What to do, see and eat in Ávila, a medieval city in Spain
May 18, 2019
by Karolina Mudel
Although I am not Spanish, I had the privilege of seeing Ávila through the Spanish eyes. In other words, I had my own local guide! My boyfriend was born and spent most of his life in this historic place. I only spent one year there, but it was enough to experience the whole cycle of the city’s life. Ávila is rather Spanish than an international tourist hub. It is known for two reasons: best preserved medieval walls and Saint Teresa. Due to the latter, it is often considered a pilgrimage destination only, but I would like to change this point of view.
5 things to do
Ávila is a relatively small city. Therefore, the old town can be easily explored by foot. It has numerous sights, but I will only name my favorite ones. Doing these five things gives you a good overview of the heart and soul of the city.
Walk the city walls
You will spot the medieval walls the very moment you enter the city. But you will truly experience this defensive structure only by climbing the steep stairs leading to the top. It is, with no doubts, the main tourist attraction of Ávila, and this title is well-deserved.
Wander the streets of the old town
During your walls stroll, you will make nearly the full circle around the old town. Wandering along its well-preserved streets will give you a new perspective. Enter the area through one of the impressive city gates and walk with no settled plan. Just admire the medieval face of Spain.
Go to Cuatro Postes viewpoint
Having walked through both the wall and the streets of the old town, head to the Cuatro Postes viewpoint. It is just a stone throw from the historical part of the city. The view couldn’t be better. You will see Ávila in all its glory. If you are staying in the city for more than a day, try to visit the viewpoint both during the day, an at the nighttime.
Attend the Medieval Festival
Every year in September, for one weekend, Ávila changes beyond recognition. The old town overflows with visitors from every part of Spain and a handful of foreign tourists. It is Medieval Festivities time! The event is advertised as the meeting of three cultures, which had an impact on the history of the city: Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. Walking down the crowded streets, you will pass locals and visitors dressed up as people of the Middle Ages. Moreover, you will get a chance of tasting delicious food and buy hand-made souvenirs from one of many medieval stalls.
I am not a golf fan myself, but I think it is worth mentioning for all the golf people out there. Ávila boasts the highest standard golf course, with 60 hectares of area and 18 holes. It is popular among golfers from the region of Castile and León as well as the Madrid Community.
3 churches to visit
There are plenty of churches in Ávila, and I bet you will not manage to visit them all during your trip. Even though the city is a religious destination, you don’t have to be a religious person to get struck by the beauty of their architecture. These three churches turned out to be the most interesting to me.
The Cathedral of Ávila is the first one in Spain erected in a Gothic style. Or, to be more precise, finished in such. At the beginning of the construction, it was being built in a Romanesque architectural tradition. Since it was supposed to be a fortress at the same time, it is built-in the city walls and acts as a point of defense. Both the exterior and interior of the cathedral are very remarkable.
The Basilica of San Vicente
Unlike the cathedral, Basilica of San Vicente has a consistent, Romanesque style. Nonetheless, that does not decrease its value at all. When it comes to the exterior, I would even call it my number one of all the churches in Spain. The basilica is situated outside of the walls, near one of the city gates.
Church and Convent of Saint Teresa
When a Spaniard hears Ávila mentioned, Saint Teresa is probably among the first thoughts that come to his mind. She was a Carmelite nun, who was born and spent most of her life in this city. It is her who is the reason pilgrims come to Ávila from all over the world. The Church of Saint Teresa was raised on the exact spot where, back in XVI century, stood the house in which she was born. Underground, there is a museum to her name.
3 things to eat
Your visit to any city in Spain would not be complete if you didn’t eat at a local restaurant. There is a good reason why the Spanish cuisine is often claimed to be the best in the world.
Spain is well-known for its tapas. Obviously, you should try some once in Ávila. Walking in one of many tapas bars is the best way to blend in with the locals. Wide variety of tapas will satisfy every palate. It’s a culinary paradise for both meat-lovers and vegetarians.
Local beef products
If you are a devoted meat-eater, you can’t leave Ávila if you didn’t try a local beef meal at one of the restaurants. The most popular dish is the Chuletón de Ávila. This veal steak owes its taste to the Avileña-Black Iberian cow breed. The black cows of Ávila, before slaughtering, lead a happy life on the local meadows.
Have I mentioned Saint Teresa being a meritorious person in Ávila’s history? There is even Saint Teresa Day, celebrated in the city every October 15th, when all the local employers get a day off. The inhabitants usually prepare Yemas de Santa Teresa for the celebration, but you can get them in local pastry shops any time of the year. Yema means egg yolk in Spanish. These delicious sweets are essentially a mixture of the yolks and sugar. They are packed meticulously in ornate boxes before handed to the clients over the counter.
Except for the golf, all attractions mentioned in this text can be seen and tasted in just one day. However, it is worth staying in Ávila longer. If you want to enjoy the medieval atmosphere of the city to its fullest, extend your itinerary of a few more days.