June 29th, 2011
Well placed by name in Castile and Leon, Ávila can be found 115 km North West of Madrid, closer to the more famous Segovia. But don’t make the mistake of missing a chance to see this astounding walled city, walk the famous wall, also a land of Saints and Scholars!
Walk the line
Of the wall that is! Measuring 31 hectares and 12 meters high it’s a pretty impressive garden wall! In fact, the only complete circuit of fortification to exist around any Spanish city, and the largest illuminated complete structure in the whole of Spain. A UNESCO site, and sight, for obvious reasons. The best views of the wall are from across the river Adaja – it looks more like a film set. Closer inspection reveals Roman foundations, those reliable builders of old, and the rectangular shape is a perfect classic form of Castrum, the Roman’s standard building plan. When you’ve completed the circuit – choose one of the 9 gates to make your entrance..
What lies behind?
Choose the main gate of Puerta de Alcázar, look up and see if you can spot a stone marker shaped like a Boar. This is a clue to the Celtic heritage of Ávila – and within the city everywhere you will find hundreds of these pieces of stone, actually Celtic grave markers called Verracos, so called because they have Boars and sometimes bulls depicted on them. Look out for the Convent of Saint Teresa on the Plaza de la Santa open every day 09:30-13:30 – 15:30-19:30. A large collection of paintings and relics are on show inside.
Back to the gate and you will find beside it the Plaza de Santa Teresa, and the church with a pretty stained glass window, 13th Century San Pedro. Saint Teresa was born here in Ávila – she was to become the symbol of the Carmelite Nuns and a prolific writer, even if religion is not your thing you will still find evidence of her everywhere, including the candied egg yolk pastries sold in every shop, and still made today by the local nuns, Yemas de Santa Teresa.
Her Saint day is celebrated on October 15th every year where you can stuff yourself with the pastries to your hearts content – gets chilly here in Autumn so remember to add a layer or two in the packing.
Cathedral or Castle?
Well, it’s both really, fortified as it is and guarded by a couple of cavemen with clubs – not real ones, just set in stone and flanking the doorway. The inside is pretty and Gothic in style but the richly carved tombs are worth a look-see, keep an eye out for one bishop lying there, he was known as El Tostada for his tanned and Gypsy-like appearance!
What else is to see here?
There are no less than 2 universities, including the University of Mysticism(!) and no less than 7 different museums, dedicated to Art, including Oriental art, roman artifacts and science.
Don’t miss the Basilica de San Vicente - martyred here alongside his 2 sisters a serpent guards the graves inside: the location in years gone by for oath swearing and bargain making! The legend is if you lie on oath or fail to fulfill a promise made here then the stone serpent will come back to life and sting you! So that’ll be the place to take the kids then.
Also here you’ll find the icon of Nuestra Señora de la Soterana – Our Lady of the Underground – nothing to do with London or trains…
Open Tuesday to Sunday 10:00-14:00 – 16:00-20:00 . Closed Mondays.
Restaurants tend to be fairly inexpensive, a bonus when you are self catering as it means you don’t have to cook all the time. Look out for classic Castilian cooking:
- Veal, Lamb ,Steak
- Trout, steamed, fried and even pickled
- local white bean stews with Chorizo
Or shop locally and source fresh ingredients to cook at home in your rented accommodation, this holiday rental property page will give you some idea of what to expect. You can day trip or stay further afield in Madrid, Segovia, or Salamanca...the choice is yours! (Here is some more choice of holiday property available in nearby Salamanca)
The surrounding terrain is a pleasure to explore, a high patchwork plain with squares of yellow and shades of green agricultural land. Pack that picnic and head out into the sunshine… Small interesting villages, castles and bridges await you.