Food matters in Villuercas Geopark

Menu at Parador de Guadalupe, food in the Villuercas Geopark

On top of its geosites, food is another appealing aspect of the Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara. The famous Spanish tapas and innovative recipes, which make our mouth water anywhere and at any time, are savored much more intensively in this heaven of peace and tranquility. In addition, this region is also renowned for providing some of the best products and ingredients to the culinary Spanish tradition. As food really matters in Villuercas Geopark, I recommend a route which combines food and learning in this post.

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Our first stop is the Cooperative Santa Catalina in Alía, a local olive oil industry which produces the distinctive variety “Virgen Extra” from the ancient olive trees surrounding the village. It is advisable to arrange a visit (+34 927 36 60 68 – coopsantacatalina@gmail.com) to taste its excellent range olive oil.

Thanks to the touristic push of the Geopark, this agricultural cooperative has reshaped its business model from distributing the production exclusively among their members to launch the new brand “Villalia” and export part of the production. Moreover, It joined the Geofood project leading by the norwegian Magma Geopark.

The company´s international sales are focused mainly in China.

After testing that wonderful and healthy olive oil in Alía, it is time to check how it is used for cooking. One of the best place to do that is the Parador of Guadalupe. Villalia is among the vital ingredients used by chef Francisco Moreno. He considers that cooking with local products and raw materials from the Geopark as olive oil, honey, cheese and meat is superb”.

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Starter at Parador de Guadalupe

The menu we had consisted of one small bottle of gazpacho, one smoked salmon toast with blackberries, two pieces of black pudding, one glass with Spanish potato salad and another glass filled with strawberry paté for starter. The main course was Iberian carpaccio dressed with the olive oil Villalia we already tested before in Alía. Its mixture of flavours was out of this world! Simply delicious!

By the way, we enjoyed this meal of kings at the cozy inner courtyard full of oranges trees of the Parador de Guadalupe.

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Get fit in the Geopark

The Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara is an ideal place for enthusiastic about sports such as cycling, running and hiking. However, its geosites can also delight those who are addicted to fitness. Noelia Pérez and Tirso Rodríguez are two of them. They run www.fitmenteycuerpo.com one of the more successful blogs of this year in Extremadura (Spain) whose engaging videos are receiving hundreds of visits. One of their latest posts shows how to get fit in the Geopark.

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Noelia and Tirso are journalists and got the official certificate of bodybuilding and fitness trainers years ago. Apart from many proper training recommendations at the gym, on www.fitmenteycuerpo.com we can find practical tips of “street workout”, the way of doing exercise outside getting the same results than at the gym. They wanted to film in the Geopark and I suggested they should do it at the top of La Villuerca at 1.600 metres high.


Doing sport at 1.600 metres high.

Our athletic guests performed one “Tabata” session to explain the enormous impact of doing exercise at high elevation. According to some researches, the main advantage is the considerable increase of red blood cells, that means more oxygen throughout the body and therefore more strength.

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The geosite “Risco de La Villuerca”

La Villuerca is one of the jewel crown of the Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara. The top of this geosite (1.600 metres high) is the perfect viewpoint to watch all the territory of the Geopark, part of the Cáceres province and the Appalachian relief, akin to the Appalachians of North America.

To get there by car, I recommend driving from Navezuelas. It is a narrow winding road, though far better than the impracticable road from Guadalupe.

 

 

Guadalupe: an appealing Spanish pilgrimage place

It would be a deadly sin to be around the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Geopark and not to visit Guadalupe. This holy village is the most important pilgrimage center of Spain, along with Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Thousand of pilgrims get to its imposing Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe – especially on September and October- to venerate the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe.

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Santa María de Guadalupe processionning along the cloister of the Monastery on 8 September.

My last visit to Guadalupe was on 8 September, day of Extremadura -the Spanish region where this village is located-. It is said that September 8th is “The Big Day” of this village due to the anual procession of the image of Santa María de Guadalupe throughout the basilica and the cloister of the Monastery of Guadalupe.

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The Cloister of the monastery packed with pilgrims
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The Monastery was declarated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

Apart from the Monastery, Guadalupe is an appealling touristic place where enjoying its picturesque streets, full of colourful plants, and its traditional food (based of pork products) with cheese and wine elaborated in the Geopark.

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Main square of Guadalupe
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Tourists in the terraces at the main square of Guadalupe

Finally, to complete the visit to Guadalupe, I recommend going up “La Villuerca”, the highest place of the Geopark (1.600 meters) or going for a hike to The ark of water, another geosite of wich I already wrote in this blog.

The Ark of Water, a journey back to the Middle Ages

The Ark of Water is an hydraulic construction dated from the 14Th Century. It is still operated with its original pieces and works to lead water to the Monastery of Guadalupe (Extremadura, Spain).

Although this instalation is not opened to visitors yet, the council of Guadalupe has already prepared a draft report that includes a touristic route inside the Ark. However, it is worth getting there due to the amazing landscapes that surround it. In fact, this place is one of the “geosites” in the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Geopark.

This is my report on The Ark of Water for Canal Extremadura TV,  the TV station of the Spanish region of Extremadura (subtitled):

PHOTO GALLERY:

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My workmate filming one of the ark´s numberous natural springs.
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The arch, where water turns into potable
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Ancient inscription we came across along the galleries
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Original ceramic pipe. The water network dates from 14Th Century
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Entrance to “the mine”, where water is collected (left), and the access to “the arch”, where water is decanted (right).
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Slope where The Ark of Water is hidden. La Villuerca peak is in the background

LOCATION:

Drive along the EX 118 road until “Hermita del Humilladero” junction. Take the only rural road you come across. Drive carefully until getting to the next junction. Leave the car and keep on walking along a path for over ten minutes. The problem is that there are not any indication to locate the Ark of Water.

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Roman vestiges, historic routes and more from Alía

The explorer team: four boys and girls, from 3 to 7 years old, and 5 adults. Destiny: Guadalupejo River, nearby Alía. We had to take two 4×4 because the rural road was not suitable for my berlina. However, the path is perfect for hiking and biking. After 10 minutes driving we got to the rest area called “Molino del Guadalupejo” (Guadalupejo´s mill).

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Rest area “Molino del Guadalupejo”

This rest area is part of the Natural path of Las Villuercas, 60 km from Logrosán to the regional border with Toledo province. That route is the reminiscence of an abandoned and never opened railway from Villanueva de la Serena (Badajoz) to Talavera de la Reina (Toledo).

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One of the signs of the path of Las Villuercas

After hanging out at the rest area and playing with the kids by the river, we took an old and nearly vanished path downstream that led us to a roman bridge. The bridge is partly destroyed due to its disuse; however, it is easy to cross carefully. Undoubtedly, I could catalogue this place as one of the ten must-see sites in the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Geopark.

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Roman bridge

The roman bridge is one of the principal attractions of this place along with the old mills in ruins we came across during the route. All of them tell about of the ancient story of Alía

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My Geopark, photos and Rock and Roll

At last I had the opportunity of testing my brand new Kodak Pixpro AZ525 around the Villuercas-Ibores- Jara Geopark. As I am a newcomer in photography,  this kind of camera “bridge” – halfway between compact and reflex-  fits perfectly with my needs because enables me to practise easily with a wide range of functions (manual, automatic and Wi-Fi connection). The best of all is its price, significantly lower than the same category you can find of Canon and Nikon.

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Pic 1. Ibor River. F:3.6; ISO 100; V:1/43

First stop, The Ibor River. I lost count the number of photos I took by focusing and defocusing. I really loved it. Focusing allow you to obtain powerful and meaningful photos, big deal better than pics with just good composition (Pic 1). Getting good results is easier with the 52x optical zoom of my camera. However, it was disappointing when I attempted the “silk effect”, which means getting the water to look misty and smooth. (Pic 2) It was impossible. A tripod is needed among others settings. I´ll keep on trying!

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Pic 2. Ibor River. F:7.1; ISO:100; V:1/30

The following photos were taken with the automatic functions “Black and White” (pic3), the “Image color option” which emphasizes one color of the scene (Pic 4), the “Landscape mode” (pic 5) and the function “water reflections” (Pic 6)

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Finally, drinking a refreshing beer at one of the bars in Castañar, in which the time seems to stand still – both for its pieces of furniture and the regulars – was the best way to finish our photography trip. Good drink, company and the Rolling Stones sounding in the radio was a good end before falling back into monotony of our day to day in the city.

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Pic 7. A bar in Castañar de Ibor. F:4.2; ISO:500; V:1/50

Photography route:

The geopark Villuercas with kids

It is said that Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Geopark is a huge theme park on geology, archeology, wildlife and plants. I agree with that simile and I would add, for the relief of parents who travel with kids, it is also an immense playground for children.

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My son behind his cousin enjoying the nature.

My son´s passion when we spend the weekend in Alía or Castañar de Ibor  is to go away the urban center, run around the dirt roads and observe animals. The time I spend in the countryside by seeing my 3-years-old enjoying the Geopark is by far better than go hiking or biking for hours alone or in company with others.

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The Geopark is an ideal place to go for a walk with children

Although this geopark is a newcomer, most of its geosites are safe. Hundreds of rural roads have been refurbished along with the improvement of signals and the installation of safety fences.

So, I recommend a visit around The Peña Amarilla and The Guadarranque´s bridge in Alía and the interpretation center of Castañar de Ibor. All the pics of this post were taken in my last visit to both places.

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Peña Amarilla in Alía. Obviously you will not get into the eye of the rock with children, but the view from the lookout point deserves a visit.
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Track located in the area of the Guadarranque´s bridge. Totally safe for going hiking with the family.
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Brand new bridge over the Guadarranque river
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My son throwing stones to the river. We had a good time there.
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On our way to the Caves of Castañar de Ibor after visiting its interpretation center. It is always a delicious walk with all the tracks recently refurbished

Giving flavour to the geopark

On the table: one glass of crianza red wine “Carabal” and one plate full of pieces of cheese and slices of ham. It was what I encountered going into the front-yard of my grandfather´s house during my last visit to Alía. Nothing is better than being with family.

That moment led me to write this post to explain My Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara is not only an ideal place to go hiking, look for fossils and enjoy its landscapes, but it is also an area to delight a wide range of excellent local wines.

These products have been advertised very heavily by the Government of Extremadura. Both commercials ” The Ribera del Guadiana wine route” and “The cheese route” are two examples of an intensive advertising campaign quite well developed. These videos were produced by a friend of mine, the sole owner of A.S. Producciones. The wine route was largely filmed at the Carabal winery, in Alía.

Moreover, the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Geopark is a source of inspiration. In Berzocana is located “El Brezo rojo“, a comfortable restaurant with innovative dishes created by its chef Pedro Galán. I recommend the sandwich named “El Geoparque” with one big sirloin steak seasoned with a special Ibores cheese  salsa. However, if you opt for a filling meal, I would order the roast lamb with honey and couscous. Simply delicious!

By the way, speaking about honey, the following video filmed by my childhood friend Abel Moyano (@AMoyanoPrieto), from Alía, is well worth a minute of your time. I am sure that most of you have never seen the honey being extracted from a beehive.

 

 

This newcomer wants to remain forever

Nature did a great job in the Spanish region where I live by leaving us ancestral rocks, high mountains, the deepest valleys and a wide range of minerals and fossils. The problem was that nobody had been brave enough to boost and make attractive the outstanding Villuercas-Ibores-Jara landscapes that we have always had before our eyes for thousands of years. Until now.

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2011 marked a point of no return. It was when this vast area located in the province of Cáceres was declared “Geopark”. My dreams then came true because I had always been convinced that this zone needed some kind of environmental protection to have a brighter future. The Villuercas county had endured a harmful emigration by the late ´80s. Since then the increasing lack of jobs, due to many factors, has made a deep dent in the local economy. In the aftermath, my family (including myself)  and  all my friends had to move from Alía whose population plummeted from 5.000 inhabitants to barely 1.000 inhabitants in just one decade.

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Nowadays the Villuercas Geopark is both a challenge and a chance. Tourism is predicted to become bread and butter for this area in the coming years overtaking the traditional farming sector. But at the same time, I do believe that those who will guarantee a better future for this often neglected zone in Spain are still at school. The Geopark is playing a central role at the schools of this area. I was fascinated when I visited the Cañamero local school “Fausto Maldonado” where the teachers familiarize the students with terms like “Trilobite“, “cloudina” and “cruziana“. Both students and teachers are crucial to enable this area to remain alive forever.

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Without a doubt, having landscapes like “The gorge of the Ruecas river” at just a 10- minutes-walk from the school of Cañamero help the teachers succeed in their educational programs and, on the other hand, discourage the students from leaving their villages.

This place is well worth a visit, so I suggest the following route:

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Where the giants live

Today´s post is not about New Zealand where The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy was entirely filmed. It is about a Spanish site that could also have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write some of the chapters of his famous novel: the “Calabazas´ pass”, located in my geopark Villuercas-Ibores Jara.

Continue reading “Where the giants live”