Avila, the city of the stars and the stars

Have you ever thought why in Hollywood there are actors and there are “stars”? Is it because of the glitz, the glitter and the magic? Of course, there are celluloid stars that transcend the screen. Tom Cruise’s smile, Harrison Ford’s gaze, Meryl Streep’s gestures or Cate Blanchett’s walk can be examples of this sparkle. 

Ávila knows its share of screen stars. From the 1950s, when Cary Grant, Sophia Loren and Frank Sinatra passed through during the filming of “Pride and Passion”, to Emily Blunt, who was here in 2022 filming “The English”, many prestigious actors and directors have been inspired by its natural landscapes and imposing architecture to set the scene for productions of all styles.

Over the last few years, the work of the Ávila Film Office has been fundamental in attracting filming to this territory, making it one of the most attractive screen destinations in the country.

The walls of Avila, absolute protagonists

It is no exaggeration to say that 90% of the productions of all kinds filmed in Ávila have chosen its walls as the setting for scenes from all over the world. Orson Welles chose them as a Shakespearean setting in “Chimes at Midnight”. Paul Verhoeven used them to recreate the besieged city in “Lords of Steel”; Richard Lester made it look like the Rome of “Golfus of Rome”; and, of course, they were conveniently “bombed” by the enormous cannon in “Pride and Passion”, Stanley Kramer’s blockbuster that mobilised 5,000 extras from the province to film the sequence of the attack on the city.

The Conference Centre with the city wall in the background / Castilla y León Film Commission

Two of our best-known stars in the world, Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz, also filmed in Ávila more recently. You can see them with the city walls in the background in “Competencia oficial” (Gaston Duprat, 2021), an entertaining black comedy about the world of cinema that we recommend if you haven’t seen it yet.

And if you’re already looking forward to setting a date for your trip to Ávila, you should know that any time is a good time, but there’s one that’s special. During the first weekend of September, its streets return to the Middle Ages with the “Market of the Three Cultures”.  The city is decked out to welcome thousands of visitors who during these days enjoy parades, tournaments, shows, gastronomy, music and fun, and it is possible to rub shoulders with Moors, Christians and Jews, minstrels, merchants, bailiffs and silversmiths. With such a setting and the thousands of “extras” that roam the city, all that is missing is a script and the desire to film it.

The medieval market is one of the best moments to visit Avila / David Castro

From “Conan the barbarian” to “The kingdom of heaven”

For a screen tourist, to travel to Ávila is to relive all those timeless classics we were talking about, rescuing such iconic moments as the images of Conan’s childhood, in “Conan the Barbarian” (John Milius, 1982). Although we all remember Jorge Sanz playing Arnold Schwarzenegger as a child, more than 40 years have passed since then. This low-budget film, with everything against it being a success (starring an Austrian bodybuilder who barely spoke English…) was filmed in several locations in our country. Specifically, the opening scene was shot between Robledillo and La Hija de Dios (30 kms from the capital of Avila). One of the best anecdotes of this filming is that it was so cold that the fake blood used for the battle scenes froze. Until someone had the idea of mixing it with vodka. As well as making the blood more truthful, rumour has it that the stuntmen had a great time once they were “killed”.

The foothills of the Sierra de Gredos in winter / Tourism of Castilla y León

Another anecdote of this filming, not so festive, is that it coincided with the attempted coup d’état of 23 F. It is not clear why the Civil Guard interrupted the filming for a few hours. Even so, the film was finished and the rest is history.

Beyond the cinematographic traces that permeate this destination, travelling to Ávila also means having the opportunity to enjoy other types of film experiences. In addition to a capital with great heritage stars (walls, cathedral, convents, palaces), its province is a place where nature is a spectacle in itself. That is why the people of Avila know about the stars of the screen and also the stars of the firmament.  So in what could be your star destination for the year, you can’t miss out on one of its main attractions. You will be able to observe a spectacular sky, both in the capital and in the municipalities of the Sierra de Gredos mountains, where astro-tourism is becoming a growing activity. 

In addition to being a Starlight Destination since 2013, the Gredos Regional Park has been a Starlight Reserve since 2020. These distinctions are awarded by the Starlight Foundation, an organisation integrated in UNESCO and supported by the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) to those natural spaces that promote specific actions to protect the starry sky as a heritage of all.

Panoramic view of Ávila from the Cuatro Postes / Ávila Film Office

It is precisely those clear skies, that pure atmosphere and that sense of time in suspense that have led many filmmakers to shoot in these parts. Ridley Scott, for example, chose the region to shoot several scenes for “Kingdom of Heaven”. Never better said. When you visit the cathedral, take a good look at the altar, because that is where the coronation ceremony was filmed.

In short, why not include some astro-tourism activities in your next trip to Ávila? Just by stopping for a while at one of the Stellar Viewpoints scattered throughout the Sierra de Gredos, you will be able to enjoy a unique experience. And remember that, although there are up to fifteen viewpoints or observation points in the Sierra de Gredos to gaze at the stars, we recommend you do so in the Circo de Gredos, where the main peaks of the area, such as Almanzor, begin to rise. At its centre is the Laguna Grande, where you can see the reflection of those starry skies that are becoming a rare commodity.

Gredos is more than spectacular skies

Just before you finish your holiday in Ávila, we recommend a hike through the Circo de Gredos, one of the most popular mountain trails in Spain.  The route is not too demanding, nor is it long. From the Plataforma de Tormes to the Laguna Grande there are 6.4 kilometres (about two or three hours) along a path that alternates ascents and descents. Hiking and climbing are two of the star activities in this area. There are routes to suit all tastes: for the whole family, for professionals or simply to see all the beauty of the area.

Sierra de Gredos is a treasure of nature / Castilla y León Film Commission

One of these beauties is on display during the months of May, June and July in the area of Gredos Norte, where you can see more than 5,000 hectares of flowering broom. A sea of yellow covers the mountains and valleys, filling the atmosphere with a unique aroma. The spectacle is so special that the people of Avila celebrate every year the Festival del Piorno en Flor where multiple activities are programmed. From concerts to decoration competitions, as well as guided routes so as not to miss the most cinematographic spots in the landscape.

By María Parcero

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