Avila de los Caballeros (which is Avila’s full name) is the capital of the province of Avila in the region of Castile. Just northwest of Madrid, Avila rests on a flat summit enclosed by mountains which therefore means it is subject to extreme climates with long winters and short summers.
Avila is one of the oldest cities in Castile and has been declared a World Heritage site. It is probably best known for its medieval city walls which date back to 1090. There are 88 towers and 9 gateways that surround the oldest part of the city, and considering their age they are still in extraordinarily good condition. The walls stand 14m high, are 3m thick, cover 2.5km and look absolutely magnificent when they are lit up at night.
The Parador Avila, Hotel Raimundo de Borgona is a 16th century palace, now a luxury four star hotel and located within the city walls. Originally the site of the former Piedras Albas Palace, the original archaeological features remain in the gardens creating a rather special atmosphere. There is also a beautiful glazed patio which is an ideal way to enjoy the sun whatever time of the year you are there.
The Gothic Cathedral was built at the same time as the great wall and integrated into the walls with battlements and sentry walks, it does have the appearance of a majestic fortress. The museum within the Cathedral has a wonderful collection of religious art including the portrait of Garcibáñez de Múxica, an El Greco original. Only a five minute walk from the Cathedral is the Gothic Monastery of Santo Tomas. This is where the tomb of Prince John rests, the only son of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who died at the young age of 19. This was also where the notorious Frian Tomas Torquemada was buried. He was the first Grand Inquisitor and leader of witch hunts during the 15th century.
Each year at the beginning of September the city holds a Medieval celebration which takes you back in time with stalls filled with incense and cheeses, Knights and Jongleurs. October is when the St Teresa de Jesus festival takes place with fireworks, parades and bullfights.
Another beautiful building to visit is the Basilica de San Vicente. According to legend a wealthy Jew laughed at the Saint’s execution and miraculously a serpent emerged from the rocks and almost suffocated him. He was so shaken by all this he immediately repented and then converted, eventually building a church on the site. Inside this 12th century Romanesque Basilica is the tomb of San Vincente.
If you wish to explore the countryside the Gredos Platform is where you can follow some wonderful trails. There is also the Poza Esmeralda and Alamnzor. There is also the Charco del Cura reservoir set in the Avila mountains.
Madrid is just over an hour away by car so a day trip into Spain’s capital could not be easier. There you will have an opportunity to experience everything from watching some of the county’s finest Matadors and Flamenco dancers to dining in the oldest restaurant in the world. So not only will you be able to enjoy the World Hertiage Site of Avila but also include the cosmopolitan experience of Madrid.