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Spain's Extremadura, Cáceres, Trujillo & Mérida
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Stately Segovia is perched high on a rocky promontory overlooking the rivers Erasma and Clamores at their convergence. In the distance 12 km (7.5 miles) away is the silhouette of the Sierra de Guadarrama. The Moorish Alcázar is seated precariously at the
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Spain's Extremadura, Cáceres, Trujillo & Mérida

Kelly Lipscomb

Hunter Publishing, Inc.

HUNTER PUBLISHING, INC,

comments@hunterpublishing.com

© Hunter Publishing, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher.

This guide focuses on recreational activities. As all such activities contain elements of risk, the publisher, author, affiliated individuals and companies disclaim any responsibility for any injury, harm, or illness that may occur to anyone through, or by use of, the information in this book. Every effort was made to insure the accuracy of information in this book, but the publisher and author do not assume, and hereby disclaim, any liability for any loss or damage caused by errors, omissions, misleading information or potential travel problems caused by this guide, even if such errors or omissions are the result of negligence, accident or any other cause.

Preface

"Sometimes the traveler feels completely transfixed by things he cannot explain." Camilo José Cela, Journey to the Alcarrin

A world of change occurs as the connection between a traveler and Spain becomes more intimate, as the initial feelings of exhilaration wane. Is this the point when the traveler knows he is finally at home in Spain, comfortable in his relationship with the country? It is, perhaps, just the beginning of a change in perceptions. For then the locked doors of Spain will begin to open up; instead of seeing just ancient walls with a story to them, there is also a family waiting behind those walls to tell its own stories. The traveler is then one step closer to realizing what George Orwell described as the far off rumor of Spain that dwells in everyone's imagination.

This peninsular country at the southwestern tip of Europe just north of Africa is all that has been said and written about it, the many cumulative experiences of the Romans, Moors, Gypsies and Catholics that have made it and the world what they are today. But there is more if the traveler begins to look more closely, between the squat doorways of Granada's Albaicín, beyond the battlement walls of Ávila, to see what else is there.

In reporting on the most fabled or inherently interesting Spanish cities and pueblos along with the outdoor adventures throughout the country, this book fills a vacancy on bookstore shelves. Somewhere between the city guides and the few books devoted to the natural spaces of Spain there is now a book inspired by both, intended to develop the idea that the time-honored tourist routes can complement the country's natural spaces and the adventures they offer. This book can't cover every single detail of the country. What book could? A little of Spain should be left to the imagination; what I saw you may not see and what I missed is left for you to discover.

The author with a monk at the Monastery of Sabrado dox Monxes, founded 952 AD

The traveling and writing undertaken for this book were done with the thought that it is good to be different from the guidebook-toting travelers of the city; to be the one who moves not just with the crowds but away from them at times, to step off the beaten trail, be it to a village whose people haven't seen a foreigner for over a year, or to an outdoor space where a guidebook can be replaced by a surfboard, a parasail or an oar. But it is most rewarding to be both kinds of traveler. There is no law that says the traveler who follows obediently behind a tour guide cannot also be the first to jump off the bridge and stretch out the bungee cord toward the river far below. Without the beaten paths we might never have found that undisturbed village in Galicia, that empty surfing beach on the Costa de la Luz, the thermals off that Alpujarran peak or those rapids in northern Castilla y León. The Spanish culture that should not be missed is indelibly linked to the land of mountains, rivers and coasts, olive trees and lemon groves, grapes, green forests and parched plains that gave rise to it. As the revered Spanish writer and intellectual Miguel de Unamuno observed, there is no landscape without history. Furthermore, without the well-worn cobblestones of Granada's monumental Alhambra, Barcelona's Las Ramblas or Madrid's Plaza Mayor, we might never have come to Spain in the first place, and what a shame that would have been.

Kelly Lipscomb

About the Author

Kelly Lipscomb originally came to Spain as a backpacker and student of Spanish. After several years he moved from his home in Granada north to Barcelona, then began traveling through every region of the country - exploring the cities, the islands, and the wildest, most adventurous areas. His experiences in writing this book include stalking prehistoric dolmens across Extremadura, eating cow intestines in Toledo, climbing Mt. Teide in Tenerife and, most recently, hiking the 500-mile coastal route of the Camino de Santiago.

Dedication

In loving memory of Brian King, with whom I first discovered Spain.

Introduction

How To Use This Book

The Spanish government has done much of the work for me. Since the fall of dictatorship in the mid-1970s, Spain has been separated into 17 autonomous communities with broad powers of governing its individual provinces; all are under the central authority of Madrid, which concerns itself primarily with national issues such as currency and foreign relations. Most of these regions have, in fact, been geographically and, largely as a result, politically and culturally distinct from one another since the beginning of Iberian civilization. It was not my intention to inundate the reader with copious information about all the wrong places - for instance, the uninhabited island of Ceuta or Albacete, a city that was described to me by one of its own as nothing but dusty streets and an ugly church. After a short visit, I concurred. Nor was it feasible to detail every minor hiking trail in the Picos de Europa when there are five major ones that history has decided are the best. Spain has much to offer and most travelers have limited time to experience it, which mandates that time be well spent.

It is a continually recurring pleasure to discover that, from a city like Granada or even Madrid, one can venture 30 minutes outside the urban wilderness and emerge in a truly wild space to ski or hike, or to enjoy an afternoon picnic in the mountains after a day of seeing the sights. The distinction between adventure and culture becomes blurred. In Spain they are often one and the same. Adventure is not just whitewater rafting, paragliding or mountain biking, but walking through a field of prehistoric stone dolmens, watching the birds fly in to roost in the Parque Nacional de Doñana, and running with the bulls, of course. This book offers the chance to experience both sides without getting lost along the same old tourist routes. Though it has yet to be scientifically proven, too much sightseeing must be bad for your health.

The first section of this book is devoted to the country as a whole. Understanding Spain before ever touching down at Madrid Barajas airport is the key to appreciating it once there. The logistics of traveling to Spain are spelled out in the second half of the introduction with information and advice on transportation, dining and accommodations, preparing for the outdoors and adventure sports, as well as words of caution. Each of the major festivals, national parks, adventure sports and a few preferred destinations are discussed.

Spain is such a rich country both culturally and ecologically that it can be overwhelming. In the regional chapters, I don't waste time on the outskirts of a city when signs for the Casco Antiguo point the way to its ancient medieval core. Most of the sights are usually clustered in these areas and they serve as a great point from which to get oriented. In many cases the central square, or Plaza Mayor, is the locus of activity. Accommodations, restaurants and entertainment venues have been chosen so that you need only put on a pair of walking shoes to reach them, unless a certain distant establishment warrants mention. In most cases I've worked from the standpoint that if a place is not worth mentioning, why mention it? Above all, I've focused on the sights and sensations that are typically Spanish. While in Spain, why not be Spanish?

Geography

The Iberian Peninsula, of which Spain occupies roughly 85% and Portugal the remainder in the west, protrudes from the far southwestern tip of the Eurasian continent like a dislodged cornerstone. The peninsula has long served as a gateway between its neighboring regions. From the prehistory to the present day, distinct peoples have braved the imposing Pyrenees to cross south from Europe, while others have sailed across the Mediterranean from Africa or beyond to reach the peninsula and European mainland. The sheer, mountainous terrain, coupled with thousands of miles of coastal borders, undoubtedly hindered the steady advances and developments of man across the peninsula through the ages. Spain has been slow to change, but in the recent past has developed into a leading first-world country. If there is one constant through it all, it is that Spain has been a unique middle ground between Europe and Africa.

Santa Cova of Montserrat

Highs & Lows

Mountainous regions and highlands predominate over lowlands in Spain. The average altitude is around 650 m (2,100 feet), making Spain the second highest country in Europe behind Switzerland, with the Pico de Teide in Tenerife its highest point at 3,719 m (12,200 feet). This rugged topography has played a major role in isolating Spain and its various inhabitants from the rest of Europe (and itself) through much of its history. In and around the barriers of the five major mountain chains are three lowland areas.

Lowlands: The lowland regions are largely comprised of the Coastal Plains, the Andalucian Plain in the southeast and the Ebro Basin in the northeast. Other minor, low-lying river valleys are located on the Rio Tagus and the Rio Guadiana near Portugal. The Coastal Plains are generally narrow strips running between the coastal mountain ranges and the seas. The Sierra Morena range and Sistema Penibetico range define the Andalucian Plain between them. The Ebro Basin is formed by the Rio Ebro valley and contained by mountains on three sides.

La Meseta: Occupying 40% of the country at its heart, La Meseta is a vast plateau notable for its endless vistas and desolate landscapes. One of the least populated of Spain's regions, it encompasses much of Castilla y Leon, Castilla-LaMancha and Extremadura, as well as the Madrid community. Due to sparse rainfall, much of this land is infertile, although pastures can be found in parts of Extremadura and vineyards farther south. Grains such as wheat are the staple crop here. The Cordillera Central mountain chain runs like a scar across the middle of the Meseta from the Portuguese border to just northeast of Madrid. Erratic mountain outcroppings hem it in on all sides save for the western border with Portugal.

Mountains surrounding La Meseta: Less imposing than the mountains along Spain's outer regions, mountain ranges shelter La Meseta from the perimeter regions of Spain. They generally become increasingly rugged to the south. In the north, the Montes de León and Cordillera Cantabrica cordon off the rich Galician plateau, Asturias and Cantabria. The Sistema Ibérico and Serrania de Cuenca form the eastern edge of La Meseta, while the Sierra Morena delineates the southern edge, encompassing the Montes de Toledo north of it.

Mountains on the periphery of La Meseta: These are the grandest of Spain's mountain ranges, and arguably the best suited for adventure sports. In the far northwest, the long, unbroken Pyrenees Mountains run from the Mediterranean Sea to the Bay of Biscay across Cataluña, Aragón and Navarra. Its six highest peaks reach toward the heavens at over 3,000 m (9,800 feet), with Lardana the tallest at 3,375 m (11,070 feet). The Andalucian range Cordillera Bética runs along the southeast of Spain from its origin in the Mediterranean Balearics. Most noteworthy are the mountains of the Sierra Nevada near Granada, which include Spain's highest mainland peak, the Mulhacén (3,478 m/11,408 feet).

Rivers

"Way off we saw the steep bluffs, dark with trees and jutting with gray stone, that marked the course of the Irati River." Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

The nine major rivers in Spain drain into the Atlantic and Mediterranean, though even those regarded as main have modest flows owing to the fact that they drain only rainwater. Smaller mountain rivers in the north have shorter courses due to their proximity to the sea and include the Bidasoa, Nervion, Sella, Nalon and Navia. The Duero, Mino, Tajo and Guadiana rivers rise in the Sistema Iberico and cut deep, rocky courses through mountain valleys en route to Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean. Coursing the south, the Guadalquivir River creates a fertile plain toward the Atlantic. It is the deepest of Spain's rivers and, besides the Ebro in the northeast, the only other intermittently navigable one. The Ebro River is the largest river in volume, rising in the Cordillera Cantabria and ultimately spilling in the Mediterranean to the east, along with the Segura, Jucar and Turia rivers.

Oceans & Coasts

Mountain ranges parallel much of the Spanish coast, creating generally straight coastlines with few inlets. The one exception is Galicia, situated on a plateau in the northwest. Spain has over 2,000 beaches. Many are ideal, though often swamped by British and German tourists during the summer months. There are, however, some spectacular, empty beaches, such as Cabo de Gata on east of Andalucia's Costa del Sol, parts of which are enticingly unreachable by modern transportation, and areas of the Costa de la Luz on the Atlantic. The coastal plains are narrow (rarely wider than 30 km/19 miles), and broken by mountains that descend to the sea. As a result, Spain has few accommodating harbors outside of Cataluña's and those of the Galician Coast.

Playa Sardinero, Santander

Atlantic Coast: Along the Atlantic in the northeast of Spain the water is colder and the weather less dependable than that of the Mediterranean. Here you will find the most rustic of Spanish coasts along the Galicia Province and its fjords Rias Bajas and Rias Altas. To the east, along the Bay of Biscay and shadowed by the Cordillera Cantabrica are gentler beaches of the Costa Cantabrica and great surfing opportunities approaching San Sebastián. The Costa de la Luz in the southwest is sheltered by pinewoods, and its beaches stretch west from Gibraltar to the Portuguese border.

Mediterranean Coast: The Mediterranean coastline begins east of the Costa de la Luz in Andalucia and continues all the way up the east coast to France. in the south is the Costa del Sol. Among its attractions are the romantic beach outcroppings of Nerja, the ritzy beach town of Marbella and, of course, the 50-km (31-mile) expanse of the Cabo de Gata, where desert and mountains give way to some of the south's prettiest water. its provinces include Cádiz, Málaga and Granada. The mild climate here produces scant rainfall and a semitropical vegetation of palm-trees, cypresses, oleanders and hibiscus.

Along the southeastern Mediterranean Coast is the Almeria Province and Costa Almeria. it includes long beaches with small coves, desert areas and high mountains with extensive plains. The Costa Calida of Murcia offers the popular, warm waters of the Mar Menor, Aguilas and Mazarron. in many places, the mountains extend right to the sea, strewn with prickly pears, oleander and wild palmetto.

The Costa Blanca, or White Coast, corresponds with Alicante and can be divided into two scenic sections, the jagged, mountainous coastlines of the north, and a vast plain of sand, salt deposits and palm trees in the south. North of here, the Costa del Azahar claims the upper reaches of the Community of Valencia. in contrast to the mountainous terrain of this province, the coastline is an endless swath of greenery and orange plantations.

The Costa Dorada, the Golden Coast, acquired its name because of the intense sun over its fine sandy beaches. Occupying the southern realm of the Cataluña Province, it is famed for its picturesque beaches and stable climate year-round. The Costa Brava in northern Catalonia is the farthest northeastern Spanish coast. Passing by the city of Barcelona, the Costa Brava has rich vegetation merging with the sea and cliffs amid sandy beaches and mild weather good most of the year.

Islands

Once called the Happy islands by the Greeks and Romans, the inviting atmosphere of the