Day 1 Avila to Navarredonda de Gredos (84km)
In Avila, we stayed at the friendly Hostal del Rastro, built into the ancient walls of the city. We'd arrived in Avila in good time to have a look around this interesting town. We'd also managed to purchase an Amena pay-as-you-go card for our 'phone. The previous evening we had enjoyed some great local cusine at the hostal's good value restaurant.
The AV900 led us southwards and upwards towards the Puerto de Navalmoral (1514m) from where there were superb views of the Sierra de Gredos and the route ahead After a great descent into Navalmoral, we didn't want to lose unnecessary height by dropping further into Burgohondo, so turned right onto the C500 at Navalmoral. Immediately after the junction to Navalacruz the road was closed. Really closed, with big red signs and serious looking barriers.
According to the signs, the road was being improved for the next 26km. About 100m into the closed road we could see men working on a road drain so asked them if bikes would be able to get through the road improvements. 'Yes' was their answer. As far as we could see, the surface was a mixture of old narrow road and new compacted surface awaiting tarmac to form the new wider road. Off we set, grinding uphill on the mixed surface in very hot weather. A few construction vehicles passed us coming downhill. We gave a casual wave to each vehicle, somehow seeking to reinforce the legitimacy of our incursion. This tactic was working well until the final vehicle in a mini convoy screeched to a halt. The uniforms gave them away but 'Guardia Civil' emblazoned on the vehicle confirmed that a casual wave might no longer do the business. I gained a temporary respite with my reasonably proficient 'No hablo español' and an indication that the cyclist still approaching from below did speak Spanish. In truth, I had fully understood the dramatic arm gestures indicating that we must turn around. Also, I doubt that there are many ways that the policeman could have pronounced 'dinamita' that I couldn't have made a good guess at his main point.
An interesting conversation then followed with lots of anguished looks from our direction. When we told them where we were heading, the mood seemed to change. They could see we had a problem and solved it for us by driving away. We carried on elated. The Guardia Civil returned about 10 minutes later, blocked the road and sounded their siren. Elation turned to despair in an instant. Assuming our escape was at an end we turned to approach them only to be waved on our way. Elated again we continued, our regard for the Guardia Civil increasing with each turn of the pedals. We celebrated with a brief stop in the shade - it was unseasonably hot. The explosion and cloud of dust from about 300m down the road we had just come up encouraged us to get going again.
Fortunately, the road works were largely confined to 6km rather than the anticipated 26km. We cycled on through Navalosa and Hoyocasero, enjoying the quiet roads and great views. The road on the northern side of the Sierra de Gredos is much higher and quieter than the road to the south and is a great way to approach Extremadura.
We were heading for San Martin del Pimpollar where we believed there was a hostal, only to discover that we'd passed it some 4km back at the junction at Venta de Rasquilla. This being 4km that we had climbed we carried on to Navaredonda de Gredos and the pleasant Hostal Almanzor, a short distance past the Parador de Gredos.
Day 2 Navarredonda de Gredos to Candelario (71km)
Starting early as usual, first stop was a panderia. After a short climb the route to El Barco de Avila was all downhill. This is a pleasant small town with an interesting range of shops. Beans are a speciality and the town square boasts two specialist retailers with all the beans you might want. We stocked up on sun cream - the hot weather was continuing.
Pleasant cycling was marred by a headwind on the C500 towards Bejar. We were also gradually climbing before the road descended from La Hoya. Candelario was our destination and just beyond La Hoya we took the small road through Navacarros. Numerous circular stone constructions can be seen in the pastures adjoining the road - the traditional crop storage facilities looking like circular sheep pens but with no entrance. The road brings you into the highest point in Candelario and we walked our bikes down through the steep narrow streets to the main square. The cobbled streets are made even narrower by the water channels on either side, which in early May were mini torrents. At the welcoming Hostal Cristi we were in time to join the families and others taking lunch. Perfect, with wonderful local specialities.
This was a good time to be visiting Candelario. It probably gets very busy in the main tourist season, but even though it was Saturday, it was fairly quiet.
Day 3 Candelario to Jerte via Puerto de Honduras (60km)
A beautiful quiet road led us from Candelario through coppiced woodlands eventually climbing to alpine like meadow above La Garganta with views down to Hervas. A short distance into the descent and we came across an information board by the road that describes the adjacent snow well (pozo de nieve). Don't miss it! There's no business like snow business!
In function, similar to the ice houses of British stately homes, their origin is somewhat different. From the seventeenth century, a business in the storage and supply of snow developed throughout Spain, although the simple storage and subsequent use of snow is a much older tradition. In this area, the snows of Candelario, Hervás, Garganta and Piornal were supplied to convents, hospitals and individuals throughout a large part of Extremadura. With the invention of the first ice producing machines around 1870, the industry declined.
There were snow warehouses in most of the towns of more than 2,000 inhabitants and the snow industry provided work for many. To help preserve the vulnerable cargo, the snow was transported at night in pitchers and protected by mud and straw insulation. The well was filled in winter with successive layers of snow that were first compressed before separating from the next layer by a bed of straw. Further information is available at http://www.piornal.net/cajondesastre/pozonieve.htm and La asociación por la Arquitectura Rural Tradicional de Extremadura (ARTE).
We thought of continuing to Hervás on the single track road just above La Garganta. A brief conversation with someone at the junction about the state of the road, combined with the attractions of the newly surfaced road to Baños de Montemayor changed our minds. Hervás is famous for the well preserved architecture of its Jewish quarter and is certainly worth a visit. Even more memorable though, was the bakery in the shopping street leading off the old small square. Sweet or savoury toothed, none could be disappointed! We stocked up for the climb to Puerto de Honduras.
The climb was pleasant with good gradients, much of the lower part being in the welcome shade of the trees. Higher up, no shade but good views. Once over the top there were good gradients for the descent. At the top we'd met a man who'd been sounding a bell - we never did work out what that was about - but he did warn us to watch out for animals on the descent. He was right - we encountered cattle, a goat heard and a collection of horses on our way to lunch at the Hotel Los Arennales, just south of Jerte. Another great lunch and fine hotel. The boring façade of the main road through Jerte hides an attractive old village.
Day 4 Jerte to Monfragüe (95km)
A fast run down the Jerte valley soon brought us to the turn off for Valdastillas and Piornal. The valley is famous for its cherries. As we climbed, cherry trees were everywhere. On the slopes people were picking them and in the villages women were sorting them. We opted for buying and eating them.
Eventually cherry trees gave ways to oak and Piornal appeared. Perhaps we didn't find the old centre but it was disappointing considering its elevated location. Outside the village, the Hostal La Serrana looked well situated. A fast descent to the ancient village of Garganta La Olla followed and then to Jaraiz. We had some tricky decisions to make about our route from here. The basic aim was to minimise the length of the next days ride to Trujillo, but we still had some way to go. The choice came down to cycling along the EX203 towards Malpartida de Placencia or heading south to Monfragüe. We chose the latter and were saved from total exhaustion by a hotel we hadn't known about at the eastern entrance to the Parque natural de Monfragüe - we had been heading for the accommodation within the park at Villareal de San Carlos.
From Jaraiz we descended the EX392 south, turning right along the small road that runs along the north side of the Rio Tiétar. On paper this looked like a good plan. In the event, the road surface was generally very poor and there was a strong headwind. For most of the way, a kite led the way in the sky above us, obviously enjoying the wind much more than we were. Major roadworks around the Tiétar river crossing meant that we had to walk the bikes across a field before joining the CC911 towards the Estacion de la Bazagona. Then we came across the Hotel Puerta de Monfragüe and a tiring ride came to an end.
Day 5 Monfrague to Trujillo (68km)
Cycling through the park towards Villareal de San Carlos another kite appeared and soon we were seeing eagles hovering above the rocky outcrops. Eagles were to be a permanent feature of the next couple of days riding. Monfragüe also had quite a few humans with binoculars permanently pointing skywards. Taking the concept of a natural park to an extreme, it also had wooden faced crash barriers and road signs fixed to timber rather than metal poles. At Torrejón el Rubio we had breakfast at the hotel and stocked up from the panaderia. We knew that the road to Trujillo was likely to be somewhat less than interesting and we resigned ourselves to over 40km of relative tedium. The wind at best was a firm cross-wind, sometimes a tiresome headwind. We met two Dutch cyclists heading in the opposite direction. They'd been cycling 5 days with the wind since arriving in Sevilla and were feeling pleased.
The journey may have been tedious but the destination was tremendous. Trujillo is reputedly the most attractive town in Extremadura and the old centre appears almost untouched by development. The region is the birth place of the conquistadors, the conquerors of the Americas, and Trujillo is the birth place of the cruel Pizarro. Its location, standing above a desert like plain, the architecture and the typically Extremaduran features such as storks' nests, create a unique and memorable experience.
After checking into the centrally located Hostal La Cadena, we went next door to the renowned Meson Troya for lunch. An amazing experience - but not a place for vegetarians. Guide to lunching at Meson Troya: some sizeable hor d'ouvres will appear - salad, frittata, ham - on no account eat too much of them as you haven't reached the first course (primero) yet; pace yourself on the wine and bread as there's a long way to go; there's a good chance that what you order for the first course would normally be more than sufficient as a main course (segundo); if you finish any course, more is certain to appear so don't clear your plate; pork dishes are the house speciality and are easily selected by looking around the room at what the locals are eating. Finally, try to leave yourself in a fit state for a walk up into the old walled town above the main square. There are interesting buildings and great views to the surrounding countryside.