View of the Old city from Santa Maria church procathedral. Kerry Parke photos.Cáceres, Spain:
Tapas along the Way
Strolling the narrow cobblestone streets of Cáceres will strengthen any stereotype of a quaint, old Spanish town – especially when stumbling upon a guitar player in Plaza de las Valetas or climbing to the top of Santa María Church-Procathedral (Plaza Santa María) for a sunset view of more than 30 towers.
In Cáceres, there’s no worry of getting lost, and no real need for a map. That church, restaurant or museum you’ve been looking for will simply pop up – and probably sooner than expected. Cáceres is one of the atmospheric gems of Extremadura, a region in central western Spain known for its cuisine, acorn-fed pigs, and fortressed towns. A World Heritage site since 1986, Cáceres is an entry into the times of Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, Christians, Conquistadors.
During an evening in Cáceres, couples wander unhurried hand in hand while children play unsupervised amongst well preserved and purposefully lit historical. Stroll your way to the various squares, like the main Plaza Mayor or Plaza Santa Maria, as well as the much-photographed Arco de la Estrella.
At night, churches and museums are open until about 8pm. For example, Centro de Artes Visuales Fundación Helga de Alvear (calle Pizarro 8) houses a vast and eclectic contemporary and visual art collection from around the world (in the heart of a medieval town, no less) and the Museo de Cáceres (Plaza de las Veletas, 1) is built atop one of the world’s largest cisterns (impressive, though tiny compared to that of Istanbul.)
Ample time to wander this handsome city before a properly-timed 9:30pm dinner (this is Spain after all) means more daylight hours to enjoy the regional food.
In Spain, of course, tapas are the thing and there is no shortage in Cáceres, where every small dish is prepared not just for the taste but for the eyes as well, regardless of how fancy the kitchen.
Sunset on the old town Caceres.To eat where the locals do, sharpen your elbows and head just outside of the Old City, towards the tree-lined Paseo de Canaovas. Circling one block proffers three distinctly Spanish spots, where a delicious and satisfying tapa comes free with every drink.
The Arco-de-la-estrella, the city’s famous arch.The first place to go is Meson Orense (called del Obispo Ciriaco Benavente 9) for an opening caña (small beer) and a bite of jamón.
Don’t be put off by the drab exterior and poorly handwritten sign proclaiming the day’s specialty; just push through the doors to a truly traditional and busy weekend stop.
Arrive before 2pm to get a spot at the bar (aka where the action is) and watch the place fill with friends and families.
Next, head to Restaurante Oqendo (calle del Obispo Segura Saez 2) for something more refined – but no less crowded.
Spaniards don’t bother with personal space, and have no problem leaning over and talking around you. If there’s an inch of unused space, they’re sure to squeeze in.
Here’s the Key
Here’s the key: you can and should do the same. The crowd at Restaurante Oqendo does not lie. The food is exquisite – from the tender center of a personal tortilla to the carpaccio to the beans and clams. And for such a busy place, the staff is surprising ready with a smile and wine recommendation
If your stomach allows, El Gran Café (Avenida San Pedro de Alcantara 6) offers quiet relief for one last tapa (toast with local goat cheese and chestnut jam) and a sweet fix dessert or freshly made, thick hot chocolate.
All these places have tables in the back for a traditional lunchtime eating experience, but really, at the bar is where the fun is.
There is also plenty to choose from in Cáceres for a more traditional dinner. Atrio (Avenida de España 30) is the most well known and lives up to its Michelin stars. Torre de Sande (calle de Condes 3) has large round tables, a courtyard lorded by the resident peacock, and Extremadurian classics. Start the meal with a plentiful cheese plate and skip the overblown desserts.
The staple of Cáceres is El Figon de Eustaquio (plaza San Juan 12), which has been serving traditional dishes since 1947. From the same El Figon family, Eustaquio Blanco (Avenida de Ruta de la Plata, 2) offers a modern twist just outside the old town.
Coffee and Baked Goods
Plaza Mayor of Caceres, the center of town.Monte Bianco (Calle de San Pedro, 3) offers the town’s best coffee. The ladies behind the counter serve up an affectionate cariño and amor with the morning’s café con leche (coffee with milk) and pan con tomaté (toasted bread with tomato). Just up the slope from Plaza Mayor, Chocolat’s (calle Gran Via) has buttery croissants and savory “tostas,” open faced sandwiches with a mix of toppings like goat cheese, carrot marmalade, bittersweet paprika, and jamón.
Where to Buy
Undoubtedly, after a couple of tapas rounds, you’ll want to bring some good stuff home. Gabriel Mostazo (calle San Antón, 1) is just the place to buy all sorts of cheeses (including the creamy
“Torta del Casar”), meats, and other regional delicacies like olive oil, cherry products, and paprika. Just off of Plaza San Juan, is the small San Juan Delicatessen, which sells local food items and has a small bar in the back.
Where to Stay
Throughout Spain, old castles, palaces, convents, and monasteries have been turned into modern hotels with all the frills. In the center of the old town, El Parador de Caceres (calle Ancha 6) dates back to the fourteenth century and offers standard rooms for about 160-175€ per night, depending on the time of year, with special rates for retirees and young couples. At the edge of the fortress walls is the NH Palacio de Oquendo (Plaza San Juan 11), a former palace with standard rooms priced at about 90€ per night.
A sculpture of cars in Malpartida SpainWorthwhile Side Trips
A 20 minute drive outside Cáceres is the serene Malpartida, home to a generous number of storks and the remarkable Museo Vostell. Established by the German flux artist Wolf Vostell (1932-1998) the museum was once his home and holds many of Vostell’s own works and those of his peers, including Salvador Dali and Yoko Ono.
Take time out for an easy hike in the surrounding area: parking for two walking trails (one hour and three hours time) is across the street from the museum.
Caceres is located in Southern Spain near Portugal.
Less than an hour away, Trujillo is smaller than Cáceres but with a more inspiring Plaza Mayor. Have lunch just off the square at Corral del Ray, then make your way through the quiet cobblestone streets to find the Convento Santa Clara, across from the Trujillo Parador in Plaza de Santa Clara. Here, the cloistered nuns sell freshly baked cookies.
Take a look at the selection of baked offerings on display in the entry of the convent then ring the bell and wait for a nun’s voice asking for your order. Place money into the revolving cabinet; cookies and change will appear at the very next turn.
An American, living and working in Madrid, Spain, Kerry Parke enjoys traveling and getting lost both at home and in remote locations. She writes about life in Madrid on her blog, Nothing but the Start and can be found on twitter @kelissa
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