Will Peach is one of the site editors over at Gap Daemon, the gap year travel website for backpackers and young travellers. You can also catch him writing on My Spanish Adventure about what to see in Spain while learning the language and living on the cheap.
Having packed my bags and moved out to Spain last summer, never would I have imagined that I’d fall in love so madly and so deeply. The object of my affection? Not the Spanish chicas I’m afraid, but rather a small provincial city in Extremadura.
It’s name? Cáceres. A UNESCO town of historical and cultural significance that rises out from the stark dusty plains of the region like something out of Star Wars. It’s here I’ve had the pleasure of living for the last three months and here that I’ve began to live out my Spanish dreams.
Why I love Cáceres so much is, of course, a question of subjectivity. But hopefully, by listing the following reasons, I can persuade a few of you to discover it for yourself. I can’t help but feel you’d be missing out otherwise!
Cáceres is pretty famous for its old quarter, a rich blend of Roman and Moorish architecture that features churches, museums and ancient houses. I love walking the cobbled streets and lounging in its main square, San Jorge, at sun set. You can also look out over the countryside from this spot too. Romantic.
Funny, brash, direct, there are many ways to describe Cácereños, those local to the city. They might be a little bit of a joke to big city Spaniards (who see them as a little bit backward) but the warmth they show, having invited me into their houses for drinks many times, is enough to make this little guiri rave about them. They don’t even mind my faltering Spanish either!
Just round the corner from the Jewish section of the old quarter lies a passageway leading up to Cáceres’ Virgin Mountain. Labelling it a “mountain” is a bit of an overstatement (it’s more a hill), but reaching the top does provide some pretty breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding area. Also at the “peak” is the stone statue of the Virgin (where I met my first “real” Spanish friend) and behind it a pretty decent taperia to refuel for the journey down.
In a country where football reigns supreme it’s surprising to find out just how popular basketball is among people in the city. No doubt thanks to the local football teams lower league demise, Cáceres’ basketball team (in the higher leagues) is much better supported. Going to a game makes for a fun night out, especially for this Brit who still doesn’t really understand the rules yet!
Tiendas del Barrio
Cáceres many local shops are charming little places to pop in for some water, milk or the other essentials of life. Go often enough and you’ll find yourself on friendly first name terms with the owners who – I can’t imagine this happening in my former home of London – will often put you on the book to pay later if you don’t have enough change that day.
The first time I stumbled onto Cáceres’ Plaza Mayor I just knew I was going to enjoy living in the city. A wide open-space jam-packed with people in the evening, and plenty of terraces to take a beer too, it’s hard not to kick back and forget everything after a few minutes taking in the scene here. An added bonus is that the whole square is hooked up to free wi-fi. This made it a strategic location for my internet-deprived self in the early days without a home connection!
Architecturally not much to look at (especially when compared to the magnificent parks of Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia), Cáceres’ central park Canovas is significant for reasons other than beauty. A community hub for the 120,000 strong population, sitting on a bench here during the summer months is the best way to meet and get chatting with locals. It’s also where I began my addiction with the Spanish sports paper Marca!
Thanks to the city’s role housing the thousands of students that attend the nearby University of Extremadura, there’s always a bit of an international buzz about the place. Head out at night to any popular drinking hole and you’ll notice an array of languages, not only the Spanish I’ve come to know and love. This variety adds another interesting level to the city and its nightlife.
One of my favourite spots to chill out with my laptop and sup herbal tea, Cafe Arabe, situated at the far end of the Plaza Mayor is just as popular with locals too. Decked out like an old Moorish settlement, the cafe also has an enchanting patio garden with palms and fairy-lit trees that make for one of the most relaxing locales in the city outside of the old quarter. My biggest city secret until now.
Vino de la Tierra Extremadura
How could I live in Spain and forget to mention the wine? While Extremadura might not be mightily renowned as a winemaking region, it’s local offerings, made from tempranillo, deserve more attention than they currently get. The dry reds are the perfect accompaniment to a selection of the region’s cheeses and probably to jamón also. Just don’t ask this vegetarian!
Cáceres, thanks to its many features, has done plenty to charm this traveller. If you find yourself passing through the region, whether on route to the beaches of Andalucía or even to Portugal, do yourself a favour and stop by.
You might end up loving it just as much as me!