hidden corners, spain, summer, travel

Hidden Corners of Spain: Robledillo de Gata, Extremadura

COVID-19 is unable to keep Spain at home any longer. This nation of extroverts, travelers, and generally festive and family-oriented folks has burst out of its pisos and crowded cities to spend its summer vacation in an enjoyable way. Beaches, mountains, the villages where their parents are from, anywhere but home. I may not be an extrovert (I kinda liked the lockdown?) but finally getting away to breathe some different air and see new sights was a welcome relief.

Having a month of vacation from my English classes, I had originally planned to head to the US for a lengthy visit. Thankfully no tickets were bought, as this option got scratched off the list a while back. Instead, I had the opportunity to travel within Spain, which for me is always a treat. Give me a village with a nice river and some meandering cats and I’ll be in heaven.

So that’s how I ended up in the small Extremaduran village of Robledillo de Gata, a medieval-looking enclave with a population of around 100 nestled in a valley in the Sierra de Gata mountain range. A while back I had seen a picture of it on a blog and thought it looked like a quaint place to spend a few days.

It just so happened that the owner of the rural apartment where we stayed was also the owner of an old olive oil mill that’s no longer in use, but all the parts are on display in the Museo de Aceite (olive oil museum). Did you know Extremadura is one of the top olive oil producing regions in Spain, and the world? I wasn’t aware of that, but driving into the province, it becomes immediately clear by the amount of olive groves everywhere that this is what people do here.

The town itself is clearly old, even the signage around town is done in a medieval style. Its narrow, winding streets are mostly quiet, save for the chatter of weekend visitors. Around town there are a few hiking trails and lots of places for mountain biking – in fact it’s in an area known for mountain biking in Spain. The hikes are short and easy and each one can be done in a single morning before lunch!

There’s one shop that sells basic food items and four restaurants/bars. The food is local, mostly pork cooked in different ways as Extremadura is known for its pigs. There’s local goat cheese for sale at the shop and served at one of the restaurants, which made for an amazing tapas plate one evening. Another local dish I got to try was ensalada de naranja, which consists of sliced orange, garlic, hardboiled egg, olives, and locally-made paprika (pimenton).

For me, the 4 days I spent in Robledillo were exactly what I was hoping for in a vacation. The first day of the trip also happened to fall on my last day of my Madrid community manager job. So I sent a goodbye email, logged out of my email account forever, and proceeded to unplug myself from all things internet. The WiFi was sluggish there anyway so I spent most of my days in airplane mode, leaving my phone behind and taking along my Canon 1300D for photos.

Between the morning hikes, exploring, a refreshing shower, eating lunch, and wandering around town and eating at the bars in the evenings, there wasn’t much to occupy the afternoons. So I sat outside on the balcony reading for hours and watching the swallows playfully flutter from clothesline to clothesline. I let my thoughts wander and I spent some time letting go of my feelings about my former job and generally emptying my mind of negativity that had started accumulating. On top of that, there was no social media to post or check and therefore no comparing my vacation to others’, no urgent messages to send, no advertising reaching my eyes and reminding me of more things I didn’t realize I “need.” Being able to sit outside overlooking lemon trees, birds, a mountain, and a few villagers before heading south to Andalucía did wonders for the soul.