Remote, poor, sparsely-populated Extremadura is the unrespected Rodney Dangerfield of Spain tourist destinations. It didn’t make Planetware’s top fifteen list for the country, or, for that matter, U.S. News’ top twenty. Rick Steves’ Spain ‘at a glance’ map represents the autonomous community’s 41,000+ square kilometers as a big blank area between Portugal and Toledo.
Transit connectivity is dismal, at least by Europe standards. But a Spaniard had told me that Extremadura roads are easy to drive. Hmmm. I felt claustrophobic after months of ducking the virus, and knew I wouldn’t need a mask behind a steering wheel.
In mid-August, I offered a deal to two hispanoparlante chums: I’ll pay for the rental car, gas and parking for an Extremadura trip, so long as we speak only Spanish while on the road. ¡Trato hecho! We rode separate metros to meet at Madrid’s Chamartin transit hub, piled into the rental car before 8:00 a.m. and returned the rental to the same lot after dark.
(♦) A lot of driving for a one day trip: 300+ kilometers from Madrid to Cácares, another seventy-five to Mérida, eighty-eight more to Trujillo and a final two hundred seventy to Madrid. You might want to look for a hotel.
(♦) Relatively easy driving, or easier than what I’d seen in some cities in Galicia. I judge Spain’s freeway grid to be in slightly better shape than the norm in California, and the driving experience differs little; if you can handle the 5 in the Golden State, you can handle the A-5 in Spain. City driving was tougher, of course, but it wasn’t hard to dock the sled in a lot or garage on the outskirts and then walk in. Plug aparcamiento into an online map, take your pick, point the navigator there.
(♦) Extremadura deserves a better rap. The ancient Lusitanians called Mérida their capital, way back when; it is a UNESCO World Heritage site today, and boasts more Roman monuments than any other Spanish city. (Although we saw precious few of those monuments while in town, unfortunately, through no fault of Mérida.) Cácares offers a charming tourist quarter, the equal of equivalent blocks in Toledo and Segovia. We weren’t in Trujillo long, but I liked what I saw, and Trujillo is close to the freeway arteries connecting Extremadura to central Spain. A quick, easy detour.
The pandemic’s silver lining is that the brave (or reckless) traveler can today visit world class tourist sites without contending with their usual world class crowds. I’m not going to pitch an Extremadura trip to a sightseer who hasn’t yet seen the Alhambra or the Prado.
But the pandemic will end eventually. The tourist armies will return to Spain, and if you choose to join those armies in peak season you may shift and squirm in long queues and feel lucky to book fourth and fifth choice hotel rooms.
Remember this post then, gentle reader. You may be happier with an off-the-beaten-path vacation in your first choice hotel in Extremadura instead, particularly if willing to drive there, or to book as-yet-untested-by-me BlaBlaCar.