The Land of the Conquistadores, Extremadura is located along Spain's border with Portugal. The vast majority of Spain's new-world conquerors and explorers came out of this harsh region to win an empire for Spain.
Today, it's not unusual to travel for great distances through eastern Extremadura's largely empty landscape and then suddenly encounter a hilltop castle presiding over a lonely village, or see a rooting herd of black hogs from which the famous Iberian ham is derived.
Although the region is less visited by foreign tourists than other parts of Spain, it has several towns of interest, some of which have palaces to see, called solares locally. These were often built by the many conquistadors who returned to their homeland laden with loot.
Located 210 mi/340 km from Madrid, Merida is known, above all, for its well-preserved Roman theater and aqueduct. Founded in 25 BC, the city holds many other fine Roman ruins, including an amphitheater, bridge, temple and triumphal arch. Caceres is a picture-perfect medieval town 185 mi/300 km from Madrid with many solares—it retains much of its historic character.
To explore the region's conquistador heritage, seek out the following towns: Medellin, birthplace of Hernan Cortes (conqueror of Mexico and the Aztec Empire); Trujillo, where Francisco Pizarro was born (conqueror of the Inca Empire and founder of Peru, he's commemorated by a striking modern statue in town); and Jerez de los Caballeros, birthplace of Nunez de Balboa and Hernan de Soto, European explorers of the Pacific Ocean and Mississippi River, respectively.
Another town worth seeing is Guadalupe, where Columbus received the official orders for his first voyage. The town's great monastery complex is still the object of devout pilgrimage.
Extremadura is particularly recommended for those who might be traveling by car to or from Portugal or who just want to see a part of Spain that's rustic and relatively unaffected by tourism. A bridge spans the Guadiana River, making it easier to travel from Spain to Portugal's Algarve coast. Be sure your car has air-conditioning if you're crossing Extremadura in the summer, however: This is hot country.