A trip with the family to Badajoz: the Alqueva Nature Theme Park
Villarreal pier in the Alqueva lake. Olivenza, Badajoz.
Olivenza Castle, site of the González Santana Ethnography Museum. Olivenza, Badajoz.
Pigs at pasture. Badajoz.
Bulls in the Alqueva Nature Theme Park. Badajoz.
Puente Ajuda bridge. Badajoz.
We suggest a family getaway in a natural environment packed with activities, and where the younger members can also have fun while they learn. We're talking about the Alqueva Nature Theme Park, in the southwest of the province of Badajoz and right on the border with Portugal. You'll find wooded pastures, the Guadiana river, medieval castles and a large artificial lake where you can enjoy water activities.
Below we give you some ideas of what you can do with the family in this area in the southwest of Badajoz.
Cruising on the largest artificial lake in Europe
Alqueva lake has almost 1,200 kilometres of inland coastline. What's more, its waters separate Spain and Portugal. There's a navigable section offering a range of nautical activities, including boat cruises and pedalo rides, the ideal activity for the whole family. Other options include kayaking, water skiing, sailing or a ride on a water bike. You'll find two main piers in Badajoz: at Villarreal (a little over ten kilometres from Olivenza) and at Cheles (where there's also a small river beach).
Visiting mediaeval castles
These are the fortresses of Olivenza and Alconchel. The first is home to the González Santana Ethnographic Museum, with an extensive and child-friendly collection that enables children to learn more about age-old trades and local traditions. What's more, you'll be able to climb to the top of the tower to see the view. If you look carefully at the windows in the tower, you'll find numerous drawings etched in the walls that reveal part of the castle's history. The museum even has a collection of meteorites. Miraflores Castle in Alconchel stands on a ridge overlooking the town and the surrounding landscapes, with views all the way to the first towns in Portugal across the border. Here's a way to look like an intellectual in front of your kids. Tell them to look closely at the layout of the streets. From above you can see perfectly the old Arab town with its narrow horizontal alleyways in the foreground, and at the back the larger spaces with a vertical orientation. The castle is also home to the Fortress Visitor Centre.
Discover the native animals in the area
You can visit the wooded pastures known as "dehesas", and see the typical Iberian pigs. Or ride a horse, or see riding exhibitions. You can even go to a livestock farm and see cows and bulls from up close. What's more, the whole area is a protected bird zone. We recommend taking part in an organised birdwatching excursion or touring the eco-corridors of the Guadiana river (the Puente Ajuda route) or the Rivera de Alconchel route on foot, by bike, or in a 4x4. The routes run alongside the river and between olive groves and holm oak forests. What's more, the landscape offers a number of surprises: you'll see trees emerging from the water, discover numerous birds your children have probably never seen before, and pass through areas where pigs, cows and bulls can be seen grazing.
A walk in search of wild mushrooms
Specifically the species known as "gurumelos" (Amanita ponderosa), a wild mushroom that is highly prized and typical in this area. There are excursions organised to find, collect and sample them in the area of Villanueva del Fresno, particularly in spring and autumn.
Changing countries in two steps
This area is on the border between Spain and Portugal. We recommend heading for Puente Ajuda bridge, very near Olivenza. The monument dates from the 16th century, and although you can't cross it, it's located in particularly beautiful surroundings. A parallel bridge enables you to leave Spain and come back in just two steps. This is a fun activity that children will love, and they can also take one photo of the bridge from Spain and another from Portugal.
For example, make the most of your visit to walk around the mediaeval town of Olivenza, go into its churches, see the defensive walls, and –the children will love this– sample its traditional cakes and pastries (the most famous of these sweets is known as the Técula Mécula). When it comes to lunch, you'll find everything from the culinary options on offer at the piers in Villarreal and Cheles, to the restaurants in the towns and villages. You can sample typical dishes from Extremadura like the fried breadcrumbs known as "migas extremeñas", products made from Iberian pork –including Iberian cured ham and Iberian sirloin–, and local dishes like cod stews, tomato soup, lamb stew and "frite de guarrino" (a fried pork dish).
Things to remember
The Alqueva Nature Theme Park includes the municipalities of Olivenza, Alconchel, Cheles, Táliga and Villanueva del Fresno in the province of Badajoz. They are all very close together, separated by distances of around half an hour by car. This short holiday can be enjoyed at any time of the year by adapting the activities to the weather. For example, summer is the perfect time to enjoy the lake, spring is excellent for gathering wild mushrooms, the best time to visit the wooded pastures is between October and May, and you'll see a different varieties of birds throughout the year. We recommend contacting the tourist offices in the towns and villages, or the companies that organise the activities when you're preparing your trip. You can find more information and contact details on the official website of the Alqueva Nature Theme Park.