10 places and experiences
not to be missed
in the Tajo Internacional Biosphere Reserve
The crossroads which constitutes the Tajo Internacional Biosphere Reserve is full of elements of its natural, gastronomic, historical, and cultural heritage, in a journey on which you can carry out multiple activities, be taken back to times gone by, enjoy its age-old cultures and ancestral cultures, and practise adventure sports. Here we give you a list of the 10 essential places or experiences which you have to visit or experience to be able to say that you are quite an expert on the Tajo Internacional Biosphere Reserve.
The Roman Bridge of Alcántara
Considered by many to be the ‘Best Roman Bridge in the World’, this marvel of engineering will remain standing “as long as the world lasts” as the inscription on its lintel proclaims. The bridge is 58.2 m high and 194 m long. Its architect, Gaius Julius Lacer, erected this work between 105 and 106 A.D. This bridge has been and continues to be a key point for linking the Norba Way with the north of Portugal (the Beira Alta) and with two important arteries of the Iberian Peninsula: the Vía de la Plata and the route from Lisbon to Braga.
The traces of the mighty Order of Alcántara
The all-powerful military and religious order originated in 1154 in the Kingdom of León and is considered to be one of the four Spanish military orders. Such was its power that even today its traces can be seen in numerous villages of the Park. The town of Alcántara stands out for its mansions and for the magnificent Conventual de San Benito. Moreover, in Brozas the Command of the Order held numerous monuments linked to these monks such as the walls of the town, the Casa Palacio Argüello Carvajal, the Casa Palacio de los Porres Montemayor, the Casa Palacio de las Flores, the Church of the Santos Mártires, and the Convento de las Comendadoras.
The Gothic quarter of Valencia de Alcántara
Valencia de Alcántara will captivate you right from the start. This small town, surrounded by natural landscapes, contains the great Sephardic treasure of the Reserve of the Park, the largest Jewish quarter in Extremadura. It is known for its narrow alleyways and its houses with two doors to the outside, one for entering and another for commercial activities or trades; both are set in pointed granite arches. On these arches we can still find sculpted ‘mezuzots’, symbols of the Hebrew cult and the place where the parchment of verses of the Torah was placed as a proof of faith. Moreover, in this 13th-century quarter marks of Christians can also be found and even traces of the terrible Inquisition such as the stone known as the Piedra de Armas in Calle Bordalo. To end your route, make your way to Calle Gasca to discover the lovely medieval synagogue.
Over 300 species of birds
Some three hundred different species of birds live or spend long periods of time in this territory. It is not for nothing that here is a watery border dominated by the great River Tajo which has shaped a unique ecosystem. This frontier land between Spain and Portugal is therefore characterised by a wide diversity of landscapes which include several Special Bird Protection Areas (Zonas Especiales para la Protección de Aves, ZEPAs).
Get your binoculars and your camera ready to enjoy large birds such as griffon and black vultures, black storks, kites, Egyptian vultures, short-toed eagles, and also little owls together with kestrels and lesser kestrels, egrets, sandgrouse, little bustards, great bustards, eagle owls… if you want to enjoy an unbeatable spectacle don’t miss watching the vultures feed in the Sierra de San Pedro. We suggest you also visit the spectacular natural monument of Portas de Ródão, which is very close to Vila Velha de Ródão.
The dolmens of Valencia de Alcántara
There has been harmony between human beings and nature in the Tajo Internacional area for millennia. Few monuments blend into a wild landscape as well as the ‘Dolmen Complex of Valencia de Alcántara’.
The dolmen complex of Valencia de Alcántara has been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest. 41 dolmens have been identified so far in the area, which makes it one of the most important megalithic complexes in the whole of Europe. You can follow several routes such as Las Tapias, Zafra, Las Lanchas, Huertas de las Monjas, and El Mellizo. These dolmens date from the third and fourth millennia B.C. The outstanding points of interest are the dolmen of El Mellizo and the paintings of Puerto Roque, which are only 12 kilometres from Valencia de Alcántara.
Have an adventure at the Alcántara Reservoir
Go for it and enjoy the Alcántara Reservoir, which is the third largest in Spain, by practising sport and getting wet. Take advantage of the opportunity for active tourism on this impressive freshwater sea in an amazing environment. Canoeing on the Tajo and its tributaries, kiteboarding, windsurfing, and even diving can be practised on this reservoir when springtime arrives..
On the last days of summer thousands of red deer and fallow deer break the calm at Tajo Internacional with their bellows to impress the females in order to mate. At Tajo Internacional you can enjoy the rut from various viewpoints and contemplate the males fighting, threatening each other, and even pursuing the females. This is nature at its best! It is a good idea to visit the municipal district of Idanha-a-Nova because it has a specific route for enjoying the rut: the long-distance path GR-29 and its ‘Rota dos Veados’.
Enjoy the stars at the Berrocal de la Data
The starry nights of the Tajo Internacional Nature Reserve offer a unique experience. The silence of the night is broken by the hooting of owls and as there is practically no light pollution this is an ideal setting for observing and photographing stars in dark skies. This heavenly environment is enhanced by rocky formations such as the Berrocal de la Data, a Natural Monument of Extremadura, which establishes a connection between stargazing and our ancestors. Enjoy a mystical experience in the heart of the Tajo Internacional Biosphere Reserve.
The impressive geology of Tajo Internacional
If you like geology and finding out about the earth, at Tajo Internacional you can get to know several geosites of great geological interest. The route of the ‘Canchos de Ramiro’ begins at Zarza la Mayor and it is here that you can explore the geological history of Armorican quartzite. The modelling processes and the mines of the communities of Celts, Romans, and Arabs are recognisable. The reserve includes several kinds of rocks, formations, faults and curious natural creations such as slate protrusions or “dogs’ teeth” among many other geological processes which you will enjoy if you are a devotee of geology and its evolution.
Partridge Alcántara style
The gastronomy of Alcántara has centuries of history. Indeed the Arcipreste de Hita mentions it in his ‘Book of Good Love’. One of the recipes of the ‘Treasure of Alcántara’, a book which was found by the French during the Peninsular War together with the monastic recipes of the Convento de San Benito, is partridge Alcántara style. It is prepared with pigs’ liver pâté, lard, hazelnuts, and partridges and is one of the star dishes of gastronomy which can be sampled in several restaurants in the area. A delicacy of the gastronomy of Extremadura!