Salvaleón: a hike through legends and the best jamón

Sara Rodriguez Romo | Live the World

November 23, 2022

At the south of Extremadura, between pastures and mounts crowned by ruined castles, lies Salvaleón. A hike through the surrounding area will take you back to the time when a Moorish knight fell in love with a Christian lady, in the place where the last guerrilleros resisted the Spanish dictatorship. Nowadays, Salvaleón is devoted to the breeding of the Iberian pig, which is bred in a huge communal pasture that belongs to the town. Therefore, if you are looking for a place to hike and then have a great meal, this is the perfect spot!

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

History and legends

The best time of the year to visit Salvaleón is in spring. All the streams run through paradisiac green pastures. I advise you to go to the top of the many surrounding mounts of the town. In the first one, Risco Barbellío, there is a massive rock at the peak, where the vultures nest inside a cave. If you dare to get in there, follow the corridor. On the other end, there is a "nature window": go outside and admire the view. Breathe, it will feel like you are alone on the top of the world! There is no way out, so go back inside and pay attention to the huge hole dug on the ground. A local man dreamt a few decades ago that the Moorish had buried a treasure there. Judging from the size of the hole, we might say it took him a lot of work to realize that it was only a dream... 

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

On the other hand, we have to understand the guy's logic- the whole place is full of legends related to the Arabic occupation. There have been books and films about it. The story of Jarilla, the local Christian lady with whom a Moorish knight fell in love, is particularly famous. Spoiler alert: the story does not end up very well. At the communal pasture Monte Porrino, you can still visit the “tomb of the Moorish,” where the Moorish king is said to be buried. At Monsalud, the next mountain, lies the castle where they used to live - nowadays in ruins. According to the legend, the Moorish king enchanted the castle: no one other than him could live there! Therefore, when he died, his shadow killed every new inhabitant.

Eventually, a whole village was built around the castle. At the end of the Spanish Civil War (1939), the last guerrilleros of the town sought shelter in there. The Franqoists destroyed the place, so now you can find only the ruins of the castle and two Arabic cisterns with XIVth century graffitis, along with some ancient stone walls here and there. Nevertheless, it is worth hiking up there. The view in 360º is excellent! You can see the next town with its castle, Nogales.

Whoever likes history can also visit in the surrounding area the Bronze Age tombs, the Neolithic dolmen, the Roman villas. Furthermore, inside Salvaleón, there is a church recently restored on the inside, with beautiful pointed arches. It is dedicated to Saint Martha, who is said to have killed a mean dragon in a nearby village. The castle (another one!) of Salvaleón is in ruins as well, but still worth a visit. It is no wonder that all the fortresses are destroyed: the town was often over the centuries at the first line of the battles.

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

Tradition and good food

Many traditions have been preserved at Salvaleón, probably because it is placed between mountains. For instance, the dialect is very peculiar, and many words only exist there. Therefore, if there is something you do not understand, do not worry; it is perfectly normal. It’s a real gem for anthropologists! One of the most important traditions goes around the communal pasture: 1.700 hectares democratically divided for the use of the villagers. From there, they get acorns and grass for the pigs, tasty figs, mushrooms. 

Every year, when the cold comes, every family kills a pig (or two).  The animal has been fed naturally, so the meat is very tender. Killing a pig is a whole ritual: it is a gathering for the family. They all come together to make chorizo, lomo (tenderloin), manteca colorá (a mix of liver and fat to butter the toast), and many other delicacies. We say here that you can eat almost everything from the pig, and we do!

© Sara Rodríguez Romo

If you go to Salvaleón, don’t leave after hiking. Stay and eat! Let the locals advise you, and prepare yourself to regain in a single meal all the calories you have lost! 

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