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davidx Segovia - A travel report by David
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Segovia,  Spain - flag Spain
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davidx's travel reports

Two grand old cities, Segovia and Ávila

  14 votes
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Madrid, Segovia and Avila form a convenient triangle for visiting in any order and the two cities come a cracking second to Toledo for trips from the capital. Moreover both are accessible to Salamanca by bus.

Alcázar, Segovia
Alcázar, Segovia
Ávila is best known for its superb walls and will be covered under ‘special’ below. Segovia is best known for its Roman Aqueduct, which will come under ‘favourites’ and its Alcázar. Here I shall concentrate on covering the Upper Town and the spectacular views from it. The Plaza Mayor is vast and holds the cathedral in one corner. This is a huge and very developed Gothic building, probably with appreciably more buttresses than it actually needs. Neither the sight of it nor the description in the Rough Guide gave me the slightest desire to go in and I didn’t. The Romanesque churches dotted around are another kettle of fish altogether and must be regarded as a real attraction. San esteban and La Trinidad are the best up in this area. It is under 10 minutes direct walk to the Alcázar. The sight of it, perched on the walls, high and almost vertically above the area beyond, has to be impressive. The fact that neither Snow White nor Chitty Chitty Bang Bang appear seems to render it not quite complete. Apparently it was rebuilt in exaggerated style after a 19ty century fire. This is the first place that I had ever seen white storks flying in to nest and that was quite enough magic for me. Just on the city side of the Alcázar is a small park where you can look out directly from the walls. [the tower of the Alcázar no doubt being even better, but beyond me]. The view down to the octagonal church of Vera Cruz, originally modelled by the Knights Templar to resemble the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I wish now that I had walked down and taken a taxi back up but the latter never enters my mind at the right time for viewing purposes. In addition to the fine Romanesque churches already mentioned, the mansions, which you come across more or les inadvertently in the streets, the walks round the walls on the west side as you face the Alcázar and those fabulous views are what justify some real time in the upper town.

Favourite spots:
Aqueduct, Segovia
Aqueduct, Segovia
The Roman Aqueduct really is something else! Although I have a soft spot for the one at Tarragona as well, this has to be regarded as something really special. It was built at the turn of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The whole water channel is about 16km long and the portion above ground is about 728 metres long and 30 metres high with 165 arches and no less than 24,000 granite blocks from the nearby Sierra de Guadarrama. There is a considerable length in the middle with a double row of arches. Are you impressed? OK here’s the best bit. In the whole structure there is no mortar whatsoever!! Unlike at Tarragona, where the rural setting of the aqueduct has its own appeal, this one is very much an aspect of the city itself, situated at the bottom of the bus route between the station and the Plaza Mayor. This means you can get back up by bus if you need or want to.

What's really great:
Walls of Ávila
Walls of Ávila
Ávila existed before Roman times and is the highest provincial city in Spain. Its walls were built in the 11th and 12th centuries and these alone give sufficient reason to visit. If they don’t give you a bit of a tingle, it would seem you are a bit short on engineering and historical imagination. This is a city where a ride in the tourist ‘train’ is a good idea. The cathedral is a fine building inside and out, although in parts it is built directly into the walls.
The Basilica of San Vicente, just outside the walls and close to the terminus of the ‘train’ is another place that screams for a visit, El Monasterio Real de Santo Tomaso is a bit further out, looks and is reputed to be good but both times I have been it would have meant a fast steep walk to get back to the bus.
The city’s most prominent citizen(ess), Santa Teresa de Jesús, can become a bit much of it if you stay long. However Ávila makes an ideal first night break if you are heading from Madrid towards Galicia or León.

My 'picnic friend'
My 'picnic friend'
La Granja de San Ildefonso is a place that may well get less than justice from me, because I’m afraid that I positively dislike Versailles, on which it was modelled in the 18th century. Nor did I see it at its best – the palace itself was closed and, perhaps more important, the fountains which had drawn me there were dry. I’m sure they would have looked impressive with a water jet over 10 metres high, which apparently it is. I can only say that the dry fountains were monumental all right, monumentally hideous! The exception was a boy separate from the others in the woods, who watched over my picnic.
However this grumpy old man is not sorry to have been to La Granja de San Ildefonso. It is only a 20 minute bus ride and it takes you up to the very edge of the Sierra de Guadarrama, being in what can only be considered a splendid setting. Moreover some of the trees are worth seeing for their own sake.

Basilica de San Vicente, Ávila
Basilica de San Vicente, Ávila
The Pensión Ferri, c/Escuderos 10, a good stone’s throw from the Plaza Mayor in Segovia could not be more conveniently located and it’s very cheap. It’s also entirely at ground floor level. That probably concludes its virtues, making it acceptable to me for a short stay. I should rapidly have become irritated by the under-provision of shared toilets and consequent waits. [phone: (00 34) 921 46 09 57]

The Hostal Jardín in Ávila is just outside the walls near the cathedral gate at c/San Segundo 28 [phone: (00 34) 920 21 10 74] is en-suite with a lift and presents no negative features unless distance from train or bus station is an important criterion.

Other recommendations:
Vera Cruz, from battlements, Segovia
Vera Cruz, from battlements, Segovia
El Escorial, palace, monastery and mausoleum is on the railway between Madrid and Ávila, a beautiful line. The times I went past I had no thought of going in because I was travelling to Galicia and León. Moreover I thought I might find it too formalised and its huge size too tiring. However, I must admit that it felt strange not to be stopping.

The Sierra de Guardarrama would be good for a visit and for walking.

Published on Monday January 17th, 2005

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Tue, Feb 01 2005 - 03:14 PM rating by mtlorensen

You've revived more of my memories of this area from my trip between Madrid and Malaga. Thanks!

Thu, Jan 20 2005 - 02:48 AM rating by gloriajames

great report!

Tue, Jan 18 2005 - 12:24 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

hii david,
excellent report again by you.

Mon, Jan 17 2005 - 10:38 PM rating by magsalex

Great stuff!

Mon, Jan 17 2005 - 04:39 PM rating by rangutan

This another fantastic report (new members, do see Davids others too), always well written and structured with marvelous pictures.

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