The Central Zone
of Navarre is a land of fortresses and castles built by the monarchs of Navarre in defence against the Arabs and neighbouring kingdoms.
Just five kilometres south of Tafalla
, the main town of the area, lies Olite
, the seat of the Court of Navarre in the era of Carlos III. The town maintains its structure of medieval streets lined with noble houses and Renaissance and Baroque palaces. The most outstanding monument in Olite is the Royal Palace
; its oldest part was converted into a Parador Nacional
(heritage hotel) some years ago. The Palacio Nuevo, the idea of Carlos III and Leonor de Trastámara, was built in the French Gothic style, with all the sumptuous features of the best French palaces of the time.
The spectacular Palacio Real and the beautiful churches of Santa María and San Pedro
are joined by another major attraction in Olite: the Vine and Wine Exhibition Centre
, which is located in a 17th-century palace. Wineries and cooperatives in the area are open all year round for guided visits and wine-tasting sessions.
If we continue along the road to Ujué
, we first pass through San Martín de Unx
, which has a picturesque medieval centre and a beautiful Romanesque crypt in the church of San Martín de Tours. In Ujué
you will find an old part with narrow cobbled streets that lead up to the fortress-church of Santa María
, which was built in a number of stages and styles over the centuries. Do not leave Ujué before trying the migas de pastor (shepherd's breadcrumbs) and almendras garrapiñadas (honey-coated almonds).
To the south lies the Laguna de Pitillas
, a large wetland that has been declared a Natural Reserve
. It has a bird observatory with graphic and audiovisual materials. A few kilometres further south is the Despoblado de Rada
, a walled enclosure on top of a hill that was destroyed in the 16th century.
In Carcastillo, make sure you stop off at the Monastery of La Oliva
, an impressive architectural ensemble that includes a 12th-century Cistercian church, a Gothic cloister and the abbot's residence.
Going north-west from Tafalla, take the NA-6030 road to Artajona
, famous for its Cerco
(walls) built between 1085 and 1109. The Cerco de Artajona still conserves 9 of the 14 original battlement towers and two of the original gates to the town. Inside the walls stands the church-fortress of San Saturnino
, built in the 13th century with a beautiful Gothic portico. A 3.6-kilometre-long signposted track leads to the dolmens of Portillo de Enériz and La Mina
It is worth driving up to Berbinzana
and the yacimiento de las Eretas
, a fortified village from the Iron Age (7th century B.C.).
Another area that preserves the essence of the medieval era is La Valdorba
, a pleasant area north-east of Tafalla that consists of villages with buildings of character and delightful Romanesque architecture, stone crosses, funeral stones, churches and houses with coats of arms on their façades.Gastronomy
Olite is the wine capital of Navarre and is home to a Wine Museum. Excellent grape harvests are collected all over the area, which has well-known bodegas
(wineries) that can be visited.
Ujué is well known for its almendras garrapiñadas
(honey-coated almonds), Artajona for its turrón del royo
(a kind of nougat) and Tafalla for its caramelos de piñones (pine nut sweets).Events
Every year in November Artajona plays host to a carrera de layas
, a spectacular event in which the youngsters from the town demonstrate their skill in a race with farming implements that replaced the traditional plough and were used into well into the 20th century.
Tafalla has two livestock fairs every year, the most important being at the start of February and whose origins go back to 1419. It also welcomes a large number of visitors for its festivities in August, with a traditional Subida a la Salve (religious procession) and bull runs in the streets.
The romerías to Ujué
in the month of May, especially the one that starts in Tafalla, are the oldest and best attended popular pilgrimages in Navarre. Many villages from the surrounding area organise pilgrimages to the sanctuary of the Virgen Morena (Dark Virgin Mary).
In Olite a Festival of Classical Theatre
is held between July and August, and a Fiesta de la Vendimia
(grape harvest festival) in early September.