Plasencia Spain History
Nowadays, Plasencia Spain is a quiet, largely forgotten town in the Extremadura region of Western Spain. In the 15th century, though, it lay in a strategic location along the Silver Route, or Ruta de la Plata.
For this reason, Plasencia was THE place to be, and noblemen from the surrounding region built stately palaces for themselves here. Many of those imposing buildings are still standing today.
Strolling through Plasencia’s compact old quarter is like stepping back in time and is an experience not to be missed.
This is a destination that’s well off the tourist track, and in fact we didn’t see a single other foreigner the whole time we were there. We did see a number of Spanish tourists, though.
To be honest, Plasencia probably would not have been on our radar either, except that Nick had recently completed a paleography course focusing on the transcription of medieval documents from the archives of the Plasencia cathedral.
So, it was a rather obscure interest that brought us there, but you don’t have to be a budding paleographer to enjoy Plasencia. It’s a great destination for anyone who enjoys gaping at medieval city walls, churches and monasteries.
And to top it off, you can even sleep inside one of Plasencia’s architectural wonders! More about that in the Where to Stay in Plasencia Spain section below.
Plasencia is also a wonderful place to experience the real Spain, away from all the tourist crowds. You can easily see the main sights in one day.
If you have a bit more time, I highly recommend exploring some of the other nearby towns of Extremadura while you’re in the area. Trujillo, Cáceres and Guadalupe are three spectacular medieval towns and are very close by.
Here are some of the must-see sights that you shouldn’t miss when visiting Plasencia.
Things to Do in Plasencia Spain
Most of Plasencia’s streets are pretty quiet and sleepy. If you are wondering where all the people are, they’re probably in the Plaza Mayor!
This is where all the action happens, and it seems that just about every street in town leads here eventually.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Plasencia on a Tuesday, come check out the weekly produce market, which has been held right here in the square since the 12th century.
The first Tuesday of August is celebrated as Martes Mayor (Big Tuesday). On that day, in addition to the regular market there are concerts and folk dances, and free wine is handed out to visitors!
You’ll find plenty of cafés and bars in the square at any time of year, as well as the town hall (see below).
Plasencia Town Hall
With its waving flags, colonnaded arches and tall bell tower, the town hall is the most distinctive building on the Plaza Mayor. The figure who’s hanging on precariously at the top of the tower is “el abuelo Mayorga”.
He has become the unofficial symbol of the town and is loved by locals and tourists alike. Grandpa Mayorga has been hanging there since the 13th century, although the figure you see today is a replica from the 1970s.
The Cathedral of Plasencia is unique in that it’s actually two cathedrals in one. The Catedral Vieja, or Old Cathedral, was built in the 13th century in the Romanesque style.
The Catedral Nueva, or New Cathedral, was a 16th-century addition (“new” is a relative term). It shows a mix of Gothic and Renaissance features. Today, the Old Cathedral functions mainly as a museum, while the New Cathedral is still an active place of worship.
It’s definitely worth paying the 4 euro entrance fee to visit the museum inside the Old Cathedral.
You will be able to see the beautiful Capilla de San Pablo (Chapel of St. Paul) with its octagonal ceiling. You’ll also find paintings by famous artists such as Caravaggio and Zurbarán displayed here.
The peaceful 13th-century cloisters, which surround lemon trees and a baptismal font, are another highlight of the museum. You’ll also find gravestones and some ancient Roman remains in the cloisters.
Plasencia has been surrounded by a defensive wall ever since it was first founded by King Alfonso VIII of Castille in 1198. Originally, 70 towers and 8 gates punctuated the wall.
At the top of the old town, inside the best preserved of the remaining towers, is the Interpretation Center of the Medieval City.
There are some interesting displays of artefacts inside the center, and it is from here that you can gain access to the crenellated wall and walk along part of it.
Several of the original city gates are also still intact. These include Puerta de la Berrozana, Puerta del Sol, and Puerta de Coria.
One of the main gateways into the town is the impressive Puerta de Trujillo, which is also known as Puerta de Salud. When you pass under its arch, you will be transported back to the 15th century as you explore Plasencia’s old town.
Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Port
This chapel lies a few kilometers outside of Plasencia but is worth a quick detour. It was built in 1644 and is surrounded by oak trees.
From this lovely vantage point, you’ll have great views out over Plasencia and the Jerte Valley. The sanctuary is open every day from 7am to 9pm.
White storks are a common sight in many parts of Extremadura, and Plasencia is no exception. In fact, stork sightings are becoming more and more common.
This is because, in the past, almost all the storks would fly south to Morocco or elsewhere in Africa in the summer and return to Spain at the end of the winter.
In the past 20 years, however, more of them have been choosing to stay in Spain rather than migrating. This may be partly because of the weather, but the main thing enticing the storks to stay seems to be rubbish tips! These provide an easy food source for them.
They build their nests in high places, such as telephone poles or church bell towers. Just look up, and you’re likely to spot one.
Map of Plasencia Spain
Below is a Google Map of all the things to do, places to eat and places to stay in this guide to Plasencia.
Where to Eat in Plasencia Spain
Mesón Restaurante Chamizo
I wasn’t sure what I would find to eat as a vegan traveler in a region of Spain known mainly for its pig flesh, but dining in Plasencia turned out to be a very pleasant surprise.
For lunch, we ended up at Mesón Restaurante Chamizo, a beautiful and elegant restaurant in the heart of the old town.
Edit February 2019: Their website is no longer working, but they do still appear on The Fork. It's unclear whether the restaurant is still open. Try messaging them on Facebook before you go.
I saw that there was a parrillada de verduras (grilled vegetable platter) on the menu and almost went for that, but I decided to ask first if there were any other vegan options.
Our server suggested the ensalada de zorongollos al estilo del mesón - a salad featuring roasted red peppers with artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes.
The recipe used by this particular restaurant normally includes tuna, ham and eggs, but the waitress offered to leave those out and add in extra artichokes.
Well, I’ve certainly never been one to turn down an offer of extra artichokes! I’ve always thought I didn't really like bell peppers, but that seems to have changed. When roasted to be this soft and juicy they were delicious.
For dinner, we decided to check out Casa Juan — a place we had spied down a little side alley while wandering through the old town.
Here I went for the boletus al ajillo, which was a huge plate of soft and succulent porcini mushrooms seasoned with garlic and olive oil.
Just one whiff of the aroma rising up from the plate and I knew this was going to be a fabulous dinner.
Casa Juan also offers a parrillada de verduras, which I had initially thought about ordering as second course, but the porcini accompanied with some bread and wine turned out to be plenty.
The only negative aspect of the meal was the appearance of a couple of mysterious charges on the bill for things that we hadn’t ordered, but when I pointed them out, they were taken off right away.
I prefer to believe that this was an honest mistake, because our waiter was otherwise so very jolly, kind and friendly.
El Café de San Nicolás
The next day, we ducked into El Café de San Nicolás for a quick breakfast before catching a train on to Cáceres. The sign outside promised tostadas con tomate - a great vegan choice for breakfast in Spain.
They also offer tostadas (toasted bread) with jam (be sure to specify that you want it without butter), or even just with olive oil - the simplicity of Mediterranean cuisine at its best!
And the “etc.” at the end of the list would suggest that the options are limited only by your imagination. I saw some marinated artichokes at the bar that I’m sure would make a killer tostada….
This local eatery has a separate vegan menu with lots of options! The vegan menu was added after my visit to Plasencia, so I didn't get a chance to eat there myself.
Reports so far have been very favorable, though! Vegan options include salads, soups, two types of burgers, croquettes, and even a vegan Spanish tortilla! Check out their Facebook page to see the reviews (mostly in Spanish).
Where to Stay in Plasencia Spain
Plaza San Vicente Ferrer, 10600 Plasencia, Spain
To fully experience medieval Plasencia, why not spend the night inside one of its 15th-century monuments? A night at the Plasencia Parador is a magical experience and will be the highlight of your visit to the town.
What is a Parador in Spain?
Paradors in Spain (actually the plural in Spanish would be paradores) are historic buildings that have been converted into luxury hotels. Staying in a parador means staying in a castle, a fortress, a monastery or some other type of historic building.
They are run by the government and are often priced quite affordably, considering the high quality of service. Prices vary depending on the type of room and the season, and of course the number of adults or children staying.
The first parador opened in Spain in 1926, and now there are nearly 100 of these historic hotels throughout the country. They are highly rated by Spaniards but are still relatively unknown among visitors from the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries.
Staying at the Plasencia Parador
In the case of the Plasencia Parador, the historic building in question is the 15th-century Santo Domingo Monastery, which was built on the site of a Jewish synagogue inside the old Jewish quarter.
We had always wanted to stay in a parador, so Nick surprised me by booking us in for a night at the Parador Plasencia. It was magical. The storks seemed to like it too!
Many of the original architectural features have been retained, including the beautiful cloister and its Mudejar ceiling.
The rooms are furnished much more comfortably than when they were used as monks’ cells, though. Within the grounds you’ll find a lovely garden, an outdoor swimming pool and an atmospheric restaurant.
All rooms at the Parador Plasencia Hotel come with air conditioning, mini bar and a private bathroom and are non smoking rooms (although there is a designated smoking area). The facilities available include currency exchange, room service, and parking on site.
If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, or just a bit of luxury at an affordable price, the Plasencia Parador is hard to beat.
Photo credit: Tamborileros in Plaza Mayor image by Jörn Wendland. All other photos by Wendy Werneth or Nick Leonard, all rights reserved.