In the South West of Castilla in the province of Avila and on the banks of the River Tormes, this ancient village is known as the gateway to the Gredos Regional Park. On the national road N110 and a little bit more than two hours from Madrid it is very strategically located. In half an hour's drive you can reach either the core of the Gredos mountains and its glacial valleys or go down to the olive groves of the Extremadura plains.
Barco de Avila is the social and economic centre of the villages in the Tormes valley. Its history starts way before the Romans, but the oldest construction still intact is the "Puente Viejo", which dates from the 12th century. Some of Barco's historic residents played roles in the discovery of the Americas: Juan del Barco (one of Columbus' sailors), and Pedro Lagasca (head of the inquisition and founder of the city of "La Paz")
The building that stands above others in the village of El Barco is its castle. Located on the highest point in the valley is known as "Castillo de Valdecorneja" and belonged to the family of the Duke of Alba. It was built in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 14th century and nowadays it is used for cultural events.
Other buildings worth visiting are the church of Asunción, which dates from the 14th century and has a variety of building styles, and the smaller church or "Ermita del Cristo del Caño", called this way because of an old tradition which says it was built at the point were the river washed up a wooden image of a Christ, and when they excavated to build the church a fountain sprang up.
Situated in the Corneja Valley, at the bottom of the Sierra de Gredos foothills and 20Km from Barco de Avila.
It is a small mediaeval market town in the Province of Avila with many of it historic buildings carefully renovated for modern use.
From 1366 the family Álvarez de Toledo took control of the local area. In 1507 the Gran Duque of Alba, Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo was born in to the family in Piedrahita. He is celebrated in Spain as a great military figure who never lost a battle. Although considered a hero in Spain, in the rest of Europe his reputation was that of a bloodthirsty tyrant because of his ruthless Governorship of Flanders.
During the mid 1700s a new palace was built by the Alba family. This building, although mainly destroyed during the occupation of the French Napoleonic forces in 1809, was bought by the Town hall from the House of Alba in 1931, and today is used as the town primary school. The French architect, Jacques Marquet, used the neoclassical style prevalent at the time in the court of France, giving us a small palace of Versailles tucked away in rural Castile. Goya, the celebrated Spanish painter spent a number of summers at the palace, and some of his important works reflect the surrounding countryside.
Gredos is part of the Sistema Central, a chain of mountains that cuts across the centre of Spain running in a Northeast to Southwest direction. They form a barrier between the Mesetas, the higher plains of northern Castile (now known as Castilla y Leon) and the lower plains of southern Castile (Castilla La Mancha) and Extremadura.
The two faces of the Sierra de Gredos, the South and the North, are very different, having very different terrains, ecosystems and climates and hence offering different landscapes. The Sierra itself is a beautiful mountain range with peaks reaching up to nearly 2600m. The north side is the more rugged and remote of the two, the area being criss-crossed by fast flowing mountain streams which also flow through the small villages inhabited mostly by farmers.
All the villages of the area are picturesque and display its distinctive architecture. Their houses are built of stone with tiny windows to insulate them from the heat of summer and keep out the winter cold. This feature is also a reflection of the way of life of its people, isolated in this inaccessible nature that shapes their unique character.
Salamanca, which is 80Km from Barco de Avila, is historically and architecturally one of the most beautiful Spanish cities.
Lying on a plateau by the Tormes River, the city was an important Roman commercial site, and their legacy can still be admired there whith monuments such as the Roman bridge over the river.
In the year 1218, Alfonso IX created the University of Salamanca. Soon it became one of the most significant and prestigious academic centres in Europe and still is, attracting thousands of students every year which makes it a very cosmopolitan town.
Salamanca is considered one of the most spectacular Renaissance cities in Europe. Through the centuries the sandstone buildings have gained an exquisite golden glow that has given Salamanca the nickname, "La Ciudad Dorada", the golden city. Some of the most remarkable buildings to see are the Main Square or Plaza Mayor, regarded as one of the finest squares in Europe and known as the living room of the "Salmantinians" and the two cathedrals.
In this fantastic town the stunning architecture is just the setting for everyday life. We can walk along the old streets, discover beautiful corners and have tapas in any of the bars near the University; visit the churches, admire the carving on the buildings or have a drink in the square, everything at a relaxed pace.
Both villages are located on the north side of the Sierra de Béjar, the most western group of mountains along the Central System and part of the Gredos range. They are a natural protected area and a place of outstanding beauty. At the top, and surrounded by glacial valleys, we can find the Covatilla ski station.
Béjar is a small town known by its textile industry which was very important half a century ago. It is a medieval walled town perched on a hill with a ducal palace and a number of museums. Amongst its churches, La Virgen del Castañar is the iconic sanctuary, with magnificent views of the town, it is a place of devotion for many locals.
Next to it we can find the oldest bullring in Spain. Only 4 Km away we can visit the village of Candelario, which is considered one of the most beautiful officially declared historic-artistic site in Castilla y Leoacute;n. In this interesting and picturesque village we can enjoy its water channels along the cobbled streets with old traditional houses designed to suit the old pork industry.
Click on the map to display a map of the local area, showing the main towns in relation to Madrid and Barco de Avila.
In Castilla y León we have what is known as a Continental climate. It means we are far away from the coast and ruled by the seasons with little maritime influence.
The whole of Castilla is a huge tableland around 900m high. In Barco de Avila we are at the edge of these high plains, next to the mountains that surround it and protected from weather extremes.
Temperatures range from -10ºc in the winter, to peaks of +40ºc in the summer, but even then our summers are much cooler than down south and many Spanish people come here to holiday escape the fierce heat of the summer.
After summer, autumn generally comes with milder temperatures and beautiful countryside. The same situation applies to Spring, which is pleasantly cool and sometimes wet with the countryside springing to life. They are both a bit like a good English summer.
I suggest you bring light clothing, but don't forget to add a fleece or two because in the evening it can be chilly, and also a waterproof jacket. Good walking shoes are also advisable.
Barco de Avila is known throughout Spain for one thing in particular; its beans. El Barco beans are dried beans and there are 7 varieties (White round, White kidney, Purple long, Purple round, Arrocina, Flat and Large Barco beans). Their cultivation has always been traditional in this area.
The water (without lime) used to irrigate the plants produces very thin skinned beans, which reduces the amount of time required to cook them, as well as softening their texture. They are most often harvested manually, pod-by-pod, without uprooting the plant.
The Avila province is also especially well known for the quality of the veal, from cows raised and bred in the mountains and fields, so a big steak is part of the experience of visiting this part of the world, Cured Ham from Guijuelo and cheese from the Gredos goats are also extremely good.
Any bar will have a certain variety of "tapas". Best time is before lunch when they are freshly cooked. The local tapas include, Spanish omelette, egg in breadcrumbs, stuffed peppers... and if you are more adventurous you can try pig's ears, pig's nose, or tripe. "Patatas revolconas" made with potatoes, pigs fat and paprika are a classic.
This area is too cold for cultivating vines, but its apple trees produce very good quality cider. Liqueurs made from any of the locally produce fruits, and particularly the cherries from its neighbour Valle de Jerte, are also popular drinks. Wine comes from the nearby warmer areas such as Sierra de Francia or the Cebreros-Guisando region.