Las Hurdes, the stigmatized comarca of Extremadura
TRAVEL TIP: If you want to engage in rural tourism, go hiking, and in general be surrounded by nature, making a quick trip to Las Hurdes is a good option, especially if you are already visiting the region of Extremadura.
The region of Extremadura might be the most underrated and unknown of all Spain, and in Extremadura, the historical comarca (territorial division smaller than a province) of Las Hurdes might be the most unknown and mysterious. It’s located in the north of the province of Cáceres, relatively close to Granadilla, the ghost town that we saw two weeks ago. The area of Las Hurdes, which covers 470 square kilometers, has always been very sparsely populated and poor.
In the 16th century a dark legend about Las Hurdes started to spread around Spain, a bad image that only became all the more popular due to a play of the famous Spanish Golden Age playwright Lope de Vega. Las Hurdes was stigmatized as a remote, poor, isolated and even Pagan place, due to the weak presence of the Church. Many hurdanos, the locals from Las Hurdes, had a poor diet, bad hygiene and suffered from diseases and defects owing to inbreeding.
In the late 19th century, Las Hurdes started to get more attention, and travelers came to see if the rumors about this region of Extremadura Spain were true or not. The French doctor Bidé denounced the difficult living conditions of the hurdanos and the bishop of Plasencia Francisco Jarrín promoted charity works. The acclaimed doctor Gregorio Marañón convinced King Alfonso XIII of Spain to visit Las Hurdes in 1922, ans Alfonso was so shocked about the poverty of the hurdanos and the natural beauty of the comarca, that he ordered the construction of some basic facilities and infrastructures.
A famous incident occurred during his visit: a local village chief served a small jug of milk saying ‘Your Majesty rest assured that this milk is totally trustworthy’. King Alfonso XIII wasn’t entirely convinced due to the unsanitary conditions of Las Hurdes, but he mixed the milk with his black coffee to drink a café con leche. Only later he was told that the milk was from the wife of the chief.
The 27-min documentary ‘Las Hurdes, tierra sin pan’ (Las Hurdes, land without bread, 1932) greatly exaggerated the misery of Las Hurdes to create strong impressions in the public and represent the poverty of rural Spain. The objective may have been well-intentioned, but it didn’t help to change the bad image of Las Hurdes. Later, under Francisco Franco’s rule, many hurdanos left the region and emigrated towards industrial and coastal areas. Some places became ghost towns. The reforestation of Las Hurdes with pines, a non-indigenous species, was counterproductive for the traditional goatherders and beekeepers.
Although rural tourism and beekeeping activites have helped to improve the living conditions of Las Hurdes, it remains a very poor and depopulated region with only 6,000 inhabitants, distributed in small towns of 100-400 inhabitants. The largest towns (not counting their alquerías) are Pinofranqueado with around 1200 inhabitants and Caminomorisco with 750. About the region, Spanish writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno wrote: “If in all parts of the world mankind is son of the land, in Las Hurdes the land is the daughter of mankind.”
The local gastronomy of Las Hurdes is pretty crazy. A popular dish is the Hurdana Salad, with a weird mix of lemons, oranges, chorizo ibérico (type of pork sausage) and eggs. Other local dishes use local products, like honey or goats. On another note, the Extremaduran dialect, related to the Asturleonese, is still alive among the aged population of Las Hurdes.
Places to visit in Las Hurdes
I leave you a checklist with recommended places to visit if you travel to Las Hurdes:
- Meandro del Melero, the most impressive meander of Spain.
- Mirador del Gasco, a viewpoint with spectacular views of the Malvellido river and agricultural terraces of the area
- The natural pool of Charco de la Olla, located in the hamlet of Las Mestas, in the municipality of Ladrillar. You can also see in Ladrillar and Riomalo de Arriba the vernacular architecture of Las Hurdes
- The hiking routes and waterfalls of Chorrituero and Chorro de la Meancera
- The nature around the reservoirs of Pinofranqueado and Las Tapias
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