By Regina Winkle-Bryan
Navarra stretches from the border with France and the Pyrenees where it is green and mossy, to the dry red desert and fields that surround the Ebro River and the Bardenas Reales in the south. Navarra doesn’t draw too many tourists, save the faithful drunken few who head to Hemingway’s Pamplona once every July for San Fermin.
Besides Pamplona and the villages highlighted in Hemingway’s well-known book, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, this naturally diverse area has a lot going on if you are into food, wine, flora and fauna, and the simpler things in life. Starting in the north of Navarra near Bera, where many people speak Basque, we worked our way down through Navarra by car cutting right though the middle of the province one sunny week in June. We stopped at lush villages along the way, which held clusters of ancient homes painted in white with wooden beams and cherry-red shutters. Every home in northern Navarra seemed to have a garden, and every windowsill had a potted geranium; I don’t think I’ve ever seen such carefully cared for houses.
In the north we visited Zugarramurdi where we came across its diabolical Witch Museum (entrance about $6.00). In the same village there is also an enormous cave complex surrounded by woodland trails which is open to the public. The caves, called the Witch Caves, are beautiful and were the site for magical activity for centuries before the Spanish Inquisition came along and spoiled all the fun. A witch festival takes place here each year on the summer solstice.
For a stay in the north of Navarra, consider a night in a 15th century home in Bera. Hotel Churrut is a gorgeous three-star in the center of a typical village. If you book, make sure to note Churrut’s original wooden floor boards and ask for one of the rooms facing the gardens (not the street). Also, a word to the wise: when visiting northern Navarra, bring an umbrella. It rains in northern Spain even in the summer months and the weather is cool.
Plaza de los Fueros, 2 – 31780, Bera (Navarra)
Caves and Witch Festival-
Zugarramurdi Witch Village
*Update: a movie (comedy) was made about the witches of Zagarramurdi