Spain’s food for the soul

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iol travel aug 29 Trujillo

AFP

Statue of famous 'conquistador' Pizarro on the square of Trujillo.

Madrid - Early morning in Trujillo, and the Plaza Mayor is in full swing.

Children pass through on their way to school, swallows swoop around the clock tower, and waiters stand poised to charm the first customers of the day.

At the Cafe Victoria, the waiter delivers my cafe con leche with a complimentary croissant. It’s a delicious gift — buttery and sweet. Trujillo-ites are generous. Return later in the day, and your order of sherry will be accompanied by a plate of plump green olives, salty almonds and slivers of cold tortilla.

Trujillo, you see, is about two things: food and history. Well, that and the odd bit of birdwatching (storks, eagles, and even bustards can be seen circling the rooftops). And in this lively central square, you can get a taste of all three.

To the north is the town’s spectacular castle, founded in the 10th century. To the south, is a line of palaces built by wealthy Spaniards during the town’s 16th-century heyday. Two sides of the square are lined with restaurants, bars and delicatessens selling regional specialities. The local ham, pata negra, is made from the black pigs that live in the surrounding acorn forests. It’s a siren call to foodies.

Then there is the chorizo, the manchego (Trujillo hosts Spain’s prestigious National Cheese Fair every spring), olive oil and white asparagus.

Situated in the heart of Extremadura, Trujillo is a three-hour drive from Madrid, so an easy getaway for a long weekend.

I am staying at Villa Martires at the town’s summit. Its foundations were laid in Roman times, and during the 12th century it acted as a garrison to the town’s castle.

Its granite walls have special significance - Trujillo was founded in prehistoric times on a granite batholith. Martires is one of six properties for rent across Trujillo through the company Trujillo Villas Espana.

The most spectacular, Villa Piedras Albas, a grand palacio on the town square, was home to some of Spain’s most distinguished families in the 16th century.

It’s notable for curiously Italianate flourishes. They were installed, so the story goes, by one wealthy owner attempting to placate his home-sick Italian wife.

Today the town’s full-time inhabitants are less grand - lots of old ladies sweeping their porches to a sheen and jolly, heavyset men munching tapas. The town’s weekend visitors are rather smarter - it’s a chic getaway for history loving Madrid families. And no wonder.

It is impossible to pass a weekend without stumbling across historical nuggets. Extremadura was home to Spain’s famous conquistadors - and Trujillo was the birthplace of Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of Peru. His statue is in Plaza Mayor.

Just behind it is the Church of Saint Martin, dating from the 14th century. It was here that Emperor Carlos V prayed on his way to marry Isabel of Portugal in Seville in 1526. Even in repose, Trujillo’s history is inescapable. Over a supper of salty lomo and grilled lamb chops at Las Cadenas, a waiter points out a set of chains above the restaurant’s door. Phillip II, he tells me, lodged in the building in 1583 and by way of thanks declared it a ‘sanctuary.

I am lucky enough to be invited into the kitchen of Victor. A Trujillo local, whose migas - a spectacularly unhealthy dish of fried white breadcrumbs, chorizo and cured fat - is famous.

Victor speaks no English and operates no formal dining room. Visitors sit around a plastic table in his shed. Tracking him down is a matter of asking around.

But if you can find him, you can be assured of his hospitality. I was not only well-fed on migas, but plied with his boisterous homemade wine.

If Victor isn’t cooking, head for the Carmelite monastery, the Santa Clara Convent, home to a closed order of nuns.

They have committed never to appear in public, but make a living selling modestly priced cakes and biscuits through a wooden hatch.

Buying them is a ritual too quaint to resist. Ring on a bell, place your order, and pay by putting money on a little wooden turntable. The biscuits emerge deliciously crunchy, salty-sweet, and perfectly Trujillo. - Daily Mail

Trujillo Villas Espana offers five villas costing from £495 (about R6 000) per week (trujillovillasespana. com).

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