Exactly a year ago, we were in the middle of an 11-day road trip around the South of France. It was an absolutely massive undertaking to plan, inspired by cheap flights from Madrid to Toulouse and Lonely Planet's France's Best Trips book. I pieced together many of the different road trip itineraries in the book and added in some additional stops based on blogs and sites I'd read online. The final plan was very ambitious and had us covering quite a bit of southern France, but the end result was...fabulous (if I do say so myself). Now, when I think about going anywhere in Europe on vacation, a few places come to mind, and the South of France is without a doubt at the top of that list.
I would say that it's the rule, rather than the exception, that we plan our trips based on cost. For example, we had a four day weekend in the fall and decided to visit Timișoara, Romania because the cheapest round-trip tickets we could get from Madrid to pretty much anywhere in Europe were there. We'd certainly never heard of Timișoara before, but after a bit of research, we decided to take the plunge, grab the cheap tickets while they were available, and figure everything else out later.
Nothing ever goes exactly as planned in life, does it? Nobody's perfect, and the same is true for life. Travel is no exception - plans must change at times, people you meet and travel with won't be perfect, and because you're in new environments and places, extra doses of flexibility, kindness, and the ability to choose laughter over anger are helpful.
Guadalupe was our last stop on our long-weekend road trip through Extremadura this past May. It's a tiny little town of about 2,000 people, and if I'm not mistaken, the primary reason it gets visitors is because of it's UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Real Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, or Royal Monastery of Santa María of Guadalupe. The only way to visit the 14th-century monastery is by taking a guided tour (available in Spanish only)...something we weren't necessarily stoked about doing, but we were willing to put our Spanish to the test in order to get farther than the lobby.
Mérida earned a spot on my "must-see Spain" list almost as soon as I learned that the town has Roman ruins in it. And there's not just a wall or two from an old temple, there are serious remains from over two centuries ago - Mérida was founded by the Romans in the 1st century BC and they left behind an aqueduct, a circus, a theatre, a temple, and a bridge...this town was a big deal to the Romans, and as a result, it has more ancient monuments than any other Spanish city.
Cáceres is kind of a big deal - at least in history and on paper. Its walled city (Ciudad Monumental), which dates from the 16th century, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986 and includes remarkably well-preserved homes, churches, and palaces. The various buildings found inside of the historic quarter seemed (at least to us) to all be very similar in style, but in fact Roman, Islamic, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture can all be found in the area.
We visited Plasencia for only an afternoon and evening, but the time that we spent there was enough to make an impression. The modern, contemporary parts of town may look like most any other small town in Spain, and well, the old parts may too, but the historic area of town is really clean, charming, and cohesive and our Airbnb stay certainly didn't hurt in helping make our experience so positive too.
Perhaps the part of our long weekend road trip from Madrid into Extremadura that I was looking forward to the most was our drive through the Jerte Valley. We left Salamanca on Sunday morning and drove a little over an hour until we reached the Puerto de Tornavacas, which has a good view over the whole valley...sadly, I cannot confirm or deny that as our visit happened on a day that was foggy, rainy, and cloudy...at certain points we could hardly see beyond the first row of trees or the railing beside the road. It was a shame, for sure, but at least we weren't visiting earlier in the spring when the trees are blooming with cherry blossoms - then we really would've felt like we were missing out!