The approach from the road is captivating – the centre of the city is encircled by the finest preserved medieval walls in Europe. Avila is 3,710ft above sea level, the highest provincial capital in Spain. In winter access roads can be blocked with snow and the temperature plummets at night.
The walls are a mile in length, punctuated by 88 turrets. They feature in that epic film The Pride and the Passion (based on C S Forester's book The Gun). The city has an impressive nine gateways, the most notable being the Puerta de San Vicente. As this city is the home of St Teresa, inevitably many churches and convents are associated with her.
St TeresaTeresa de Cepeda y Ahumada (1515-82) was one of the Catholic Church’s greatest mystics and reformers. She ran away from home when she was seven in the hope of achieving martyrdom at the hands of the Moors, only to be captured by her uncle on the outskirts of the city. A viewpoint of Avila can be appreciated at the Los Cuartro Postes (Four Posts), where the young St Teresa was caught by her uncle. She became a nun at nineteen but rebelled against her order and from 1562, when she founded her first convent, she travelled round Spain with her disciple, St John of the Cross, founding more convents for the followers of her order, the Barefoot Carmelites. Her remains are interred in Alba de Tormes near Salamanca.
MadridNext day, on our return home from Segovia, the coach dropped us off at the Royal Palace for a three hour mooch around the capital city, the highest in the EU at 2,150ft above sea level. [Bolivia’s La Paz at 11,942ft is the world’s highest).We didn’t have time to go into the palace; it’s so immense, the tour would take at least two hours: that would have to be saved for another visit. Certainly, the palace exterior had more than a passing resemblance to Buckingham Palace with its grey stone and black railings. [We’d been to Madrid fleetingly before en route to Seville, taking in the very attractive Atocha railway station and the Prado museum, but had not been to this part of the city.]
CathedralOpposite the palace is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santa María la Real de la Almudena. Besides the twelve interesting rooms containing portraits, icons and statues, crowns, ancient documents, and church paraphernalia, there is access to the balcony that overlooks the square and the royal palace. In total there are 186 steps (Jen counted them!) to the top of the dome: from here, you can walk a full 360 degrees and view the entire city. Quite spectacular, though the sky was somewhat cloudy on our visit. The windows are modern and brightly coloured and very striking.
We had time for a meal, and then we were on our way in the coach again. The relatively new subterranean road system under the city is quite extraordinary, complete with junctions and traffic lights, and must certainly relieve the pressure on the surface streets and save in travel time.
From setting out from Segovia, the journey was about twelve hours – with stops, of course. We were fortunate to be some of the first to be dropped off; others on the coach would be deposited some two hours later!
Coach trips are not designed to give you a thorough appreciation of a destination; they’re meant to whet your appetite for a return, at a more leisurely pace. This coach trip certainly achieved that aim.