Cycling the Ruta de la Plata – Part 2 Extremadura, A Magical Place

We could hear it raining heavily overnight but it had stopped by the time we left the hostal (which advertises that it has good food and a restaurant but doesn’t) in search of breakfast in the town. But it was quite cold with heavy grey clouds and a low mist over the hills. Once fuelled we set off on the Camino which leaves straight from the town with a gentle climb. Although we had another 200 m of climb first thing to reach the top of the Sierra Norte, it was a gentle climb on good tracks, so much easier than yesterday.

There were flowers everywhere
Our hostal for the night

Then we left Andalucia and dropped down on to the gently rolling fields of Extremadura. There were no woods or forests here just endless fields with dark red clay soil. We passed a surprising number of walkers for the time of year.

On the way out of Real de la Jara.

Finally we dropped right down and were cycling along the flat between the fields. Here it became really difficult. The lane was full of large puddles and sticky red clay that coated us, the bikes and the tyres so we had no traction and were sliding in all directions. We managed to stay upright but only just and the extra weight on the tyres was hard work. We struggled on but when we next crossed a road with 6 km to go we decided to stay on the road into Zafra.

These pigs thought we were going to feed them

Crossing one of the many streams
Lovely red soil
The route was very muddy
All the meadows were full of flowers
Stopping off for a picnic next to an olive grove which was full of tiny birds. Constant bird song was a feature of Extremadura.

We were staying in a more upmarket hotel that night but they didn’t bat an eye at the state of us and happily wheeled our filthy bikes into the kitchen. Think we will eat somewhere else tonight!

I was just grumbling about the lack of flowers when I spotted these orchids

The next day was just perfect. It started out sunny from the off and stayed about 21 degrees C with no wind. Ideal cycling temperature. I was hoping for hills today to get away from the flat boggy ground. We did have one hill to start then it gently rolled for a bit before becoming pancake flat, but the tracks had dried out quickly in most places.

Looking down on the plain from the one hill of the day
The mud had dried to a nice cycling surface

We passed through quite a few small towns and most of them seemed to be having a fiesta or carnival, but each time it was due to start about 2 hours after we passed through.

Bernie blending in seamlessly with the locals as he buys some fruit in the village market!
Asphodels were everywhere
It was nice to see so many wild flowers

The last 30 km to Mérida did drag on a bit and I felt sorry for the walkers we passed as the track was dead straight for as far as you could see, with either flat vineyards full of miniature knarled vines or olive groves for miles in all directions.

Dead straight as far as you can see
No health and safety here!
Pruning the vines
New vineyard
Arriving at Merida
A gate through the old wall in Merida

As we had a long way to go the next day, 77 km, we got away early, which meant that we didn’t really do Mérida justice. We did however have a good look a Roman aqueduct that was covered in Stork nests. This was the Acueducto de los Milagros built around 1st Century AD to supply water to the Roman colony of Emerita (now Mérida) and is a UNESCO World heritage site.

It was a lovely day, about 23 degrees C with a blue sky and no wind. Perfect cycling conditions. We started with an easy, gentle climb on a hard sandy grit surface. It makes a change to have a pale yellow track after days on red clay.

Good cycling surface for the start of the day
The lovely little church in the tiny village of Aljucén
We followed these sheep for about a kilometre

As we climbed the track got steeper with large loose rocks making for quite a techical ride in places. I was very pleased with myself for managing some of the trickier sections as even after all these miles I have never been the worlds bravest mountain biker, and I was actually enjoying it. It was a very tiring day though as the difficult sections required a lot of power to push through them.

Some of the tracks were quite rocky and steep
Others were sandy or boggy

The area here is so green with meadows full of flowers. We are serenaded by loud bird song all day either from ground nesting birds in the fields or from the small birds nesting in the olive groves. We have also seen several spotted woodpeckers. The track is often covered in large hairy caterpillars and there are large numbers of different butterflies. Add to this storks and birds of prey circling in the thermals and plentiful wild flowers and I would have to say that this is really the perfect time of year to be in Extremadura.

This is a short, slow video of the sounds of Extremadura, so turn up the volume for the birdsong.

These olive groves full of flowers were always filled with loud birdsong
Tuberaria guttata (Spotted Rock Rose)
Glebionis segetum with red bug nymphs (Corn marigold)
Romulea bulbocodium ( Crocus leaved romulea)

Of course, as is normal when you are tired, we finish the day with a climb up into Cáceres. This is a sizable city and on first sight looks sprawling and full of modern tower blocks. But the centre of the old town, where we were staying luckily, was just amazing. The medieval walled city appears to be completely intact and full of churchs, palaces, convents, towers and Knights Templar hospitals. Again it is a UNESCO World heritage site.

One of the many towers in the medieval walled city in Cáceres
Trying to find our hotel in Cáceres
I just love Gargoyles
The medieval city of Cáceres

The next day we found ourselves rolling through fields and narrow tracks. This involved opening and closing a lot of gates, some of them easier than others.

Then we started to drop down and the tracks became narrow with large boulders, sometimes about the width of our panniers or peddles. I managed most of it without panicking too much except on the very steep bits when Bernie rode my bike down. It took us 2 hours to go 14 kms

Some bits were a bit trickier than others

On our last day in Extremadura after we left the little village of Carcaboso we didn’t pass another village for about 40 kms, just the occasional farm. We went up and down stoney tracks, through bright green flower filled fields and evergreen oak woodlands. Past woolly red cattle and sheep, nesting stocks and were circled by about 15 large birds of prey rising in the thermals.

There were long sections of single track through these lovely meadows
And farm tracks
Past Roman aquaducts

We unexpectedly found that our track took us through an excavation of a Roman city and baths called Cáparra Ciudad Romana. After having a good wander around we cycled off under the Roman Arch.

The Roman ruins at Cáparra Ciudad Romana
Cycling under the Roman Arch

By the end of the day we were cycling up a long valley with high hills on either side, one appears to have a snow covered summit.

Our first sight of snow in the distance

Of course cycle touring is never this perfect and the problem today was the very strong and rather cold head wind. Also some of the stoney parts of the tracks had a very fine gravelly surface which was quite skiddy. My wheels disappeared sideways while I was climbing a rocky bit and I was tipped unceremoniously into a bramble bush.

Crossing one of the many streams
Bernie getting my bike across

We had quite a climb at the end if the day, up to Baños de Montemayor where we are staying. Its a tiny, almost medieval looking village with narrow streets and old wooden balconies. Our B&B has thick wooden doors and a glassed over well in the floor in the entrance. Even the bar has a well at the side of the room as all the houses seem to be built into the hillside.

All in all I just loved Extremadura it was a magical place to cycle through.

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