Map of Navarre
Since Cizur Menor, a small village which is a popular stopover on the Jacquaire path, the Camino Francés, we head towards Puente la Reina (Stations) about twenty kilometers from Pamplona, where 2 branches of the Camino de Compostela join together more than one. Cross the old gate of the village, of which there are only two towers, then walk along Calle Mayor, to appreciate three remarkable churches : the crucifix church, built by the Templars and of simple appearance, the church of 12th century Santiago and the Apostle Saint Peter's Church. The entire Puente la Reina is tinted by the pilgrimage, there you will find something to make an invigorating stop, with restaurants and places to spend the night. There is a pretty stone bridge with 6 arches, on the Arga river (the Pont de Pellerins). A few minutes to the south is Mendigorria, a small village interesting from the Roman ruins of a village it shelters. If you want to be quiet, to spend a vacation in a beautiful place well located and not very crowded, we recommend Artajona a few kilometers further south. A small medieval village well preserved, as out of time with medieval fortifications and everything you need to feel good ! Let's go back to Puente la Reina, to the west, after a little tour to Cirauqui (Zirauki), its pretty medieval old town and its small square with arcades. Then we continue to Estella (Lizarra), the next major city on the Chemin des Français to Compostela.
Walkers on the road to Santiago de Compostela
Puente la Reina and its bridge
Estella (Lizarra) is surrounded by mountains and crossed by the Ega. Lizzara means star, in Basque and in the 11th century, a legend says that shepherds observed a shower of wonderful stars over the city. This one saw its notoriety and its affluence grow by the attraction of the trade, which the way towards Compostelle generated in the XIIIth century. After the wars and successive historical eddies between Navarre and Castile, it lost its scale. Today, it is still an appreciated and generous, dynamic place of pilgrimage, where the gastronomy is renowned and original (especially dishes with suckling pig). You will visit the Church of San Pedro de la Rùa at the foot of the town's rocky mound, the Church of San Miguel, which is above the oldest church in the city, Santo Sepulcro.The Basilica of Notre-Dame-du-Puy shelters the Patron Saint of the city who watches over her.
Interior of the Basilica of Notre-Dame-du-Puy
Opposite the Church of San Pedro is the Palace of the Kings of Navarre which is a medieval arched building, classified as a national monument. Admire its ornate and sculpted columns, including one side illustrating the fight of the Chevalier Roland. The Palace houses the Gustavo de Maeztu Museum, which presents plastic works by this versatile artist. Take the opportunity to stop at the fountain on the square. Continue your walk in the city, take the Calle de la Rua which is lined with beautiful houses, as well as Calle Mayor. In summer, a walk along the Aga in the Parc de los Llanos is perfect for cooling off and even taking a dip in the mystical properties of the Aga Salada… Speaking of mystic and bizarre, if you don’t don't be afraid of skulls, go 1km from Estella, to go to the "Garden of Skulls", the Parco de los Desvelados. A plant plateau where the artist Luis García Vidal used rocks, plants and everything that nature offered him to sculpt and draw skulls. Died since 2008 in obscure circumstances, this park is unfortunately not maintained. It's original enough to be worth a detour !
For wine lovers, all around Estella, there are bodegas (cellars) which offer interesting wine tours, especially if you want to stock up on good Navarra wine ! In Ayegui, there are in particular the Irache cellars which are also a kind of museum. Also at Lacar further east. Always around Estella, there is Metauten and its qualitative truffle museum and particularly interesting when it is the season (rather in winter, for the truffle harvest).
Palace of the Kings of Navarre
We continue to Villamayor de Monjardin, a fortress village, former guardian of Estella, directly above a hilly plain dotted with vineyards. You will see the astonishing Fuente de los Moros, a sort of tank fountain with fresh, pure water. The Château de Monjardin, on the rocky outcrop, overlooks the plain. There is also a Romanesque church with a beautiful Baroque tower. Also on the Camino Francés, towards Viana, there is Los Arcos, watered by the Odron. You can see pretty houses, the Santa Maria church and its high tower, as well as two large doors from the 17th century. Motor sports enthusiasts will be happy to see a very beautiful circuit nearby, the Circuito de Navarra, open to all for a crazy automotive experience.
Viana, well placed on its mound, is also full of beautiful houses, protected by the remains of a rampart. It is the last town of Navarre which is on the way to Compostela. Founded in the 13th century, it is a medieval stronghold, with a defensive vocation. Visit the Gothic church of Santa Maria and its monumental portal. Gastronomy takes pride of place in the city in October and all year round in small bars and restaurants. In the region, discover the Rioja Qualified Designation of Origin wines.
Gothic church Santa Maria
The streets of Viana
In the program ? Hills covered with vineyards, monasteries, fortified cities, succulent gastronomy and a border with Aragon. Not bad !
If Lumbier is a pretty little steep village installed in a basin, with a beautiful 15th century town hall, it is especially the Gorges of Lumbier (Foz de Lumbier, 1300m long, 150m high) which are breathtaking and worth the detour. Nature lovers will be enchanted by the panoramas and numerous hikes offered by the region. The flora is remarkable, the rock has reddish accents and if you take your binoculars, you will see many vultures and other raptors which flourish in this natural reserve (since 1987). In all seasons, the landscape is charming. The brilliant blue water of the Irati river has cut notches in the rock, over the millennia and beyond, you will see an old bridge, then caves dug by the hand of Man, to formerly allow the circulation of an electric train. Along the cliff, a marked path allows you to walk (there is also the greenway of the Gorges of Lumbier). Before or after your discovery of this corner of nature, you can go to the Interpretation Center of the Gorges of Lumbier, to learn all about the exceptional local geology. Did you like this place ? Just a little further north-west of Lumbier is the Arbaiun gorge dug by the Salazar river, it is the largest canyon in Navarre (6km long, just that !). Meet at the Iso belvedere on the NA 178 (Mirador de Iso).
The Gorges de Lumbier
Near Yesa, there is the Yesa reservoir (Embalse de Yesa), a gigantic stretch of water (10 km long, 1900 ha in area), surrounded by wild vegetation. It is not a very touristy place, although frequented by fans of stand-up paddle, windsurfing and wind-surfing. This region with a pleasant climat, although windy you will understand it, is unique and so are the waters that come from the Aragon river. There are sulphurous resurgences which allow in certain places to make a small balneotherapy free ;) The bottom of the lake is muddy , that displeases some for the bathe (which is authorized). Be very careful, because the banks of a dam lake are dangerous, being subject to a rapid rise in water. Install the towel away from water and plan to put yourself in a place where the release is easy. To enjoy a beautiful view of the lake, go to the very beautiful Monastery of Leyre. If you go to Yesa, for example for your picnic of the day, observe the remains of the Pont des Roncalais. Further south, there is Javier Castle and its crenelated towers, its drawbridge, loopholes and machicolations of fortified castles. At the beginning of March a famous pilgrimage takes place in this region : the Javierada. We arrive by a metal bridge, at Sangüesa, a town on the bank of Aragon, which flourished from the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims flock to admire the 12th century Santa Maria la Real church and its Romanesque portal. In Sangüesa, we taste Pochas, flageolets (white beans) concocted in Navarresi pot-au-feu. Stroll through the city to discover the architectural and artistic gems it contains, attesting to its prosperity of yesteryear. Palace, (including that of the Prince of Viana), beautiful town hall and arcaded squares, also the Carmen Convent and its cloister. If you are in the region in early January, do not miss the Auto des Rois Mages, a religious festival every January 6 (since 1967 !!)
Lake of Yesa
We return a little towards the interior of Navarre to visit Tafalla and its old town (the upper town). We will see the Santa María church, in a maze of medieval streets lined with beautiful palaces and numerous coats of arms on the facades. In Taffala, we are greedy and naughty : we discover the "El Caserío" caramels, made in town. A recipe from the 1930s, with pine nuts, coffee and milk, but no sugar (the only one in the world), yum ! Continue on to Ujué (Uxue), a pretty hilltop village whose specialty is almond.
The town of Tafalla and its "El Caserío" caramels
We now arrive in Olite, the former capital of the Kings of Navarre. When you hear the word "palace", it is quite the Palacio Real de Olite that the mind refers to. Vast, majestic, imposing and light at the same time, it has been the subject of numerous revisions, improvements, enlargements and restorations. Turrets with pointed round roofs covered with slate, crenelatedtowers, courtyards richly decorated with plant. It is a residential palace, without a defensive vocation. The visit will appeal to the whole family. In Olite, there are intersecting and intersecting alleys, a Roman wall and beautiful churches : Santa Maria la Real, for example. Plaza Carlos III, Mayor Street (and San Pedro Church) are transformed into a lively place during the annual medieval festivals in August. Shows, costumes, games and also… wine ! It is famous in Olite, there are cellars and cooperatives all around the city and the Vine and Wine Exhibition Center to visit.
Palacio Real de Olite