Extremadura, Spain’s fourth-largest region, lies along the country’s southwest border, next to Portugal. It’s closest Spanish neighbours are Andalucia, Castilla y Leon and Castilla La Mancha. Despite its size, the landlocked area is the country’s most sparsely populated region.
In its spot between the basins of the Tagus and Guadiana rivers, Extremadura enjoys 2,800 annual hours of sunshine. All that fine weather allows the area to be self-sufficient in electricity while providing 10% of the rest of Spain’s annual electricity requirements. While there is minimal industry in the region, its natural resources mean that Extremadura is well qualified to rise to the environmental challenges of life in the 21st century.
Around Mérida, the region’s capital, there is still much evidence of the Roman occupation. The Roman theater looks as if it could have been built in the latest Spanish building boom, it’s so well preserved. The famous Roman bridge at Mérida is the longest surviving bridge in the world, with 721 of its original 755 meters intact.
Extremadura didn’t take kindly to the invasion of the Moors; it was the most seriously contested region in Spain. Working on the principle that there is strength in numbers, the local knights formed an alliance to resist the Moors and help to re-conquer Spain for the Christians.
The region is known as The Cradle of the Conquistadors. Cortes and Pizarro are the most famous of the men who followed in the footsteps of Columbus and explored, charted and conquered large areas of the New World. Their influence is commemorated in the town names that crossed the Atlantic with them, such as Trujillo, Guadalupe and Albuquerque.
Because many of the ancient paths in Extremadura are impassable for vehicles, donkeys are still a major form of transport in the region. In fact, older residents use the donkey as their preferred mode of travel. The matanza – or domestic winter slaughter of pigs – is still prevalent in Extremadura. From November to February, thousands of fattened pigs are slaughtered on family farms.
In a region of wide open spaces, where horseback riding and hunting are popular, many of the local fiestas involve animals or people dressing up in animal skins. As in most areas of Spain, bull running plays a part in the traditions of Extremadura.
Moving to Extremadura
Extremadura has a population of around 1.1 million, of which 38,000 are foreigners. Half of these immigrants originate from European Union countries, and there are significant South American and North African communities.
Badajoz and Caceres, Extremadura’s two provinces, are the largest in Spain, with Badajoz having by far the largest proportion of the region’s inhabitants. Large areas of Extremadura are very sparsely populated, so people interested in moving to the region have the choice of getting away from it all or living in a bustling community.
House prices in Extremadura are a good 40% lower than the Spanish national average. Some properties are up to 60% less than average, so there are property bargains available in the region. The general cost of living is also relatively low.
Getting around is a bit more difficult in Extremadura than in other parts of Spain. The Via de Plata – the old Roman Silver Road, which is now the A66 motorway – is the major route through the region, running from north to south and connecting to
Extremadura to other regions. There are also some small, localized motorways in the region.
There is no international airport in Extremadura, so travel to Madrid, Salamanca or Seville is necessary to fly out of the country. There is a small domestic airport at Badajoz that serves other regions of Spain. This may be a problem if an emergency trip out of Spain is necessary, and visitors may find it inconvenient and expensive to travel to the region.
While the province of Badajoz is well served with rail links, Caceres has no rail network. The lack of transport infrastructure may present problems to those considering relocation to Extremadura, although a plan for improving transport links is in place.
The official language of Extremadura is predominantly Castilian Spanish, and Portuguese is spoken in some areas. Anyone thinking of moving into the region should really learn Spanish, as English is not widely spoken in the region.
Extremadura enjoys hot, dry summers, often experiencing droughts. Winters can be rather cold, particularly in the north of the region, where snow is likely in January and February. Sunshine is a year-round feature, and the days are long, even in December.
Working in Extremadura
In the business world, Extremadura has been overlooked by the major multinational companies. While there is some international industrial presence in the region, there are no major employers. This is the poorest region in the country, and has one of the highest unemployment rates in Spain. Multinational companies are not well represented in the region, due to the lack of both industry and investment. Openings for immigrant workers are in low-paid sectors such as agriculture, service industries, hospitality, construction and transport. Jobs in the health services exist, but most vacancies are at the lower end of the salary scale. There are also few opportunities for teachers and other education professionals.
Living in Extremadura
Extremadura is an ideal place for nature lovers, and birdwatchers in particular. There is an abundance of birds of prey, and the region is famous for the stork’s nests, which proliferate all over Extremadura. There are plenty of wide open spaces, and the hot summers and mild winters are conducive to life in the great outdoors. Extremadura is not the place for city slickers.
The food in Extremadura is simple but good quality. Iberico ham – from the black Iberian pigs that are raised in the region – is its most famous product. Lamb, kid and many types of game feature on the menu, along with gazpacho – a cold tomato soup. The cuisine retains influences from the time when Jews, Christians and Moors lived together in Extremadura. Paprika, which was brought back to Spain by the conquistadors, also figures in many local dishes.
For those who want to live in “real” Spain, Extremadura ticks all the boxes. Tourism has made no real impact on the region, and it has escaped the massive development of the recent property boom. Given the lack of employment opportunities, though, Extremadura might make the most sense for the adventurous retiree.
Top 5 Sights
1) The well-preserved Roman buildings and bridge in Mérida.
2) Monfrague National Park.
3) The walled medieval city of Caceres.
3) Trujillo, the birthplace of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro.
3) The Black Madonna at Guadalupe.