A bike ride around the European Appalachians

At last I had time to dust off my mountain bike and took a ride around the Global Unesco Geopark Villuercas Ibores Jara. I was looking forward to trying one stage of the “Ruta de Los Apalaches” -the Appalachian trail” in English.

That is the name of the annual Mountain Bike Race that takes place in Alía in september, organized by Alía Extrema Cycling Group. This sporting event goes through some of the Geopoark’s highest summits from where to admire the so called appalachian relief.

Although the Appalachian mountain range is in America, there is a link with this area of Spain.

It turns out that the Geopark mountains are aking to the Appalachian of America; that is the reason why the Geopark Villuercas belongs to the well-known International Appalachian Trail organization-IAT

To my view, what makes this cycling route appealing is that you can get to stunning sites hidden from the tourists eyes.

On this occasion, one of Alía Extrema members, Fermín, joined me in this adventure.

We started the route from Alía early in the morning. Immediately, we went up -better said “climbing” – a two kilometres steeped hill which trail ended in the picturesque Peña Amarilla geosite – Yellow rock in English-. After a brief momment to take a breath and some photos, we took a well marked trail that drove us to the Guadarranque River. Once crossed, I saw myself “climbing” again a tough slope that drove us to Puerto de San Vicente, just in the Castilla La Mancha’s border.

Right there is located, without a doubt, one of the best Geopark’s sights: the Altamira viewpoint, from which to admire the outstanding appalachian relief I mentioned at the begining of this post. After taking some photos, we rode down through out a rugged path to get to the Guadarranque River again and get back to Alía.

Finally, we had completed 45 km! Superb morning! Though, it was too much for me. I was exhausted, but at the same time, eager to do another route around the Geopark and tell you all about it.

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Walking across the ruins of the Geopark: La Avellaneda

La Avellaneda, Castañar de Ibor, Geopark Villuercas Ibores Jara

La Avellaneda is one of the depopulated villages in Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara. It is located just by the side of the Ibor river, nine kilometres away from Castañar de Ibor, where today´s hiking route starts.

Ibor River, Castañar de Ibor
Ibor River nearby La Avellaneda

This route is part of The Jeronimos´path, the ancient trail that connected the monastery of Yuste with Guadalupe in the Middle Ages.

We started walking early in the morning from Castañar de Ibor because the aim was to get to La Avellaneda and return to Castañar de Ibor before the “cañas time”, as we call the time we spend at a bar –more often during weekends- drinking cold beers and eat “Spanish tapas” before having lunch.

If your legs are not brave enough to complete the whole route, another option is to drive down to the river, park the car and walk through the trail that go along the Ibor´s riverside.

Once we got to the riverbank, the murmuring sound of the water was what most grabbed my attention, along with the pleasure of walking among huge cork trees, ancient olive trees and enormous chestnut trees.

Ideal for those who need to recharge their batteries after a hectic week.

A bit of history.

La Avellaneda is partial refurbished. There are modest new houses next to the ruins of what were constructions for farmers and workers. The church has been completely restored.

The village exodus took place in the 18th century. It is believed the citizens abandoned La Avellaneda due to a plague of termites, but the truth is its people moved to Castañar de Ibor for other reasons, such as a better location closer to Guadalupe, the hub of Catholicism in Spain at that time.

Useful tips for a getaway along a Geopark

It is nearly three years since I launched this blog. During that time, I have already visited at least one third of the Villuercas- Ibores- Jara´s geosites, which includes the most iconic and appealing places of the Geopark of Extremadura. So, I believe it is time to share some useful recommendations for first-timers. Here they go three basic tips:

 

 

1- Visit the nearest interpretation center. 

Geopark Villuercas is not just famed for its natural marvels, but also is steeped in geology, history, culture and architecture. So, you shouldn´t simply go and observe its amazing landscape. The best option to bring home good knowledge of the Geopark is to delve into the story behind each geosite and each village by visiting the interpretation centers.

The main Geopark´s visitor center is located in Cañamero; however, in case we are far from there, there are museums and interpretation centers in 10 municipalities, in which the tourist can get a closer information about the must-see sites to visit.

 

 

2- Check out the geosites

Once you have finished our visit to the interpretation center, the next step is to get to the geosite we have previously learned about. Only in this way, you will make the most of all the resources the Geopark of Extremadura offers.

 

 

3- Relax and relish the moment.

Enjoy the natural beauty of the Geopark. Try their tasty and fantastic local gastronomy. Relax practicing birding, riding bicycle, hiking, fishing… I am sure that a geopark will never disappoint you!

Marmitas de Gigante: the relentless Geopark water erosion

There is an appealing Villuercas-Ibores-Jara´s geosite often overlooked by tourists.

Most of the visitors who arrive from the north –from Madrid for instance- don´t notice that there is an interesting place to stop halfway between Navalmoral de la Mata and Castañar de Ibor, nearby Bohonal de Ibor.

The Marmitas de Gigante is located 3 km going past Bohonal de Ibor, along the road CC-19. You can park your car just before the big bridge you come across and then walk along a short trail to the river.

Ibor River- erosion
Spherical holes carved into the rocks at Ibor River

Apart from the amazing landscape, this part of the river Ibor deserves a visit to find out the large number of spherical holes carved into the rocks caused by water erosion. That elements were provoked by the intense action of small stones drilling into the rocks over several millenia.

Geopark Villuercas Ibores Jara, Extremadura, Spain
Geosite Marmitas de Gigante

Moreover, this is one of the geosites I highly recommend for families. In fact, I went there with my 5 years-old son, who really enjoyed throwing stones and pretending he was the most adventurous pirate that had ever set foot on this land.

old watermill, River Ibor, Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara, Extremadura, Spain
Old watermill

 

La Villuerca, the Geopark´s highest peak

La Villuerca (1.601 m altitude) is the highest peak in the 2.544 km2 Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara´s region. From the summit you can see – on a sunny day- all the villages in the Geopark and observe its deep valleys and imposing mountains.

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La Villuerca is known as the Geopark´s roof.

To get to the top, there are two options. The best one is to take a narrow rural trail that comes up from the CC-97 road nearby Navezuelas. Although the path is extremely steep, you can get to the top with your car without difficulty. Attempting drive through the road EX-118 near Guadalupe could be a nightmare. The numerous bumps along this path are so huge that your car may be seriously damaged.

Once on the top of the crag, what attracts immediately your attention is the vast display of giant antennas.

Some of them transmit and receive radio, tv and 4G signals, while others belong to the Spanish Army.

Soldiers were stationed in here since the 60s to facilitate the communication between the Navy, ground troops and the Air Force of Spain. The army base, which operated from 80s to 90s, is still there but completely decommissioned.

There is a fence and a signal that prohibit getting inside, but you can access the old heliport from which enjoying the amazing Appalachian relief.

Moreover, La Villuerca is a must-see site for birding lovers.

Those enthusiastic about observing birds can observe with Spanish Imperial Eagles and Griffon vultures, along with Rock Thrush, Blue Rock Thrush and the Alpine Accentor, the most interesting species for rare bird seekers.

Amazing Gorge Charco de la Trucha in Geopark Villuercas

Have you ever touched a 450 million-year-old tree?

I did it recently and you too can experience such an unforgettable experience by visiting the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara UNESCO Global Geopark. Just along the Valley of Guadarranque – an hour drive by 4×4 from Alía – we find “Cancheras de la Trucha” and  hidden there “La lorera de la Trucha”, a forest dated from the Tertiary, after the dinosaurs extinction.

Lorera de la Trucha
Lorera de la Trucha forest, the richest area of Loros (Prunus Lusitanica) in Europe

It´s high time I visit this natural wonder within Villuercas Geopark. Even though Alía is my home village, I had never been to La Lorera de la Trucha before.

Luckily, two childhood friends Abel Moyano and David Álvarez joined me in the adventure. They know the Valley of Guadarranque River quite well. Abel, in particular, has fully scrutinized every corner to catch superb photos of birds to show them on his  blog about birdwatching that I strongly recommend.

Sierra de la Palomera
Valley of Guadarranque from Sierra de la Palomera. Photo Abel Moyano

The route started in Alía. We got up early, met at 8 am and got in Abel´s 4×4.

After a 15 minute drive we had to stop to shoot an astonishing sunrise we came across just before getting the Matallana hunting area at Sierra de la Palomera. As it had been raining the day before, a thick bank of fog partly had covered de valley leaving an amazing landscape to film. All of this, along with the large number of deers and vultures we came accross, made the trip unforgettable.

“Lorera de la Trucha”

Once at “La lorera de la Trucha”, what grabbed most my attention was both its darkness – due to the density of leaves in the cups of the Loro trees touching each another-  and the pure sound of nature.  Fortunately, we were alone there, with the pleasant running river water sound as our only company.

For the first time in the countryside I had the feeling that everything surrounding me was actually breathing; absolutely magical, inspiring.

Loro roots at Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara. Extremadura
Loro roots at La Lorera de la Trucha. Photo Abel Moyano

“Charco de la Trucha”

After marveling the Loros, we walked over 300 meters downriver to get to El Charco de la Trucha. It is a fantastic waterfall located along a deep gorge. It is a bit dangerous, so you should walk very carefully across the stones to avoid falling into water. I recommend not comming here with little kids or at least not trying to reach the pool situated at the bottom of the gorge with them.

I will never tire of visiting this geosite.

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Charco de la Trucha

Mapa lorera

More photos:

Traveling through the ghost railroad

Bridge of Guadalupe in Geopark Villuercas

It is said that all roads lead to Rome, and I would add “so does to Guadalupe” because this holly village is the second pilgrimage destination in Spain -Santiago de Compostela is in first place. Despite its touristic value, the only way to get to this UNESCO world heritage site on public transport is by bus. There is no train.

Once a railroad – to connect this zone with Madrid- was planned, constructed 90% and officially abandoned in the 60s, leaving decommissioned stations and bridges which make attractive some routes along the Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara such as the Vía Verde and The Camino Natural de las Villuercas.

decommissioned train station of Logrosán in Geopark Villuercas, Vía verde and camino natural de las villuercas
Old train station in Logrosán

The trail Via Verde goes along the old railroad from Villanueva de la Serena to Logrosán (56 km). From there on the path links with the Camino Natural de Las Villuercas throughout Puerto Llano to finish in Guadalupe (Puerto Llano-Guadalupe: 15 km).

Another interesting option is to start the route from Alía (Alía-Guadalupe: 15 km).

All these routes are suitable for hiking and biking.

CAMINOS SENDERISMO

 

TRAIN STATION GEOPARK VILLUERCAS
Decommissioned train station of Puerto Llano-Berzocana in Geopark Villuercas

railroad decommissioned in Geopark Villuercas
Tunnel of the old railroad near Guadalupe

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”.

meal at Parador de Guadalupe, Food in Villuercas Geopark
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.

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.

 

 

Villuercas Geopark, most valuable touristic zone in 2017

The Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara became the most valuable touristic zone of Extremadura in 2017, getting the best rating given by tourists, 8,46, according to a survey relesed by the Touristic Observatory of Extremadura.

This study is based on the result of hundred of satisfaction questionnaires distributed to all the touristic information offices and interpretation centers located across the lenght and breadh of  Extremadura.

Although the Spanish geopark is not nearly one of the most visited sites of the region, It is gaining visitors along the years who widely recognize having had an amazing experience.

INFOGRAF NOTAS GEO

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Table of cheeses from the Denomination of Origen Ibores
Hospitality was the aspect of this zone of the province of Cáceres that more attracted the attention of tourists getting the best mark, 9. Moreover, the Geopark gastronomy was head and shoulders over the rest of touristic sites, with an 8,4.

In general, the Extremadura touristic sector got the average rating of 8.

CARTEL CENTRO RECEPCION
Gates of the Geopark Visitor Centre in Cañamero