Sunday 30 June 2019 – Friday 12 July 2019 Andorra – Pamplona- Logrono- Jaca
After leaving Barcelona, which was quite hot for the duration of our stay, we headed to the cooler climate of Andorra which is a tiny independent principality situated between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains. We drove through a section of the Pyrenees, crossed the border without any hassles and stayed in a fantastic Aire which overlooked the river Gran Valira with a supermarket above and already the air felt cooler.
We drove into Andorra la Vella and walked through the small town with the river Gran Valira running through the middle, very picturesque with the mountains in the background.
In the capital city’s main plaza there is a bronze sculpture of Salvador Dali’s ‘Nobility of Time’. The 16-foot-tall piece was donated to the Andorran government by Enric Sabater, who was Dali’s agent between 1968 and 1982. A simple plaque confirms it is a piece by the famous artist, but its surrealist melting clock leaves little doubt. Given its immense value, we were astounded that it sits out in the open, with no visible security.
After visiting the tourist office and gaining some advice we decided to take a drive through a section of the mountains through Ordino and the surrounding countryside. It is a very pretty town and the drive was pleasant, but we reached a stage in the road which was height limited so we had to turn around.
Andorra has the feel of a ski resort and is full of shops and very little else of interest to us.
After three cool days in Andorra we returned to Pamplona to the same Aire on top of the hill to prepare for the Running of the Bulls. We have tickets in the bullring for the first day of the San Fermin Festival.
When we arrived at the Aires, we were amazed to find there were hardly any motorhomes parked up. We found a spot where we could connect to free electricity which was fantastic as the temperature was quite hot again, so we used our air conditioner. The Aire was free until the beginning of the festival when we had to pay 8€, which is quite reasonable.
We caught the bus into Pamplona Old Town to see a couple of the sights we had not seen on our previous visit and to plan our route for the morning of July 8, the first morning of the Running of the Bulls.
After alighting the bus, we walked along the town walls passing two 17th century gates San Nicholas Gate and Portal de la Taconera leading into the 16th century Taconera Gardens, which is the oldest park in Pamplona.
In 1830 the park became one of the most exotic parts of the city, with different flower and tree species being planted, as well as pathways, benches and fountains. The views from here over the city are beautiful. There is a moat which surrounds the walls which has been converted into a home for semi free deer, ducks, chicken and peacocks.
We continued around the wall and passed the New Gateway which is an opening to the walled city constructed in 1571 and reconstructed in 1950 and through the Rochapea Gateway which was constructed in 1553.
From this part of the wall is a great view of the Royal Palace and general Archive of Navarre, the former palace of the Kings of Navarre which dates back to the 12th century and was remodelled in 2003.
At the end near Portal de Franca (gateway of France), is a fantastic view of the Corralillos de Santo Domingo pens which is the starting point of the Bull Run and where the bulls sleep the night before the event. The last time we were here (May 2019) it had a circular garden with gorgeous flowers blooming.
Further up is Calle Estafeta, probably one of the most well-known streets in the world, as it is on the San Fermin Bull Run route. It got its name from the first post office branch in Pamplona which was located here in the 18th century. Today the barriers for the Bull Run have been erected in readiness.
The closer we got to the centre of the town the more decorated the streets became with red and white clothes to wear during the San Fermin Festival period, barriers erected along the streets and just waiting to be wheeled into place for the first Bull Run, workers stringing lines up for the cameras to record the action, bars stocking up supplies and the amount of people growing in the streets. The atmosphere today was quite different from May this year, the party atmosphere is beginning to take hold.
Café Iruna is a café, bar and restaurant which was founded in 1888 and was the first establishment with electricity in the city. This is where Hemingway wrote his first novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’ which is based around the festival of San Fermin. Adjacent to the Café, is ‘El Rincon de Hemingway’, a cosy and quiet corner, where there is an iconic life size bronze statue of Ernest Hemingway. In total, Hemingway journeyed to Pamplona on nine occasions, the most prolific between 1923 and 1927, when he visited every year for the San Fermín festival. His final visit was in 1959 because he found that the place had changed due to the fascist fist of general Franco for two decades, a country in which Hemingway’s books were banned.
This café has a very traditional charm. It feels like the place has stopped the time with vintage lamps, large mirror and throne style chairs. The tapas are delicious and very reasonably priced.
Monumento al Encierro is abronzesculpture in honour of the Bull Run of Pamplona. The work freezes the running of the mozos (young men) being pursued by the bulls on their way to the famous Bull Ring. The sculptor has captured the feeling that the bulls want to shake free and run through the streets of Pamplona one more time behind the runners and the tension and anguish on the face of the runners is very life like as if they can sense the breath of the bulls behind them.
Citadel is an old military fortification constructed between 1571 and 1645 in the shape of a regular pentagon with five bulwarks on the points. It has been declared a Natural Historic Artistic Monument and is maintained and not open to the public except for special events.
San Fermin Festival
On the morning of the first Bull Run we headed into the Old Town to take our seats in the bullring to witness the spectacular Running of the Bulls which begins at 8 am.
Whilst waiting for the start there were two bands playing traditional Spanish music to which the crowd sang, cheered and performed moves to characters on the big screen. The atmosphere in the bullring was very festive and highly entertaining and everyone except Ian and I were decked out in red and white. The police and first aid officers positioned themselves around the area ready for any action.
When the clock of the church of San Cernin struck eight o’clock in the morning, two rockets were fired, and the bulls, 6 white bulls with bells on and 6 younger black and brown bulls, charged out of the small corral in Cuesta de Santo for their 825-metre run to the bullring behind the mozos also dressed in red and white. The 6 white bulls run every day and are there to guide the 6 younger bulls which are the one that get killed in the bullfights that night.
We watched the running on the big screen and then a huge contingent of runners entered the ring followed by the first bull, which was quite heart stopping. You could feel the tension in the air as the run enfolded and the power of the bulls as they charged through the streets. It took between three to four minutes for the last bull to enter the ring followed by the last of the runners. We only saw one person being dragged into the ring and the first aid officers were quickly on the scene and whisked him away.
The runners stayed in the ring and then the fiesta continued minus the tension with one of the younger bulls (with horns taped) entering the ring and running around charging the remaining runners, under the supervision of the bull handlers with sticks, who would at times intervene for protection. Then an older white bull with a bell would enter the ring and lead the bull back to the corral. This ritual was repeated 5 more times with a few runners tossed into the air, trampled on and charged with very little injuries. At the beginning of each release some of the runners would lay on the ground in front of the gates where the bull entered, which meant the bulls ran over them, not sure why they do this! This part of the fiesta was interesting to begin with but as time went on, I felt sad for the young bulls who were being taunted by the runners who now appeared very brave.
We are glad we witnessed The Running of the Bulls and we feel that having a seat in the ring was the best way to enjoy the event. We chose not to attend the bullfight that night as it would be extremely sad to see young bulls get killed. The next day we headed off to Logrono for a wine tour of La Rioja area.
Just outside the markets was this sign which I found quite amusing.
On a building near the bus station is a building with an unusual clock which has three sides each depicting the time.
Logrono is a city in northern Spain, south of Bilbao. It is a stop on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. We parked in a carpark, which was next to a water park, with an abundance of trees which provided great shade from the summer days with about 20 – 25 motorhomes.
We went on a wine tour of the La Rioja (pronounced Ree-orca) region where we were viticulturists (care of the vine and production of the wine) for half a day. We drove to Fuenmayor which is in the Ebro valley.
It is a historical village made up of palaces and mansions that reflect its past and present wealth, based on the production of grapes and wine. After meeting our guide, we drove passed the Palace of the Marquesses of Teran which is now the Royal Board of Harvesters and through the small village to the vineyard where we learnt about the types of vines, how to prune them and the depth of work that goes into making a good Rioja wine.
We had a go at drinking wine from a gourde (traditional Spanish liquid receptacle made from goatskin)
and then visited a family owned traditional 16th century wine cellar where we watched the guide perform experiments to help us understand the process of wine fermentation.
From here we ventured underground to observe the evolution during aging in wooden casks, sampled two wines, bottled the wine, corked and labelled the bottle using traditional techniques and took it home as a souvenir of our tour.
This trip was very informative and the activities we participated in were a great way to gain an understanding of La Rioja wine. It was an experience which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Free Walking Tour of Logrono
At 7pm we met our guide at the walls of the Old Town who informed us of the history of the area and then showed us around the quaint little town. Logrono was an old settlement first of the Romans and then the Celts. In 1609 and 1610 Logrono was the main seat of the Basque witch trials, part of the Spanish Inquisition.
Some of the highlights of Logrono are:
The river Ebro passes through the city and spanning it are two bridges, the oldest of them is the Puente de Piedra (stone bridge), built in 1884, which takes the Pilgrim’s Route to Santiago de Compostela into the city. It is one of the symbols of the city and appears on its coat of arms.
The other bridge, the Iron Bridge is made of iron and built in the 19th century.
Revellin wall and Carlos I gate
Still standing from the old walls which surrounded the city are the Revillin wall and the Carlos I gate between 1522 and 1524. The cylinder section is where the embrasures for the guns were, housing the visors for the shooters. At the bottom was a powder keg where ammunition and cannons were stored. During the festivals to honour Logrono’s patron saint, this site is the scene of ceremonies which commemorate the French siege of the city.
Logrono is a small town with many churches. Around the Rua Vieja, the traditional thoroughfare of the pilgrims bound for Santiago de Compostela is where the most significant examples of St. James architecture are, The Pilgrim’s Shelter and fountain
and the Church of Santiago. This church was erected in the 16th century and the facade displays apostle Santiago as a warrior on horseback. Inside, is the image of Logrono’s patron, the Virgen de la Esperanza.
The church is next to Plaza de Santiago square where there is a unique “oca” (like snakes and ladders) board on the ground, with motifs related to the Way of St. James.
The Church of San Bartolome was constructed in the 12th century and is the oldest church in Logrono. It has an impressive façade, covered in intricate stone carvings that tell the life of the saint and other Bible passages, but its most remarkable feature is its Mudejar bell tower, built as part of the old city wall and used for defence purposes and a lookout point.
Cathedral of Santa María la Redonda built between the 15th and 18th centuries. The most striking features of the cathedral are its towers, nicknamed ‘the twins’ which are elaborately decorated and each containing a set of bells. The main facade is sculpted like an altarpiece and closed by a large wrought iron gate. Inside there is a picture of the Crucifixion of Christ, attributed to Michelangelo and Santo Sepulcro (Holy Sepulcher).
Logrono feels like a traditional Spanish town but with a modern twist, especially the pincho bar scene and wine. Pinchos are Northern Spain’s take on tapas and there are many pinchos to choose from with some bars offering many varieties, while others are famous for just one. After the walking tour we went to Calle Laurel, in the heart of the Old Town to Bar Soriano which specialises in mushrooms. The dish came out with three mushrooms lightly grilled and smothered with a rich and buttery sauce of garlic and olive oil, skewered on a slice of baguette. It was absolutely delicious, so much so we had another serving of mushrooms paired with a glass of local red wine which only cost 2.50 euros. Not only delicious, but cheap!
On the outskirts of Logrono, along the Ebro river we passed a cave in the hills. Not sure why or what it is used for as there is no signage or information on. It just looks amazing.
We headed off in the morning to our next destination, Jaca. On our way we passed an amazing body of aquamarine water known as Embalse de Yesa, a reservoir which is fed by the Aragon river and we drove through the white village of Berdun.
Jaca is a small town in the Pyrenees mountains of north-eastern Spain, near the French border. This is our last stop before we head into France to continue our journey and witness at least one stage of the Tour de France.
The Aires is located at the foot of the town, so we headed into the village for a meal and a stroll through the streets. The view from the hill of the Pyrenees is stunning.
The first sight we passed was the Monasterio de Santa Cruz the convent for Benedictine nuns, popularly known as “las Benitas’, and built in 1555 over an earlier Romanesque church, of which the crypt and parts of the upper church are still preserved.
Further through the town is the Clock Tower, also known as the Prison Tower, is a four storey Gothic building with a vaulted cellar. It was built in the mid-15th century to replace the cathedral prison, destroyed in the fire of 1440, although it was soon used as a residence by the bailiff. From the 16th century the bells have marked the hours for the city.
Then we had a meal of delicious tapas at La Tasca de Ana.
The next morning, we headed towards France to Arreau. On the road to Arreau we passed some beautiful scenery and stunning towns. Then it became interesting as we drove up, along and through the Pyrenees. It felt like we were a contender in the Tour de France.
Our roundup of our journey through Spain
This ended our 8 weeks visit to Spain which we thoroughly enjoyed. There were many highlights including Barcelona, Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls, Cadiz, Zaragoza and so many other beautiful places. The scenery is stunning, the history is awesome, the food and drinking culture sensational and the people are passionate about their way of life. The cost of food, drink and diesel is much cheaper than France or the UK and our average cost for the 8 weeks for staying overnight in the motorhome was 3 euro per night. We also drove on non toll roads which took us through towns, small villages and countrysides which are stunning.
We will be back in March next year to continue exploring regions including Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia in northern Spain as well as Portugal, Morocco other areas that we have yet to experience.