Culture Vultures – Merida Roman remains and Monfrangue National Park 

After six weeks on the road it was time for a bit of culture – Merida is said to have the best Roman remains in Spain, and we were camped just outside; it’d be rude not to pop in.

On closer inspection, the town is chock full of fabulously well preserved Roman archeology. The main attractions are the amphitheatre and theatre which are adjacent and sit right beside the modern football stadium – it’s interesting to see how little has changed in the fundamental architectural layout. 

The amphitheatre is like a scaled down version of the Colloseum (with no queue!) and you get the same sense of grizzly history walking down through the tunnel where the gladiators entered to fight to the death for the amusement of the populace. 

If anything, the theatre was more impressive – no doubt in part to the restoration underway. 

Further out of town there’s an impressive roman bridge and this splendid aquaduct, now home to numerous migrating cranes. 

After a couple of hours of the culture it was time to tick the “Vulture” bit. We’d read about the great birdwatching to be had in Extremadura so asked Google “where is the best place to birdwatch in Extremadura?” The answer came back: Parque Nacional Monfrangue, and a couple of links down it mentioned “there’s an annual birdwatching festival there on the last weekend of February”… What are the chances of that, eh? 

The actual event itself comprised numerous huge tents near the National Park visitors centre, housing a couple of photo competitions (some fabulous shots), stands promoting ornithological tourism (it’s really big business all over Spain) and more fancy cameras, binoculars, hides and other paraphernalia than you can shake a stick at. Hard not to come away with a feeling of lense-envy! If you weren’t packing at least 500mm you were clearly inadequate (and I only had my phone). 

Anyway, there were also free guided twitching tours and even a conference program, but we decided to just go and see if we could find some feathered friends. There are a bunch of miradors at bird hot spots, and handy pictures on signs for the inexperienced birder. 

Great spectacle of dozens of cormorants taking off from the water in close formation. 

…, along with plenty of cranes, of course, and numerous species of raptors, but the stars of the show are the Griffon Vultures, about 600 pairs, circling menacingly above. 

And all in a gorgeous spot – ironically, we could have had much the same experience without the festival (and most likely had the place to ourselves!) Now, where have those camera brochures gone… 

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