This is the first in a series of blogs about the Paradores where we have stayed on the mainland.
Paradores are a kind of luxury hotel in Spain and were founded by Alfonso XIII, who was trying to promote tourism in the country. The first one was inaugurated in 1928 in Ávila. These hotels are often located in historic buildings such as old palaces, castles, and monasteries. Having said they are luxurious doesn’t however, mean they are expensive as they always have special deals, such as bargains for seniors or 5-day specials.
We left the busy hubbub of Madrid behind and headed north. We are no strangers to Ávila, but as with most of Spain’s charming cities, there’s always more to discover.
We were staying at the Piedras Albas Palace, the gem that is the Parador de Ávila. It is next to the best-preserved walls in the world, in the historic town. Steeped in tradition, this rural idyll is welcoming. The rooms are spacious and the views of the garden and ancient walls through the glass-enclosed courtyard confirm you are in a World Heritage City.
The first thing we saw when we arrived was ‘la muralla’. Ávila is known for its impressive medieval wall that you can walk. It encircles the old city and provides stunning views in every direction. Completed in the 12th century, it is just as imposing today as back then and you can’t go anywhere in Ávila without being struck by its magnificence. With 9 gates and 88 semi-circular towers, the walls are the most complete fortification in Spain.
As we entered the main Puerta del Alcazar gate it is a weird sensation. The fact that this testament of human engineering is still alive after a thousand years of continual use is an awesome experience that life goes on and nothing really changes.
Perhaps it is the looming walls or the history that radiates from every cobblestone but Ávila makes you almost feel pious. It’s easy to understand why, with its famous religious buildings; the city has the highest church to resident ratio in Spain.
We loved strolling along the parapets with swifts circling overhead and the scent of jasmine in the air and losing ourselves in the old quarter, where every street is filled with charm. We stumbled into the imposing Cathedral and the Romanesque Basilica de San Vicente. Nevertheless, the smaller places with history intrigued us most, the shops, churches and convents helped give an idea of life centuries ago. With its tiny streets and winding pathways, the juxtaposition of old and new is vivid, particularly when you watch a car pass under a medieval archway.
Ávila 3714 feet above sea level is the highest provincial capital in Spain. Even in summer, it is cool compared to the rest of Spain, which means good, old-fashioned soul food; this is a land of stews and casseroles. After our walk around the city, we headed for lunch, one of the specialities is chuletón (steak) so we took the “bull by the horns” and ordered it. Quite delicious!
As souvenirs, we bought the famous egg yolk sweets Las Yemas de la Santa named for St. Teresa and a jar of the regions almond honey so memories of our stay in Ávila would be sweet.
I think Avila has rightfully earned its nickname the city of stones and saints and it is a great stop on any road trip through Spain.