TUCKED within a jumble of narrow cobbled streets in the honey coloured stone medieval heart of the city of Caceres is a doorway to another world.
For it is here in the kitchen at Atrio under the masterful alchemy of chef Toño Perez, that Spain’s ubiquitous jamon iberico is elevated to heavenly dimensions.
A tasting menu served within the hallowed dining room of this two-michelin starred establishment involved plate after plate of deliciously crafted and ingeniously presented morsels from fresh local ingredients.
But the undeniable star is the Iberian pig, the black hoofed porkers which spend their days rooting around the dehesas of Extremadura feasting on acorns and fattening up for the pot.
Many of the 23 dishes served within the menu degustacion include a porcine flavour, from the elegant tapioca butterfly crisp paired with salmon mousse starter to a delicacy made of layers of scallops and trotters topped with caviar and the lomo doblao – an confit of lard made from Ibérico pork loin and ending with the mysterious chocolate jamon dessert.
The famed wine list has won accolades as the best (and longest) in Spain so complete the dining experience with a descent to the wine cellar, where rare vintages are displayed like the Crown Jewels.
When you come blinking out into the harsh daylight of a hot summer day in Cacares, it’s just a short walk through the quiet streets beneath the ramparts of ancient walls and the palacetes adorned by the family shields of long dead conquistadores, to the newest attraction within the Unesco World Heritage city.
Designed by Tuñon Architects, the same team behind Atrio, the new Contemporary Art Museum housing the Helga de Alvear collection, was inaugurated in February with a visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia.
The buildings, both the interior of the restaurant and the vast new exhibition space, share a similar aesthetic – wooden slats through which shafts of horizontal light peep in – and an interesting juxtaposition to the Medieval monuments outside their walls.
Currently on display is an exhibition of 200 pieces that form part of the vast 3,000 works donated by German art collector Helga De Alvear (one of the founders of ArcoMadrid) to the region of Extremadura.
The artwork couldn’t be further removed from the dusty tapestries and ornate gilt on display in the neighbouring Palacios and churches.
Here you will find a chamber barely containing the oversized boulders daubed with bold psychedelic smudges that is Katharina Grosse’s ‘Faux Rocks’ 2006.
An entrance way is filled with the gaudiness of a crashed chandelier in Ai Weiwei’s Descending Light, while under a stairwell a collection of old television screens flicker.
The new museum and unrivalled collection that includes work by 500 artists including the likes of Joseph Beuys, Dan Flavin, Joseph Albers, Paul Klee, Nan Goldin, and Jenny Holzer, is tipped to transform Caceres into a European art destination in its own right.
For those with deep pockets, Atrio offers rooms above the restaurant hung with original artwork by Warhol and Tapies or there is the Parador just around the corner, a larger establishment that retains the charms of the converted palacete.
But for those who want to combine a weekend visit of art and food with a relaxing rural escape, then head a few miles out of the city to the Hotel Hospes Palacio de Arenales & Spa.
Boasting an indoor spa and vast outdoor infinity pool, the highlight of this tastefully converted former summer residence of a noble Cacereño family is best enjoyed at sunset.
The chiringuito style bar beside the pool is the perfect place to enjoy a sundowner while watching the dozens of storks come home to roost in nests built on lofty stands erected in a pasture alongside the hotel gardens.
The clattering of their beaks as they settle down for the night is an Extremeño lullaby that will linger in the memory and have you longing to return.
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