Finca Flores Amarillas in Guadalupe, Extremadura, Spain
So we finally made it to Guadalupe, a beautiful medieval town that sits high up on the slopes of the Sierra de Las Villuercas in the province of Cáceres. It's about an hour's drive from our Finca and is one of those places on your doorstep that you keep saying you must visit but never actually do. I still haven't been to the Tower of London, but then I only lived in London for 10 years. Hardly enough time to have a cup of tea, really.
It was a gorgeous Saturday in mid-October, perfect for walking through the beautiful countryside and then sitting down to a hearty meal.
We arrived in Guadalupe close to lunch time so we did it the other way round, a delicious meal and then a stroll out of the village and down to the viaduct. The main square was choc-a-bloc with terraces full of people enjoying a caña (small beer), or a glass of wine and something to nibble.
But we weren't here just for the food. We had our culture hats on. Despite its small size (with a population of just over 2,000), Guadalupe is one of the most important towns in Spain because of its religious significance, thanks mainly to the Royal Monastery of Santa María, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
It is indeed a magnificent edifice, and the guided tour of the interior is a must. It's like walking through a thousand years of Spanish history, with Kings, monks and saints all coming together under one roof. It attracts thousands of visitors every year, many of them pilgrims and there are several walking routes leading up to the town. But there's more.
The main church of Guadalupe, nestled into the monastery, contains the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe (one of only three black virgins in Spain), who is not only the patron saint of Extremadura, but also the kingdom of Spain itself (plus Mexico and The Philippines).
There's a legend about the virgin, of course, and it's actually quite a good one. The story goes that around the beginning of the 14th century the Virgin appeared to a shepherd called Gil Cordero down by the Guadalupe River while he was looking for a lost cow. The cow was already dead, and as he was about to skin it, the animal rises up and the Virgin suddenly appears. She tells Gil to dig up the spot where the cow had lain and to build a little shrine there to protect her effigy that he’ll find buried in the ground. The statute was thus uncovered.
Documents would 'prove' it had been sculptured by the apostle Luke and buried on this spot by the clergy from Seville in the 1st century AD, therefore preventing the Moors getting their hands on it. The simple chapel would over the centuries develop into one of the most impressive monuments in the country.
A little footnote: the famous catholic monarchs, Isabel and Fernando, clearly loved this place (16 documented visits) and it was here that they signed the documents which authorised the first voyage of Mr. Columbus to the New World. In fact, many of those charming young men who made the trip (and subsequent ones) were natives of Extremadura, and naturally they took the legend of the Virgin with them, alongside the names of their hometowns.
The walk down to the viaduct is short and definitely worth it. You get some spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and hills. It's worth noting that Guadalupe is located in the Villuercas-Ibores-Jara Geopark, and offers great opportunities for walkers, hikers and birdwatchers.
The viaduct was completed in 1959 and is typical of the big infrastructure projects that Franco was so keen on (dams were a particular favourite) in his attempt to drag Spain into the 20th centruy. Lots of concrete basically. Total height: 58 metres, but it seems much higher when you're looking down from its highest point. The plan was to link up the nearby villages with bigger towns further afield, but the project was never finished.
Curiously the route became known as the Vía del Hambre (Hunger Railway), which gives a sense of the harshness of life in the many rural parts of Spain in the 50s and 60s and even the 70s. Walking across the viaduct with young children and dogs however, is not advisable, unless you have both on a leash. The walls on each side are easy for kids to climb on to and there are dog size holes all the way along. It's a bit like flying. You know nothing bad is going to happen, but still...it was a relief to reach the other side.
A sharp right turn onto a track heading down seemed a good choice, but the track soon ended at a private property. We retraced out steps a bit and saw a small path which seemed to offer a way down through the rough vegetation. With some trepidation, we took it. It turned out to be a lovely little walk all the way down to the valley floor, always with the viaduct as a looming backdrop. Cameras out.
We kept going and found ourselves crossing the road that runs along the valley and under the viaduct, and then winding our way back up to Guadalupe.
Then on through the narrow, picturesque streets and small plazas (click, click, click), and back to the main square just in time for the 5pm guided tour of the monastery, into the church to see the Virgin and then back to the car. Phew. That's Guadalupe done. But we'll be back.