We kicked off this blog back in January with a post about how the travel guide Frommer's had named Extremadura as one of its must-visit places for 2020. That aged well didn't it?
We'd planned to spend the year showcasing the extraordinary places to visit and things to do in our favourite region. Things like the Jarramplas turnip throwing festival in Piornal. Or the annual walk on foot and horseback retracing the steps of the Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V as he arrived for post-abdication retirement at the Monasterio de Yuste in 1556.
Then the pandemic struck. At that point our plans, along with everyone else's, went out the barn door. Julia and I returned to London while Andy and Clare remained in isolation during Spain's strict confinamiento at their finca in the comarca de La Vera.
At first, Extremadura seemed to escape the worst of the pandemic. Thanks on this occasion to its remoteness and sparse population, it had a moderate number of coronavirus cases and relatively few deaths compared with the big cities. In the summer, as Spain began tentatively to open up to visitors again, I did an optimistic piece for the Telegraph about how the region was well placed to capitalize on the new reality, with its al fresco dining and wide open spaces. Then came the second wave. Cases in Extremadura have remained stubbornly persistent, and almost every aspect of rural life has been disrupted.
Colourful events we'd hoped to feature here simply didn't happen this year. In June there was no Corpus Christi festival in Fuentes de León, when men with bells on their stockings and carnations in their mouths usually dance through crowded village streets. In July, to Andy's displeasure, public swimming was forbidden in the spectacular waters of La Vera.
In August, Mérida's classical theatre season somehow managed to go ahead, with socially distanced seating in its open-air Roman auditorium. But in September, Segura de León's medieval bull run bit the dust, and October's livestock fair in Zafra and pilgrimage to Guadalupe's black Madonna became virtual events, after several centuries of the real thing.
Work to restore our old barn ground to a halt for several months in line with government restrictions. But now we're back on track to welcome visitors in the spring as part of the MyTravelPledge initiative, launched by Ian Rutter and Andrew Watson of Casa Higueras near Granada, to offer free stays to NHS workers once the pandemic is finally over.
Happily, some things haven't changed. Our neighbour Antonio's pedigree pigs are once again grazing on our acorns as they do at this time every year, to produce some of the world's finest ham. Andy is about to start the satisfying task of the annual olive harvest, and our friend Placi has just planted another 25 oak trees so the life cycle of the dehesa can continue for the next hundred years.
We can't wait to get back to Extremadura for all of this and more. Here are some of the things we're particularly looking forward to when normal life starts to return, and we recommend them to anyone thinking of visiting in 2021.
Dining (just once) at Michelin-starred Atrio restaurant in Cáceres; the lunchtime buzz and sizzling gambas at Fregenal de la Sierra's Bar Lara; award-winning tapas by Rocio Maya Diaz at Bar Noa in Fuentes de León.
Trujillo's best-in-class red wine Habla del Silencio; no label manzanilla sherry in plastic bottles from the bar at our local petrol station. A glacial caña of Cruzcampo.
That's the food and drink taken care of, but most of all we look forward to taking off our masks, seeing our friends smile again, exchanging kisses on the cheeks and fuertes abrazos (big hugs).
¡Feliz Navidad y próspero Año Nuevo!