Extremadura is Spain's most isolated region, and that's usually considered a disadvantage. Its historic towns and sparsely populated landscape have many blessings, but strong air and rail links are not among them. So it doesn't get the visitors it deserves.
But during the pandemic that isolation has been an advantage. Tragically, Spain has had the world's second highest toll of coronavirus cases and deaths, behind only the United States. While Madrid and Barcelona have been by far the hardest hit, Extremadura is a long way down the table. Our health region, Llerena-Zafra, has recorded only 5 deaths.
This week, the tough restrictions imposed to fight the pandemic are starting to be lifted across Spain. Children under 14, who had been completely locked down at home for six weeks, are now allowed outside for an hour a day, as the country recorded its lowest number of deaths since March. But life is still very far from normal. Farmers need to explain to the police why and when they are going to the campo to tend their animals. Shops, bars and restaurants remain shuttered. The tourist industry, which accounts for 12 per cent of the Spanish economy, has fallen to all but zero.
As in Britain, attention is starting to turn to what will happen when life begins to return to the new normal. And there is huge concern about the survival of Extremadura's already fragile economy and way of life. The regional government has announced a 65m euro package of measures aimed at supporting agriculture and tourism, and passionate friends of Extremadura are calling for a concerted effort to save the region's unique character, encouraging people to take their holidays in its towns and villages, support local businesses and buy productos extremeños such as jamón ibérico, cheese, olive oil and wine.
There's nothing we'd rather do if we weren't locked down in London with no clear sense of when it will be possible to visit Spain again. But, thanks to an innovative idea just launched, there may be a way to help support both Extremadura's (and Spain's) tourist economy and Britain's NHS. Ian Rutter and Andrew Watson run a beautiful bed and breakfast called Casa Higueras in the village of Moclín, near Granada in Andalusia. They have been putting together a project called MyTravelPledge, which aims—once it's possible to travel again—to offer free stays to NHS staff as a heartfelt thankyou and as a way of breathing life back into the local economy. Already, dozens of bed and breakfast and holiday home owners have signed up to make their properties available under the scheme. We are delighted to join in by putting our house, La Hoya Alta, into the pot.
So, if you're an NHS worker, or know someone who is, take a look at the beautiful free stays on offer across Spain and beyond. And, whether you're able to take advantage of MyTravelPledge or not, why not consider spending your next holiday in splendidly isolated Extremadura?