By Robin Graham
Ávila, the highest provincial capital in Spain, has been many things to many people. Obila to the pre-Roman Vettones and Abela to the Romans before it acquired its current name, it has been won and lost by them all, including the Moors who took it and called it Abila and lastly the Christians who conquered Spain.
These days it continues to wear many hats. To many devout Spaniards it is a holy city, home of Saint Teresa of Ávila, the 16th century mystic who might have been the country’s patron saint. The city still celebrates her fiesta for nearly the whole of October each year and claims to have more Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita than anywhere else in Spain.
Perhaps surprisingly (and perhaps not) it also claims to have the largest number of bars and restaurants per head in the country, and many come here for the gastronomy. The famous chuletón de Ávila, a t-bone steak taken from a local breed, is attraction enough for them. Other local dishes include Judías del Barco (white beans cooked with chorizo and pig’s ear) and, on the sweet side, egg-yolk pastries called Yemas de Santa Teresa.
For most visitors to the town today though, a large part of the appeal is going to be visual. Apart from its situation in a beautiful region – the mountains around it are a popular summer getaway for madrileños (people from Madrid) fleeing the stifling heat of their own city – the town is fortified by the most complete and pristine medieval city walls you are ever likely to see. Two stretches of them (nearly half their length) can be walked, offering views of the old city itself within and the countryside without.
Even in this country, embarrassed by its wealth of historical monuments, the perfect condition of these walls, built between the 11th and 14th centuries, shocks the eyes.
To get to Avila from Madrid, hop on a train. Renfe. Sorry, no gallant steeds.
Robin Graham writes about Andalusia, Spain, and some other stuff. His stories can be found, with accompanying photography, at alotofwind He’s a private person but, strangely, doesn’t mind being followed: @robinjgraham or liked: alotofwind
Photography at 500px.