Driving down from England a few days ago, Helga and I had the occasion to stop in Cáceres. This Spanish city of about 100K population, in the heart of the Extremadura, had never captured our attention or curiosity before. What an oversight on our part!
Cáceres was founded by the Romans well before Christ and, if caves interest you, the Cueva de Maltravieso, contains hundreds of paintings, including the world’s oldest known cave painting, a red hand stencil believed to be made by Neanderthals, which has been dated at over 67,000 years old.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city was occupied by Visigoths until the Arabs captured the city in the eighth century. Cáceres was recaptured by the Christians in 1229 AD. Unfortunately, Queen Isabella had most of the old city’s fortified towers pulled down in 1477.
OK, the modern city is nothing special. But the old town is something else! Cáceres was made a UNESCO World Heritage city in 1986 because of its unspoiled blend of Roman, Moorish, Northern Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture.
Old Cáceres today is a medieval walled-town setting with no outward signs of modernity (which is why many TV shows and films have been shot there).
Walking around the old town is like being transported back 500 years to a time when the town flourished with the spoils coming back from the Americas. We were there on a Tuesday in early September and there were very few tourists. What bliss! And it is really magic to stroll the narrow streets in the evening after dinner, under a clear starlit sky.
I am not going to write much about the buildings because I think the photos tell the story much better. I will just note that you can explore the entire old town with an easy walk (no cars in most of it), although there is a bit of up and down as the town sits on a hilltop. Many of the buildings can be visited and often feature beautiful interiors and quiet, peaceful patio-gardens.
We stayed in the Parador, which is housed in the Gothic Casa del Comendador de Alcuéscar, otherwise known as the Palacio de Torreorgaz. This beautiful old building is well within the old city and features a network of patios and stone walls, wooden beams, a lovely old walk-in fireplace and an excellent restaurant. However, if you are looking for something really special (money no object), try the Atrio super luxurious boutique hotel and dine in their Michelin two-starred restaurant. It is also within the old town and only a short walk from the Parador.
Cáceres is only 400 km from Faro, via Évora and Badajoz, or 450 km by way of Seville and Merida. Perfect for a weekend away. If you want to make it a long, or extra-long, weekend, why not add on an overnight in Trujillo (called the cradle of the Conquistadores because it was the home of the explorer Francisco Pizarro and was built with filthy lucre from the New World), 45 km east of Cáceres. Or stop in Merida (a World Heritage site of some very interesting Roman ruins), 75 km south of Cáceres. You could even discover the little known Parador of Zafra, a 15th century castle housed in the Alcazar and the site where conquistador Hernán Cortés stayed before going to Mexico. Zafra is just west of the Cáceres-Seville autoroute about 130 km south of Cáceres.
We in the Algarve are truly fortunate to have so much beautiful history on our doorstep. We should really take advantage of our good fortune while we can!