From our lazy, hazy jaunt in the Andalusian capital our Spain road trip veered north to Iberico Pig country, and further north to medieval Spain.
From Seville we drove through Parque Natural Sierra de Aracena to the small town of Aracena, and the even smaller village of Alájar. We were there for “Iberian Ham School” with our tour guides, teachers, and new friends Ángel and Lucy. Aside from our jam-packed adventures in Iberico ham (post forthcoming!) we delighted in the small town charm Alájar. After showing us around the Museo del Jamón in Arecena, Ángel took us to La Peña de Arias Montano, a beautiful small church and square overlooking Alájar. We drank water from a centuries old spring and talked about Andalusia’s golden age where diversity and religious tolerance thrived, priests worked alongside poets and philosophers, and knowledge and literacy flourished.
Alájar is the picture of Andalusian small-town perfection. Our visit was just days before the summer’s most solemn festival, and every waking hour was dedicated to readying the village. Every family is responsible for whitewashing their home. Houses that aren’t painted by a certain date are painted by the town, and their owners’ sent the bill. Getting your house did | Alájar, Spain
Bursting with knowledge and Iberian ham, our Spain road trip left Alájar for Cáceres. As we drove, the August fried planes of Andalusia began to give way to better hydrated, more lush ground and we saw herding animals for the first time on our Spain road trip. Sunflower fields stretched for miles.
Romans founded Cáceres in 25 BC. Its old town is one of the most well-preserved walled medieval cities we’ve seen. Although quite small, it’s worth visit to stroll the streets imagining a time when the city was packed with people, horses, pigs, chickens, and general medieval life. It would have been quite a scene.
The best way to capture the feel of ancient Cáceres today is a visit to the very well curated (and free) Museo Cáceres. The museum is housed in a 15th century mansion (itself built atop an already ancient Arab cistern) with a beautiful center courtyard and an exterior adorned with whimsically wonderful ceramic gargoyles.
Throw in an equally ancient Airbnb rental, a well-aged, highly pungent local goat cheese, and some less ancient but equally well-done arab baths and Cáceres was a pretty great followup to hog heaven.
By the time our Spain road trip reached Salamanca our bellies starting the feel the strain of vacation and our minds were reeling from all we’d seen.
The city has a cool university town vibe, although in summer months that vibe skews toward Spanish tourist town. As in Cáceras, we enjoyed being an English-speaking minority even in touristy areas like museums. Despite what is said about its economy, Spaniards are still enjoying the amazing country they inhabit.
Both the University and church have followed the Roman’s lead in developing Salamanca’s architecture. Patio Chico is the charming square where the old Cathedral (12th century, Romanesque) buts up against the new cathedral (16–18th century, Gothic). Climbing the Clerecía Towers is the best way to take in the city.
Salamanca marked the X at the end of our Spain road trip. We rather reluctantly handed over the keys to our rental Renault and boarded a 1:30 am bus to meet Cliff’s people in Porto. Surprisingly my parents handled the never-ending, sleepless overnight ride (from hell) better than we did. There we go letting vacation get to our slow and slow travel heads…