Travelling across the arid plains of the autonomous region handsomely called Extremadura, in Spain, there are sleepy, medieval towns that have not been pillaged by 21st century tourists. The classic three towns that not only have character, personality, history and more than enough charm to capture your imagination are: Trujillo, Cacares and Merida (settled in 258BC).
We meandered into Cacares at a Don Quixote on an old donkey pace. The old stones in the preserved building glowed like old gold in the midday sun and the welcome was warm.
Caceres has been named Spain’s Gastronomic Capital and as a special treat we are to have lunch at a two-star Michelin restaurant, Atrio.
This complete, ancient city from the Middle Ages oozes solid confidence – and so it should as it has embraced, been attacked, colonised and endured with tenacity a blended mix of Roman, Islamic, Northern Gothic and Italian Renaissance civilisations throughout history. And here stand the buildings to prove it. About 30 towers still remain from the Muslim period in Caceres. And as we step over cobble stones and steps that have been polished by thousands of feet, we walk in to Atrio Restaurant Hotel in the Plaza de San Mateo.
A tour of the hotel with its cutting edge flair; the building following a canonical design in harmony with its surroundings we visit rooms with a simple ambience of neutrals and natural light. The terrace offers views of distant mountains and the neighbourliness of historic Caceres.
Before we were actually served our endless degustation we met with chef Tono (Juan Antonio Perez) a charming, modest man with an impish grin and a sparkling personality. He and his partner Jose Polo are behind this splendid, felicitous complex where we were about to encounter the essence of Cacares.
Our lunch followed a perfect pattern of delightful, imaginative dishes served with a light flourish. From a delicate bisque, to silvery slivers of tuna cappaccio and on and on and on until dessert, a dash of foam, fruit crème and a fine stick of chocolate.
What a privilege for my eyes and stomach to be so gastronomically rewarded – for what I know not, but I’ll happily accept the prize.
Writer Bev Malzard travelled to Spain, flying Emirates from Sydney to Dubai then in to Madrid. Visit: http://www.emirates.com
Hola! (Extremadura means Hard and Strong.)