a day trip from Montanchez, through the bare and remote hilly country around the huge embalsas (reservoirs) that hold the waters of the Tagus back before they flow into Portugal. from the road there are plenty of views of the embalsas and of canyons and other watercourses (mostly dry this autumn) branching out of it.

Garrovillas de Alconetar was our first stop, near a Roman bridge over the Tagus. a huge plaza, surrounded by many very decrepit arcaded buildings;

a huge square-built church, its doors splendidly framed in the soft honey coloured stone carved into endless columns and arches. the detail of the carving is softened by weathering, but here there are fleur de lys, pomegranates and sunflowers; a naive and joyful addition to a somewhat severe building.

the larger door at the west end, under the tower.

two leaning chimneys on a wonderful but hardly weatherproof roof in the plaza.

the decrepitude of this building just beggars belief. water has almost destroyed the woodwork and the cracks in stonework and brick and plaster looks irreparable. this part of Extremadura has been depopulated and poverty stricken for a century or so.

a short drive further on and after crossing a restored Roman bridge at Alcántara of six symmetrical arches, built in honour of  Trajan in 103-106 AD, which I didn’t photograph …. we came to this modern bridge over the river Erges, which crosses the border between Spain and Portugal.

a very romantic spot, with two castles facing each other off across the steep valley – the Portuguese one has mostly disappeared into the village of Salvaterra do Extremo, but you can see the ruins of the Spanish one on the left bank, the castle of Peñafiel in Zarza la Mayor.

Salvaterra do Extremo is a large and somewhat ramshackle village at the edge of a huge nature reserve and geological park.

there are some huge stone houses, empty but solid in their structure, encompassing courtyards and gardens surrounded by high stone walls. this one has an irrigated garden, where the water is brought to the surface by a waterwheel, a nora, set in this circular structure, which looks as though it was driven by animal power. the garden is beautifully green and lush, and appears to be cared for, although the house is empty.

stunning views across wooded hills.

and the occasional view into a private space, ducks and turkeys on one side, goats and pigs on the other.

or a beautiful vegetable garden

enormous cabbage plants and chard, irrigated and fertile soil.

we follow the paved track, its bordering dry stone walls of an amazing perfection, down to the edge of the valley, perhaps near where the castle might have been. there is a bird observation hut, and the path leads steeply down to the river.

the noticeboard shows the position of the village. colours here are more vivid than over the border in Spain, bright red and blue doors, flowering plants, and the vivid green of a lusher damper climate.

we drive back over the Roman bridge to Alcántara, and wander about its streets. there is much conservation and rebuilding of the huge crumbling palaces of rich families, now extinct, their coats of arms carved in stone and fixed up on the walls.

the Order of San Julian de Pereiro, a military order created in 1156, had its headquarters here, and when it closed in the 19th century, Alcántara became depopulated and has never recovered.

this crumbling church is next to a modern (and hideous) statue of Peter of Alcántara, teacher of Theresa of Avila, saint and Franciscan reformer, born here in the 15th century.

the Convent of San Benito de Alcántara, built in the 16th century, with its massive arcades and towers, demonstrates the power and riches of the catholic church in Spain. now this arcaded facade forms the rear of an amphitheatre with a semi-circle of stone seating rising up from it. imaginative productions here would be worth seeing.

there were too many photos from this trip to edit them down for the blog, and you can see all of them here