Introduction: Ávila, is the capital of the Spanish province of the same name, located in the centre of the Spain, northwest of Madrid. It’s best known for its intact medieval city walls, with more than 80 crenelated, semicircular towers and 9 gates, including the arched El Alcázar, on the eastern side. Many of the towers are even walkable, making for some incredible views! At night, the lighted walls and streets are a distinctive view worth photographing and enjoying some authentic spanish gastronomy as you sit outside on the terrace, of the many restaurants located at the main square, Plaza Mayor.
Transportation: Getting to Avila is accessible by train or bus from Madrid. The trip takes 75 minutes drive or just over an hour by train from Madrid. Busses are frequent and can be taken from Madrid, at "Estacion Sur" located at Metro station Méndez Álvaro on line 6. Alternatively, trains (cercanias trains) can be taken from Atocha station or Chamartin station. Tickets cost about €10 one way.
What to see and do?
Sheltered by the Sierra Gredos Mountains we find Ávila, a World Heritage City. Behind the city walls there is a valuable set of churches and Renaissance palaces that bear witness to the past wealth of the town as a textile centre. Avila is very popular for tourists for its historical old town located within one of the best preserved castle walls in Europe, built in the XI century. Within the walls, it's possible to walk along the walls themselves for €5 or walk freely around the town admiring the numerous churches, Cathedral with it's museum, cobbled stone streets, town square, monasteries, cloisters etc. Below you can find out more about what to see in Avila:
Being the birthplace of Saint Teresa of Jesus has left its mark across the city, both inside and outside the city walls, with a large number of religious buildings linked to the saint's life.
Ávila's long history begins with the old Celtiberian settlement of the Vettones around the year 700 BC. When the Romans arrived in the 3rd century BC, the first wall was built and Ávila became an important defensive location. After several centuries of decadence, the city was repopulated and rebuilt in the 11th century. The symbol of the city is the wall, one of the best preserved walled sites in Europe. Its perimeter is two kilometres and a half, with about 2,500 battlements, 100 towers, 6 doors and 3 secondary entrances. Inside the walls, you can see the cathedral, (pay per view) which looks like a fortress and was built between the 12th and 14th centuries. The Diocesan Museum holds different works of art, amongst which a monumental processional monstrance by Juan de Arfe stands out. Within the city walls, there are medieval corners, like the Plaza de los Dávila, with more than twelve Renaissance noble houses, including the mansion of Los Velada, the palace of Los Valderrábano and of Núñez Vela.
But the most surprising construction in the area is Los Dávila Palace. It is a solid fortress made up of four houses and the oldest was built in the 13th century. The Plaza del Mercado Chico, where the old Roman forum used to be situated, is the city centre. The façades of the Town Hall and of the Church of San Juan are facing the centre. The church was rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries.Throughout its history, Ávila was the birthplace of famous Spanish mystics such as Santa Teresa de Jesús and San Juan de la Cruz. This is why there are many churches and convents scattered round the city. In the Plaza de la Santa there is a convent of the same name, built in 1636 on the birthplace of Santa Teresa de Jesús.
Outside the walled area is the Monastery of La Encarnación, built in the 16th century, where Santa Teresa lived as a nun for more than 20 years.The Basilica of San Vicente, built in the 12th century next to the place in which three saints were martyred in times of Diocletian, is another important building. This temple is considered to be the most beautiful example of the Romanesque style in the city. The Church of San Pedro, built in the 12th-13th centuries, is also Romanesque and one of the oldest in the city. This construction is very sober and attracted the most relevant people in Ávila's society for many centuries. Outside the walls, but very close to the Los Leales doorway, we can find Los Deanes Palace. Originally, as its name suggests, this 16th-century monumental house was built to accommodate the consecutive deans. The Monastery of Santo Tomás used to be the traditional summer residence of the Spanish monarchs and was finished in 1493, using the Isabelline Gothic style during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs. The site is dominated by a monumental church with a single nave and cross vaults, as well as several side chapels. Meanwhile, the old royal quarters you will find the Oriental Museum, which displays an interesting collection of works from the Far East. The visit to this thousand-year-old city can end at the Cuatro Postes viewpoint, which affords the most beautiful view of the medieval walled site.
Food and drink:
In any of the restaurants in the city you can discover the excellent gastronomy of the area. Some excellent dishes are roast suckling pig and lamb, as well as the famous Ávila T-bone steak. The veal and the El Barco de Ávila beans have their own Designation of Origin. The cakes in Ávila are famous mainly because of the yemas de Santa Teresa (made with egg yolks and sugar).There are some great restaurants as well offering traditional Spanish food. Cheaper prices can be found at restaurants out of the wall, rather than inside the castle grounds.
For drinks, try famous Spanish wines, red or white, from Avila itself.
Introduction: Segovia, belongs to the County of Castilla y Leon, located 100 Km away from Madrid. It is famous for its historical Roman architecture together with superb views of the mountain range behind the city. It's old quarter of which, along with its Roman aqueduct, are World Heritage Sites, lies on high ground between the Eresma and Clamores Rivers. Segovia was a trading centre under the Roman Empire, it reached its period of greatest splendour during the Middle Ages, on becoming the court residence of the Trastamaras, as well as an important centre of livestock and textile activity. It was during this period that a great many of the local Romanesque buildings were built, a rich heritage which can be seen along its streets and buildings.
Transportation: Located only at 1.30 hours from Madrid by bus, it makes for a perfect day trip. You can travel to Segovia by express train from Atocha Renfe Station, taking 35 min for around €20 one way. However the best option, is to take the Avanza Bus company from Moncloa (Line 3 metro) station to Segovia, which leaves every 30 or 45 minutes and takes under 90 minutes for only €4.05 one way.
Once in Segovia, walking from the bus station to the city centre is only 5 min so there is no need to take local transport. However if you want to take local busses they are easily to travel and doesn't take long as traffic is fluid. Walking to the Castle (Alcazar) is also comfortable taking around 20 min from the city centre.
What to see and do: The main highlights to see in Segovia are the famous aqueduct, numerous Romanesque churches, the Cathedral and Fortress, named as "Alcazar". Also its popular to eat in Segovia and savour the city's most traditional dish: roast suckling pig. Moreover, Segovia is an excellent starting point to tour the province and visit La Granja Palace, as well as the Gorges of the Duratón River Nature Reserve.
The Roman aqueduct in Azoguejo square, serves as the main entrance to the historic quarter of Segovia. This engineering gem, built under the Roman Empire (1st century AD), carried water to the elevated city from some 15 Km away. Its 163 arches and its height, some 29 m at its highest point, are supported by blocks of stone that are completely plaster, lead and mortar free.
In the Old Quarter walled Segovia, the city reveals some important Medieval and Renaissance buildings, such as Casa de los Picos house, the Alhóndiga corn exchange and the Torreón de Los Lozoya tower. The first of these, dating from the 15th century. At the Town Hall, you will find the Plaza Mayor, the main square, with fresh markets during the morning. Another important jewel of Segovia is the Cathedral, it began to build in the 16th century, during the late Gothic period. Some parts of the old cathedral, such as its flamboyant Gothic cloister, the choir stalls and the main façade are worthy of special attention. The Cathedral Museum houses an important collection of religious art that has come down to us from several historical periods. Other places of interest are Church of San Andrés, Segovia Museum, Casa-Museo de Machado (house Museum), Muralla de Segovia (Segovia Medieval Wall) and the Tower of Hercules.
Walking from the Cathedral along "Calle Marqués del Arco" street to the end you will come across with the outline of the Alcázar Fortress, behind the Queen Victoria Eugenia Gardens (this is the spot where the old cathedral stood). The exterior of the fortress as a whole makes quite an impact on the visitor given its 80 m high tower, its other twelve turrets and its defensive moat. Several courtyards and buildings can be visited, and it is even possible to climb the battlement tower and admire a panoramic view of the Segovian landscape, for €5.
Food and drink: Anywhere throughout the city centre you can savour the Segovian cuisine. From the giant broad beans from La Granja, Castilian soup (garlic and bread) to the mean dish of Segovia. The roast suckling pig, is a whole pig roasted on a slow fire. Meals are better shared with more people to get fresh cooked pork. It comes with vegetables, fries or rice of your choice. Its possible to also taste roasted lamb in case you don't eat pork. As for drinks, wines are the best in Segovia. Ribera del Duero Designation of Origin are the best to accompany these Segovian delicacies.
Recommended duration: Coming to Segovia from Madrid doesnt take a long time to discover the city. If you are agile and like to walk, then half a day is enough to walk around the city and go to a few of the city's highlights and havin a meal in Segovia. Otherwise one day is enough coming by bus from Madrid. If you come from further away and want to relax in the city two nights is sufficient.
Introduction: Cuenca is a city set in the mountains of east-central Spain. It was founded by the Moors, over the centuries it has retains its Historic Walled Town with steep cobbled streets and medieval castle ruins. It's highlight, being perched on a limestone spur high above the Júcar and Huécar rivers, it's renowned for its well-preserved "casas colgadas," or hanging houses. Scenery, together with easy walks around the town, quaint cafes and restaurants make of this visit an ideal day out in the region!
Transportation: Getting to Cuenca is accessible by train or bus from Madrid. The trip takes 55 minutes by fast train or 2 hours by bus. Trains are cheap and the same price as the bus if you buy in advance at €13-15 one way. They depart from Atocha manin station. Busses can be taken from Madrid, at "Estacion Sur" for €13 one way, located at Metro station Méndez Álvaro on line 6.
What to see and do: This charming city, in the Region of Castile-La Mancha, nested between the Júcar and Huécar river canyons, you will find this city with the UNESCO World Heritage designation for its wealth of monuments. The Cathedral, Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) and cobbled streets make for an ideal walk around its streets.
Cuenca’s old town spreads out from atop a promontory overlooking the ruins of its Moorish castle, the ancient Kunka fortress. Meanwhile, below, the modern city grows on the Júcar plain. The “upper city” is the medieval centre, with its old streets that give the city its character, you can find the parish church of Nuestra Señora de la Luz, next the San Antón bridge. Here begins a tour of the hills, steps and viewpoints which provide beautiful views. You can find also the church of San Felipe Neri, a sober construction which becomes a focus at Easter. On the other side of the Plaza del Carmen you can climb to the Plaza de la Torre Mangana, a former watchtower for Cuenca and one of the symbols of the city, located very close is the Science Museum.
Before reaching the Plaza Mayor, you walk through the Plaza de la Merced, where you can see good examples of Cuenca Baroque in the church and convent of La Merced. In the Plaza Mayor stand the arches of the Town Hall and the Gothic Cathedral of Nuestra Señora de Gracia. Between the Cathedral and the Casas Colgadas we can also visit the Provincial Museum, the Casa del Curato, the Diocesan Museum and the Bishop's Palace.
Behind the cathedral, a street begins leading to the Casas Colgadas, the symbolic monuments in the city, which date from the 15th century. One of the houses contains the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art, one of the best in Spain. The wooden balconies of the Casas Colgadas hang over the course of the Huécar, but you have to cross the river to get one of the best panoramic views.
Cuenca is only one of many points of interest in the province. Some 30 kilometres from the city you will find the first hills of the Cuenca Mountains, home to the unique landscape of the Enchanted City, made up of weird and wonderful formations, reminiscent of objects, animals and human forms, that water and wind erosion have carved out of the huge limestone rocks. This unusual place is open all year round, from 10am until dusk, and it takes about two hours to see it. Further to the north you will find the El Hosquillo Hunting Reserve and the Solán de Cabras Thermal Spa Resort, famous for its medicinal spring waters.
Food and drink: In Cuenca you can find all shorts of food, typical Spanish food to more local! Beef, Pork and lamb are popular options, as well as rices in "Paella". You can also find other dishes of spanish regions like the "Fideua". Fish and sea food is widely available and they form part of every menu in the restaurants around the area. if you go for lunch or dinner, watch out for the "Menu del Dia" Menu of the day with multiple dish options for only €12 to €18 depending of the restaurant and time of day. Desserts like ice creams, rice pudding, "flans" or even some hot chocolate with churros are always a good snack to munch on after a walk!
If you are keen to ample some Conca recipes look out for "Zarajos" (roast lamb tripe), "morteruelo" (a kind of pâté served hot) or "ajoarriero" (cod stew) are some of the local dishes, to which can be added vegetable stews, roasts and river fish. Almonds, honey and figs are included in all kinds of imaginative cookery and make up the dessert known as "alajú" (a cake made of honey, figs and almonds). As for drinks, wines with the La Mancha Denomination of Origin and "resolí", a liqueur made with coffee, sugar and orange peel, are outstanding.
Recommended duration: Cuenca is a small city and it can be seen leisurely within a day, as a day trip from Madrid. If you want to stay a night or two and visit museums it can also be worth as a weekend away in some of the charming hotels around the city centre. If you are coming to do sport, then a combined cultural-sport staying a night would also be enough to see the city and enjoy the natural surroundings.
Introduction: The city of Toledo belongs to the county of "Castilla La Mancha". It was the old medieval and imperial capital of Spain until it was changed to Madrid in 1561.
Toledo is one of the Spanish cities with the greatest wealth of monuments. Known as the “city of the three cultures”, because Christians, Arabs and Jews lived together there for centuries. Behind its walls Toledo preserves an artistic and cultural legacy in the form of churches, palaces, fortresses, mosques and synagogues. This great diversity of artistic styles makes the old quarter of Toledo a real open-air museum, which has led to it being declared a World Heritage Site.
Transportation: Located at 77 km from Madrid, Toledo has very frequent links by bus or train to the capital of Madrid. The best link is the bus, which departs every half hour from Plaza Eliptica (metro station at line 6/11) bus station and takes just 55 minutes to complete the trip for €6 one way or €10 same-day return. Its also possible to take trains from Atocha station in Madrid but at a higher price and not so frequent.
Once in Toledo, walking from the bus station takes 10 minutes to reach the beginning of the old town up hill. However there are also escalators that take you 2 floors up. Alternatively you also have local busses that reach the main square (Plaza Mayor) where you can walk easily to the major sights and places of culture.
What to see and do: Toledo is like visiting a museum in itself. Every street up the old quarter is full of history, walking up the narrow streets many of the shops are atmosphered in old traditional medieval style and even restaurants and bars look very classical inside with roman or arab architecture. It is easy to get lost in the many small streets that lead to churches, convents, museums or squares and find new places to visit away from the crowds. Not to miss many of the important sites of the city it's a good idea to map where you want to go and follow an itinerary if you are only there for the day. Most streets are not straight and with many alleyways, its easy to get confused or lost where to go.
Toledo is also a city linked to deep popular traditions, as the procession of the Most Holy Corpus Christi, a festival declared of International Tourist Interest, demonstrates every year. The city of Toledo has its origins in Toletum, the name the Romans gave to this settlement on the banks of the River Tagus after its conquest in 190 BC. The city maintained its importance for centuries and, in the Visigothic era, became the capital of Hispania (6th C.). The arrival of the Arabs in the 8th century, together with the presence of Christians and Jews, made Toledo the “city of the three cultures”. This was one of the Toledo's most splendid periods when, among other important events, the Toledo School of Translators was founded. Later, when Carlos V came to the throne in 1519, the city became an imperial capital.
Below you will find some of the highlights in bold, which are important to visit or see.
The way that Christians, Arabs and Jews lived side by side for centuries has been reflected in the form of a great artistic and cultural legacy. The maze of streets making up the historic centre of Toledo is only bounded by walls in which many gates were opened. The Bisagra gate, presided over by two bodies and a great imperial shield forms the main access to the city within the walls. This noble gate, of Muslim origin, includes a central courtyard. The Sol gate was built in the 13th century in Mudejar style and contains the remains of a paleochristian sarcophagus.
Via these and other entrances you can reach picturesque places, like the Plaza de Zocodover, which is the central square for tourism information, restaurants and starting points of many tours around the city. In the Arab period, this central space housed an important market, and festivals and all kinds of social events were held here.
Synagogues, mosques and churches jostle in the narrow streets of Toledo, which is characterised by the mixture of artistic styles.The Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, which predates the Christian reconquest, was built in 999 as a copy of the Mosque at Córdoba. While the Mudejars left in Toledo a style with rich Arab decoration. Horseshoe arches, lobed windows and other architectural elements can be appreciated in various buildings in Toledo. Santiago del Arrabal is one of the best examples of this style in the city, which has led this church also being known as the Mudejar Cathedral. The same Mudejar style can be seen in the church of Santo Tomé, famous for housing El Greco's famous picture entitled “El entierro del Conde Orgaz” (The burial of Count Orgaz). El Greco's House-Museum, a palace with the atmosphere of the period, exhibits some of the best works of the painter who made the city world famous. Remains of the Jewish community are still preserved in the city in the synagogues of Santa María la Blanca and El Tránsito. You can also visit the Alcazar of Toledo, which is the building standing on the top of the hill, it is from the 16th-century and former fortified royal palace, now housing a military museum. Views from this point are also good.
One of the most outstanding buildings in the city is the Cathedral, considered one of the high points of Gothic art. The construction of this monumental building, with a basilica floor plan and five naves, because in 1226, although it was not finished until the 15th century. This is reflected in the great superimposition of styles in the building and the large number of renowned artists who left their mark on the church. The exterior is topped by the two cathedral towers, one of them in flamboyant Gothic style and the other in Gothic-Renaissance.Inside, the choir stalls, located in the building's central nave, are outstanding. The Cathedral Museum houses a rich collection of works by painters like Goya, El Greco, Lucas Jordán and Van Dyck. Also Gothic are the San Martín bridge, which was built in the 13th century with its two characteristic defensive towers, and the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes. The Renaissance mark on Toledo can be appreciated in the Hospital de Tavera, turned into a museum housing pictures by El Greco, Ribera and Titian, among others. Meanwhile, the Fortress, of medieval origin, presides over the whole city with its imposing image and contains a military museum and one of the largest public libraries in Spain.
Food and drink: Toledo's cuisine has various specialities, like stewed partridge, Toledo-style quail or venison with wild mushrooms. With the other provinces of La Mancha it shares pisto (based on pepper, tomato and onion), Castilian soup and migas (dish made with breadcrumbs and pork products). If you want simple food, try the many type of "Bocadillo", which are Spanish style sandwiches with many fillings from cheese and ham to pork (pictured) or spanish potatoes omelette. (Tortilla de Patatas). To round it off there is the famous La Mancha cheese and marzipan (made from ground almonds and sugar). The marzipan is very popular as a souvenir and can be bought in many shops and restaurants. As for drinks, many of these dishes may be accompanied with the wines of La Mancha, mostly red and white.
Recommended duration: Toledo is a big city when it comes to size, however all the main attractions are concentrated within the main medieval walls of the inner city. When visiting it can be seen leisurely within a half day, as a day trip from Madrid. If you want to stay a night and visit museums it can also be worth as a weekend away in some of the charming hotels around the city centre.