the estate is a short drive from Cáceres and well worth the visit. Unlike the fertile river valley of the Guadiana wine estates, Habla´s vineyards in Tierra de Extremadura are spread over approximately 200 hectares of infertile, difficult terroir, specifically chosen to ensure that the vines struggle to survive and send their roots deeper in search of vital water supplies, ensuring a better quality of grape and more distinctive final result. When planning a visit, keep in mind that these wineries and many others in the region are open by appointment only.
Things to do in Trujillo
North of Cáceres, Trujillo is a small town with equally colourful and diverse origins that is currently making waves as a cheese-producing region. The famous Torta del Casar, as well as the equally pungent Queso de la Serena, are both produced in this region by Finca Pascualete, a family run estate that has been in the cheese business since the beginning of the 13th century. The cheeses are made with sheep’s milk and are unique in that the milk is curdled using a coagulant found in wild thistles as opposed to the more widely used animal rennet, making this a vegetarian cheese.
The town centre of Trujillo is also worth a wander; there are many shops selling local produce and the narrow roads and medieval castle makes you feel as though you´ve stepped back in time.
The Valley of the Cherries
Further to the north is the Valle del Jerte, a long straight valley with gently sloping sides covered with cherry trees as far as the eye can see. For a few weeks in early spring, the entire valley is white with the cherry blossoms, which is quite the tourist attraction, attracting people from all over the world to see the flowers. The rest of the year, however, the valley is blessedly peaceful and makes for a lovely drive from one end to the other, stopping off in the small towns along the route to sample the famously sweet Picota cherries or pick up a bottle of locally produced cherry liqueur. At the far end, as the road climbs up and over the mountain edge be sure to stop and look back down the valley as the view is breath-taking and makes for a fitting end to a beautiful drive.
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Photo: Kerry Murray
Valle del Jerte | Photo: Kerry Murray
La Minerva | Photo: Kerry Murray
Photo: Kerry Murray
Photo: Kerry Murray
Photo: Kerry Murray