Sierra de Gata and Las HurdesThese are two neighbouring yet different mountainous areas in the north-west corner of Extremadura right next to Portugal and Salamanca province.
Las Hurdes is renowned throughout Spain as an inaccessible and mysterious area, this reputation partly due to Buñuel's 1932 documentary (Tierra Sin Pan, The Land Without Bread), when extreme poverty was depicted among its isolated inhabitants. These days E.U. money has improved communications somewhat and the area's certainly entered the modern era in many ways. However, some of the most remote villages do give off a strange atmosphere that's compounded by the unusual countryside and countless abandoned houses left behind by people who moved to the cities.
Sierra de Gata, meanwhile, is extremely pretty rather than spectacular (although the view from Trevejo castle is wonderful!); there are numerous picture-book villages overflowing with timber-framed cottages to visit, natural swimming pools created by mountain springs to be dipped in and real food to be eaten. Foliage abounds, as the area has a microclimate that makes it far greener than much of Extremadura.
I have to confess my love for Sierra de Gata, in part because of the miniscule amount of tourism there. This is mainly due to its traditional inaccessibility. Visitors from other parts of Spain (especially Madrid) have always found it easier to reach La Vera and El Jerte in Extremadura or Sierra de Francia in Salamanca province rather than trek across to Sierra de Gata. The East-to-West road across the Sierra also used to be very poor, but the area's infrastructure is now far better.
A holiday in a Casa Rural in Sierra de Gata is a chance to experience a Spain that has been trampled over elsewhere. Let's make the most of it while we can I encountered three bars and two Casas Rurales on my first visit to the gorgeous village of Robledillo de Gata a decade ago. That number has now more than doubled, although mass tourism is still thankfully a distant nightmare.
As for excursions from Sierra de Gata, popping over the border to Portugal is recommended, as the gorgeous fortress village of Sortelha is only a day-trip away.