Extremadura has a great variety of sceneries, both monumental and scenic. This region can boast a first-class Roman heritage. From the theatre and temple of Diana in Mérida to the wall of Coria, but it can also boast of preserving unique natural spaces that become a true paradise for environmental enthusiasts.
Walking through its reedbeds, as was the case for centuries with the shepherds, is a unique experience and even more so if it is accompanied by its fascinating gastronomy. For Jesús Garzón, president of the Mesta de Extremadura Council, these cattle trails are a direct journey to the past, to thousands of years of history and at the same time an opportunity to witness a tradition such as the movement of transhumant livestock.
“If you take a route from Cáceres, where the Torta del Casar is made, to La Serena, for example, you cross cities, the Cañada Real in Extremadura, you pass through towns like Montánchez and the Sierra de las Villuercas”, Garzón stands out from the different sceneries offered by walking along the different livestock routes, which in his words are not only a tourist legacy but also a gastronomic one.
The Spanish cattle route network is 125,000 kilometres long and occupies 400,000 hectares in Spain and serves as a green corridor for the conservation of biodiversity. According to Garzón, transhumant livestock farming favours ecological functions because it prevents soil erosion, preserves the landscape and is also a natural source of fertiliser as “livestock produce tonnes of manure that promote the generation of virgin land”.
The network of cattle routes was created by Alfonso X the Wise in the 13th century, but transhumance was already practiced in previous centuries. “What the king did was legislate the territory,” says Garzón. Over the years these roads had been abandoned, as many preferred to mobilize their cattle in vehicles, although over the last 25 years have been gradually recovered. In the fight to rescue tradition and also to favour a biodiversity, the Mesta Council has recovered the transhumance of some 200,000 sheep, goats, cows and horses, “covering more than 50,000 kilometres of gorges, ropes and paths”, assures Garzón.
During the 20th century, and specifically during spring and autumn, these roads were home to nearly five million head of cattle. “These herds that moved from north to south are the ones that have generated our enormous wealth in biodiversity”, Garzón emphasizes. Although the millions of animals that used to do so a few decades ago no longer walk these roads, the 20,000 that still do so help to continue conserving ecosystems.
The landscapes offered by the Extremaduran mesta get hikers into their paths to discover them. Once again, nature and gastronomy come together here. Transhumance is part of the cultural identity that has influenced craftsmanship and the diet of Extremadura, which has among its most common dishes bread soups, cheeses, sausages and migas. The gachas and gachasmigas [a kind of gacha, made with a dough of flour, water, garlic, olive oil and salt] are also dishes that were created thanks to the mixture of cultures that the pastoral path fostered for centuries.