para el Tajo Internacional
Location and access
The route is in the southwest of the province of Cáceres, on the border with Portugal marked out by the River Tajo, a section of river known as River Tajo International and declared a Natural Park in 2006. The suggested route can be reached from Valencia de Alcántara by the N-521 (Cáceres-Portuguese border), turning off onto the EX-374 towards the town of Cedillo, or from the town of Membrío, by the CC-126. From the north you can reach it from the EX-117.
Description of the route
The suggested route is a circular trip combining roads and dirt tracks. The route is designed to be done by car in one day, making strategic stops at the most interesting observation points.
The route takes you across plains, with pastureland and vast areas of broom scrubland, rich in small game and so highly frequented by birds of prey that come from the nearby mountain ranges and riverbanks. As it is a livestock farming area, you can see various species of scavengers, such as Griffon Vulture, Eurasian Black Vulture and Egyptian Vulture patrolling the land in search of food. As you continue you will see dehesas of purely Holm or cork oak or a mixture of both, which contain a lot of livestock drinking pools that are frequented by Black Stork. It is common to see the silhouette of Red Kite, Common Buzzard and Short-toed Eagle perched above on the electricity pylons. Then the predominance of gentle undulating slopes gives way to the uneven and impassable riverbanks of Tajo International, thrust so violently and spectacularly into the landscape that they are invisible from afar. In fact, from Spain you can see the towns and fields of Portugal but not the riverbanks of the Tajo, which are often only given away by the fog banks that cover the valley in winter. One of the largest breeding populations of Black Stork and Egyptian Vulture find refuge along the riverbanks, as well as other birds of prey, such as the Griffon Vulture, Eurasian Black Vulture, Golden Eagle, Bonelli’s Eagle, and Eagle Owl. The Spanish Imperial Eagle breeds on the neighbouring bank and in the nearby mountain ranges, completing the catalogue of birds that are sought after by birdwatchers. Away from the riverbank, the route goes up the Sierra de Santiago, which overlooks a vast dehesa landscape. If the large birds of prey in flight and the graceful silhouette of the Black Stork are spectacular, the flocks of tens of thousands of Common Wood Pigeons that winter in this area are no less so. They form clouds that fly to their feeding areas to eat the young, small cork oak acorns, or to their roosts, in the eucalyptus groves of the mountain ranges and riverbanks every day.
From Valencia de Alcántara, on the N-521, take the turning towards Cedillo on the EX-374 and then towards Herrera de Alcántara on the EX- 376 to go down to the riverbanks of the Tajo International, where you can see the scenery in all its splendour and the most representative habitats of this protected natural area. At point (X:0636373, Y: 438969) there is a viewpoint next to the road overlooking the valley of the River Tajo. The wonderful shade that covers this area, with masses of strawberry tree, laurustinus, wild olive and olive groves that grow on slate terraces, make this place an unbeatable spot to see small scrubland birds,thrushes, Hawfinch and Eurasian Bullfinch, mainly in autumn and winter, when there is a generous supply of fruits for the thousands of wintering birds. In the stretch towards Herrera de Alcántara you can see flocks of Azure-winged Magpie as well as Black-winged Kite and Carrion Crow, a highly localized resident species in the region.
From here return towards the town of Santiago de Alcántara along the CC-37, crossing rivers such as the Alburrel, which twists between slate rock faces, before flowing into the River Tajo. It is easy to spot the striking Black Wheatear on the slates, always associated to rocky habitats. Once you reach Santiago de Alcántara go towards the Centre of Interpretation of Nature “El Péndere”, following the road signs. From here starts the short road towards Geregosa Spring (PR CC-59), 7 km long, leading to the banks of the Tajo and the famous medicinal spring. The route isn’t difficult as it is well signposted and the road is in a good state. At point (X:0650063, Y: 43486053) continue straight on. Once you have reached the bank of the Tajo you will find some public facilities, such as a viewpoint and interpretative panels about the area. The site offers a good possibility of seeing riverside birds such as Grey Heron, Great Cormorant, Griffon Vulture, Black Stork, Egyptian Vulture, etc.
Returning to Santiago de Alcántara, take the CC-126 towards the town of Membrío. Leaving this town, take the road on the left at point (X:0651072, Y: 4386209), which will take you to the spot known as “Las Viñas”. The route is easy and is sign-posted throughout (PR-CC 96). Once you reach the end of the road there are several public facilities, such as a car park, a viewpoint and a spectacular observation tower from which you can enjoy the beauty of the rugged scenery of the Tajo International. From the viewpoint you can easily see the slate rock faces that tower over the river where Griffon Vulture, Black Stork and Egyptian Vulture nest.
Take the CC-37 back to Santiago de Alcántara, which will take you back towards the N-521, the start and end point of this route. At point (X:0651077, Y: 4384412) take a road on the left that will take you to the summit of Sierra de Santiago. We recommend you leave your car at the foot of the mountain range and walk up to the viewpoint you will find at the top and that looks out over a spectacular dehesa landscape. On the way up you can see Peña de los Barreros, some quartzite cliffs on which there is a colony of Griffon Vulture.
The Spanish Imperial Eagle and Black Stork should be highlighted. They are species in “danger of extinction” and there are good numbers of breeding pairs, both in the mountain range and in the dehesa and riverbanks in the area. The Spanish Imperial Eagle extends eastwards from this area, following the slopes of the Sierra San Pedro and giving rise to the largest breeding group in Extremadura. The Black Stork also has many pre-migration gatherings spread over the pools of the dehesa and the riverbanks. The Eurasian Black Vulture, linked to the dense and impenetrable patches of Mediterranean scrubland, is present in large numbers in the area, also continuing on from the numerous colonies in the neighbouring Sierra de San Pedro.
It isn’t difficult to find species such as Bonelli’s Eagle, Golden Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Griffon Vulture and Eagle Owl, of which there are many pairs nesting in the safety of the cliffs and trees. Egyptian Vulture has one of its largest breeding populations in Extremadura here. The excellent degree of conservation of the scrubland of the riverbanks and the shade of the mountain range provide shelter and food for a countless number of small species: Common Whitethroat, Robins, Dunnocks, etc.
In the deshesa Black-winged Kite, Carrion Crow – very scarce and localized in the region – and numerous flocks of the argumentative Azure-winged Magpies are often present.
In winter the flocks of tens of thousands of Common Wood Pigeons that form spiralling clouds as they move around are spectacular. The region of the Tajo International, together with the Sierra de San Pedro, is by far the best area during winter in Extremadura. There are also large winter concentrations of Great Cormorant in the waters of the Tajo.
Best time to visit
The route can be done at any time of the year. In winter you can enjoy the spectacle of the flocks of Common Wood Pigeon and in spring the summer visitors return: Black Stork, Egyptian Vulture, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, etc. Spring is also the breeding period, so you must keep to the established routes to avoid disturbing the birds during this sensitive period. Summer is very hot, so avoid the middle of the day, which is also less favourable for watching birds. The pre-migration concentrations of Black Stork gather in this season.
Other environmental and cultural interest
The area includes the Sierra de San Pedro which is an SPA supporting one of the largest number of breeding pairs of Spanish Imperial Eagle and Black Vulture in the Iberian peninsular. The Alcántera and Brozas plains are also important, combining natural pasture, rain-fed arable land, scrub and Holm oak groves, rich in open-country birds such as Great Bustard, Little Bustard, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Calandra Lark. The area is crossed by the Tajo river and its network of tributaries, such as the Eljas, Salor, Aurela and Sever. These waters are rich with fish and have good populations of Otter. During the autumn, the dehesas resonate with the sound of the rutting Red Deer stags, a common sight thanks to healthy populations of game in this area. The district is well endowed with megalithic monuments. Particularly important are the groups of dolmens of Santiago de Alcántara, Herrera de Alcántara and Cedillo. Prehistoric cave-paintings are well represented as well in the “El Buraco” cave (Santiago de Alcántara).
Alcántara offers good examples of vernacular architecture, such as its farm houses, as well as palaces, estate houses and convents, such as San Benito, which hosts the Festival of Classical Theatre in the first fortnight of August or the Convent San Bartolomé, which is now a hotel. One must not miss the Roman bridge over the Tajo, on the Vía de la Estrela.