In the middle of a windy plateau littered with giant boulders, with the Sierra de Gredos in the background, Ávila is a walled fairy-tale town that wouldn't look out of place in Game of Thrones. Shortly after the town was reclaimed from the Moors in 1090, crenulated walls were erected in just nine years—thanks to the employment of an estimated 1,900 builders. The walls have nine gates and 88 cylindrical towers bunched together, making them unique to Spain in form—they're quite unlike the Moorish defense architecture that the Christians adapted elsewhere. They're most striking when seen from afar; for the best views (and photos), cross the Adaja River, turn right on the Carretera de Salamanca, and walk uphill about 250 yards to a monument of pilasters surrounding a cross known as the "Four Posts."

The walls reflect Ávila's strength during the Middle Ages. Populated during the reign of Alfonso VI by Christians, many of whom were nobles, the town came to be known as Ávila of the Knights. Decline set in at the beginning of the 15th century with the gradual departure of the nobility to the court of Carlos V in Toledo. Ávila's later fame was largely due to St. Teresa. Born here in 1515 to a noble family of Jewish origin, Teresa spent much of her life in Ávila, leaving a legacy of convents and the ubiquitous yemas (candied egg yolks), originally distributed free to the poor and now sold for high prices to tourists. Ávila is well preserved, but it can feel a tad sad and austere, particularly in the cold-weather months. Its quiet is dispelled, however, during the Fiestas de la Santa Teresa in October; the weeklong celebration includes lighted decorations, parades, singing in the streets, and religious observances.

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