The plan had always been to get the bus from Sevilla to the end of the first stage, Guillena, and start walking from there. So this I duly did – to then find myself ‘trapped’ there for two days while it pelted down with rain. Now, some would say that walking in the rain and getting drenched is all part of the ‘true’ camino experience (more on that subject later…) but as I have ‘been there, done that’ I had decided that I would wait out any rain. I am only carrying light rain gear, good enough for getting me to shelter if I am caught out, but not the stuff to walk through hours of heavy rain with.
Waking up on the third morning, to more rain, I decided to throw in the towel and get the bus to Zafra, so that I could still have a chance of making my self-imposed deadline of getting to Mérida in time for my birthday, with the accompanying ‘spoil’ of two nights in the Parador as my present to myself.
The bus from Sevilla to Zafra took less than 2 hours (7 days walking!), running every 2 hours and cost €11.35. Zafra is a beautiful old town that I got to enjoy as much as I could between bursts of heavy rain for the afternoon that I was there.
Day 10 – Zafra to Villafranca de los Barros – 19 km
Saw my first fellow pilgrim before I even left the outskirts of town, and as I came over the ridge there they were, stretched out in front of me, at least half a dozen. It was quite confronting, as I had got so used to being the only pilgrim walking between Câdiz and Sevilla.
It was a pleasant walk with a variety of scenery and surfaces, so unlike what I had become used to.
I booked into the 3-star Hotel Diana at only €30 for a fantastic room -equivalent to any of the hotels I have stayed in outside of Spain for a much higher rate, and far superior to anything I have stayed in during my trip so far. They also offer a very good afternoon Menu del dia, which I took advantage of, along with three other pilgrims staying at the albergue but who had been told about the lunches here.
I then had a siesta (the wine…) before heading out for a wander. Found a lovely artisans shop opposite the church – Artesenia Extrumadera – with a great range of locally made goods: bags, umbrella, glasses case, purses made from CORK material; fantastic timber drawers; ceramic 3D modern art ‘pictures’ for the wall; embroidered pendants.
Day 11 – Villafranca to Almendraléjo – 18km
Lots of pilgrims on the road today! Walked a little while with 2 others before heading off on my own again.
I decided to deviate 3km off the route to break the 30km leg into two days, heading for Almendraléjo. Booked in to the Hotel España, a 3 star hotel for €25 – great value in a lovely building, I slept really well as it was very quiet.
Stumbled on Pámpano Vinatería, a cafe/wine bar, while out wandering. I had a fantastic risotto lunch, coffee plus a small sherry. Got charting to the owner, Piedad, who invited me to return that night for a wine & cheese tasting starting at 9pm. what a delightful evening, so glad I went.
Day 12 – Almendraléjo to Torremejía – 16km
The traditional one-street transit town, yet I managed to find some buildings of interest – the church, the old palace (now an albergue), and the Casa de Cultura with a beautiful mosaic on the outside. The Hostal Milenium (2 star) was very old and tired but clean. Not much here, so after a quick look around and an early dinner, I headed for bed.
Day 13 – Torremejía to Mérida – 15km
Well, made in time to celebrate my 50th birthday! The Parador was a nice spoil – big room with siting area, tv, bar fridge, full bath (which I took advantage of for a long soak), domed ceilings, in an amazing old building. I alos got stuck in to breakfast there in the morning as they had a full selection of gluten and lactose free options. €15 eat as much as you like buffet – I think I got my moneys worth! I thought I wouldn’t eat another thing all day but ended up having late lunch at Shangri La vegetarian restaurant near the Temple of Diana.
Mérida was interesting because of the sheer quantity of Roman ruins – a bit overwhelming, really. Every corner you turn has another example – undertaking any new building here must be a nightmare! It is not a particularly pretty town as far as building and character goes, but it doesn’t need to be with all that history!
I did the rounds of all the major sites, like the aqueduct and Roman circus, then popped in to the Roman artefact museum. So glad I did – the remains are amazing, but so is the building – quietly understated, displaying the artefacts to their best, enhancing rather than overwhelming; I took more photos of the building than the displays!