Guadalupe, in the heart of the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara geopark, has won the national contest “Luce tu Pueblo” being named “the most beauty and good village of Spain”. The second pilgrimage site of the country got the first place in an online polling organized by the chocolat chain Ferrero Rocher, rewarding Guadalupe an imposing Christmas illumination.
The recognition comes after being announced this historic village of the Caceres province is going to become new member of the prestigious Association of the Most Beautiful Villages in Spain from 1 January 2018 on thanks its architectural beauty, cultural heritage, valuable traditions and natural enviroment.
The Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe is the crown jewel of the village. I have already wrote about it in “Guadalupe: an appealing Spanish pilgrimace place”. Tourists are not just astonish by the Monastery, but also the local gastronomy and the geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara. La Villuerca (1.600 meters high) and The Ark of Water are some of the must-see geosites just a few minutes driving or some hours hiking from Guadalupe.
Birding has become the engine for the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Geopark. The number of ornithological tourists who opt for birding in the Geopark of Extremadura, specially from center Europe, have risen for the recent years. This activity generates profits of 6 million euros per year in this region of Spain.
The first step for birdwatching around the Geopark is to know where to go and which species of birds we can see in that period of the season. That is why I called Henk and Lisbeth, a Dutch couple experts in birds, who settled in Berzocana eight years ago and run “Discover Extremadura”, one of the Geopark guides site.
I came over Lisbeth and Henk´s property in Berzocana to interview them. They live in a rustic villa overlooking the astonishing wall “Cancho de la Sábana” where usually nests griffon vultures and black vultures. Apart from their house, one small and discreet wooden cabin has been built there. It is a “hide”; a construction with just two seats inside and perfectly camouflaged with the environment to avoid being seen by birds. They have taken this photos from there:
The Geopark Villuercas-Ibores-Jara is an outstanding site for birding due to its vast territory and the variety of ecosystems – wetlands, steppes, dehesas…- where seeing the wider range of birds in Spain, more than 350 species.
Lisbeth photographing “El cancho de la Sábana”
Henk shows some images taken from one hide
Henk and Lisbeth´s vehicle
This is a video on birding in the Geopark from Canal Extremadura TV (subtitles in English):
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.
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.
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.
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 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):
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.
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).
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).
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.
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
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.
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!
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)
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.
The GGN presentation was run by its president, Nickolas Zouros. He flagged up that UNESCO geoparks celebrate the International Year of Sustainable Tourism, and therefore they must make a significant contribution to sustainable development in 2017. At the same time, Zouros praised the people who «add value of a rich geological heritage» because «this is not only about rocks», he added.
Moreover, the spanish geoparks network took advantage of this event to launch “Geoparques”, the first publication that gather the 11 geoparks in Spain. The book offers a totally different way of tourism consisting on a mixture of the traditional rural tourism with the knowlege of the origin of the Earth.
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.
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.
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.
The second edition of “Geodisea” consists of 44 activities related to geology, gastronomy and cultural heritage in the area of influence of Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Geopark. All the activities are held in most of the villages of this region of Extremadura (Spain) from the 22nd October to the 6th November. Click here to see the programme (in spanish).
I would underline three activities: The First Archaeological Congress (on 22nd October in Berzocana), The route called”Isabel La Católica” (hiking trip from Cañamero to Guadalupe on the 30th October) and a street market that shows the magnificent gastronomy you can find in the geopark (on the 5th November in Guadalupe).
Searching fossils, cultural displays, folk music and live cooking are also scheduled. Undoubtedly, this annual event is the best way to know every place of the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Geopark.
For further information: email@example.com or 0034 924367379 and +695557848
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!
Roast lamb with cuscus
Pedro Galán at El Brezo Rojo
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.