“When you approach from the west almost all you see is its famous wall, a mile and a half of castellated granite… it looks brand new, so perfect is its preservation and seems less like an inanimate rampart than a bivouac of men-at-arms….” – Jan Morris – ‘Spain’
We had spent nearly four hours in the city of Toledo but that wasn’t nearly enough time to appreciate fully the medieval magnificence of the place and in truth we had been way over ambitious and given ourselves too much to do in one day and with still a long way to go to reach our final destination we had to leave before we were ready and before we had seen everything we wanted to see.
On reflection our itinerary should have included a night in Toledo to give us more time but that wasn’t an option now because we had a hotel waiting for us in Ávila.
Leaving Toledo was just as easy as driving in and quickly we were out of the city and heading north again and skirting around Madrid with another one hundred miles to go. For the first part of the journey there was nothing very special or exciting, every twenty miles or so there was a ruined castle like decayed teeth in the gums of the tawny hills once completing the Spanish defensive ring around Madrid and we seemed tantalising close to the cities and towns that I recognised from the Sharpe novels and the Peninsular War stories, Talavera, Badajoz, Salamanca and Ciudad Rodrigo but these were all to the west on the way to Portugal and we had no time to detour to any of them.
As we crossed into Castilla y Leon the scenery quickly began to change as we left the flat plains completely behind and began to drive through pine forests with Alpine like meadows, crystal lakes, busy rivers and snow capped mountains. We were climbing all the time and it was a complete transformation as we left behind the picturesque whitewashed villages of La Mancha and the towns now had grey stone walls and flat tiled roofs and we had completely lost the appearance of Mediterranean Spain.
Eventually we reached a desolate treeless table top plateau with a wilderness landscape with giant grey boulders lying randomly on the bracken coloured land and then we dropped a little and at three thousand feet started to approach Ávila, the highest provincial capital in Spain.
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 get to a gate. ‘Thank you very much, that was very helpful’ I muttered silently under my breath.
Well, we eventually found the way out and the car park and then we had to walk back into the city and to the Plaza Catedral to find the Hotel Palacio De Los Velada. We passed some lovely hotels on the way and I worried about my choice but I needn’t have because it turned out to be exceptional. It was a four star hotel and we don’t usually do four star hotels but I had picked up an excellent half price deal and found ourselves staying in a genuine old seventeenth century palace that had been converted into this excellent hotel with a large internal courtyard, grand wooden balconies, sumptuous furniture and a brilliant room.
I congratulated myself on a real result as I opened the wine with a corkscrew that we had treated ourselves to at a nearby supermarket. I had a very good feeling about Ávila.
Later we walked out into the city and looked for somewhere to eat. Our first choice refused to serve off of the menu del dia so we left and then found a rustic sort of place serving simple meals from the cheaper menu and we had a meal of Castilian soup and the local specialty of roasted suckling pig. On the walk back to the hotel there was a black velvet sky full of bright stars and a big full moon that reflected off of the snow on the Gredos Sierra Mountains and things looked very promising for another good day tomorrow.