Monday, June 9, 2014

Blast From the Past: Visiting the Medieval City of Ávila

Edge of the murallas, walls, of Ávila
Maybe you've never even heard of it.  But, you should give it a try.

At first I didn't know much about Ávila either, I had only become familiar with the area when I met one of the BF's friends who is originally from the province.  It was a last minute idea when my co-workers and I decided one weekend that we wanted to travel somewhere together.  Among other options, Ávila was the top contender for spending a relaxing day outside of Madrid.  As the capital of the province Ávila, in Castilla y León, it may be a small city (with a rough population of 60,000) but it's proximity to Madrid makes it an excellent, and affordable, day trip.

To arrive to Ávila from Madrid we took one of the many trains from Chamartín, which is about a 1.5 hour journey (if you don't take the regional train, 2€ less but not worth the extra time!) and roughly 10€ each way.  After our train arrived, also known as the 1.5 hours I spent being used as a race track for the two-year-old boy sitting next to me (who would NOT share his kit-kats), we made our way to the entrance of the old town of Ávila.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ávila is mainly known for its old city center and murallas (walls), that enclose most of the old town.  Built between the 11th and 14th centuries these walls are impressive for their sheer size alone.  While they may not seem that tall at first glance, the history nerd in me wants to comment that most Medieval cities were built into hillsides so they could use the height of the hill to build protective walls to their advantage (think entering the city of Toledo and its uphill trek).  The city of Ávila however is quite flat by comparison, meaning that with a rough perimeter of 8,000 feet and a height close to 40, there are few medieval walls I've seen that are as massive.
Naturally, the walls were the first part of the city we set off to explore.  While not all of the walls are walkable, nearly half of the perimeter is open to the public.  The general ticket price was 5€, but with a student ID only 3.5€ (with both including a guided audio tour).

We spent a good hour walking around the wall, enjoying the view and beautiful March day, before hunger got the best of us.  Nearing lunch time we wandered in the center of the old town to find some typical food.  One of my favorite things about Spain is that each region is known for it's "typical food," travelling from one province to another you're able to enjoy part of their individual.  One of the foods that Ávila is famous for is it's chuletón, or rib steak, which is just as juicy and delicious as the picture below looks:

source, Chuletón, yum!
After lunch we decided to walk around the rest of the old town, some claim that Ávila is one of the towns with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain, whether or not that's true there are definitely plenty of beautiful churches to see.  Two that we visited in Ávila were the Cathedral and the Convent for the patron saint Teresa de Ávila, built on her birthplace.

Though both beautiful, with only a few hours left before our train we decided to take some of the locals' advice to head to "Los Cuatros Postes," to get a full view of the walls.  On a hill outside the walls, the view from the posts was worth the twenty minute walk to overlook the city.

As we headed to the train station to return to Madrid we forgot we had opted to save 2€ by buying tickets home on the regional train.  Not worth it!  As the train pulled up we realized with a sinking feeling that we would be spending the next two hours stuck on a cercanías train, with a transfer in El Escorial, and the cherry on top was that we almost sat in a seat where someone had previously "tossed their cookies."  Ew.

Moral of the story, spend those 2€ for a shorter, more comfortable train ride.  Trust me.

source, yemas de Ávila/Santa Teresa
But don't forget to pick up some traditional yemas before you leave!

 Have you given Ávila a try?