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The Emperor's Route

Charles I’s final exploit was to cross the Sierra de Tormantos along old drovers’ trails used by the locals to unite the Jerte Valley with la Vera. In so doing he bestowed his name upon what we now call the Charles V Route.

Charles V arrived in Extremadura in November 1556, and followed the wonderful and surprising pathway from the village of Tornavacas to Jarandilla de la Vera in the neighbouring la Vera area.

This route, well-known to keen hikers, stretches over almost 24 km of beautiful countryside. The area’s crystal-clear streams originate in the foothills of the Gredos range and carve a fanciful array of gorges out of the granite rocks, through which they flow or gush into foamy cascades and limpid pools. These serve as charming natural swimming pools in the summer months, and some of the most remarkable ones are to be found within the Garganta de los Infiernos Nature Reserve, in the los Pilones area.

The countryside of the Jerte and la Vera areas, which have an exceptional micro-climate all-year round, takes on a very special hue in the spring. This is most apparent in the Jerte Valley, where the thousands of cherry trees under cultivation burst into bloom, flooding the hillsides and the river banks with an almost unbelievable whiteness.

Walking among cherry, chestnut and oak trees, through areas of infinitely varied lush vegetation, the traveller can follow medieval drovers’ trails, fascinating and well-conserved Roman roads and Renaissance bridges. The route is very clearly sign-posted both from the village of Tornavacas, and from the Garganta de los Infiernos Nature Reserve’s “Centro de Interpretación”, in the village of Jerte.

The section that crosses from the valley to la Vera, over the quaint and historical Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) and through the Puerto de las Yeguas pass at almost 1500 metres, is one of the route’s highlights. We are reminded of the Emperor’s words, “I will not cross any pass again but that of death itself.”

On passing through the Puerto de las Yeguas we come upon la Vera, which has a privileged micro-climate and some of the most attractive natural scenery in Extremadura. On our descent we can make out the beautiful village of Aldeanueva de la Vera and the singular hill-country settlement known as Guijo de Santa Bárbara.

Jarandilla de la Vera at our journey’s end is famed both for its fiesta, “los Escobazos”, (an officially declared Regional Tourist Attraction) which is celebrated on the night of December 7, and for the historical Castillo de los Condes de Oropesa. The Emperor lived in this castle for four months while work on his Palace adjoining the nearby Monastery of Yuste was being completed, and it now serves as a warm, welcoming Parador de Turismo hotel.

Emperor Charles V’s stay on Extremaduran soil was to leave its mark on many areas of life here, among which the local cuisine deserves a special mention. The King’s tastes were to prove a lasting influence on the local cuisine of the period, which he both appreciated and supplemented with his own favourite recipes from other areas. Some of these imported dishes have found themselves a permanent place in the Extremaduran cookbook and can be enjoyed in the region’s renowned restaurants and inns.

The visitor can enjoy excellent trout from the River Jerte or the gorges of la Vera, as well as carp, “bogas” (Chandostome Toliletis) and tench, which are all to be found in abundance throughout Extremadura.

The sheep’s cheeses from la Serena or el Casar de Cáceres and the goats’ cheeses from the Ibores range have always had an excellent reputation. The local olive oil and the honey and pollen from la Siberia and las Hurdes were and still are justly famed throughout Spain. The vineyards of Extremadura still produce some magnificent wines, just as they did in Charles V’s time and some delicious traditional liqueurs are distilled in many villages.

The quality of the world-famous Iberian cured hams, sausages and other cured pork delicacies has never been in doubt, neither has the excellence of local lamb, goat and beef. Hunting for abundant and varied local game species continues to provide a range of widely-appreciated partridge, pheasant, quail, wood pigeon, capon and goose dishes. The delicious nougats, along with the home-made and monastic confectionery deserve a special mention.

The kitchen gardens of Extremadura have long provided some popular natural products which continue to be basic ingredients in the stews and hot-pots so characteristic of Spanish cooking. We should not forget the present-day fame of the cherries from the Jerte Valley, nor that of the “pimentón” or paprika produced in the la Vera area. This renowned “red gold” has been used by the Hieronymite fathers at Yuste since the sixteenth century.

The Renaissance style, which predominated at the time of Charles I’s arrival here in the second half of the sixteenth century, is reflected in his modest palatial residence at the Monastery of Yuste. There is a remarkable Renaissance cloister here, which was built at the instances of the Counts of Oropesa. Other noteworthy buildings include the evocative Mansion of the Counts of Osorno and the interesting Parish Church of San Lorenzo in Garganta de la Olla. Undoubtedly, however, it is Plasencia that has the best examples of Renaissance architecture to be seen in Extremadura. A special mention must be made of the impressive “New Cathedral”, the Episcopal Palace, the ancestral home of the Carvajal-Girón family and that of the Marquesses of Mirabel.

The natural environment has suffered neither change, nor the slightest modification over the last five centuries. So the Jerte Valley and la Vera, where the Emperor was to take up residence, are just as they were. They remain free of pollution and noise, with abundant vegetation; green in spring and summer and a dream-like blend of reds and russets when the first days of autumn visit the north of Extremadura.

Other enormously attractive tourist itineraries set out from and arrive at these northern Extremaduran areas, and visits to those places within the Region that have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in recognition of their historical and artistic legacies is highly recommendable. And so, setting out from Cáceres, which has one of the best medieval Old Towns in Europe, we can pass through Trujillo, the birth-place of conquistadors like Pizarro and home to the Royal Monastery of Guadalupe, known as the “Museum of all museums” and in itself a magnificent example of the religious Gothic and Mudéjar architectural styles. This route ends at the old capital of the Roman province of Lusitania. Emerita Augusta, which we now call Mérida, holds in store sone of the best-preserved Roman archeological sites in the world, as well as the beautiful scenery of the nearby Cornalvo nature park.

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