What I saw
Francisco Pizarro departed from Trujillo to conquer Peru and didn’t come back. But his brother Hernando survived, returned and built the Palace of the Conquest, greatly enlarging the old family house, on the main square. In the way of Trujillo, it has a corner balcony into the design of which is incorporated a gigantic coat of arms. Figures of Incas in chains make clear the source of the wealth. Life in Extremadura, inland from Portugal, was harsh, and those families who succeeded in making money had no hesitation in showing off.
The only nobleman’s tower to survive reduction by Queen Isabella in the 15th century has a coloured coat of arms on its roof. Riches were succeeded by poverty, and, as a result, the town is astonishingly preserved. To walk around the Moorish walls, with their seven gates (rebuilt in Gothic style), is a constant revelation of doorcases, old lettering, balconies, statues, pantiled roofs, belfries and more coats of arms.
Where I explored
Extremadura is extreme. Nothing moves in the middle of the day, except raptors gliding on the hot updraft. At 9.30pm, the thermometer outside the pharmacy on the main square still reads 41˚C. But, as the soft light of early morning creeps across the steppe or the silver disc of the sun sinks through veils of pink and violet, Extremadura is also beautiful. Mérida is remarkable for its Roman amphitheatre and bridge; Peninsula war battles were fought at Badajoz and La Albuera. However, we mostly found enough to satisfy us in Trujillo.
How I got about
We hired a car at Madrid airport and were in Trujillo three hours later. The motorway has made Trujillo a destination for Madrileños, who have restored some of the derelict palaces. You can walk anywhere in town, as long as you aren’t deterred by steepish gradients. Those driving here, take note: the cobbled streets (no road markings) are a tight squeeze.
Where I stayed
We stayed in a villa below the castle with immense views over the plain. Most of our time, whether beside the swimming pool by day or around the dinner table at night, was spent outdoors. A tortoise, Frank, mysteriously appeared some years ago in one of the courtyards, presumably dropped by a bird that had lost its lunch. This enchanted place is Villa Martires, which, sleeping 10, is the largest of the six properties owned by Trujillo Villas (www.trujillovillasespana.com), each of which is highly individual and well appointed. One of them, Villa Piedras Albas, occupies a 16th-century palace on the main square.
What surprised me most
As you look out over the arid plain, you might think it’s a desert. Look again. There are several landscapes here: outcrops of rock that break through the skin of soil, strewing giant grey boulders across the land; the dehesa, composed of widely spaced holm oaks between which wheat is planted every seven years, leaving sheep to build up the soil’s fertility in between. Then, the bald steppe, stripped of wood by the Romans. I became fascinated by this austere land. Swallows put on an aerobatic show, as eagles, vultures and little and great bustards patrol the skies.
What I ate
There is nowhere in the world more agreeable than the restaurants overlooking the Plaza Mayor in Trujillo. As you sip your aperitif, storks fly onto the ragamuffin nests that they’ve made on the palace chimneys and in the belfry of the church. Children play in the square, a dog attempts to drink at the fountain and there are almost no other tourists, unless you count the international musicians who have come to perform a concert in Palacio de los Duques de San Carlos as part of the music festival. The ham, from pigs fed on acorns, is said to be the best in Spain, and, each year, Trujillo has a cheese festival, featuring, among other delights, the torta de casar, a pungent sheep’s-milk cheese, scooped out with a spoon. Try also the pots of honey with walnuts-heaven!
How I travelled there
Major carriers, including easyJet
(0843 104 5000; www.easyjet.com) and British Airways (0844 493 0787;
www.britishairways.com) fly direct to Madrid from London several times a
day, with a flight time of just under two hours.
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