South of Plasencia a pair of dams, built in the 1960s, has turned the ríos Tajo and Tiétar into a sequence of vast reservoirs. It’s an impressive sight and a tremendous area for wildlife: almost at random here, you can look up to see storks, vultures and even eagles circling the skies. The best area for concerted wildlife viewing – and some very enjoyable walks – is the PARQUE NATURAL DE MONFRAGÜE, Extremadura’s only protected area, which extends over 44,000 acres to either side of the Plasencia–Trujillo road. Transport of your own is an advantage unless you are prepared to do some walking.
Walking in the park
If you’re walking in Monfragüe, it’s best to stick to the colour-coded paths leading from the park’s headquarters at Villarreal de San Carlos. Each of them is well paint-blobbed and leads to rewarding birdwatching locations. Elsewhere, it is not easy to tell where you are permitted to wander – it’s very easy to find yourself out of the park area in a private hunting reserve.
The Green Route
The Green Route, to the Cerro Gimio, is especially good – a two-and-a-half-hour stroll looping through woods and across streams, in a landscape unimaginable from Villarreal, to a dramatic cliff-top viewing station.
The Red Route
The longer Red Route heads south of Villarreal, over a bridge across the Río Tajo, and past a fountain known as the Fuente del Francés after a young Frenchman who died there trying to save an eagle. Two kilometres farther is a great crag known as the Peñafalcón, which houses a large colony of griffon vultures, and the Castillo de Monfragüe, a castle ruin high up on a rock, with a chapel next to it; there is an observation post nearby. All these places are accessible from the EX208 and if you’re coming in on the bus, you could ask to get off here. There are also two routes of 8km and 12km respectively that have been designed for cars and include a number of viewing points.
On the south side of the park, towards Trujillo, you pass through the dehesas, strange Africa-like plains, among the oldest woodlands in Europe. The economy of the dehesas is based on grazing, and the casualties among the domestic animals provide the vultures of Monfragüe with their daily bread. The information centre in Villarreal also provides details of routes that can be done on horseback or bicycle.Read More
There are over two hundred species of animals in Monfragüe, including reptiles, deer, wild boar and the ultra-rare Spanish lynx. Most important is the bird population, especially the black stork – this is the only breeding population in western Europe – and birds of prey such as the black vulture (not averse to eating tortoises), the griffon vulture (partial to carrion intestine), the Egyptian vulture (not above eating human excrement), the rare Spanish imperial eagle (identifiable by its very obvious white shoulder patches), the golden eagle and the eagle owl (the largest owl in Europe). Ornithologists should visit Monfragüe in May and June, botanists in March and April, and everybody should avoid July to September, when the heat is stifling.