Extremadura Spain

Saturday April 17th
Our flight booked on the internet traveling with British Airways went well, hardly any delay in booking in at Gatwick and the plane was only half full, and it was the first time we had leather seats on a plane !!.
The pick up of the rental car with Hertz, although booked before hand, took about three quarters of an hour before we actually got to drive off in the car, a Ford Focus which had only 5000 miles on the clock.

The drive on the outer ring road around the south of Madrid was to say the least, nerve racking, so many junctions one after the other, and junction signs right on the junctions, so if you were in the wrong lane, there was no chance of changing lanes quickly due to the amount of traffic around you. We thought we were heading in the wrong direction at one time, but eventually all was well, and we were glad to be off the ring road and heading on the motorway for Oropesa. The road was much quieter and we had the forethought to check on the position of petrol stations on the other side of the road knowing that we had to bring the car back in a weeks time full of petrol.

It was a long but quick journey to Oropesa where we turned off on to a much smaller road towards Candeleda. We had seen lots of White Storks flying overhead on our journey, and soon came upon Storks with nests on top of dead trees, and like book ends at each end of farm buildings.
I was looking out for the snow covered mountains in the distance as we approached Candeleda, but the clouds were down on top of the mountains, the road was lined with white Cistus flowers and Lavender, and Black Kites were soaring overhead, it looked promising, quite different to the outskirts of Madrid.
We had been given directions to the house by the owners, but as we drove into Candeleda we were diverted into the back streets, as there was a cycling event taking place over the weekend. Totally lost we took the next left turning, which turned out to be the road we should be on to take us out of town, the owners directions to the house were very accurate, and we soon found the house in which we were to stay for the week, and also the key holders house across the road, We had been told that they did not speak any English (and it was true).

As we opened the gate and pulled up outside the door of the house, we noticed a store of logs and fire lighting material that had been left for us, Lyn took it upon herself to get the fire in the sitting room going as I unpacked the cases. The next important thing to do was to quickly drive back in to Candeleda 6.5 km away, to investigate the supermarkets, and buy some food and drink for the week. We returned and cooked ourselves a meal, and then enjoyed sitting in front of the log fire as it was beginning to get dark and cool. We later fell asleep in a very comfortable bed, listening to a Scops owl in the garden.

Sunday
On waking the next day, we drew back the half drawn curtains and could see the nearby mountains, complete with snow on the top.

                               View from the bedroom window.

After breakfast we decided to drive back up the Candeleda/Orepesa road to see and photograph the white storks on their nests and also to walk along the river from the old mill.

 
   Storks nesting about 30 mtrs from the road


             The walk/scramble along part of the river.

The clouds were beginning to close in as we headed back to the house for lunch, and later on it started to drizzle, so we decided to go for a tour in the car towards the Rosarito reservoir. With the drizzle came the mist, and as we pulled up at the side of the reservoir, the Grey Herons flew off into the gloom. It was quite an odd feeling as we could not see the other side of the reservoir, the herons soon returned to continue their fishing. We continued our tour on a road through arable fields with lots of buildings nearby, built with every other brick missing in its single walls. These buildings are, or were used for drying the crops of tobacco which are grown in this area.

 We returned "home" passing through three of the de la Vera towns, making a mental note that we must stop at one of them later in the week to see the older area of the town.
It was still cool at night so we were comforted by a hot meal and another of Lyns log fires. Watching the weather forecast on the television later in the evening, we decided that as the weather was set to improve, we would visit the Monfrague area next day.

Monday
We set off about 9am. The roads are much less busy here than in England, so we could take our time, taking in the views and stopping on the side of the road with out any problem. As we approached the Park natural the scenery changed to the typical "Dehesa", with grass land and cork oaks. The roads were lined with the flowers of Lavender and Cistus, raptors flew overhead. We are not proper bird spotters so we had trouble trying to identify them all, but we can definitely say we saw lots of Griffon Vultures and Black Kites. There were also lots of Azure winged magpies, Shrikes, Storks, Larks, Stonechats and Cuckoos.

                                    The Dehesa and Lavender lining the road side.


           Stork flying overhead.                                         Cistus

We also saw and heard lots of the unmistakable Bee eater, we have had previous meetings with these iridescent creatures, and have found them very hard to photograph, they are so quick in the air, and have sentries on the look out if you approach any of their nesting sites, the best you can do is to photograph them while they are perched on telephone wires or fences, from the window of the car. Any attempt to open the car door and get out, will lead to the bird immediately taking off.

                     The best we could do, but the scenery made up for a distant bee eater.

After several hours of touring the roads through the Dehesas, we stopped at the Mirador Portilla del Tietar to watch more Vultures gliding on the thermals. We then traveled on to the lay-by opposite the cliffs of Pena Halcon. It was here we saw our first ever Black Vulture, had it not been for a group of bird watchers shouting out "Black Vulture at 11 o'clock" etc we would not really have been able to distinguish the Black vulture from the Griffon, especially as they were silhouetted against the blue sky. We also saw the Egyptian Vulture, Eagles, Choughs and on a smaller scale a Black Redstart.
We had to tear ourselves away from watching the birds, and continued on to the Castillo de Monfrague. After parking the car, and climbing steep steps up to the castle, the effort is rewarded by the views and also the fact that you are now at the height at which the vultures soar, so you can get even better views of them as they pass by.

 Views from the top of the castle and from one of the windows on the stairs in the castle.

On our way back to Candeleda we called in to Valverde de la vera, as we had promised ourselves, to see some of the old part of the town. Certainly it was in another world, we walked up nearly every street, taking in the atmosphere of the place.




Tuesday
The forecast for today was good so we had decided we would visit the town of Avila, to see and walk on the walls that surround the older part of town. We woke up to a very grey sky with the cloud down on the tops of the mountains again, undeterred we started our journey through Candeleda, Arenas san Pedro and then gradually ascended the gap in the mountain range called Puerto del Picos at a height of 1352 metres. As we reached the top we came out through the cloud, and into a blue sky and sunny land, just the job.
The road was then quite straight and we hoped we would get views of the north side of the Gredos Mountains by looking behind us as we traveled north.


                         Looking back towards the Gredos mountains

Avila has a very harsh winter climate and is the highest provincial capital in Spain. The town is enclosed on three sides by mountains, except to the north, so is very exposed.
The 11th century walls that surround the town are more than 2 kilometres long and about 12 metres high, approximately half of the walls are open to walk on the top, which give good views.

We had parked our car on the south side of town, just a stones throw from the walls, there seemed to be plenty of car parks around town and they were very empty, probably not so empty at weekends and later in the summer.
We set off to first of all walk round, outside of the walls, and then to walk the tops.

There were quite a few entrances through the walls and cars were squeezing in on the somewhat narrow roads. White storks were flying above us bringing food for their young which were in nests on all the high points, clacking their beaks in greeting to their mates, there were actually six nests on the tower in the picture on the right above.


Part of the walk on top of the walls.                 And more storks nest on the Cathedral.


There were good views of the area outside of Avila.


And also inside Avila

It was quite hot and windless walking, so we found a shop with a board up showing a multitude of ice creams. Lyn went in to the shop, and came back out with the shop keeper, they were both frantically pointing to different ice creams, and then disappeared back into the shop. Lyn emerged about five minutes later smiling, with two ice creams. Apparentley the shop keeper had not yet got his order in for ice creams, as it was early in the season, and the two of them had been rummaging round in the freezer trying to find any at all.

It was time to leave Avila, we were lucky to have had such a nice day, we had been wondering round in tee shirts, and the locals still had their thick woolies and coats on.

On the way back to the Gredos we decided that we would visit the "Plataforma", a road climbs into the mountains from Hoyas del Espino to a car parking area. Again we guess it could be a busy place at weekends, but today there were only about ten cars parked when we arrived.
We had our walking boots in the car, so after changing we started the climb out of the car park. There was still quite a lot of snow about and the sun was blazing down, still no wind even up here. We didn't intend to do a long trek, it was quite late in the afternoon, and we just wanted to take in the scenery. The first thing we noticed were the Ibex or Montes Cabra, there were quite a few around and seemed to be unworried by us, so much so that we could get to within about 5 metres of them before they would give a grunt and walk away. Some were heading for the patches of snow to lay down on to cool off.

Our next discovery, although not really a discovery as they were every where, were drifts of Crocus and Narcissi, about 50mm tall, obviously not long exposed by the melting snow. They were magnificent.      

To continue on our holiday click HERE