Avila information

Introduction to the Province of Avila
The landlocked province of Avila is situated in the heart of Spain, in the south of the autonomous community of Castilla & Leon, to the north west of the country's capital, Madrid. The province has two distinct halves: the northern half, known as La Morana, is part of a high alluvial meseta with extremes of temperatures, the southern half, known as the Sierras of Avila and Gredos is composed of rugged granite mountains interspersed with green valleys and forested hills and has short summers and long, hard winters.

Avila City
Avila holds the accolade, at 1130m above sea level, of being Spain's highest provincial capital city and sits atop a high plain with the even higher Sierra de Avila as its backdrop. It is a beautiful mediaeval city and the entire old quarter of Avila has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Avila's main monument is its mediaeval walls (Las Murallas), 2.5km of them, that completely encircle the old town, interspersed by 88 defensive towers and 9 gates. It is the world's largest, fully illuminated monument. The city walls were built between the 11th and 12th centuries by Alfonso VI, using Moorish prisoners as labour and are perfectly preserved.

Most of Avila's monuments, churches and historic sites are to be found within the old city walls. Avila Cathedral is a good starting point. Begun in the 12th Century it has actually never been completed as you can see from the empty space above the main entrance where there should be a tower.

Avila is of great importance in the Catholic world due to its associations with the mystic writer Santa Teresa (1515 - 1582). Born to a noble family in Avila she experienced religious visions from an early age. She went on to become a Carmelite nun and founded convents throughout Spain. Her eternally best selling and inspirational autobiography reveals the mystic sensuality of her experience of Christ. Santa Teresa is the female patron saint of Spain. Avila's Convento de Santa Teresa, Convento de la Encarnacion, Convento de las Madres and the shrine of Las Cuatro Postes are all important points of pilgrimage for Catholics, particularly women. In October every year are held the month-long Fiestas de Santa Teresa.

Around Avila City and Beyond
The relatively cool province of Avila provides a welcome respite from the hot summer months experienced in Madrid or on the southern costas.

The town of Madrigal de las Altas Torres, in the north of Avila, was in 1451 the birthplace of Isabel la Catolica, daughter of Juan II, the King of Castilla. Isabel went on to become Spain's most influential ruler and she herself was the mother of Catherine of Aragon, famously the first of King Henry VIII of England's wives. The Monastery of Nuestra Senora de Gracia now occupies the site of Juan II's palace, the birthplace of Queen Isabel of Spain.

To the south and east of the city of Avila lie the Sierras de Avila y Gredos. This major mountain range, with peaks in excess of 2500m, offers by far the best trekking in central Spain. One of the best-known hiking routes is the Circo de Gredos, its start being the village of El Hornillo. Look out for the graceful Gredos mountain goats, which you are sure to see in the warmer months.

Also worth taking the time to visit are the enigmatic Toros de Guisando (Bulls of Guisando) situated near the village of El Tiemblo. These are impressive Celti-Iberian pre-Roman granite sculptures of bulls and are mentioned by Cervantes in his famous novel, Don Quixote.

The Gastronomy of Avila
As you would expect in a landlocked province with cold winters, the cuisine of Avila is hearty and mostly meat-based. Chickpea (garbanzo) stews are typical of the region. The dish Judias del Barco is not for the faint-hearted comprising white beans, chorizo and pig's ear. You are likely to see Chuleton de Avila on the menu too, a giant T-bone steak from the province's indigenous breed of cow. Another speciality, Hornazo is a type of pie, with a bread-like casing, filled with pork loin, chorizo and eggs.

The ubiquitous Santa Teresa yet again raises her head to give her name to the Yemas de Santa Teresa which are ultra-sweet, sugar coated, candied egg yolk delicacies.

Some of Spain's most famous white wine, Rueda, is produced in Avila so be sure to sample some with your meal.

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