Holiday Report: Extremadura Trails, Spain | Far and Ride

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Holiday Report: Extremadura Trails, Spain

Extremadura Trails, Spain, March 2018. 

Natalie Garner, Far and Ride. 

In March of this year, I find myself on a plane bound for Madrid, on a mission to discover the delights of the Extremadura region of western Spain, by taking part in the Conquistadors Ride.

At the airport meeting point, our jovial host Mamen arrives to greet us with a smile – we quickly discover she is a woman enthused with the energy and motivation to settle even the most nervous traveller. She explains that we must quickly drive to terminal 4 of Madrid airport in order to collect a few guests who have landed here. The terminal is a little distance away and manageable by shuttle transfer for those in the know, but our hosts feel it’s easier and more convenient for their guests to organise separate collections from the two terminals when required.

With all guests safely collected, we begin the 2,5 hour drive to our first night’s stop in the medieval town of Trujillo – the heart of Extremadura country. The weather in Madrid is a little overcast and the air saturated as we depart – something which Mamen explains is rare for March, but also very welcome as they have not had a proper rainfall in this region for nearly 8 months now. The drive passes quickly and finally we turn off the main road, heading along a short stony drive towards the old, beautifully restored, rural olive oil mill which we will be calling home for tonight. The white washed walls of the mill enclose numerous cosy nooks, bright spaces for sitting as well as open areas of garden or meadow; a superb interplay of man-made structures and natural landscape. The rooms are a welcome sight for these weary travellers and we quickly settle in amongst much excitement over the quaint country-style decor and exquisite touches – an ode to the environment of sleepy vines and vibrant olive groves we find ourselves now nestled in.

After breakfast the following morning we are met by Mamen before being driven the short distance to the stables to meet our horses for the week. Our guide Emilio’s family have been cattle herders in this region for many generations, but Emilio always had a preference for the horses eventually finding a way of incorporating them into his life. The horses are born and bred in these hills and the vast majority are Andalucian (or crosses thereof) – this week we have the pleasure of a palette of grey and white shades accompanying us. I am led to a snowy-white Andalucian horse with a noble curved face, named Cholo (I later discover that this is a Latino slang term of “gangster” – something this sweet tempered and kindly animal is anything but!). Having already saddled the horses for us, Emilio is busying himself applying boots, checking girths and stretching the horses’ front legs to ensure everything is sitting comfortably for them. Emilio has such a natural and authoritative way with his horses, that you truly believe there could be nothing about his herd of 30+ that he does not already know. Once we are all coupled up with our mounts it’s time to head out for a slow morning of riding, up into the mountains, in order to get to know our new steeds a little better.

Although at this time of year the land is still a little dormant and the trees have yet to come into leaf, there is already a sense in the air that something is about to change and things are just beginning to come alive with the first signs of spring. Amongst the undergrowth and throughout the Spanish ‘dehesa’ landscape we have the chance to spot brown hare, grey fox, bristled wild boar and even an elegant buck deer or two leaping through the forest. Migratory stork have begun to arrive from the south and quietly tend to their ramshackle nests in pairs. Swallows dart through the air, whilst eagles, falcon and vulture circle silently in the sky high up above us, monitoring our progress through the day. Azure-winged magpie, hoopoe, dove, sparrow, chickadee, red-billed choughs and various tits – amongst many others – flit from tree to tree, chirruping and nattering as we pass – a cacophony of sound to rival the hustle and bustle of any busy city, and yet resulting in a setting which is far more serene.

We are met for lunch by Mamen, who again has a smile and helpful demeanour to offer us. Lunch today is freshly cooked paella; consisting of succulent golden-yellow grains of rice topped with rosy-blush king prawns and langoustines, all accompanied by a glass or two of robust Spanish red wine. This quickly becomes an appreciated and welcome component of our daily routine through the week, arriving on horseback at a beautiful and secluded spot, to the sight of a laid table and a wonderful array of typical, local dishes. Everything from hearty wedges of Spanish tortilla, enticing shavings of ruby red Iberico ham, creamy slices of Manchego cheese, vivid green young olives, piquant grilled sweet peppers drenched in feather light olive oil, a vibrant spectrum of salad dishes, as well as enticing hunks of warm, fresh bread. To finish, we savour a mix of local spiced nutty biscuits; crumbly, flavoured with almond and heavy with the scent of cinnamon; colourful cream filled choux pastry buns decadently flavoured with lemon, chocolate and toffee, as well as slices of fresh seasonal fruit, including local juicy oranges, sweet pear and crunchy apple. A hot coffee or cup of tea helps to wash everything down before an enjoyable siesta in the sunshine.

The afternoon offers the opportunity for more relaxed riding; just 2 or 3 hours until we arrive at the next beautiful overnight stop. The horses are tended to first; ensuring they are comfortable and cool before they receive their well-earned feeds and a chance to relax in their own lodgings until the morning. Our accommodation is arranged for us in different and distinct rural country hotels each night, every one more charming and quaint than the last. If you were to try to put a name to it, I feel they would fall into the category of “rustic-country-chic”; comfortable and welcoming but all separated by their particular histories and charismatic individuality. One a renovated olive oil mill, the next an opulently tiled and dignified hotel with a restaurant in the old underground cellar. Then a superb stone chalet – the heart and soul of the village in which it resides – with a touch of the alpine or a baroque castle about it, even a quiet hunting-style lodge with rooms provided in separate whimsical “fairy” cabins (or Chozos as they are known locally). Although the accommodations are all distinctly different, each provides us with a comfortable night’s sleep, a superb selection of food and an expansive choice of fine local wines too!

Each day’s schedule follows loosely along the same lines and we quickly fall into the calm routine of it. Unlike the busy city, we have no need for watches or strict time keeping here, the countryside has its own rhythm and pace that we gladly embrace. Overall, I am filled with a deep sense of belonging and serenity when riding through this country. Not only do I trust my horse and guide implicitly, there is something fundamentally pleasing about the rolling landscape, the serene atmosphere and the simple pleasure of spending so much of your day with the horses.

The busy may claim to have found peace through meditation, but we have discovered our own piece of heaven right here. Truly, it’s an honour to be able to explore this beautiful, remote and lesser known region of Spain from the back of a noble white Spanish horse.

Read more about this ride here: Extremadura Trails, Spain.

 

 

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