Almost unique in Spain, Navarre brings together three different bio-geographical regions: the Alpine to the northeast, the Atlantic to the northwest, and the Mediterranean to the south. Over time, this diversity has created a community with diverse landscapes and climates, which have in turn shaped both town planning and the architecture of the towns, as well as the products of the land and the very nature of the people that live there. We will now describe the 4 zones, each with its own character, from north to south.
Located in the north, this is the green area par excellence. The high peaks of the east, in Belagua and Roncal, soften as they stretch out through Aezkoa, Baztan, and the Region of Bidasoa towards the Cantabrian Sea.
Any traveller that goes deeper into Roncal will get to know parts such as the Valley of Belagua, originally a glacier, or the expansive karst massif that is the Natural Reserve of Larra. In their rapid descent, the river sources that spring from the Pyrenees have created gorges such as those in Lumbier and Arbaiun. Towards the west, the landscape gives way to impressive forests such as the Irati Forest, Quinto Real and the Bertiz Natural Park, which reach their true splendour in autumn and spring.
The picturesque Valley of Baztan takes us to emblematic places such as the caves of Urdazubi/Urdax or those of Zugarramurdi, whose past linked to witchcraft has been immortalised in film.
To the far west is the expansive Natural Park of Urbasa-Andia, a land of shepherds, chasms and megalithic monuments, and the Sierra of Aralar, including many places along the Plazaola Greenway, one of the 4 open in the community.
Beautiful and well preserved villages are dotted all around the Pyrenees: Isaba, Ochagavía, Etxalar, and Lekunberri, to name but a few. Their sturdy stone farmhouses are monuments in themselves, and many of them are available for all to enjoy as rural holiday cottages. The people who live here are tranquil, hospitable and reserved.
In addition to the outstanding landscapes in this area, there are also fascinating monuments that take us back in time to its past. One such example is the Collegiate of Roncesvalles that speaks of the Santiago Way, which enters Navarre just a few kilometres away, and the Romanesque sanctuary of San Miguel de Aralar, which speaks of myths and legends that form a part of the idiosyncrasy of the Pyrenees.
The gastronomy here is hearty and flavoursome. Game meat, T-bone steak and salmon trout, dairy products such as cuajada custards or D.O. Roncal and Idiazabal cheeses, Canutillo pastries, mushrooms and forest fruits, cider and liquors such as the local Pacharán are just a few of the Pyrenean delicacies.
This part of the city is home to the most significant monuments: the Santa María Cathedral, whose cloister is a Gothic French masterpiece, the church-forts of San Saturnino and San Nicolás, and the Regional Audit Offices. Surrounding the old part of town is a medieval walled ensemble, declared a National Monument.
World-renowned for its San Fermin festivities, you can make the most of your visit to get to know the streets that bulls and runners use during the running of the bulls, each morning between 7th and 14th July. Likewise, pay a visit to the San Fermin shrine, in the San Lorenzo church.
Equally as charged with history, and alive with pilgrims, is the Santiago Way, which crossed the city from east to south, starting with the medieval Magdalena bridge and leaving though the Citadel and the University Campus.
If you fancy a green getaway in Pamplona, there are various parks with different styles: the Japanese Yamaguchi park, the French-style Taconera park, the walled Citadel park, the romantic Media Luna or the University of Navarre Campus, an educational and health centre with international acclaim.
Another option which can be enjoyed on foot or by bike is the 24 km route down the charming Arga Riverside Walk. Located at the foot of the walls, you will discover medieval and modern bridges, fishers, canoes, and diverse fauna, spaces for sports and children’s play areas, picnic areas, vegetable plots… A relaxing and visual balance that will help you disconnect from the bustle of the city.
To find out more about the heritage of Navarre, from prehistoric times right up to the modern day, visit the Museum of Navarre and the University of Navarre Museum, an architectonic gem of space and volume.
Finally, just 10 minutes from Pamplona in Alzuza, is the museum that holds the personal collection of Jorge Oteiza, one of most important sculptors of the 20th century and well worth a visit.
Using the Santiago Way by means of a guide, which goes from east to west, we find ourselves in the first town of Sangüesa, known for the exceptional Romanesque façade of its Santa María la Real church. Nearby are the Benedictine monastery of Leyre, where the Gregorian chants can still be heard, and the Javier Castle, birthplace of the community’s patron saint.
Close by is the pretty town of Olite, known for its elegant Gothic palace, and Ujué, a medieval village constructed on a hill, crowned by the impressive church-fort of Santa María.
After crossing the Valdorba valley, where we can enjoy the most rural Romanesque monuments, we reach the walled town of Artajona and the enigmatic octagonal church of Santa María de Eunate. Nearby, in Puente la Reina, the two routes of the Santiago Way converge, passing through the main street and leaving the village over an elegant Romanesque bridge.
Moving towards Riojan lands, we reach Estella-Lizarra, a historical town with a constant trail of pilgrims passing through. The cloister of San Pedro de la Rúa, the façades of San Miguel and the Santo Sepulcro, and the palace of the Kings of Navarre are just some examples of the Romanesque architecture that can be found in its bustling streets.
In the nearby area, two monasteries are well worth a visit: Iratxe and Irantzu, the latter immersed in the depths of the Sierra de Urbasa, which is also home to the beautiful turquoise waters of the Urederra source and the Alloz reservoir. To finish off this historical tour, other villages with outstanding churches are Los Arcos, Torres del Río and Viana.
As a treat for the taste buds, do not leave without trying the roast suckling pig, the famous pocha beans of Sangüesa, the valued truffle and the various sweets that marry wonderfully with traditional and heady muscatel wines.
Tudela, the capital of La Ribera, was founded by Arabs in the 9th century, and the Jewish community that inhabited the town was a birthplace of poets, philosophers and travellers. Its monumental gem is the cathedral, erected on an old mosque, with a particularly outstanding Romanesque façade of the Final Judgement, the Romanesque cloister and the Baroque chapel of Santa Ana, patron of the city.
The Cistern monastery of La Oliva and the Fitero or Tulebras monasteries are also essential visits when in La Ribera. The town of Corella, with its Baroque and Renascent palaces, or the pleasant Tarazonica Greenway are also worthwhile options.
Do not forget that you are in the kingdom of the vegetables. The traditional horticulture in this land produces internationally known products, such as piquillo peppers, Tudela lettuce hearts, asparagus and artichokes; some of which feature in the signature dish of the area: vegetable stew.
The finishing touch to a whole array of colours, aromas, flavours and different people, which you will surely enjoy and remember…