Travel Products Review: Wallpapered Custom Map Canvases

My most beloved home decorations are the small things I’ve picked up from traveling around Europe and más allá – a Chinese zodiac garland I haggled for at a Beijing market, handmade pillowcases from a textile factory in Jaipur, a whittled bull from Slovakia that graces our mantle. And I save every single map of the cities I visit in a shoebox, which is the perfect size and shape for the tattered pages.

Wallpapered Map Canvas

When Rachel from Wallpapered got in touch to offer me a customized map canvas for my home or office, I had an immediate rearranging of our home office to accommodate the 60x60cm print.

In less than two weeks, we’d designed a custom map together and it arrived to my house, mounted on a canvas with a wooden frame.

The process

Rachel had me scour the site for a style, size and finish that I wanted, walking me through the process via email. Based out of London, this company has been transforming blank walls for just a few years with both map canvases and wallpaper, from countries to world maps and beyond.

With so many choices, I went back to the basics – I wanted a map of Spain.

Rachel was with me for every step of the design process – I prodded over colors, vinatge touches, regions and even how to hang the canvas in no less than a dozen emails! Everything was customized to my exact liking, though I’d have loved a vintage-y map (Wallpapered has since added a cool version of Old Castille!).

Close Up of Wallpapered canvas

When we’d settled on a design, Rachel sent the mock-up of everything that would be printed on the map, along with a to-scale picture so I could see just which cities and towns would be included.

The canvas

The canvas arrived literally days later from Blighty, showing up on my doorstep in mint condition.

But shame on me – I didn’t include the Canary Islands!

I dismantled the canvas a bit, pulling out the staples that attached the map to the wooden frame. The materials was pulled flat over sanded wood and came with hooks and instructions on how to hang. Ordering off the Internet can sometimes be a crap shoot (as in, you end up with crap!), but I was impressed with the friendliness of the service-driven staff and how great the product turned out!

Wallpapered Canvas

I’m still debating where to put the map. Just as my bedroom in study abroad had an enormous map of Spain, I’d like our map to be somewhere where I can see it as I plan jaunts around Iberia.

But the map will be put to use before I even head back to Sevilla- we’re naming our tables after places we’ve visited together in Spain! España has been the muse to our bilcultural, bilingual relationship, and she’s taking center stage with our wedding decorations. I’m psyched for our guests to see and read about all of the places where we’ve fallen for one another, and for Spain’s landscapes, villages and vistas.

Wallpapered graciously provided me with my map canvas and its journey to Sevilla free of charge. But don’t worry, if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t write about it! You can find your own map-inspired products on Wallpapered’s product showcase, or work with designers to create a one-of-a-kind piece.

How do your travels figure into your home decor? Leave me some inspiration in the comments!

Photo Post: Ronda and its Picturesque Historic Center

I roused Laura awake. Due to a miscommunication on exactly when her plane touched down in Seville (a day later than I had expected), I was behind in showing her my Spain. I dragged her out of bed, handed her a towel and a mug of coffee and announced Sunday’s destination: Ronda.

Visits to Ronda

Laura had two requirements for a day trip: somewhere quaint and within two hours by car. The beauty of owning a car in Spain – despite being a bottomless money pit – is that destinations that are out-of-the-way or not-traversed-by-public-transportation or too-long-on-the-bus-when-jet-lagged are suddenly on your list.

As the jewel of the typical white villages of Cádiz and Málaga, Ronda and Setenil de las Bodegas were close enough to hit while Laura dozed in the car.

Balconies in Ronda Spain

As the jewel in the crown of Andalucía’s famous pueblos blancos, Ronda hardly qualifies as a pueblo with 35,000 inhabitants. A city made famous in For Whom the Bell Tolls and a favorite hangout of Orson Wells and Washington Irving, it certainly earns its reputation for being one of the most beautiful villages in Spain. I’d visited once in late 2007, long before I knew enough Spanish to enjoy myself, istead stressing over what my family would have for lunch.

But despite its fame and touristic draw, there are still pockets of the city that are devoid of overpriced restaurants and their poorly translated menus, of souvenir shops and of cheesy museums (those things are thankfully clustered around the Puente Nuevo bridge that spans the Guadalevín river gorge). We stopped at a local restaurant, far from the sites, for cheap raciones of huevos estrellados and solomillo as soon as we arrived. Because, jet lag is a bitch and food in Spain is cheap and bountiful in villages.

Elbowing past a few British tourists staggering off a bus, no doubt on a day trip from Málaga capital, we began at the Alameda del Tajo. Rising out of the mountains, the surrounding countryside alternates greens and blues, yellow sunflower fields and stark grain groves.

Ronda countryside

puente nuevo ronda

The Bridge in Ronda

views of the countryside Ronda

Rumor has it that Nationalist sympathizers were thrown to their deaths off of the sides of the bridge, falling 120 meters into the rocky canyon. Laura and I had a coffee after lunch at a nearby café, and as I told her the legend, her eyes grew wide and she backed her chair a little further away from the edge.

But, man, what a view on the way down.

After years of friendship – we’ve known each other since age 14! – Laura and I strolled the Casco Antiguo, catching up on her new job, her upcoming travels and my wedding plans. In a place as old as Ronda with an old friend, everything felt new as I sought to explore Andalucía a bit more.

Ronda Old Town

walking around Ronda

My MUST-dos in Ronda

See: The old part of town is fairly walkable – it’s paved with cobblestones but mostly flat. Be sure to take in the famous bridge, the outside of bullring and the churches and plazas on the east side of the Puente Viejo.

Chow: Food in the Serranía de Málaga is pretty much what you’d expect: hearty meats, stews and plenty of vegetables. We had lunch somewhere on Calle Jerez at a small bar that smelled good, though the roadside ventas are never a bad idea if you’re looking for solid price-quality eats. You can find them on the way in and out of town.

Sip: Have a coffee or drink at the Parador, housed in the old town hall and teetering on the edge of the gorge. It will cost you, but the views of the Puente Nuevo are worth the mark up.

Skip: The old Arabic baths (particularly if you’re going elsewhere in Andalucía) and the bull ring. While gorgeous and the first to stage modern bullfights, the visit isn’t worth the 7€ price tag – spend that money on another beer at the Parador instead!

Have you ever been to Ronda or the Pueblos Blancos? Have car, will travel with my foreign travel slump!

Tapa Thursdays: Five Must-Eat Canarian Dishes

I knew that my travel style had changed when H and I planned our trip to Croatia and Montenegro. After staking out a place to stay, we focused on the most important aspect of our weeklong vacation in the Balkans: what and where to eat.

From celebrated pizza joints to non-descript roadside eateries to a bar with THE BEST VIEW (according to them, and…they weren’t wrong), we spent most of our money on food and drinks. The same happened in La Rioja, India and our business meetings in Seville.

eating cevapi sandwich balkans

My name is Cat, and I’m a culinary travel addict.

I can’t say for sure when it happened, but several of my most treasured memories from travel have been around a dinner table, tucked into the corner of a grubby pub or trying new foods.

Even when I’m in Spain, cuisine becomes a central part of my travels. On recent holidays and breaks to Tenerife, my friends Julie and Forrest made sure that I saw – and tasted – the island’s highlights, starting with a local Tropical beer. And there is more to Canarian cuisine than their pygmy bananas.

Five Must-Eats on the

Mojo Picón

Pronounced moe-hoe, this red sauce is the star of Canarian cuisine and its best-loved sauce. In fact, mojo is a bastardization of the word molho, meaning sauce in Portuguese. My first meal in the Canaries included two mojo varieties on the table instead of the standard garlic and oil. 

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Slather the sauce, which is made of olive oil, salt, water, garlic, peppers and many spices, on meat or wrinkly boiled jacket potatoes called papas arrugás. For a Spaniard, the sauce is spicy. For anyone else, it’s a small kick. Green mojo, however, has an earthy, minty aftertaste and is usually reserved for fish.

Flor de Guía Cheese

Julie met me at the airport and took me promptly around Santa Cruz’s main sites, ending up at a street full of typical bars. We split a cheese plate with typical varieties from around the islands, including the award-winning Flor de Guía cheese (and that’s why it was so costly!).

produce and cheese on Canary Islands

Surprisingly enough, this particular queso is made from both sheep’s and cow’s milk, and juice from thistle blooms help to curdle the milk. The cheese is semi-hard and makes an excellent dessert (or, if you’re me, an excellent anytime eat).

Ropa Vieja

When Julie and Forrest took me to a guachince, I was immediately in love with the makeshift restaurants on family-run wineries. We found our way to La Salud and ordered one of everything.

typical food at a guachinche

In the absence of ropa vieja – a mixed plate of garbanzo beans, meat, potatoes and vegetables – we had a garbanzá. Like puchero or cocido, a plate of ropa veja makes use of whatever is lying around in the kitchen, so recipes vary greatly from one household to the next. I’d liken it to a weekend paella or rice on the mainland.

Gofio

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Gofios are a thing of pride for the canarios, as it forms a large part of their diet and has been eaten on the islands for centuries. Gofio is the word for a flour made from roasted grans and starchy plants, most often wheat or corn plus beans. With a pinch of salt, gofios are usually turned into bread and eaten with seemingly all meals.

Arehucas

I learned about the wonder that is Arehucas honey rum on my first trip to Gran Canaria in 2008. While at a wedding somewhere in the foothills, I pointed at bottles, blissfully unaware of what I was consuming. A yellow-labeled rum stuck out, an entire bottle was consumed with coke as a mixer, and a short-lived love affair was born (I hated that stuff the next day).

Bodas, beach and the boy!

pre-Arehucas buzz in 2008

Spiced rum production is not native to Europe, but Arehucas is distilled in Arucas, Gran Canaria and produces the largest output of rum on the continent. There’s a touch of honey, so the rum can be drunk on the rocks or as an after dinner digestif if you’re hardcore.

Now that I’m happily at home in Chicago, eating my fill of all of my Midwestern favorites and feeling heavier than ever, my next gastronomic adventure will take me to some of America’s best-loved food cities – Memphis, Louisville and New Orleans.

What are your favorite foods from the Islas Canarias? Have you ever been to and eaten in the South? Please share your must-chows!

Autonomous Community Spotlight: País Vasco

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain. 

spain collage

I was fascinated with the Basque Country from my time studying abroad. Our shared bedroom was sparse, but had a detailed map of Spain plastered onto the wall, and I’d usually stare it before taking my siesta. Just north of Castilla y León lay a land where Zs and Xs and Ks seemed to make up all of the towns and cities, and once I began modern culture classes at the Universidad de Valladolid, I realized how different Spain was from region to region.

I jumped at the chance to visit regal San Sebastián and hip Bilbao during a long weekend, traveling five hours north by train. The arid meseta – experiencing a drought that summer – gave way to the lush gardens of Vitoria and rolling hills. I noticed the roofs slanted because of the rain. The words on shops and billboards became illegible. Tapas were served on bread.

Toto, we’re not in Spain anymore.

Name: País Vasco in castellano, Euskadi in Basque and Pays Basque in French

Population: 2.17 million

pais vasco region

Provinces: Three; Álava in the south, Bizkaia on the Bay of Biscay and Guipúzkoa. There are rather three regional capitals cities: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Bilbao and Donostia, though Vitoria is the legislative powerhouse of the comunidad

When: 3rd of 17, June 2005

About Euskadi: Located in the Biscay Bay basin and featuring mountains, plains and beach, Euskadi packs a lot of punch for a small region. Quaint fishing villages sidle up to industrial cities, and the mix of sea-mountains-plains make it an attractive pocket of Spain for outdoor enthusiasts.

Donostia

Anyone who has studied Spanish will know that there are two co-official langauges in Euskadi: Castillian Spanish and Basque. After centuries of repression and intense waves of immigration, the language is making a comeback and cries for independence from Spain are becoming louder.

But I’m ahead of myself.

The Basque people have traits that are untraceable to other ethnic groups, and their language shares no common roots with other European tongues. These indigenous people have long inhabited what is now the Basque region, which makes up the northeast part of Spain and southwest of France (St Jean de Luz and Biarritz are worth day trips!).

Aeriel view san sebastian

Though their exact origin is hotly debated, the Basque are said to come from the Vascon tribes that lived at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. For centuries they were left unattacked by the various groups that passed through the Iberian penninsula until finally falling to Castillian forces in the 16th Century.

After years of linguistic and cultural freedom, the constraints put on the vascos from the Spanish crown were surprisingly minimal until the Carlist Wars of the 19th Century, and Franco’s rise to power after the Spanish Civil War meant that euskera was banned and the region lost all of its self-governing rights in an attempt to homogenize Spain.

Bilbao city center

Two decades later, the Basque Separatist group, Euskadi Ta Astatasuna (ETA) was formed, and over 800 people have been killed in terrorist plots – a friend of my aunt’s father among them. After numerous ceasefires and resurgences, the group announced a definitive end to armed activity in 2011.

In the modern age, Bilbao has drawn the attention of economists for somehow sidestepping the financial crisis, and for a millennia old people, vascos are rather forward-thinking. 

Must sees: Euskadi’s three major towns are definite visits: San Sabastián/Donostia’s quaint old quarter boasts more pintxos bars than residents and its Bahía de la Concha is one of Spain’s most photographed beaches (and that’s not to mention the surfing or its world-famous film festival); Bilbao/Bilbo is home to the Guggenheim and a prosperous industrial city; Vitoria-Gasteiz is famous for its parks and gardens and is the administrative capital of the autonomous community.

Guggenheim Bilbao

Further afield lie charming fishing villages and hamlets like Lekeitio or Hondarribia, the jaw-dropping hike to San Juan de Guazalugatxe and Guernika, a city made famous for its role in Nazi bombings and immortalized in a Picasso painting of the same name.

Gastronomy is also a top draw to the region, with four of the top 20 restaurants in the world found here. Pintxos – small, generally seafood-based tapas served atop bread – are the north’s equivalent of tapas. Revelers take part in bar crawls called txikiteo, often imbibing in a sparkling white wine called txacoli or Alavese wines, which form part of the D.O. La Rioja.

Culturally speaking, Basque have their own traditions of Santa Claus, throw enormous parties and have long traditions of Basque strength sports. Local lore pervades daily life and, like Navarra, it’s a place where cultural roots have held firm throughout centuries.

bad weather in spain

Finally, a note on the weather: it’s not very reliable, particularly in Bilbao and San Sebastián.

My take: There was some truth to my initial observations of Euskadi, but as someone who was clueless about Spanish history and hadn’t even been to Madrid, were largely wrong. I traveled north a few years later with a friend, far more interested in what the region had to offer and more acutely aware of the differences between the Basques and the rest of Spain – and in far more than just language.

Andalucía and País Vasco couldn’t be more different, as evidenced in the hugely popular film Ocho Apellidos Vascos, in which a sevillano de pura cepa falls for a vasca on her bachelorette weekend in Sevilla. Rafa is as sevillano as they get, and follows Amaia up to her small town hidden deep within Euskadi, trying to win her – and her father’s – heart.

basque architecture

The film is a bit over the top, of course, but highlights how regionalism is still a big thing in Spain, and no one embraces it like the vascos. The main cities just feel like they’re not as Spanish as Madrid or Seville or Salamanca. Its citizens have darker features and seem to carry themselves differently. Food is a big deal, as is surfing, Athletic and txacoli from what I’ve gathered.

Suffice to say, I’m keen to travel back to País Vasco as soon as possible.

Have you ever been to País Vasco? What do you like (or not) about it? Check out the blogs Christine in Spain, a Thing With Wor(l)ds and Como Perderse en España for excellent insight into life in the region!

Want more Spain? Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares | Islas Canarias | Cantabria | Castilla y León | Castilla-La Mancha | Cataluña | Extremadura | Galicia | La Rioja | Madrid | Murcia | Navarra

How to NOT Plan a Trip to Riotinto, Huelva

Julián was good at exaggerating and making up words. “My town, it is the most fantastical of all the towns of Huelva, simply the bestest.”

Julián and I parted ways long ago, but his stake that Minas de Ríotinto was the most fantastically bestest towns in Spain didn’t fall on silent ears. With a claim like that, I had to make a visit.

So off I set towards Ríotinto on a particularly warm November afternoon after meeting my friend halfway along the Doñana Trail. Windows down and Guns & Roses blasting, I drove north into the Sierra de Huelva via Bollullos. All signs – the brown roadside signs, that is – pointed me in the right direction.

But I never made it. Just as roundabout sculptures went from stone monoliths to oxidized mining equipment, my GPS told me to make a 180 degree turn around a roundabout and head back to where I’d come from. Sixty minutes later, I was back in Bollullos, seeing just a trickle of the red river.

Minas de Riotinto, Huelva

Turns out that Google Maps categorized Ríotinto as both a village and protected natural area. So, really I ended up where I had intended to go, but learned a lesson: Don’t rely on Google Maps when there are directions on the website.

Resolute to visit another day, it took me until May to find a weekend to print out directions and go. I grabbed Kelly and my sunscreen and decided to enter via Castillo de las Guardas in the north rather than risk a faulty GPS and lack of roadsigns (and to avoid the beach-going crowd on the A-49).

As soon as we’d turned onto the N-476, we scoured the twisty highway for the next sign of civilization. Though the hills have been excavated for copper, silver and gold for more than five millennia, the whole region is sparsely populated. As soon as I saw a sizable town, we ignored signs and I pulled off. Instinctively, we found the church and assumed the tourism office would be there. Our GPS said we were in the neighboring town of Nerva.

Nerva Huelva

Lesson learned: do rely on Google Maps when you know you’ve punched in the correct destination.

Around 2pm we arrived in the actual town of Minas de Ríotinto, a town whose number swelled when the Spanish government reopened the mines in the early 18th Century. Kelly asked me what there was to do, and I had to admit that I’d only looked for a place to eat and had paid little attention to the attractions.

Like many websites in Spain, I found the Foundation’s website poorly put together and confusing – both in English and Spanish. So, I decided to just show up. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have ignored the website or simply have made a phone call.

Rio Tinto Mine Tour

After the mines reopened in 1724 and later came under the control of a multinational company called Río Tinto, Limited. Hundreds of Brits flocked to the busy mines for work in the 1870s, bringing with them their language, food culture, Victorian decoration and even football – el Recreativo de Huelva, a second division team, is descended from the club formed at Ríotinto.

The company grew to be the largest mining company worldwide, though their exploitation of the mines in heir namesake town had all but finished by 1925. The mines ceased exploitation in 2001.

We arrived at the Visitor’s Center, housed in the old mining hospital and current mining museum, around 1:50pm. We were surprised to find it still open when most people would be having a leisurely lunch. The museum monitor told me that there were four big ticket options in town: the museum, a replica of a Victorian House, a visit to one of the mines with a guide and a touristic train ride, but that we’d arrived too late in the day to do it all. Don’t arrive midday and expect to be able to see all of the attractions – you’re better off starting early, breaking in the middle of the day for lunch and taking the train for the grand finale.

Mining Museum Spain

Kelly and I, as Chicago natives, have likely visited the Museum of Science and Industry and its mining exhibit a dozen times each, but we knew next to nothing about mining or the history of Ríotinto. The museum was a definite, but we had to choose between the mines and the touristic train. I was about to flip a coin when the monitor stopped us. “Don’t skip the train ride,” he told us. “The visit to the mines is interesting but not as esteemed as riding an old steam train.”

Steam Locomotives Huelva

Museo Minero en Riotinto Huelva

Signs all around the museum prohibited photography and videography, but having entered the museum so late we had missed the last guided tour – this meant we didn’t have to elbow past a group. They all stood baffled as they attempted to take photos on their mobile phones. If the guide wasn’t ruffled that they were deliberately breaking the rules, I certainly wasn’t going to clandestinely take out-of-focus photos on my cell. Ignore the posters.

The museum was small but traces mining activity in the area from the Roman times – complete with an underground replica of a mine – to modern day. Three trains take up residence in the old hospital alongside cancelled train tickets, RTC Ltd.-issued uniforms and excavated gemstones.

Promptly at 3pm, we were ushered out. I had seen that one of the town’s five restaurants was renown for their English take on Spanish dishes. At La Epoca, you can’t miss the menú turístico, a three-course meal served every day of the week for 9,50€. When the Riotinto Company took over the mines, they brought their traditional dishes and savory sauces: I chose an omelette of locally grown vegetables and pollo al riotinto, a battered and fried chicken breast in coronation sauce.

Restaurante La Epoca Riotinto

The scheduled departure time for the touristic train was 5pm, but don’t worry too much about being on time for the train. We left at 5:17, seated aboard train cars once used to transport passengers between the various excavation sites. The mines employed 3,000 laborers in their heyday, and the train line that joined the mines and the province capital of Huelva was traversed by more than 1,300 transport cars, used to move both men and might.

The 12 kilometer journey was slow to start, taking in the alien-like landscapes that reminded me of Teide. Definitely don’t forget your camera because the trip is scenic, if not eery with hollowed out mine cars, abandoned equipment and tracks that lead to nowhere.

Touristic Train of Riotinto Huelva

Touristic Train Minas de Riotinto

rio tinto railway

El Río Tinto is so-called for its crimson color – it literally looks like red wine – and believed to have a chemical component that is heavy in metals and iron. While no animal or fish life can be traced, bacteria thrives. In fact, NASA studied the chemistry of the water and concluded that Río Tinto is the place on Earth that most resembles samples taken from Mars.

visit to Riotinto

Landscapes of Rio Tinto Huelva

Spain's Red River Río Tinto

El Madroño and the Mines

Red River in Spain

Rio Tinto and its Color

Don’t be afraid to touch the water or bottle some up as a souvenir – though the water will stain your clothes, it won’t do any harm to your skin. And if you do get off the train, don’t expect to call samesies on your seat – all of the Spanish abuelos will have changed spots, looking bored and fanning themselves before the train pulls away.

After so many years of living in Seville, I’d seemingly done all of the day trips. The mines and museums of Riotinto stayed off my list for years, so if you have a car and a free day, don’t miss it.

If you go: Minas de Riotinto is located 90 kilometers from Sevilla. The museum, Victorian House, mine visit and touristic train are open daily except for New Year’s, the Epiphany and Christmas Day. Plan to spend a day and around 20€ for the whole visit. Follow my advice and check the website for opening times. 

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I visited Ríotinto as part of the Typical NonSpanish Project, meant to show a different side of Spain and power by Caser Expat. All opinions, text and photo are my own.

 

Have you ever been to Ríotinto or had an unplanned day turn out to be awesome?

Autonomous Community Spotlight: Navarra

Not one to make travel goals, I did make one when coming to Spain: visit all 17 autonomous communities at least once before going home. While Madrid, Barcelona and Seville are the stars of the tourist dollar show (and my hard-earned euros, let’s not kid around here), I am a champion for Spain’s little-known towns and regions. Having a global view of this country has come through living in Andalucía, working in Galicia and studying in Castilla y León, plus extensive travel throughout Spain.

spain collage

Navarre, to me, has always been a funny place – it’s wedged between the Basque country, France and the ancient kingdom of Aragón (plus La Rioja), making it a hotbed when it comes to political upheaval and culture.

Even if you can’t place it on a Spanish map, if you grew up in the USA and took literature class, you’d know it’s famous hijo adoptivo, Ernest Hemingway, who put Pamplona and the San Fermines festivals on the map.

Name: The Kingdom of Navarre, or Navarra in Spanish

Population: 647,000, with over a third in the capital city of Pamplona

Navarra Spain

Provinces: Just one, with the administrative capital in Pamplona.

When: 9th of 17, March 2008

About Navarra: Navarra has a strange mix of Visigoth, Basque, French and Mediterranean heritage and has been populated since before Roman times by the Vascones, a precursor to the Basque peoples. And throughout the jockeying between kingdoms, the navarros remained fiercely independent – even today, their tax system is kept local instead of being relegated to the central government, a responsibility that few autonomías have.

The name of Navarre has two widely-believed hypotheses: either nabar, a Basque word meaning ‘brown’ or ‘ruddish,’ and, more commonly, nava, which refers to the wide plain. Regardless, the linguistic heritage hints at the region’s origins.

pamplona houses

It’s a doozy, so I’m going to sum it up quickly:

Before the Navarrese kingdom was established in 934, Navarra was: Vascon, then conquered by Charlemagne, Basque, then Moorish, followed by a stint under the Franks. Rebel leaders then took control, but the Basques defeated them and ruled for 80 years. Borders changed frequently, and Pamplona and Navarre were considered to be two different entities for decades.

In 934, Sancho II declared himself King of Navarra, and under the successive king, the region grew prosperous, thanks to the fertile plains and trade routes. Sancho III, long considered one of Spain’s great rulers, expanded his kingdom before his death, upon which he left great claims of land to his four sons. This would alter the course of the kingdom – of both Navarre and Spain – over time.

But not without a fight – the kingdom jockeyed once more between French dynasties because of marriages and treaties. It didn’t give into pressure from Castilla to join the Inquisition but its greatest cities fell in the Battles of Chambrai to the strong Spanish crown. Nowadays, Spain’s coat of arms bears the navarro flag.

Pamplona scenes

The region remained mostly independent, prospering under individual fueros, or power holds governed by local law. But with the Spanish Constitution of 1812, all fueros lost power, eventually leading to the Carlist wars of the 19th century (and possible origin of the word guiri!) – and its eventual inclusion under the Spanish crown. 

Must sees: Navarra boasts its own wine region, lies along the French route of the Camino de Santiago and is home to one of Spain’s most globally known festivals. The Holy Trinity of navarro tourism is rural tourism, the region’s history and the Running of the Bulls. 

Rural and outdoor tourism is an important crux of local employment and income, and the so-named “Land of Diversity” offers mountains, a deep river basin and plenty of outdoor activities, like hiking and rafting, and nearly a dozen national parks and forests. This means that local meats and cheeses are also exquisite! The Camino de Santiago also passes through the Pyrenees on the Spanish side, Pamplona and several small towns before crossing into La Rioja.

Navarra was truly a sought land, thanks to its strategic position and fertile valley. As evident above, cultures clashed and left their mark on this region. Apart from Pamplona, check out the Frankish castle of Olite, the medieval stone towns like Roncesvalles, and monasteries dotting the little-used highways.

RUNNERS LEAD FIGHTING BULLS AROUND ESTAFETAS BEND DURING RUNNING OF THE BULLS IN PAMPLONA

The Running of the Bulls, or Sanfermines festival, is undoubtedly the most famous Spanish festival, characterized by terrifying races, bullfights and parades. After the chupinazo rocket has been sent into the sky, signaling the start of the party, revelers have a week dedicated to the province’s patron saint, said to have been killed and dragged thru the streets, with angry bulls charing after him.

Nowadays, Navarra retains its linguistic and cultural heritage thanks to deep-rooted values. It almost seems a little behind the times, in the best sense of the word.

My take: We only spent a day in Navarra, visiting Pamplona on a cold March day when we were staying in San Sebastián. I was impressed with the tenacity of the people we met, at the rural landscapes ranging from mountains to lush valleys and the small but quaint old city. There is even a small animal park tucked into an old city fortress, so I was won over immediately.

Like nearly the all places in Span I’ve visited, I’d like to go back!

Have you ever been to Navarra? What do you like (or not) about it?

Want more Spain? Andalucía | Aragón | Asturias | Islas Baleares | Islas Canarias | Cantabria | Castilla y León | Castilla-La Mancha | Cataluña | Extremadura | Galicia | La Rioja | Madrid | Murcia

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