"It's not much but it's ours"

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Now let me make this clear. I like Procul Harum as much as the next man. But, having the words of “ Conquistador” going through your head all the time is enough to drive even a patently sane man like me over the edge.

Unfortunately, as you drive through Extremadura, you just can’t help it. For this is a province that, if built buy the Romans, captured by the Moors and recaptured by the Christians on many occasions, was brought to prominence by the conquerors of The New World. Many of the town names of the area will be immediately recognisable to those who are familiar with South America and every building seems to have been built with money from or dedicated to a noble family of Conquistador heritage.

Plasencia is no different and, in the morning, after coffee and a welcome shot of Vitamin C courtesy of some delicious fresh Orange juice, we spent an hour or so exploring.

First a local farmer’s market in the Plaza Mayor. Unfortunately, it is not cherry season as that is one of the things that the whole area is famous for even making a frightening Kirch like spirit which HP had sampled a little of the night before. But, there were lots of fresh local cheeses, more of those ghastly convent cakes and plenty of other stuff to keep the locals amused.

Then a short walk around the town walls which were not in the same state of repair as Avila and showed how the town was no longer a centre of attraction. Mind you, it had kept us entertained for an evening or so and that’s all we asked before heading South

A very short haul South of Placencia is Caceres. One of the most attractive and important towns in the whole of Extremadura. In population terms it is number two ( I thnk Badejoz is first ) but it could not have been more different to Placencia.

It has an air of quiet sophistication to it which is tangible and is very much it’s own town being the centre of the Universidad Extramensa.

Our hotel, The Iberia was very easy to find and situated, again, about 30 seconds from the Plaza Mayor. Unlike those in Castilla Y Leon, this square was not enclosed. On one side, a row of restaurants and on the other the walls of the Ciudad Monumental.

The old town remains walled in and is another of Spain’s UNESCO sites. Well worth it too. A stunning tribute to the saying “ to the victor the spoils” it remains entirely intact and houses palaces to the nobles who moved there from Leon after its final recapture from the moors, any number of churches built with gold from the Americas and enough moody windy streets to ensure that it has been used in innumerable film sets over the years. Walking around it at night, when it is gently illuminated and few people are around is a haunting experience and one I would recommend to anyone travelling to Spain.

Pleasingly, the good people of Caceres also stick to the Extramenas tradition of a freebie with each drink and both in the daytime and the afternoon we did our best to put them to the test as often as possible. I am delighted to say that they came out of the day with a 100% record. Some of the freebies were really rather good. Frighteningly green young, fresh olives, chicken stews, grilled chunks of pork and excellent tortilla all helped provide sustenance.

We tried Migas once again. This was obviously more well made than the night before, but I still did not get it. A peasant dish, it comprises bread fried with pork fat and peppers and topped with off cuts of sausage. Sounds good. Tastes vile. Oh well, you can’t like everything.

That evening, we had decided upon a meal rather than tapaering. My dear chum in Madrid had suggested a restaurant close to our hotel called El Fingo De Eustaquio and once again her suggestion was spot on. Run by four brothers who still do most of the cooking and serving, the restaurant was empty when we arrived at 10pm but filled up during our stay.

The food was hearty and served in vast proportions. A starter of Jamon was slightly dry as if it were the first cut of the night but much better were the deep fried boquerones which was an enormous portion of huge fresh fish lightly breaded and fried so the outside was crunchy and the inside meltingly sweet. It benefited from “mas limon” but we struggled to finish it which is itself is remarkable.

Main courses were good with HP going for the Cochinillo, a colossal portion of suckling pig with rich fatty flesh and crispy crackling. As good as it gets. Jabrili for me. The local wild boar, cooked in a sauce made of local cherries.

We tried a new wine to us, a Senorio De Payvan, a wine from Extremadura made from Tempranillo and aged in American oak. It could not have gone more perfectly with the food.

Desserts were, as always in Spain, not worth talking about, but we had them anyway. Better still, they comped us some nice post prandials of Orujo and Pacharan which topped of the evening in excellent fashion and fuelled us back to the hotel and bed.
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