February 21, 2022: Avila
I had a half-day before I needed to head back to Madrid to catch my flight home.
Having seen everything, I set out to see in Segovia, I drove one hour west to Avila. Avila is also a UNESCO World Heritage city. It is famous for its medieval city walls, considered the grandest and most complete in all of Spain.
The walls completely circumnavigate the old city, which remains the heart of town. Normally tourists can walk along the top of the walls. However, the walls are closed on Mondays in the winter…and this was a Monday in the winter. Luckily the best views of the walls are from the outside anyways.
Additionally, the cathedral was closed because it was a Monday. With my two top attractions closed, I ended up finding what was open.
My first stop was the church of St. Teresa of Avila. She is a key figure in Catholic mysticism and is the subject of the Bernini´s famed sculpture The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Her birthplace is now a church with a museum (closed today). Luckily the church itself was open. It looked like a normal church, but in the back corner was a doorway leading to two very ornate rooms that contain relics of St. Teresa.
Included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation are 4 “extra-muros” churches located outside the walls. The most magnificent one (and the only one open on a Monday) was Basilica de San Vicente. The church is considered the finest example of Romanesque architecture in all of Spain.
I also visited a monastery called Real Monasterio de San Tomas. The monastery had a strange combination of Asian art collection, taxidermy collection and church containing the tombs of the key people for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela including their son and bookkeeper. Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, the man who started the Spanish Inquisition, used to be buried here, but his tomb was robbed and desecrated 200 years ago.
With that, it was time to head out. Before going to the car, I ate Avila´s famed food, yemas de Santa Teresa. These are candied egg yolks. While it sounds absolutely disgusting, they actually taste exactly like a Peep.
Avila, while pretty, did not have as much to offer as nearby Segovia. You could probably squeeze most of a day out of the city. I would not call Avila a must-see but you won´t regret going – especially on a non-Monday when everything is open. Avila would be the perfect stopover on a road trip en route to Salamanca.