The Town of Stones and Saints
Impossible to think, nor remember when was the only time I’ve ever been to this beautiful city. I was just a kid and never returned to Avila. Silly to think about it, how is it possible being that near Madrid and so easy accessible from here whether by train or bus, merely an hour and a half centre to centre. Considering the enormous patrimony and heritage, the only city in Spain retaining its medieval town walls absolutely complete and the city with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches and constructions in the whole of Spain, it is no surprise it became one of the first entire cities to be listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
It’s the capital of the province of the same name, one of 9 that forms Castile and Leon, also one of the less populated. Barely 50.000 inhabitants. For much of its history it has been coexisting in the shadow, where no important events have taken place other than the fights between the Moors and the Christians. It was this quietness and somewhat remoteness from other bigger and important cities that left the heritage almost intact, a city that never needed to expand beyond its walls hence never tearing these apart, a perfect medieval city with some of the finest Romanesque buildings in Spain.
Not to mention, a day is well more than enough to enjoy it in full. The perfect day away from Madrid if that’s your base. After all, Madrid can be an idyllic base in order to reach stunning places and cities at around a maximum of an hour and a half distance, most of which listed UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as Talavera de la Reina, Toledo, Aranjuez, Cuenca, Alcala de Henares, Guadalajara, Segovia, El Escorial.
Walking through its ancient streets and marvellous walls you will find plenty of bars and restaurants serving the local cuisine. Rare is the place which is either overpriced or a tourist trap, these just basically do not exist, however a keen eye and comparison before making your choice is advisable. Prices are pretty much stable and the same at most of the places, unless the upscale ones where you can easy pay twice as much for a “chuleton”.
So starting with a chuleton (grilled T-bone steak made from the indigenous black cow Negra Ibérica is one of the finest delicacies, but of course there are more like the Judias del Barco (a stew of white beans from the village of Barco de Avila cooked with sausage, chorizo, pig ear and vegetables). Patatas revolconas (crashed boiled potatoes with garlic, paprika and rashers of bacon); and of course the most famous desert, Yemas de Santa Teresa which you will find in every pastry shop.
For further information about Avila visit Wikipedia site. Spain’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Avila
- Outer Walls Surrounding the historical walled city, where you’ll also find some Romanesque churches and monasteries listed as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avila.
-Railway Station At the east of the city, a short walk to the walled historical centre. Next to it is the main bus terminal, hence both stations your main arrival points in Avila.
-Ex Monastery of Santa Ana Half way between the railway station and the walls. Nowadays the Provincial Government offices.
-San Jose Convent Just meters west from Santa Ana Monastery. The first monastery founded by Saint Teresa of Jesus, built in 1562. The church, dating from 1607 was designed by the architect Francisco de Mora (1553-1610).
-Santa Teresa Square Continuing west after the Convent of San Jose, this square opens directly to the famous city walls.
-Saint Peter’s Church One of the many Romanesque churches in Avila, built in the 12th century.
-Alcazar Gate One of the most symbolic and major gates into the old city.
-La Magdalena Convent By the southwest side of the square, facing the city walls. Built in the 12th century, with the latest changes done in the 16th.
-Nuestra Senora de Gracia Convent Next to La Magdalena, you will get great views of it all from the Paseo Rastro that runs along the city walls as it lies higher.
-San Segundo Street Running parallel to the eastern city walls, it is one of the best places to admire the walls and the buildings along. Notice the big buttress that forms part of apse of the Cathedral.
-Nalvillos Square Parallel to San Segundo Street, east from the Cathedral apse.
-Santo Tome el Viejo Church Mostly dating from the 12th century.
-Palace of the Deanes Nowadays the museum of the city.
-San Vicente Church Right by the northeast corner of the city walls. One of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Spain, built between the 12th and 14th centuries. The architect was the French master Giral Fruchel, who introduced the Gothic style in Spain.
- Old town Within the walls it remains one of the most untouched medieval cities in Spain, full of palaces, churches and a cathedral all in the Romanesque style.
-Walls Built between the 11th and 14th centuries they do cover a perimeter of 2516 metres, contain 9 gates, 88 blocks of semicircular towers with a thickness of 3 meters and an average height of 12 meters. It is the best preserved medieval walls in Spain, and the largest fully illuminated monument in the world.
-San Vicente Gate One of the 9 gates in the walls, also one of the biggest and grandest one. Located opposite the San Vicente Church.
-De los Vergudo Palace Right after entering the old town through San Vicente’s Gate. Built in 1500 with some touches in plateresque style. The courtyard, although unfinished, it’s impressive.
-De los Aguila Palace Physically the next building after Verdugo. Another important former residence of a wealthy family.
-Mosen Rubi Chapel Continuing along the street after De los Aguila Palace. Built in the late Gothic style.
-Diego de Bracamonte Palace North from Mosen Rubi Chapel. Impressive mansion once belonging to Alvaro Davila, Marshal of Castile who married Juana de Bracamonte.
-Parador de Avila One of the most exclusive and luxurious hotels housed in a 16th century palace. West from Mosen Rubi Chapel.
-Plaza del Mercado Chico The central square and heart of the old town. From the Parador, take Ramon y Cajal Street south, then Calle Vallespin and you’ll reach it.
-City Hall Aligning the north side of the square. From 1868.
-Saint John Baptist’s Church At the southern side of the square.
-Corral de las Campanas Square Taking the street Sancho Davila south from the western side of Saint John Baptist’s Church, you’ll reach the next major landmark where every building is a sight.
-MPs Palace and Torreon de los Guzmanes From the 16th century, it is one of the city’s main landmarks.
-Local Government Tax Office Housed in another 16th century palace, right across from the MPs Palace.
-Convent of Santa Teresa de Jesus Built by the Order of the Discalced Carmelite nuns in the 17th century, supposedly on the site where Saint Teresa of Avila was born.
-Santa Teresa’s Gate One of the principal gates along the southern walls.
-El Rastro Gate The only one with the colonnade on the top. The views of the walls towards the east from here is quite prominent with the archbishop’s palace attached to it.
-El Rastro Square Very small yet charming, home to the great palace of Pedro Davila.
-Archbishop’s Palace Farther east from Pedro Davila Palace, located at Teniente Arevalo Square.
-Cathedral Square The last of the main sights in Avila according to the route proposed in my guide.
-Cathedral Built between the 11th and 15th centuries, in Romanesque and Gothic styles, planned as a cathedral-fortress with the apse being one of the turrets of the city walls. It is along the one in Cuenca, the very first 2 Gothic cathedrals in Spain.
-De los Velada Palace Along the northern side of the square, nowadays a luxurious hotel.
-Post Office Palace Next building along the north side, another beautiful former 16th century palace.
-Former Palace of the King Niño It was built in the 12th century as part of the defence walls of the city. Through the time it was divided and some buildings torn down to create space for others.
Avila does not have a commercial airport, therefore the nearest one is Madrid at around hour and a half either via bus or train. It’s after all a nice, comfortable and quick commute from one another. Of course it is not just Madrid where you can use as your main gateway into Avila, but other cities in Spain, notably Castile and Leon.
Within the city, distances are really small, and if you consider most of the old town within the walls is completely pedestrian, there is absolutely no need for taking any kind of public transportation which in any case, it is only buses. Walking within is your best bet in order to enjoy every sight. And yes, only a place is farther away from anything else, at the totally opposite side from the main eastern gate, that’s the viewing point from where you get the best views of the entire walled old town. Worth the walk for sure, or a short taxi ride.
Since this was a day trip from Madrid, there is little I can say about accommodation here in Antwerp other than the usual, checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. In the other hand, you have plenty of beautiful rental apartments and airb&b, it could be a great chance to stay at a traditional house for pretty much the same cost or less than a hotel.