If you’ve been following our blog (and there’s no good reason why you shouldn’t be), you’d know that last month I took the family on a vacation to Spain. Our goal was to explore Extremadura, a western Spanish region bordering Portugal. So after a few days in Madrid, we began our journey west first stopping at the magnificent Walls of Ávila, then continuing SW to our first stop in the Extremadura region, the city of Plasencia.
Now, our next stop was a 40 minute drive south to Monfragüe National Park, the largest and best preserved Mediterranean forest worldwide. The park, which occupies an area of 18.118 hectares (2.471 acres = 1 hectare) and is surrounded by the Tagus and Tiétar rivers, is situated in the center of a triangle formed by Plasencia, Trujillo and the city of Cáceres (every one of which was on my travel itinerary).
Monfragüe was declared a Biosphere Reserve (areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems that promote solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use) by UNESCO in 2003 and is one of the most popular birdwatching sites in all of Spain with black storks, vultures, Egyptian vultures and imperial eagles making their nests in the cliffs. In particular, about 250 black vulture couples nest here making it the greatest black vulture reserve in the world.
Within the park there is only one town, Villarreal de San Carlos, a municipality of Serradilla, which is small and completely connected to the park, accommodating the visitor centre and centre of interpretation. There are numerous winding roads and color-marked routes (some of them 3 hours long) that can be driven by car as well as several hiking trails. It would have been best to have hired a tour guide but being that we were on a pretty tight itinerary, we just drove through the park on our way down to our next stop, the city of Trujillo.
Here are a few photographs I shot as we drove the winding roads of Monfragüe National Park, a must-see attraction in Extremadura…
The most symbolic and most-photographed spot in Monfragüe is the incredible rocky cliff of the Salto del Gitano (whose name is derived from a legend of a gypsy robber who jumped over the Tagus River from the highest stone to the next to avoid capture from the Civil Guard).
The castle of Monfragüe is a ruined fortress located in the heart of the Monfragüe National Park. The Arabs conquered these lands in the year 713, and called them Al-Mofrag which means “the abyss”. They built the fortress in 811 with five towers and two perimeters of walls. Through the years, this watchtower has been used by Celtic, Roman, Arab and Christian orders as one of the main defensive points due to the privileged location of the hill on which it rises, just over the Steep and rugged terrain that originates on the banks of the Tagus River. What is visible today are remnants of multiple restorations after military orders conquered it for King Alfonso VIII, with a round tower from the twelfth century and a pentagonal one from the fifteenth century.
Views from the lookout area near the castle of Monfragüe are stunning…
Going back down the stairs from the castle to our car was a bit easier than going up. Just a bit.
We will one day return to this remarkable national park and we’ll make sure we get a tour guide and spend a full day. Visit turismoextremadura.com for more information on Monfragüe National Park as well as the beautiful region of Extremadura.