Breakfast at the El Cerro was excellent, just a simple affair of Iberian ham, manchego cheese and toast with olive oil and mashed tomato, called pan tumaca, but it was perfect and reminded us of our breakfasts in Carmona in Andalusia in 2008. One of the hotel staff was very friendly and spoke good English and was interested in our travels around Spain and intrigued that we picked out of the way places like Pedro Bernardo instead of the well known tourist places and we told him that we liked it this way.
We told him that we were driving to Cáceres and he became quite insistent that we should take a short detour from our route and visit the Cuevas El Aguila, the Eagle Caves, in the foothills of the Gredos mountains but we had a long way to go and were not sure if we liked caves enough to go to the trouble. When we checked out a few minutes later he reminded us again to make the visit and assured us that we would not be disappointed so it seemed rude not to go so we set off in the direction that he carefully marked on our map.
We drove out of the Sierra de Gredos which is a mountain range in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula, located between Ávila, Cáceres, Madrid and Toledo and has been declared a regional park. We were on the road to Cáceres anyway so it wouldn’t delay us to long to visit the caves and when they began to be signposted we turned off and irritated the satnav navigator who immediately insisted that we turn around – so we switched her off!
We followed a quiet rural road to a large but empty car park and parked close to the entrance and still not convinced that this was a good idea made our way to the kiosk and paid €7 each entrance and waited five minutes for the guide to take us inside. As soon as he appeared and escorted us underground we were immediately glad that we made the detour because this was an awesome underground cavern, over twelve million years old and inside a great hall of ten thousand square metres and a kilometre of pathway to walk through the great stalactites and stalagmites that rose in majestic multi-coloured columns throughout the cave.
The guide apologised several times for being unable to speak English but we reassured him that this didn’t matter because so much of his narrative would have been superfluous and we could imagine for ourselves what he was telling us. As usual in underground caves he kept pointing out natural sculptures that, with a lot of imagination, had a resemblance to familiar icons – the Madonna and Child (several times), Bulls, Matadors and famous Spanish Kings and Queens.
The temperature inside the cave is constant throughout the year, with an average of twenty degrees celsius and it was this that led to its discovery in 1963 by a group of children who noticed water vapour escaping through a hole in the ground caused by the difference in temperature of the caves and the outside. They crawled inside to investigate and discovered the Aladdin’s cave with all of its natural treasure and a year later the owners of the land, obviously sensing that there was gold in them thar hills, made it accessible and opened it to the public.
It took about thirty minutes to complete the circuit of concrete paths and various viewing platforms and when we emerged back into the daylight we were so pleased that we had taken the advice to visit because this was one place that was certainly worth a detour.
The original plan was to drive to Extremadura and stop at the town of Trujillo but the combination of the later than usual breakfast and the unscheduled visit to the caves meant that our original timings now had to be reworked so we decided to miss Trujillo and drive the two hundred kilometres straight to Cáceres instead. The drive was easy along a delightfully spacious motorway as we drove in a relentless straight line across Spain’s Central Plateau at some point crossing into the Province of Extremadura, the fifth largest in Spain.