Region of Olivenza
The region of Olivenza stretches over the south-west of Extremadura and the province of Badajoz, made up of 11 towns, of which 5 form part of the Alqueva Natural Theme Park: Alconchel, Cheles, Olivenza, Táliga and Villanueva del Fresno.
It is a territory lying across the border which has had an impact on the economic, social and cultural development of the region. They are lands with vast pastures which form a common home for traditional livestock and wildlife. Its geography, with open and bright landscapes, is dotted with ancient castles and whitewashed villages, streets and squares which radiate history.
The Spanish-Portuguese “raya”, one of the oldest borders in Europe, confers a distinctive imprint on the region, forging its very own histories and traditions over the centuries.
The importance of water, owing to the Guadiana River and particularly the Great Lake of Alqueva, is one of the attractions of an area which has a lot to offer lovers of cultural and active tourism and nature.
Towns in the Alqueva Natural Theme Park
Olivenza is the capital of the region, with which it shares its name, and is one of the most important border towns in Extremadura. It has been the centre of countless conflicts between Spain and Portugal and is now a symbol of the co-existence of the two cultures, given its economic and social activity and the vast historical-artistic heritage within its walls, tangible evidence of the miscegenation which has enriched the cultural legacy of this town.
This town has a long history and its numerous incarnations are reflected in the countless monuments which visitors will find as they wander through the streets. The patrimonial interest of Olivenza is huge, projected onto its walls, bastions, churches, monasteries and gates, but no less interesting are its examples of popular architecture, which make the streets and squares of the town so attractive. The popular architecture is represented in small details such as the wrought-iron lattices, the cornices, the balconies and the paving on the roads, but also in the imposing houses which formerly belonged to the bourgeoisie and the well-to-do classes and which now reflect the Portuguese influence which permeates every nook and cranny.
From the castle of Miraflores which overlooks the town of Alconchel the Templar monks built up an important power centre which covered almost the whole of the current region of Olivenza. The dominant character of the town in the Middle Ages allows us to understand its current profile and, by extension, its cultural and ethnographical heritage. As in most of the region, the houses have the typical characteristics of the buildings of Lower Extremadura.
The above castle, which appears to safeguard the town from the Miraflores Hill, is the most outstanding patrimonial element. Without any established origin, its current appearance is due to the Order of the Temple, although the passage of time has left us with a broad mixture of different periods and styles.
Located on the banks of the cross-border section of the river Guadiana, Cheles is surrounded by places of great beauty and natural wealth. The pastureland is combined with the typical riverside landscape, which the Guadiana displays in all its glory as it flows through this town. There are various paths you can go along on foot, by bicycle or on horseback which end at the Great Lake of Alqueva, in whose calm waters tourists can fish, do a wide range of aquatic activities or, during the summer, enjoy a relaxing bathe.
Although Alqueva has modified the morphology of the Guadiana, the biodiversity which exists around Cheles is still extraordinary, with the possibility of finding rare species such as the black stork, the common otter, Bonelli’s eagle, the squacco heron and the grey heron.
VILLANUEVA DEL FRESNO
Villanueva del Fresno is a town characterised by its cross-border location, which has meant that its citizens have built up strong cooperative ties with their neighbours from El Alentejo. It is renowned for having a wonderful rural setting, where beautiful pasturelands of holm and cork oak trees, in which mainly Iberian pigs and retinto cattle are bred, are interspersed with typical riparian landscapes such as those to be seen around the bridges of La Bogaña and El Moncarche, which form a natural border with the town of Alconchel.
The rich biodiversity of Villanueva del Fresno is reflected in the existence of two protected areas, the “Río Alcarrache” Ecological Corridor of Biodiversity and the “Dehesas de Jerez” SPA. In these areas you can see species which have disappeared from almost the whole of the peninsula, such as eagle owls, black storks and wild cats. Villanueva is well-known as an important wintering area for cranes, around two thousand of which come each year to the fields of the town.
The origin of Táliga dates back to mediaeval times, and its foundation can be attributed to the Knights Templar. These knights settled in Alconchel Castle and they seem to have repopulated these lands with the Moors who were expelled from the said castle. Nowadays, Táliga is a town characterised by the surrounding pastureland and by the breeding of the fighting bull, as a significant bullfighting culture exits here.