In this post I explore the heart of Valle del Jerte! Here’s my 8 Things to Do in the region.
Brilliant Blue Skies in Autumn
With summer temperatures reaching up to a sweltering 50°C in many parts of Spain, the best time to visit is when our climate is starting to wane, in the autumn or winter. Although this time of year must feel cool in comparison for the Spanish, for us it’s pure paradise. We visited the Jerte Valley at the end of October, when the climate was a perfect 26°C – the ideal temperature to explore the region. It felt as though we had time-travelled two or three months back to August in England.
Although the t-shirt temperature in the mountains was a welcome surprise, a dip in the ice-cold waterfalls wasn’t to be attempted by the faint-hearted.
The Valle Del Jerte is particularly well known as an area that specialises in the growth of cherries of many varieties and, in particular, “Picotas del Jerte” – The Spanish Picota. This reputation is the work of many generations of farmers, who have worked for generations to make the rough and wild hillsides fertile, using traditional farming methods.
Above: Source – Picota: Harvest time in the Jerte Valley is in June and July.
When the valley isn’t wrapped in spring-time cherry blossom, it’s oh so quiet here. Last week when we visited, we saw the occasional Picota cherry farmer, pruning and tidying their orchards in time for winter and the coming season. Most of the land is worked by hand, with very minimal machinery. The hillsides of the district have been terraced with stone walls, giving the valley a unique ‘stepped’ appearance that is very striking. We flew into Madrid airport with Ryan Air and from here collected our hire car, which was absolutely essential for our tour around the wide-reaching and peaceful region. It’s possible to see all of the below in two days in the valley (perhaps even one if you are pushed for time) but a three-night trip will give you the optimum time to experience a true flavour of the region. Hopefully the below will give you a idea for what’s on offer in this stunning part of Spain.
Here are just a few of things we loved about the region:
1) Base yourself in Plasencia
The ideal spot for your base is in neighbouring Plasencia. Although there are numerous guest houses and a few small hotels in Valle del Jerte (Jerte Valley), being just a short drive south of the region, Plasencia has lots of charming accommodation and eateries on offer.
You can walk around the street sculptures, orange trees and gothic architecture; take in the town square with a café con leche. For more about Plasencia and for more about our stay in a restored convent on a hill, see my previous post Jerte Valley: Part 1 – Plasencia
2) The Osborne Bull
Not just limited to the highways leading to the Jerte Valley, these iconic 14-metre high black-silhouetted bulls line the motorways in Spain. The Osborne Sherry brand began erecting these large images of bulls starting in 1956 to advertise their Brandy.
3) El Torno: Mirador de la Memoria
These four human figures will surprise you as you encounter them on the side of the road. It is the work of sculptor, Francisco Carrasco Cedenilla and the statues honor the victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship of General Franco.
Above: Spot the newest member of the clan
There’s a spectacular view of the entire Valley Jerte to the dam of Plasencia from here. Opened in 2008, this particular viewpoint has become one of the most characteristic images of the region. It is located about 2 km from the town of El Torno, down into the valley.
4) Rebollar, Valdastillas & Piornal
After visiting El Totno, and to get to your next stop-off point, you can drive through these three small villages where many of the cherry tree orchards can be found. We drove around these sun-kissed trees with leaves like flickering flames.
In between Valdastillas and Piornal you will encounter this beautiful place – Cascada del Caozo:
5) Yoga at Cascada del Caozo – Garganta Bonal
Yoga’s not essential, but a trip to this, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the region, is well worth a visit. The views are breathtaking and with the sound of the vibrant cascades, the iron gangway frames the scene perfectly. With these dream-like surroundings it was difficult to resist doing some yoga at this stunning location, albeit a wobbly “tree pose”.
6) Water Ballet in Cabezuela del Valle
Back on the main road N-110, it takes around fifteen minutes to reach this pretty little spot near the river and just a stone’s throw from the tourist office. I carefully paddled out to the other side. Having been a ballerina for thirteen years during my childhood and early teens, I opted for a spot of water ballet in these poetic surroundings.
Above: The Rusty Ballerina
Above: Plimsoll twins. [Forgive the cheesy grins but we were hoodwinked into having our picture taken. Being British, we were too polite to refuse.]
Above: My beloved Stripy – as per usual, he’s keen as Colman’s having his picture taken.
Not far from this spot is Gargantas Delinfierno, a stunning woodland park part of the nature reserve. We didn’t have time to do the suggested 6km hike that afternoon, which takes 50 minutes each way, but if we had longer, we would have embarked to the top and back of this scenic walkway throughout the valley.
7) Foraging for Chestnuts and a trip to Reserva Natural
Jerte town is very sleepy but travel to Puerto de Tornavacas for the highest vantage point to witness views of the entire valley. Our final stop was at the very top of the valley at the Reserva Natural de la Garganta de los Infiernos. This nature park has the best vantage point of the valley at Puerto de Tornavacas.
Surrounded by magnificent chestnut trees, on the way home we stopped off at various locations and spent some time collecting fallen, ripe, rich chestnuts from the ground. For a hearty three-course lunch and pit-stop, seek out Hostal Puerto Tornavacas located at the base of the vantage point. For €9 per person, feast on pan fried trout from the river Jerte (a local speciality), goat’s cheese and earthy mushrooms, all of which feature in cooking from this region. Price includes dessert, coffee and a bottle of water.
Top Tip: Take a Spanish-English phrase book, as despite all the will in the world, the staff only speak Spanish.
8) After a long siesta, head for TAPAS at Tentempie
Whether you’re staying in Plasencia or just passing through, try this pretty awesome tapas place. Quite simply one of the best tapas bars I’ve visited over the years. The menu is varied and the staff are laid back and friendly. Six dishes, three glasses of wine, coffees and dessert cost under £30. (Located just off the town square.) We feasted on: Bravas tentempie: fried potatoes with a red pepper sauce and a light garlic alioli; Hamburguesita: miniature homemade burger with local goat’s cheese and a sweet tomato chutney; Langostinos: giant prawns in a sweet pepper sauce; Tempura vegetables and mushroom risotto with gorgonzola. [Thanks for the recommendation, Frankie!]
I’d just like to say a final thank you to our hosts, Picota cherries, who arranged such a beautiful stay for us in this picturesque valley. We felt extremely privileged to witness this hidden gem in the heart of Spain.
For more information about Picota cherries go to: www.pictoa.co.uk
THE STORY OF PICOTA
In the 18th century, historians portrayed the area as a true orchard paradise, for the quality and variety of its produce, saying that “…also plentiful in the Valley are pears of every kind, sour cherries and black ones, apples, peaches, apricots and other stone fruits, plums, figs of many kinds, pomegranates, quinces, walnuts and hazelnuts, fruit with thorns and lemons and oranges.”
The cherry made quick progress as it had been established in these valleys for centuries. It is rumoured that it was introduced by visitors from the middle-east after that, the new colonists found it already adapted to the valley. It is not until the 14th century, however, that definite proof of its presence was found.
On June 2nd, 1352, some knights belonging to the King of Navarre stopped to spend the night in Cabezuela del Valle (One of the villages of the district), on their way to Seville. The knights were offered the best produce wherever they went and tried trout and cherries whilst they were there.
This implies that cherries were a significant product by this point and of sufficient quality to be offered to distinguished guests. Over the following centuries, cherry growing continued and increased. In the 16th Century, the famous Spanish doctor, Luis de Toro, referred to the cherries of the Jerte and picked them out for their size, colour and flavour: “you will also see every class of cherry, such that not even Persia can better.
Cherries of extraordinary taste and size, red, black and of an intermediate colour similar to wine.” It was with the collapse of the sweet chestnut trade, in the 18th century, that cherry trees began to be seen as a real economic alternative. At the end of this century, the cherry orchard gained terrain in the Jerte Valley.
Cabezuela del Valle, Navaconcejo, Rebollar, Valdastillas and Casas del Castanar all took up cherry growing and, throughout the 19th century, cherry trees were to be found on steep hill terraces in other areas. In the early 19th Century, historians already claimed that the best of the district was “…the cherries which are, therefore, highly esteemed in the court…”
Over that century the cherry spread to every village and as a result, by the start of the 20th Century, the region was well-known for “the produce it exports, particularly its delicious cherries.”