A weekend in Navarra: Discover the riches of Spain’s northern gem

by Lorraine Williamson
visit Navarra
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Navarra, a captivating region in northern Spain, offers an enchanting blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. With its charming towns, breathtaking landscapes, and vibrant traditions, Navarra is a must-visit destination for those seeking an immersive experience.

Whether you are a resident of Spain or an avid traveller, this guide will take you on a journey through the highlights of a weekend in Navarra, showcasing its fascinating history, rich culture, gastronomic delights, and vibrant celebrations.

Exploring historic treasures

Navarra is a treasure trove of historical landmarks. Start your weekend by visiting the capital city, Pamplona, renowned for the Running of the Bulls during the San Fermín festival. Explore the historic quarter with its magnificent Gothic Cathedral and the imposing Citadel. Discover the medieval town of Olite with its winding steets, and home to a stunning castle that dates back to the 13th century. Immerse yourself in history by visiting the impressive Roman ruins of Andelos or the ancient pre-Roman settlement of Santa Criz de Eslava.

Running of the bulls statue

The Gothic Cathedral

The Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria is a testament to the architectural brilliance of the Middle Ages. As you approach the cathedral, its impressive façade captivates with intricate stone carvings and soaring spires that reach towards the heavens. Step inside, and you’ll be greeted by a serene and awe-inspiring interior.

The cathedral’s main altar is adorned with delicate sculptures and exquisite gold detailing. Explore the chapels and side altars, each displaying magnificent artwork and religious artifacts. Don’t miss the Cloister of the Cathedral, a peaceful courtyard surrounded by arches, showcasing beautiful Gothic and Renaissance influences.

Climb the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the cathedral’s tower, and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Pamplona’s charming streets and rooftops. The tower also houses a small museum, offering insights into the cathedral’s history and the artistry behind its construction.The Gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Catedral_pamplona_cuerpo_naves.jpg

The Citadel

Nestled on the edge of Pamplona’s historic quarter, the Citadel, or Ciudadela, stands as a formidable fortress that has witnessed centuries of history. Built in the 16th century to defend the city, this imposing military structure is a testament to the strategic importance of Pamplona.

As you enter the Citadel’s massive stone walls, you’ll find a sprawling green park that contrasts with the sturdy architecture. Take a leisurely stroll along the tree-lined pathways, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the tranquility of this urban oasis.

Within the Citadel, explore the various structures that once served as barracks, armories, and storerooms. Discover the hidden secrets of the underground tunnels, which were used for defensive purposes during times of conflict. Visit the Military Museum housed within the Citadel, which offers an intriguing glimpse into Pamplona’s military history.

During the summer months, the Citadel comes alive with cultural events, concerts, and festivals. It’s a perfect spot to relax, have a picnic, or simply soak up the historical ambiance while appreciating the surrounding beauty.

The Citadel

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Olite

At the heart of Olite lies its crowning jewel, the Palacio Real de Olite, also known as the Olite Castle. This majestic fortress, built during the 13th and 14th centuries, once served as the residence of the Kings and Queens of Navarra. Its grandeur and intricate details make it one of the most significant examples of Gothic civil architecture in Europe.

Approaching the castle, visitors are greeted by the sight of towers, battlements, and lush gardens. Step inside, and you’ll be transported back in time as you wander through its regal halls and courtyards. Admire the stunning Palacio Viejo, the older part of the castle, with its beautiful arches, elaborate decorations, and charming courtyards.

Climb the towers for breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, and imagine the castle bustling with life and activity during its heyday. The castle’s Parador, a luxurious hotel located within its walls, offers a unique opportunity to spend a night in a truly magical setting.

Beyond the castle walls, Olite’s narrow streets beckon visitors to explore further. Stroll through the town’s charming squares, lined with traditional houses adorned with colourful façades and wooden balconies. Allow yourself to get lost in the labyrinthine alleys, discovering hidden corners and delightful surprises at every turn.

Take a moment to appreciate the beautiful Church of Santa María la Real, a Gothic masterpiece featuring an intricately carved portal and an elegant interior. Visit the Town Hall, an architectural gem that showcases a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles, and learn more about Olite’s fascinating history.

Palacio Real de Olite

Cultural delights

Navarra’s rich cultural heritage is evident in its museums, art galleries, and traditional festivals. Visit the Museum of Navarre in Pamplona to delve into the region’s past, featuring archaeological artifacts, fine art, and religious treasures. Experience the vibrant Basque culture at the Basque Museum in Bayonne. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness the lively Basque dances, known as jotas, which encapsulate the region’s traditional music and dance forms.

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Museum of Navarre – From prehistory to modern art

The Museum of Navarre takes visitors on a chronological journey, starting from prehistoric times and extending to the present day. Begin your exploration by delving into the prehistoric period, where you can admire ancient tools, ceramics, and artworks that offer insights into the early civilizations that inhabited the region.

Move forward in time to the Roman era, where you’ll encounter captivating artifacts such as mosaics, sculptures, and pottery, providing a glimpse into the Roman influence on Navarra. Explore the Middle Ages through the museum’s collection of medieval manuscripts, religious art, and intricately carved altarpieces, reflecting the spiritual and cultural life of the time.

The museum also showcases an impressive display of Renaissance and Baroque art, featuring works by renowned painters and sculptors. Admire the intricate details of religious paintings, marvel at the skillful craftsmanship of wooden sculptures, and immerse yourself in the artistic expressions of the period.

Lastly, venture into the world of modern and contemporary art, where the museum highlights the works of local and international artists. From avant-garde paintings to innovative installations, this section of the museum invites visitors to engage with the evolving artistic landscape of Navarra.

The Basque Museum

The Basque Museum invites visitors to embark on an immersive exploration of Basque culture, unveiling the traditions and history that have shaped this unique community. Begin your journey by delving into the origins and prehistory of the Basque people, discovering archaeological artifacts that showcase their ancient way of life.

As you progress through the museum, you’ll encounter exhibits that delve into the Basque language, Euskara, one of the oldest living languages in Europe. Learn about its linguistic roots, the significance of its preservation, and its role in maintaining Basque identity.

Explore the Basque rural and maritime traditions, with displays showcasing traditional agricultural practices, fishing techniques, and the craftsmanship associated with these industries. Discover the rich folklore and mythology of the Basque people, with exhibits featuring traditional costumes, musical instruments, and captivating stories passed down through generations.

The Basque Museum offers interactive experiences that allow visitors to actively engage with Basque culture. Participate in workshops where you can learn traditional Basque dances, try your hand at the ancient game of pelota, or discover the art of Basque cuisine through cooking demonstrations.

Immerse yourself in the sounds of Basque music, as the museum often hosts live performances and concerts that showcase the region’s traditional instruments and melodies. These interactive elements provide a unique opportunity to connect with the living culture of the Basque people.

A culinary adventure

Navarra is renowned for its gastronomic prowess, offering a delightful fusion of Spanish and Basque cuisine. Savour the mouthwatering pintxos (Basque tapas) in the streets of Pamplona or indulge in a traditional meal at one of the region’s Michelin-starred restaurants. Be sure to sample Navarra’s famous red wines, particularly the robust and flavourful Navarra DO wines, produced from the region’s vineyards.

Marmitako, typical Basque tuna and veg stew with a kick of chili

Navarra DO wines

Navarra’s diverse terroir, with its varying altitudes, microclimates, and soil types, provides an ideal environment for cultivating a wide range of grape varieties. The region encompasses both the Pyrenees Mountains in the north and the Ebro River Valley in the south, creating a tapestry of landscapes that contribute to the unique characteristics of Navarra DO wines.

The vineyards of Navarra benefit from a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters, tempered by the influence of the Atlantic Ocean. This climatic diversity, combined with the varying altitudes of the vineyards, allows winemakers to cultivate an array of grape varieties and produce wines with distinct flavors and styles.

Nature and outdoors

Navarra’s neverending landscapes provide many opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Explore the stunning Pyrenees Mountains, where you can hike through lush valleys, marvel at cascading waterfalls, and even ski in winter. Visit the mesmerising Bardenas Reales, a semi-desert region, shaped by centuries of erosion, featuring unique rock formations and picturesque landscapes. Take a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Urederra River, known for its turquoise-coloured waters and breathtaking natural pools.

Urederra River, Navarra

Festivals and traditions

Navarra is famous for its vibrant festivals and traditional celebrations. As mentioned above, experience the thrill of the San Fermín festival in Pamplona, where participants run alongside bulls through the city’s narrow streets. Until July 18, you can even enjoy a festival of witchcraft. From August 4 – 10, you can witness the colourful carnival of Estella-Lizarra, filled with music, parades, and traditional costumes. Not to be missed, is the “Flamenco on fire” week from August 18-27. Then at the beginning of September, you can enjoy and participate in the Wine Harvest Festival. It would be rude not to! And if you enjoyed that, you have Wine Week to look forward to in October.

These are just a small selection of the many fiestas and traditional events that take place throughout Navarra. For a full list of official events, click here.

Also read: Fiestas, ferias, and celebrations in Spain during 2023

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