Badajoz is the capital of southern Extremadura, yet is somewhat out on a limb unless you reach Extremadura via the Lisbon road.

The city lies on the border and Portuguese come over regularly to shop now that controls have been hugely relaxed. What's more, instead of expecting their neighbours to speak Spanish or lump it, people from Badajoz are now actively learning Portuguese. These cross-border influences are often noticeable when visiting Badajoz, both in its architecture and cuisine. The cathedral and the old quarter are definitely worth a look and a stroll: narrow streets lead up to the pretty Plaza Alta and Alcazaba (Moorish castle) with many buildings that have

something of a tumbledown yet authentic feel to them. A lot of money has recently been spent on giving the Plaza Alta an architecturally controversial (but intriguing) facelift. The city council are moving several public organizations in and turning the Alcazaba to university use, all in an attempt to spruce the area up and encourage its previous residents to move out. Some have done so but others have stayed; there's a curious juxtaposition in evidence at the moment.

In cultural terms the city boasts an excellent Modern Art Gallery (MEIAC), specialising in Spanish, Portuguese and South American work, while Badajoz's Festival of Contemporary Theatre offers challenging pieces every autumn. The carnival - pagan in origin but now tied in to the Catholic calendar of pre-Lent - is a gorgeous series of parades and floats, backed up by some pretty hedonistic nightlife. The theory goes that it's the third most important carnival in Spain behind Cádiz and Las Palmas; whatever, it's certainly great fun!

The town of Olivenza is perhaps one of the most interesting excursions from Badajoz. It once belonged to Portugal (some claim it still does!) and this fusion is clear for all to see. A stroll round its streets, churches and convents is recommended. Guides often frustrate with loads of information on countless mouthwatering dishes that then aren't available when you reach your destination, but Olivenza has one speciality that I'm certain you will be able to find: técula mécula, an invention involving egg yolks, almonds and sugar. It's a real treat for anyone with a sweet tooth!

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