Every so often one stumbles across somewhere that toils with one’s conscience somewhat; the kind of place that is so special, so different, so life-alteringly beautiful that you want to tell the world to visit immediately, but at the same time part of you wants to keep it to yourself so it never gets spoilt. Luckily for you I’m a nice person.
A two and a half hour drive from Madrid, poised on the western edge of Spain bordering Portugal, a land of open skies, rugged landscapes and sultry silence, Extremadura is a world away from the tourist trappings of the Costa Brava or the bustle of Barcelona. With the mercury tiptoeing into the twenties over the coming weeks - a much more pleasant temperature than the scorching Spanish summers - now is the perfect time to pack your bags and book a flight.
Perched atop a hill overlooking the dusty plains, the medieval enclave of Trujillo is a world of cobbled streets, secretive labyrinthine stone villas and a population of less than 10,000. Almost soporific in its lazy, hazy charm, I defy you not to fall instantly in love with the place. One of the area’s most important and historic towns, Trujillo was the birthplace of Francisco Pizzaro, the famous Conquistador who travelled to the New World, conquered the Inca Empire and founded Lima in Peru; quite the achievement considering it was the 15th century. Much of the town’s magnificently preserved architecture is the result of his - and other Conquistadors’- return with new-found wealth, and to this day he still dominates the main square on horseback in the form of a bronze statue.
With this kind of location lending itself to a holiday based around food, wine, sunshine and relaxation, the accommodation on offer from Trujillo Villas España
) is the exactly what the doctor ordered. Run by a family with roots in the town, each of its seven distinctive properties comes with a slice of authenticity that’s unrivalled. From the paintings on the living room walls, to the original tiled floors, every square inch of them is seeped in history, just waiting to unveil their stories.
The smallest of the portfolio, the adorable Artists Studio
, has been lovingly restored from ruins to create a beautifully contemporary open plan space. With a glass and steel staircase separating the upstairs bedroom and shower room mezzanine from downstairs living quarters, the quaint studio includes walls of canvases from art courses, books on birds and photography, a private terrace and outdoor rainforest shower it’s the perfect size for a cosy romantic getaway for two.
If, however, you’re travelling with a larger group, you’ll have the pick of the bunch. Situated at the top of the town, the elegant private estate of Villa Martires
and its accompanying Garden Cottage
(which can be rented separately or together), presides over Trujillo’s skyline, with a tennis court overlooked by the castle battlements. With 180 degree views across the countryside towards Portugal and the Gredos mountains from its terraces, it comes with some of the most utterly breathtaking sunsets I’ve ever seen. An elegant gardenia-lined outdoor dining room offers the perfect setting in which to sample some local produce; Trujillo Villas España can arrange for the delivery of a delicious, freshly-cooked lunch to the villa featuring local specialities such as gazpacho, roasted red pepper salad with sweet paprika, local sausages in onion and sherry sauce and - of course - the Iberico jamon de Bellota. With a Roman-style pool, open air Moroccan-style sitting room and beds of lavender, it’s a world away from the Spain I’ve known before, in the best possible way. Prepare to fall head over heels.
Trujillo offers visitors plentiful opportunities for soaking up the history of this fascinating region with beautiful architecture galore, but it’s the food that’s the real star attraction here. Make your way downhill to the town once the sun starts to set and you’ll be greeted with a main square - the Plaza Mayor - that comes alive after dark, full of family-run establishments serving traditionally rustic, local cuisine. For terrific tapas try Cervezeria Plaza Mayor
on the square; don’t miss the croquetas with jamon iberico (croquettes), prueba (pork stew) and migas (traditional savoury breadcrumbs). Nestled in the corner of the square, the Corral del Rey
) offers a sterling three course set menu, including a glass of wine, for €25. With dishes on offer including garlic-drenched prawns, local Iberian pork seasoned with paprika and chocolate covered figs, it’s a must-visit.
Dinner isn’t Trujillo’s only foodie attraction; April 29th-May 2nd will see the Plaza Mayor take a more pungent turn as La Feria del Queso - the Trujillo cheese festival - arrives. Now in it’s 29th year, the event is - somewhat incredibly - the largest cheese fair in the world and turns the square into a cheese village. With hundreds of stands and over 400 variations of cheese, it attracts thousands of visitors every year - if your nose can cope, Trujillo Villas España’s Villa Piedras Albas
, a labyrinthine 16th century palacio, next to the Corral del Rey, features a magnificent arched terrace overlooking the Plaza Mayor.
While I appreciate that one’s visit to Trujillo may not extend too far past the villa walls, it'd be a shame not to embrace the surrounding gastronomic opportunities. For those baptised in the ways of the grape, you simply must visit local vineyard Bodega Habla
). Only established in 2000, Habla produces strictly limited edition runs of its wines, each of which comes with a fascinating story of how it was lovingly created after a number of years trialling which grapes would work in the difficultly acidic, slate-filled, Extremaduran soil. The stunningly chic minimalist branding is akin to an haute couture fashion house and what’s inside the bottles doesn’t disappoint. While a number of past wines are now sold out, I went home with a bottle of the refreshingly crisp Habla de ti, a dry white sauvignon blanc. Ever the hostess with the mostest, Trujillo Villas España can arrange a guided tour of the vineyard for guests of their villas.
The other not-to-be-missed foodie opportunity has to be a bespoke guided tour of Casa Bautista
in Montanchez, a curing house for the region’s famous jamón Iberica de bellota, which can also be arranged by your villa hosts. These lucky swines live a life of riley, nibbling acorns across Extremadura’s oak-scattered pastures, before being retired to the slaughterhouse after they’ve reached maturity. After slaughter, the 18-month curing journey begins, with each and every leg closely monitored to ensure it’s matured to the perfect sweet, nutty, floral, earthy flavour that makes this jamón the most mouthwateringly delicious in the world.
A 30 minute drive from Trujillo is the town of Caceres; voted Spain’s Capital of Gastronomy last year, it’s easy to see why. The two Michelin starred restaurant Atrio
, in the Plaza San Mateo (www.restauranteatrio.com
) not only boasts incredible cuisine, but their wine cellar is unrivalled. I was granted an audience with the sommelier to see the incredible collection of over 34,000 bottles - suffice to say it is probably the only time I shall witness wines dating from as far back as Napoleonic times - astonishingly, the oldest bottle in situ dated from 1806. With only three bottles left in the world, the last known sale was at Christie’s in 2001 where it went for a cool €300,000. Best be careful with that one…
While I can’t claim to have eaten at Atrio, nearby [i]La Cacharrería[i] (bookings - firstname.lastname@example.org) must certainly give it a run for its money. Part tapas bar, part restaurant, part cabinet of curiosities, this fascinating little world lies through a wrought-iron gated courtyard on a sun-drenched side street; if you can tear your eyes away from the cases of butterflies, statues of the Virgin Mary and cupboards full of knick knacks (all of which are available to buy - I nearly left with a pair of horn candlesticks until I remembered I had hand-luggage only…) the food is an absolute dream. Tastebuds were wowed with gems from their kitchen including a grilled sardine with gazpacho and wild garlic, local black pudding gyoza, artichoke hearts filled with béchamel sauce, local ham, mushrooms and saffron, and a succulent piece of cod accompanied with bitter orange marmalade, scrambled egg and spinach, in a filo parcel.
I could sit here for hours telling you of the glory of this sun-drenched corner of Spain, with its church-heavy towns, its rich culinary landscape and its breathtaking beauty, relatively untouched by modern tourism, but the best way for you to discover it is to book a visit for yourself. Whether you’re in the market for a self-catering break with the family, a base to explore the region or one of Trujillo Villas España’s organised art, cookery or yoga breaks (full details on the website), I promise you this is one place you’ll want to come back to time and time again. If you don’t fall in love with it, you’re lying to yourself.
Trujillo Villas España rentals from £595 per week. For full details, information on Trujillo and bookings visit www.trujillovillasespana.com
To see a full photo diary from my trip, visit my Tumblr page here