Avila – Castile and Leon, Spain

A Saint’s Birthplace Conveys a Vivid Sense of the Past

The near-perfect 11th-century walls of Avila are a protected national treasure. Ten feet thick and 40 feet high, they took more than 2,000 workers ten years to build. For a mile and a half they wend around this hilltop town and include 90 semicircular guard towers, 9 narrow arched gates, and more than 2,300 embattlements.

The results still look astonishingly new. A walkway around the top allows you to envision an approaching army of Moors. Even the city’s plain, rugged 12th-century cathedral—half fortress, half church—was built as part of the walls and served a military function.

Avila has long played a role in Spain’s religious and spiritual his­tory, particularly as the hometown of St. Teresa, who was born here in 1515. A frail, witty Carmelite nun from a wealthy local family of Jewish descent, she would become one of the most famous of all Catholic saints and the female patron saint of Spain. (St. James the Apostle is Spain’s male patron saint.)

A stay at the Flotel Palacio de Valderrabanos puts you in the spiritual and geographic heart of Avila. It was built in the early 1300s as a bishop’s residence, with rooms over­looking the cathedral. Try for a suite in the fortified lookout tower for a special view of the past.

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