Every country has its own version. A remote part of the country where the locals are “backwards” and the region carries a well known stigma.
In the United States it was Appalachia; in Spain, it was Las Hurdes. Las Hurdes–along with its neighbor to the northeast, Las Batuecas–is a collection of small towns nestled within a maze of rugged peaks and narrow valleys some 300 km due west of Madrid.
A mountainous region that was difficult to access and deeply impoverished, the locals of Las Hurdes suffered from their isolation. Maladies such as goiters and parasites affected the isolated communities. For a long time there was little to no literacy in the region, and the Catholic church had only a very weak presence in the area. Beginning in the 1500s, Las Hurdes began to develop a sinister reputation.
Over the last 400 years Las Hurdes, has been rumored to possess pagan “barbarians,” Muslim and Jewish refugees, the remains of 8th-century Gothic knights, UFOs, apparitions, demons, political exiles and the veritable presence of God.
Perhaps the most influential–and notorious–account is Luis Buñuel’s controversial 1933 film, Las Hurdes: Land Without Bread, which parodied contemporary ethnographies and depicted the hurdanos as depraved freaks living in abject poverty. As one can imagine, the people of Las Hurdes have worked hard to shed that reputation. Seventy years later, anger over their depiction in the film is still fresh with locals.
For centuries, travelers from Spain and abroad have been both repelled by and drawn to Las Hurdes’ legends, whether it was characterized as a rustic idyll or the dark heart of Spain–Arcadia or Inferno. The landscape is striking in its biodiversity, and winding, precipitous trails lend the region a palpable sense of mystery and wonder.
Today, Las Hurdes is slowly shaking off some of its half-millennia of bad reputation. Visitors to Las Hurdes can sample artisanal honey and olive oil, view paleolithic-era stone carvings, and hike the region’s many trails. The Documentation Center of Las Hurdes, in the town of Pinofranqueado, is a helpful place to start exploring this mysterious, and all too often maligned, corner of Spain.
Know Before You Go
Las Hurdes is famously remote, so public transit is not an option; whether leaving from Madrid (3 hrs) or Salamanca (1 hr 45 mins), the trip is best made by car.
The Monastery of San José de las Batuecas is not open for tourist visits; however, it does offer accommodations for those who are seeking a genuinely religious, contemplative experience.