The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited and having completed that I thought I might come up with a personal alternative twelve.
My number ten is the walled city of in Castilla y Leon and I have included it because for me, when I visited the city and stayed there it was one of those exceeds expectation moments.
The old city of Ávila is completely enclosed within a medieval wall and as our hotel was inside it we drove through one of the main gates and into tangle of narrow streets and immediately got lost and confused. Just as things were beginning to look hopeless we found a tourist information office and went inside for help. The man at the desk explained that parking was very difficult (we’d guessed that already) and that it would be best to go back out of the old city and park in a public car park nearby. He gave me a street map that looked like a bowl of spaghetti and told me that it was too difficult for him to try to explain how to get out and that I should just drive around until I could find a gate.
In the morning we took the walk around the old city and first of all we walked past the serrated edged walls of the cathedral which was designed to serve a dual purpose, part religious and part military because the apse actually forms part of the defensive city walls and then we passed out through one of the main gates that led us to the Plaza de Santa Teresa, the Plaza Mayor of the city, which we found to be unusually quiet for a Saturday morning.
We walked for a while around the eastern side of the walls which are claimed to the best preserved in all of Spain and although they have had some recent renovation still manage to retain the spirit of an impregnable medieval granite fortress. It is two and a half kilometres long with two thousand five hundred battlements, eighty-eight cylindrical towers, six main gates and three smaller pedestrian gates.
Ávila was used in the 1957 film ‘The Pride and the Passion’ that starred Cary Grant, Sophia Loren and Frank Sinatra when a group of Spanish nationalists during the war of independence (What we normally call the The Peninsula War) lugged a huge gun up the mountains to attack the city and liberate it from the French invaders. It was based on the book ‘The Gun’, written by C S Forrester.
We paid the €4 fee and received long winded instructions on how to find the four separate entrances to which our tickets entitled us entrance and then climbed the steps to the top of the wall. There were excellent views of the town, of the sweeping countryside beyond and the Storks sitting on their untidy piles of sticks on top of the Cathedral and other buildings.
We thought that Ávila seemed nicer than Toledo (our previous stop) and friendlier too because all of the information boards on the wall and in the town were thoughtfully translated into English. There were an awful lot of steps to negotiate on the wall and because not all of the upper walkway was open this involved having to double back a lot as well to get to the exits.
The walk continued around the towering walls but it became a bit repetitive and we tired of the reoccurring turrets and the seemingly endless walk so we abandoned the top of the wall and returned to street level and walked around the exterior instead. After about an hour we re-entered the city at the Puerta de Santa Teresa on the west side and walked through the twisted narrow streets through the commercial centre and the market place and then deftly bypassed the shops back to the cathedral and casually strolled through the narrow cobbled streets and through the municipal fish and meat market back to where we had started and looked for somewhere suitable for a later than usual first drink of the day.
We came across a charming and traditional little bodega squeezed into the walls of the city in between two high towers and once inside found a table and ordered some drinks and were delighted to find that when they arrived they were accompanied by an inevitable complimentary plates of tapas, but we weren’t going to complain about that!