• Click CONTACT US in the footer if you have any problems registering for the forums.

Navarra and the area around Lerate


1000+ Posts
This trip report was originally published on Slow Travel and covers a cold and damp five days spent in Navarra in May 2013. All the pictures can be found here.


We had spent two holidays in France in 2011 and 2012, sailing with Brittany Ferries and taking our car. We had really enjoyed out time in the Auvergne and fancied seeing some more of the Dordogne area as well as getting further south into the Midi-Pyrenees. This made us start to think about Northern Spain, an area we’ve not been before. Michael had been wanting to get into the Basque country for many years. We could use Brittany ferries to Bilboa and spend a few days in Spain and then slowly work our way north and catch the ferry back from Caen.

We decided to begin with a few days in the mountains of the Picos de Europa, before moving east into Navarra. After that, we would spend a week in the Midi-Pyrenees near Foix followed by a week near Sarlat-le-Canada in the Dordogne.

We chose May to avoided school holidays and we thought the weather would be warm, but not too hot. Navarra is semi arid desert and can get very hot in the summer. It was a late spring that year and most days were dull and damp with temperatures struggling to reach double figures. We regretted not taking hats, gloves and scarves with us. On two afternoons it settled down to steady rain and we gave up and headed back to our accommodation.

We wanted to book accommodation through Brittany Ferries. There wasn’t a lot of choice for the area we wanted to stop. We wanted to be in the countryside and avoid large towns like Pamplona and Vitoria. In the end we chose Camping Aritzaleku, Lerate. This is a huge camp site on a small peninsula in Embalse de Alloz below the village of Lerate, about 10 miles south west of Estella.

It also has a few self catering chalets and we booked one of these. It was half of a typical wooden ‘A’ frame chalet which had little space inside, was very basically furnished and poorly equipped. It served once we got used to the quirks of the place and found the two additional electric fires hidden in a cupboard. Evening meals were bread, cheese and salad as the small cooker was very slow to heat up. There was no kettle and it took over an hour for a saucepan of water to reach nearly simmering point for a cup of tea. We never did achieve a boil. Although it was advertised as sleeping five people, it felt cramped with just two of us.

Fortunately in May, the camp site was quiet and there was little noise. In high summer we felt it would be very busy as there are nearly 200 pitches plus a lot of camping chalets. We felt it was expensive for what was provided and I can’t say we enjoyed stopping here. However this was the area we wanted to stay and this was the only choice.

We liked the area and it did prove to be a good base for what we wanted to do and see, especially if the weather had been better.

#2 Impressions of Navarra
#3 Lerate and the surrounding area
#4 La Valdorba
#5 Estella
#6 Estella - Iglesia San Pedro de la Rua
#7 Monasterio de Irache (Iratxe)
#8 Puente de la Reina
#9 Santa Maria de Eunate
#10 Cerco de Artajona

#11 St Martin de Unx
#12 Ujue and its fortifed church
#13 Ujue - Iglesia-Fortaleza de Santa Maria, Ujue
#14 A day round the foothills of the Pyrenees - outward bound
#15 Fabrica de Orbaitzeta
#16 Orreaga/Roncesvalles and Iglesia de Santa Maria
#17 A day round the foothills of the Pyrenees - homeward bound
Last edited:


1000+ Posts

This is Basque country and signs and town names are in both Spanish and Basque. This part of Navarra is a region of hills and valleys. The valleys are around 550m with the surrounding hills rising to between 1000-1300m. Apart from the limestone cliff along the Sierra de Urbassa, hills are rounded and rolling. Wind farms are appearing on all the hills although many didn’t seem to be generating much electricity.

Valleys are shallow, although the Rio Erro flows through a limestone gorge.

Hills are covered with mixed deciduous woodland with a few commercial coniferous plantations.

On poorer soil there is low scrubby growth and bare rock. River valleys are very fertile with wheat and rape as the main crops with some broad beans. There are a lot of vineyards and bodegas around San Martin de Unx.

Around Sta Maria de Eunate are large areas of forced asparagus, a local delicacy. This is grown in raised ridges of soil, a bit like potatoes, under black polythene. It produces long very thick white heads.

The area is a very dry and arid with olive plantations. Large modern concrete canals bring water from reservoirs to irrigate crops in drier areas.

In the deeper valleys, all flat land is cultivated and fields can be quite small. Hillsides may be terraced to increase flat land for cultivation.

We saw few animals in the fields. Sheep are milked for cheese making and ewe’s milk is also on sale in supermarkets. It is sweeter and richer than cow’s milk.

There is a lot of wild thyme growing on bare rock faces, scenting the air when you tread on it. Verges are rich with wild flowers including blue flax, red poppies, yellow mellilot and charlock, pink vetches, white stitchwort… In wetter areas there are a lot of purple orchids. At higher altitudes in the Pyrenees, we saw cowslips and purple aquilegia.

Roads tend to be good, well maintained and signed. There can be problems with landslip and falling rocks where roadsides are made of soft glacial deposits.

Pamplona is the main city in the area, about 40km north east of Lerate. It has a complicated motorway network around it. We avoided it. Estella is the main service town for the local area with supermarkets and a good range of smaller specialist shops including bakers, butchers, grocers, green grocers. music shop, chemist, fashion…

Puente la Reine is smaller with fewer shops and still has a couple of old fashioned drapers where goods are kept in boxes on shelves behind the counter. These are brought down and carefully opened and contents displayed for the customer to choose.

Villages are small, a cluster of houses around a church. Most have no services. Bread vans deliver weekly. There are few scattered farms. Apart from the string of villages along the A12, the majority of the villages are built on the hillside or on top of the hill, like St Martin Unx and Ujue. One of the best examples of a fortified settlement is Cerco de Artajona with its intact fortified walls.

Houses are either stone or plaster and have low, pale pantile roofs. Originally most would have been farm houses and are large substantial buildings, usually of three storeys and a large wooden doorway under a stone arch. The double doors often have a small top opening half. Many had attached barns or animals were housed on the ground floor with the living quarters above. Roads through the villages are very narrow and often made of concrete.

Some of the older houses like those at Uriz and Zunzarren, were also built with a fortified tower.

There are very few traditional farming villages to be found. Hiriberri/Villanueva de Aezkoa is probably the best surviving example. It has retained its cobbled streets and still has working farms with barns.

Many of the churches are very old and are massive fortified buildings, more like a castle keep than a church. They dominate their village or town. They often have a large square bell tower at the west end and a very tall nave which very often has no or a very few small windows. Some churches like at Irurre and Garisoain have defensive walls in front of them for extra protection.

Iglesia de Santa María in Ujue is unusual as the C14th fortifications were built like a skin around the walls of the existing building.

Unfortunately all of the village churches and many town churches are locked.

The guide books and internet give the impression that La Valdorba, a small area to the east of AP-15 and just south of the junction with NA-601, preserves the essence of the medieval area with villages of character, Romanesque architecture, stone crosses, funeral stones, emblazoned houses, churches... We didn’t find this to be the case as most of the houses had been renovated and are now homes of people no longer working in the village.

This apples to most villages in the area where old houses have been bought and expensively renovated. Villages are well cared for and many have a children’s play ground. However, many villages like Lerate no longer have shops or services and are dead during the day.

The architecture in the foothills of the Pyrenees around Garralda is very different. Here houses are plaster, painted either white of pale cream and have huge corner stones and lintels. With their painted shutters and steep pitched roofs, they have much more of an Alpine feel. Churches are larger, more ornate and have spires.

The Pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela begins at Orreaga/Roncesvlles, with its massive church and pilgrim accommodation. At 795km it is a very popular with walkers. We saw many groups of all sizes and shapes, usually elderly, plodding along with rucksacks and walking poles. Most of the route through Navarra is along roads, often main roads without a pavement. It is a long hard walk and we saw groups of walkers having a rest at the templar church of Iglesia de Santa María de Eunate, one of the few churches kept open, with boots off and massaging sore feet. The bodega below Monasterio de Irache still has two taps providing pilgrims with either water or wine.

Towns like Puente de Reine and Estella grew up as staging points on the pilgrim route. The very tall tower of Iglesia de Santiago in Puente la Reina was designed to guide pilgrims. It is only when seen from the motorway that you realise just how tall the tower is. It dwarfs the neighbouring three story houses.

This is a very attractive area, especially if the weather is good.


1000+ Posts

The large dammed lake of Embalse de Alloz is in a lovely setting among low rounded and wooded hills with fertile farmland in the valley bottoms and rough grazing on the tops. The landscape is dotted with attractive isolated villages.

LERATE is a small and well cared for settlement just above Camping Aritzaleku with good views across the reservoir to the small villages on the hills beyond. The large stone houses have been carefully renovated and several had swallows nests under the eaves.

The church is set below the village and is typical of the area with a large square tower and windowless nave.

Apart from a post box, there are no services in the village, something which we found in other settlements. We felt that it was a dormitory settlement as it always seemed deserted during the day.

We had been attracted by the sight of IRURRE as we drove out of Lerate every morning. Set on the hillside, surrounded by fertile arable land, it is dominated by the bulk of its massive church.

There is a small calvary at the road end and a steep and narrow road climbs up to the village. It is a very attractive village of carefully renovated stone or plaster houses, including a fortified tower house with machicolations. The narrow streets inside the settlement are made of concrete.

The huge fortified church looks more like a castle keep than a church and has a small wall round the front which contains a graveyard. It has a small bell tower, a very tall windowless nave and a modern brick porch over the door. As usual, it was locked.

GARISOAIN is set on the hillside above the road, surrounded by fields of beans, wheat and vines.

There is a big fortified church at the end of the village surrounded by two stone walls with a graveyard. It has a very tall nave with small transepts with small windows. The nave is buttressed and with another very small window. There is a large bell tower. The south doorway with acanthus capitals and carved arches is set under a pantile porch.

The village has a blocked and disused well.

There are several large stone houses, many with escutcheons on the walls.

Several houses are derelict and it hasn’t been as expensively or extensively renovated as Irurre. There is a new Sideria at the edge of the village providing some local employment as well as a covered games area for the kids.

GUIRGUILLANO is set on a ridge surrounded by poorer land with scrubby vegetation and small fields on any available bit of flat land. This is still a traditional working village which hasn’t been extensively renovated.

The C13th fortified church at the end of the village was modified in the C16th. It has a square bell tower and large east apse. At some point the nave has been lowered which gives the church a strange appearance as the east apse now towers above the nave. There is a simple south door set back in a stone porch with stone benches. On the wall by the door is an undated war memorial.

There are good views down to ECHARREN DE GUIRGUILLANO on the hillside below.

This is dominated by its fortified church at the top of the settlement and a huge fortified courtyard house at the start of the village. This has corner towers and machicolations above the doorway.

Tourists flock to the lake for the water sports but few stop off in the villages. We enjoyed them. Each was different and there was always something of interest to find. Unlike many areas, many of the villages retain the feel of a working village. Unfortunately all the churches were locked and there was no information about a key holder.


1000+ Posts

This is the name given to a series of small valleys to the east of Lerate and the AP-15, mid way between Pamplona and Tafalla. It is an isolated area of hills covered with holm oak and beech woodland with arable farming in the valley bottoms. It is well off the tourist beat.

The guide books and internet give the impression that the area preserves the essence of a medieval area with “villages of character, Romanesque architecture, stone crosses, funeral stones, emblazoned houses, churches... “

We didn’t find this to be the case. Villages are well cared for and many have a children’s play ground. Houses have been renovated to a very high standard with a lot of money having been spent on them. Many are homes of people who don’t work in the village.

I had found a reference to a traditional restored windmill near Olleta, surrounded by a wind farm. It wasn’t signed and we never found it, although we saw plenty of aerogenerators - too many….

We found that the Michelin map wasn’t very accurate. Some roads didn’t exist and there were other roads which weren’t marked on the map. Signing was erratic and not always helpful. Roads tended to be fairly narrow, but were quiet and there was little traffic. Less well used roads are often in poor condition.

There is a series of small villages with large fortified churches with massive bell towers with few or even no windows. Several have the Xhi-Rho symbol above the doorway. All were locked and several looked disused. Most of the villages are off the main road and roads in them are narrow, although there is usually some parking in a central square area.

There were a few large old stone houses with escutcheons but many newer houses as well. Most houses are plastered and painted white or pale beige. They have low pantile roofs. There were no services in many of the villages.

We started with Unzue and worked our way south. UNZUE is a neat small village at the end of the road with white or pale beige houses. There is a large fortified church at the top of the village which has a big retaining wall round the south side. Entry into the churchyard is through an archway with a stone cross with a round globe on either side. The church has a large square bell tower and a massive nave with two small transepts and an apse at the east end. The only windows are a small square window in the south wall and a small circular window in the south transept. There is a big porch over the south door with pillars and carved capitals and arches. On the wall above the porch is a sundial.

ORICIN is a tiny settlement off the road with a few houses and a farm around the church.

The houses are better maintained than the church, which was looking unloved and uncared for. The grass in the churchyard is long and cobwebs around the door suggest it isn’t used very often. Again it is fortified with a massive bell tower, small nave, round apse at the east end and a small sacristy to the south. There is a porch over the very simple south doorway. There is a small window in the south wall of the nave but no east window.

OLORIZ is a much larger settlement of stone and plaster covered houses. There are a lot of new houses as well as beautifully renovated old houses. There has been a lot of money spent here and the village is very well cared for. The old communal laundry has been cleaned up and now has koi carp swimming in it.

Iglesia St Bartolomé in the centre of the village is a big church with a large square bell tower. The path to the church is made up of small square stones arranged in a herringbone pattern set in circles. Steps lead up to the large porch with open round arches in front of the west door. There are massive stone buttresses on the outside of the nave. The round apse at the east end has carved corbels and a tiny sit window. The only other light is through slit windows in the south wall of the nave and a small square window in the south transept.

Guide books give the impression that ERMITA DE SAN PEDRO DE ECHANO (ETXANO) is in Oloriz. It isn’t. It is signed off the Oloriz to Bariain road. It is a lovely setting in a small wooded side valley by the river surrounded by fields of wheat. This is one of the most beautiful churches in the area with elaborate carvings and is well worth trying to find.

The church dates from the mid C12th and has a small flat rectangular bell cote with two small bells. The nave has small holes left in the stonework from when it was built. There are narrow slit windows on the south wall. The round east apse has three tall narrow windows.

This is described as one of the most beautiful churches in the area with elaborate carvings and carved corbels below the roof, with animal heads, a wolf head devouring a human head, acrobats, musicians, flowers and scrolls.

The impressive north doorway has round pillars on either side of the door with carved capitals.

The round arches above the door are decorated with carvings birds, faces, musicians playing instruments and scrolls. Some of the figures have been defaced and their heads hacked off.

We had intended to drive to Barianin and take the road to Iracheta. Towards the top is a small dammed reservoir. Above it is an open gate with a large sign which we think said the road beyond was private. Using the excuse that we didn’t have very good Spanish, we drove through. The road was not well maintained and had a lot of potholes. We could see Barianin, a few houses on top of a hill, but there was a locked gate across the road.

We retraced our steps to Orision and picked up a road not marked on the map to Solchaga and Garinoain. We turned left at the end of the road for Solchaga. I had found a mention on the internet of Trujal of Solchaga. These are stone presses carved out of the rock which were used from medieval times to the C19th. They were described as being ‘just before Solchaga’. It made no difference which road we took, there was no sign of them.

Solchaga is a nice settlement with a well maintained church which looks as if it has been recently restored.

We followed the road in poor condition to Eristain, another tiny settlement around a large church. We drove through to Orisoain hoping to pick up the Iracheta road. There was an unsigned road off in sort of the right direction but Michael wasn’t convinced it would take us there. We decided to give Iracheta and its traditional stone barn in the main square a miss.

ORISOAIN is a large settlement on top of a hill with a large square surrounded by old houses and a lot of new brick houses. Iglesia San Martin is a fortified church on the edge of the settlement with a large bell tower with a single bell. The nave is short with a single long slit window on the south wall and two small pointed windows high on the north wall. The apse is buttressed and has carved corbels.

The south door has pillars with carved capitals. Above is a Xhi-Rho sign and arches decorated with carved bosses and spiral patterns. There is a small window on the west wall of the tower and a couple of larger blocked arches. Again it was locked so there was no chance of seeing the Romanesque crypt.

Our final stop was OLLETA a delightful small village of large stone houses built around a big square and a small children’s play area.

A medieval bridge leads to Iglesia de la Asunción. This is a small Romanesque building with an apse at the east end and a stone and brick tower above the nave. The north door has pillars with carved capitals supporting round arches and the Chi-Rho sign carved above the door.

Again it was shut, which was a shame as pictures show an unspoilt Romanesque interior with splendid carved capitals.

The area was very quiet and it is obvious it sees few visitors as our foreign car generated a certain amount of interest and we were aware of being watched in some villages. Overall we felt disappointed that the area hadn’t delivered. It was pretty but certainly didn’t live up to the promise of “preserving the essence of a medieval area”. Perhaps we didn’t go to the right places?


1000+ Posts

Tourist Information produce an excellent English leaflet about the town and we were looking forward to our visit. Iglesia San Pedro de la Rua was a highlight. Otherwise we were disappointed and felt that Estella which didn’t live up to its promise.

Estella was founded in C11th as a stop on the Pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela between Puente la Reina and Los Arcos. It was busy with groups of walkers with big rucksacks and poles plodding their way through the town. Most stop for a photo of the outside of the churches, some go in for a quick look and a few stop to sit and pray. It seems a long hard slog as much of the route in this region is along main roads.

Shops and inns opened along the road through the town to cater for pilgrim’s needs. Housing followed.

Estella is built along the Rio Ega, an attractive river with ducks. It is crossed by many bridges including the steep, narrow pedestrianised Prison Bridge, so called as the prison used to be next to it.

We parked along the river below the bulk of the Convent of San Domingo. Below is the remains of the CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE, our first stop. This was built between C12-14th and was owned by a brotherhood to look after pilgrims. It closed as a church in 1881 and only the superb west front has been preserved. Along the top are statues of the twelve apostles, set in trifoliate arches.

This has a central square doorway set back in multiple arches with a narrow carved frieze of acanthus leaves. On either side are statues of a pilgrim and San Martin de Tours dressed as bishop and giving the blessing.

Above the doorway, beneath the top of the arches, is a beautifully carved tympanum. The top part shows the crucifixion with Christ on the cross in the centre. He is surrounded by two centurions. One is piercing his side with a spear. The other is carrying a sponge. Outside them are the figures of the Virgin and St John. At the edges are the tiny figures of the two robbers on their cross. Below is a carved panel. The left half shows the three Mary’s visiting the empty tomb with the angel and three small figures of sleeping soldiers. On the right is the descent into the mouth of Leviathan (Hell) guarded by two demons. On the far right is a scene of the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene. Below this is a carving of the Last Supper.

Estella is the main service town for the area with several supermarkets. The main street, Calle Major, is still the main shopping street with a wide range of shops; everything from toy shops to high fashion and shoes as well as grocers, green grocers, bakers and butchers. We had wondered where locals did their shopping as the villages are remarkably devoid of shops. Now we knew.

It is a narrow street lined with tall houses and metered parking. Narrow alleyways run off it. To the north is Plaza de los Fueros, site of the Thursday Market. This still has some of the old arcaded shops round it and C13th Iglesia de San Juan (shut) with its plain C20th facade. This is a replacement of the earlier facade which collapsed in the C19th.

The town is dominated by the massive IGLESIA DE SAN MIGUEL built on the highest part of the town. This has a massive Romanesque west bell tower with a smaller and later Baroque tower by the east apse

Below the church is a massive stone masonry wall with arches and steps which look as if they lead to the church. Ignore these as they don’t.

Take either Chapitel or Los Pelares on either side of the steps which take you to the north door. This is one of the best examples of late Romanesque architecture and is covered by a modern glass porch to protect the carving.

The doorway has round pillars with beautifully carved capitals with scenes of the life of Christ from the Annunciation through the Nativity to the flight into Egypt.

The tympanum shows Christ in Majesty with the Virgin Mary and St John and the symbols of the four evangelists. The two buttresses on either side are carved with full size figures. There is St Michael fighting the dragon and the four Mary’s visiting the empty tomb on Easter Day. Above are figures of the disciples. There was only room for four full size figures on each side, so the remaining apostles are much smaller to fit in beside the arches.

Even though the church was supposed to be open, the doors were locked. We walked round the outside past the small chapel of St George with its open stone arches with iron grilles across. Inside is a carving of St George killing the dragon and tiled pictures of saints on the walls. the south doorway is very plain after the north one, with round pillars with small carved heads between them and simple pointed arches. This was also locked.

Calle de la Rua is on the Pilgrim route and is an elegant street with a lot of tall brick buildings made from long thin bricks. Large archways along the street give access to shops and inns originally intended for Pilgrims. The Governor's Palace is a C17th brick and ashlar building which now houses the Carlism Museum, a C19th political movement.

Further down is a C16th palace with two iron balconies with carved window surrounds and an escutcheon above the door.

At the far end of the street is the FORMER CITY HALL an elegant Baroque building with massive carved Corinthian pillars. There is an escutcheon above the doorway and two more on the first floor above the long metal balcony running the length of the building. (The present Town Hall on Pas de la Inmaculata, is an elegant building of honey coloured stone and terracotta painted plaster.)

Across the road is the PALACE OF THE KINGS OF NAVARRE which was built at the end of the C12th. The ground floor has an arcaded facade. Above are large windows divided into four by tall narrow pillars with carved capitals. The tower and top floor were added in the C16th. This was used by the Kings of Navarre before becoming a prison in the C19th.

It has been completely restored and none of the internal structures survive. It is now houses the Gustavo de Maeztu Museum, an artist who lived from 1887-1947, he was famous for his paintings, lithographs and drawings.


1000+ Posts

Iglesia San Pedro de la Rua is is the largest church in Estella and is built on high ground across the river, overlooking the town. It is a huge building with a massive nave. In comparison, the bell tower looks small.

This was originally part of a C12th monastery and is reached by a long flight of steps, although a lift is provided round the corner. We decided we needed the exercise.

Entry is through the C13th south door at the top of the steps. This has an elaborately carved wooden door surrounded by pillars and carved arches. The carving on the arches shows a strong Moorish influence. The inner arch is multi-lobed and has a Xhi-Rho sign in the centre. The capitals have carvings of griffons, two tailed mermaids and a centaur. The arches have flowers, swirling vegetation, stars, loops….

inside the door is a big carved 12thC font. On the base are four carved characters representing the four rivers that run through paradise. The carving on the bowl represents the tree of life.

On the right is an elaborate gilt reredos. At the bottom is the Virgin Mary and Jesus holding out a rosary which is being grabbed by a monk. In the centre is a crowned Virgin holding the Christ Child. This is set in an arch surrounded by cherub heads and carved spiral gilt pillars. The portico above has cherubs holding a roundel containing a rosary. At the top is Mary being crowned by God.

Inside the nave on the north side is the Chapel of St Andrew, the patron saint of Estella, dated 1596. It has a locked metal grille across and contains a large Baroque reredos. In the centre under a cupola is a replica of the silver reliquary box which was stolen. Set in a gilded arch, it is surrounded by cherubs. On the walls are large oil paintings. The domed roof with a small lantern is painted in reds, blues and beiges. It is divided into segments with scrolls and cherubs.

The altar in the north aisle has an image of the all seeing eye of God surrounded by a sunburst. The reredos has a C13th crucifix in the centre surrounded by carved and gilded pillars. Above is a painting of St Michael killing the devil, represented by a dragon. Above is a Baroque painted dome.

In the nave are two massive pillars with carved capitals. One has a carving of St James as a pilgrim. Carved wooden steps on the pillars lead up to a pulpit or reading desk. Both have a carved sounding board above shaped like a crown.

The ceiling is vaulted with a supporting stone truss. At the back of the church is a gallery. Beneath is a small organ, wooden confessional and old choir stalls round the walls. There is a painted crucifix with the two Marys.

Steps lead up to the large Romanesque east apse. This has an archway into the north chapel. There are four recessed arches with a statue of the Virgin with the Christ Child, a Gothic crucifix, a C17th St Peter wearing white, blue and pink Bishop’s robes with a crown and seated in a chair with cherub heads on the arm ends and St Andrew. The three round topped windows contain modern stained glass.

The end of the south aisle has a gilded reredos with a carving of St Nicholas in red and gold robes and holding a bishop’s crook. He is set in a gilded arched frame and surrounded by gilded pillars. Above is an oil painting of Joseph holding the baby Jesus.

In a recess on the south wall is the tomb of the Dukes of Granada de Ega with three shields carved on the front. Small pillars with carved capitals support a carved round arch above the tomb. On the wall is a carved slab with a bishop’s head, On the walls round this are the remains of wall paintings.

A doorway in the north wall leads out to the C12th cloisters. These have a blank wall facing the street and are entered through a wooden door. In the centre of the cloisters is a fountain. There are good views of the outside of the church which is built of very pale stone with a pantile roof.

Only two walls of the cloisters survive with an arcade with round arches supported on double pillars. Each one has a different carving and many are biblical scenes. In the centre of the west wall are four pillars twisted round each other, a popular photo shot.

There are recessed niches in the north and east walls with carved round arches supported by round pillars with carved capitals. Several have pieces of carved masonry in them. The two niches on the west wall are larger and have a statue of St Peter holding the keys of Heaven and a bishop.

We were pleased to find this church open as so many churches in Navarre are locked. It was, and still is, a popular stop on the pilgrim route to Santiago del Compostela. Many just take a photo as they plod on their way. Some actually climb up to the church and a few stop and pray. It is a fascinating church and well repays spending some time in, just looking.


1000+ Posts

Monasterio de Irache was an important stop on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. it is just off the motorway a couple of miles south of Estella,and set in open countryside near the settlement of Ayegui/Aiegu. It is surrounded by vineyards and there is a Bodega with a Museum of Wine in front of the monastery. Round the back are the two outdoor taps which for centuries have supplied water or wine to pilgrims. You may need to bring your own cup.

This was also the site of the first pilgrim hostel in the region, a large building by the church with iron grilles on the windows and carved escutcheons above the door. In front is a large and very pleasant, grassed area with pollarded plane trees with parking.

The C13th monastery church has a big offset bell tower at the west end. This has a domed roof with a small cupola on the top with a weathervane and cross.

The doorway is set back under an arched porch with elaborate Baroque carvings above and two statues.

On either side of the portico are two lion head gargoyles. The door pillars have carvings of endless knots and a lamb surrounded by a geometric design.

A second doorway leads into a low vaulted arch beneath the gallery which is later than the rest of the church and contains the font.

It is a massive church and, apart from the balcony and arch, untouched by later additions. Massive pillars with simply carved tops and pointed arches separate the nave and side aisles. Between the ribs are cross vaults with carved bosses.

There is a large Romanesque east apse reached by steps. The bases of the transept pillars are carved with shells, the pilgrim’s symbol. There is a free standing stone table altar. There is arcading round the walls with slender round pillars with carved capitals and a studded arch above them. Some have windows, others are blind. Above are small round windows.

On a pillar behind is a beautiful silver plated crowned figure of the Virgin holding the Christ Child.

A small glass fronted niche in the north wall contains a metal and glass reliquary of St Veremundo.

On the wall of the south aisle is a small carving of St Christopher with a staff and carrying the Christ Child on his shoulders as he wades through water.

The north aisle has a massive stone tomb with the recumbent figure of what could be a bishop. At the front corners are two figures whose heads have been hacked off. The base has a carved figure of a bishop holding his crook. On either side are figures of monks and a bishop.

Off the south wall is a later sacristy chapel, with a complex vaulted ceiling with painted bosses with images of heads. In niches on the south wall are painted statues of Mary and Jesus with a small wall mounted crucifix between them. In front of them is a small wooden altar with the image of the Virgin on the front of the altar cloth. On the east wall is a lavabo with water coming out of a cherub’s mouth.

Double doors on the south wall lead through into the C17th cloisters. On a small wooden plinth by the door is a small china statue of the Virgin Mary with a cherub and cherub heads round her feet, which feels out of place compared with the rest of the building.

Once in the cloisters, look back at the Baroque doorway with its carved arches, frieze of cherub heads and God the Father at the top.

The cloisters have a very tall arcade with external pillars extending to the roof. On the inner side of the fluted pillars are empty niches with a shell at the top which were intended to hold statues. The bases are carved and each one is different with buildings, animals, figures with urns. The tops of the pillars are carved where they join the elaborately vaulted ceiling which also has carved bosses.

The cloisters surround a grassy area with a small fountain in the centre. Above is a row of round topped windows with glazing bars with fluted pillars.


1000+ Posts

This a major stop on the Pilgrim route to Santiago del Compostela. It had been an important walled town at a crossing of the River Arga. Now little remains of the walls, with houses built against them.

There is the remains of one of the gateways by the medieval bridge across the river, which is closed to traffic.

The C14th Iglesia de San Pedro is close by. Again it was locked.

Puente de la Reina is the main service town of the area with a lot of shops. Calle Major running through the centre of the town is the main shopping street, with bakers with a cafe attached to them, butchers, grocers, hardware and a couple of traditional drapers where stock is carefully kept in cardboard boxes stored on shelves.

It is an attractive street with even narrower alleyways off it. The tall stone houses with small metal balconies have carved escutcheons on the walls. The Moorish influence can be seen in all the hands of Fatima door knockers.

Traffic is routed to the south west away from Calle Major along a wider parallel street lined with heavily pollarded plane trees. This has a lot of parking on both sides of the road and there are more shops and bars along the street.

IGLESIA DE SANTIAGO on Calle Major is the main pilgrim church and has a very tall bell tower which was a landmark for miles and used to guide pilgrims. It is only when you drive past Puente de la Reine on the motorway that you realise just how big this church is. It dwarfs the tall three storey houses round it. The square tower has an octagonal bell tower above topped by a lantern, globe and metal cross with a weather vane.

The original building was C12th and the lower part of the walls survived the major restoration in the C17th when the church was rebuilt. Entry is through the impressive C13th south doorway. The two large wooden doors with metal studs have a series of large and small pillars on either side. The smaller pillars have carved heads at the top. Running along the top of the pillars is a carved frieze with animals. There is a Moorish style arch around the top of the doorway with round arches above it. These are carved with eroded figures and animals. On either side of the doorway are the remains of two full size figures now minus heads.

It is a massive church but quite dark inside as the only light is from large round topped windows on the north wall of the chancel and two windows in the south wall of the nave.

The nave has large wall pillars with a narrow frieze round the top and a very fancy vaulted ceiling of intersecting ribs and circles. A wooden balcony across the back of the nave is supported on a stone archway. This has the organ and some high backed choir stalls.

A massive carved and gilded reredos covers all of the east end of the church.

The reredos has a host box with pillars supporting a cupola above it. On the left is a carving of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus floating above a church supported by cherubs. To the right is a panel with two soldiers about to behead a kneeling figure.

Above the host box is a statue of St James. On either side of him are St Sebastian pierced by arrows and St Roche with his dog. Above is a carving of Christ on the cross with a skull at his feet and the Virgin Mary and St John on either side. All are surrounded by massive carved pillars, cherubs and decorative carvings, all gilded.

Steps lead up to the small free standing altar in front of the reredos, which has a beaten bronze front.

There is a modern large round stone font and a small reading desk on either side. Behind are carved chairs for the priest. On the walls on either side of the chancel are two large Chinese vases standing on gilded platforms carved with flowers. On the north wall is a large painting of the Trinity represented by three figures with cherubs at their feet in a carved grey and gilt frame. On the south wall is a small carillon of bells.

At the ends of the transepts and the nave are more altars with huge gilded reredos. Carving on the reredos is very detailed but in the poor light it was often difficult to make out the details and see the figures carved on them.

On the north wall is a polychrome carving of St James as a pilgrim with staff and hat. On the wall on either side are small scallop shells, the traditional symbol of a pilgrim. In front is the usual bank of electric candles.

IGLESIA DEL CRUCIFIJO on the edge of town, has a similar but smaller tower to Iglesia de Santiago, and had links to the Knights Templars. After they were expelled in 1312, the buildings were taken over by the Military Order of St John of Jerusalem. The buildings were confiscated by the State in the late C18th and were abandoned until being taken over by the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus after the First World War.

A covered passageway connects the church with the former pilgrim’s hospital built in the C15th, which is now used by the priest.

The nave is late C12th and the church was extended in the C14th when the north aisle was added.

Steps lead down to the wooden double doors with pillars carved with a design of knots, geometric patterns and swirls. There is a carved frieze around the capitals and a series of elaborately carved pointed arches with a double row of scallop shells, angels, birds, lions, mythical beasts and foliage.

Inside it is a very plain church with a small wooden gallery at the back. The only light comes from two Romanesque windows in the south wall and a tiny window in the apse which has opaque glass. A larger plain glass window at the back of the north aisle floods the back of the north aisle with light making the rest of the church feel dark in comparison.

Three octagonal pillars with a red Maltese cross in a black circle and pointed arches separate the nave and north aisle. There is a ribbed ceiling with the ribs coming off the central pillars.

Steps lead up to the chancel with a small round apse containing a simple altar covered with a white cloth. Below the window is a small carving of a crowned Virgin in red and blue robes holding the Christ Child on her lap who is dressed in a pale turquoise robe.

The apse at the end of the north aisle has a C14th carved wood crucifix. Its history is unknown but it may have been the gift of some German pilgrims.


1000+ Posts

Santa Maria de Eunate is set in a flat landscape of fields and trees on the NA-601, near the settlement of Mururzábal. It is popular with coach tours who fortunately don’t stop very long and also walkers along the pilgrim route to Santiago del Compostella, who do. Many sit on the arcading massaging sore feet.

Built in 1170, it is thought to be a Templar church, although little is known about its history. It is set in an irregular octagonal enclosureand is unusual as it is surrounded by a wall and arcade. This has double round pillars at the front with carved capitals supporting round arches. Further round, there are square pillars with no carved capitals. The floor is a decorative herringbone pattern of long thin pieces of stone.

The church is octagonal with a central small bell cote and a small five sided apse at the east end. This is lower than the nave and has grotesque heads carved on the corbels. There is arcading round the outside with blank arches and Romanesque windows with pillars, carved capitals and round arches.

The south door has two round pillars with carved capitals with figures of an animal head with very curved and ribbed horns. Above is a frieze with flowers and foliage. The arches are decorated with carved figures and a geometric design with circles.

Entry is through the west door which has a simple carved arch and a small Romanesque window above with pillars and arches.

The inside very simple and peaceful with music playing. Round wall pillars, with carved capitals, continue to form a vaulted ceiling with carved bosses. There are alternating octagonal and hexagonal windows between the ribs containing opaque glass. Nave and chancel windows are Romanesque with pillars, carved capitals and round arches.

The capitals on the south side of the round chancel arch are carved with Green Men with stems of vines coming out of their mouths. Those on the north side have acanthius leaves.

The tiny apse has blind arcades round the base of the walls. Above round pillars with carved capitals, rise to form the ribs of the vaulted ceiling. Between them is more arcading and round pillars with carved capitals.

The small stone altar has a painted and gilded seated statue of the Virgin and child behind.

The days of proper candles have gone. There is a table of electronic candles by the door with a charge of 20 cents for a candle.
Last edited:


1000+ Posts

Cerco de Artajona is the best preserved walled settlement in Navarra. On top of hill, it is surrounded by fields with the later settlement spread below it. There is a superb view of it from the NA-6030 coming from the west and also as you drive up the access road to the north when its walls and towers are silhouetted against the sky. The massive fortified church of San Saturnino dominates the site.

This artist's impression gives an idea of what the site would have been like in Medieval times.

The walls were built between 1085-1109 and still have nine of the original fourteen square towers and two of the original gateways, joined by C12th walls and battlemented parapet. The original towers were three storeys high with narrow slit windows and crenellated tops.

Entry is through Portal de San Miguel, one of the original gateways. Originally it would have had a barbican outside for additional protection. Just inside the gate is a well. Carefully restored stone houses line the inside of the walls. A lot of money has been spent on the renovation of the Cerco with paved streets and carefully cut grass.

At the top of the hill was the site of the castle although all that remains is the base of the large round donjon and another well.

The C13th FORTRESS CHURCH OF SAN SATURNINO was part of the defensive system, serving as a lookout tower, guard post and prison. It has a huge and very tall nave with big buttresses and carved gargoyles above them. It dominates the surroundings. The tall square bell tower is adjacent to the south east corner of the building and has a smaller round tower at the side with a metal bridge giving access to the bell chamber.

The massive west front has an elaborately carved doorway with metal doors. On either side are fourteen very thin round pillars with carved capitals. On either side of the door are square pillars carved in a series of squares with mythical beasts. Above the doorway is a splendid tympanum. In the centre is a carving of San Saturnino with a bull at his feet. On either side are the figures of Queen Juana of Navarre and her husband Philip the Handsome. At the bottom is a carved frieze of the martyrdom of St Saturnino when he was dragged to his death through the streets tied to a bull. The arches above the tympanum are decorated with carvings of leaves, heads and kings.

On the south wall is a smaller doorway set between two large buttresses which have covered steps leading up to a metal doorway.

The north doorway is a less elaborate than the west doorway with fewer pillars and has six round pillars. Some of the arches above the door have been recarved with heads.

Unfortunately the church is kept locked and is rarely open. The inside is very plain apart from a splendid C16th retable at the east end.

There are good views down to the lower town from the south side of the church with its low stone buildings with pantile roofs. Iglesia de San Pedro, with its massive nave and tall slender tower dwarfs the rest of the buildings. Knowing that it was only open for mass, we didn’t bother to investigate. Newer houses spread out from the edges of the town. The land to the south is very flat with cereal and ploughed fields and a low range of hills on the horizon.


1000+ Posts

St Martin de Unx is a Navarra hill town.

Originally a medieval fortified town built on the site of a demolished castle, it is dominate by Iglesia San Martin de Tours. Capilla de San Miguel sitting in a walled graveyard at the top end of the town was the castle chapel. This is shut and the graveyard kept locked.

It is a pleasant little town with a few shops and narrow roads lined with tall stone houses and even narrower alleyways off. The houses have big wooden doorways, small metal balconies and metal grilles over the lower windows.

We parked on the street in the lower part of the town and climbed up to the church.

IGLESIA SAN MARTIN DE TOURS is big with a large buttressed nave with a small flat bell cote above the west end and a round apse at the east end. There is a large porch on the south side with open arches and metal grille door onto the street.

The splendid west doorway has pillars on either side with carefully carved capitals with figures and foliage. On one is St Martin sharing his coat with a beggar as well as warriors fighting with animals. Above are three arches, each with a different carved design of spirals, bosses and squares.

The web had indicated the church was open daily, however a sign on the door said the church was only open at weekends. It was a Tuesday. We could hear voices inside the church, so banged hard on the door to be let in. It all went very quiet and eventually a bemused face appeared. Two women were cleaning the church and were delighted that a foreigner would want to visit their church. The pointed out the spiral staircase to the crypt and indicated we needed to put €1 in the meter for lights, but refused the €2 entry when we offered it. They were very keen to point out all the things of interest in the church which taxed our minimal Spanish to the limits but be smiled and nodded.

The church is built above a Romanesque crypt dating from 1156. This has six round pillars some with carved ‘water flowers’ capitals which still have traces of paint on them, others with heads or beasts. These support round arches forming the ceiling ribs. Wall pillars also have carved capitals. There is a simple altar made up of blocks of stone. The only source of natural light is a small recessed round topped window at the east end.

Back inside the church, the large nave has wall pillars with carved capitals leading to the ceiling ribs. At the east end is a semi-circular apse with three recessed round topped windows surrounded by round pillars with carved capitals and a round arch. There is a narrow carved frieze above and below them.

The processional stand has a carved and painted statue of St Cedro , the patron saint, holding freshly picked ears of wheat. At his feet is a small statue of a woman ploughing with two oxen.

On the north wall is a polychrome wood statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child, with a processional banner behind.

There is a splendid and very large Baroque reredos on the north wall, painted predominantly in shades of red, blue and gilt. You need to look carefully as there is a tremendous amount of detail. In the centre is a carving of St Martin.

Scenes on either side and below show the last supper, the disciples asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus in front of Herod, Christ carrying the cross and his body being removed by the women. At the top is a depiction of the crucifixion with Christ on the Cross with the Virgin Mary and St John. At the top is God the Father holding a globe with a cross.

Red pillars have gilt spirals on them. There are carvings of cherubs and on the left of St Martin is is St Sebastian pierced with arrow heads. On the right is St Roch, without his dog but showing the infection on his leg to an angel.

There is a huge carved stone Romanesque font with figures set between pillars (all differently carved) and round topped arches. The two women were very keen to point out Mary holding the baby Jesus.

At the back of the north aisle is a glass coffin tomb containing the statue of a dead body with a loin cloth, but with no further information


1000+ Posts

Ujue is a small hilltop settlement of narrow streets and alleyways built round the massive fortified church of Santa Maria. There has been a fortress here since the C8th or C9th, built in an attempt to halt the advance of Islam.

The attractive stone houses with pale pantile roofs fall away down the hillside from the church.

The original church was C11-13th but the nave was demolished and rebuilt in the C14th when the church was fortified. It is unusual as the fortifications were built round the existing building, a bit like a skin. From the outside it looks more like a castle than a church. The outer walls are very tall and have massive buttresses. In places machicolations can be seen. There is a square crenulated bell tower and a smaller square tower.

Before going into the church it is worth walking round the outside between the fortified walls and the exterior of the church. This helps explain the architecture of the church and what you see. Enter the porch to the west of the south door. This has open arches with elaborately carved capitals although many have been defaced and their heads knocked off. This leads to the north side of the church which is an enclosed area with flying buttresses built onto the large external buttresses of the church.

The north door has arches and carved capitals with figures, heads and animals. There is an animal head swallowing a human, two figures playing a game of chance, a figure holding a tree he has pulled up and two people carrying what look like loaded baskets on their backs.

At the end of the north wall is a carving of a crucifix with the crucified Christ with the Virgin Mary and St John.

The outer walls of the east apse have a carved frieze round the base of the windows. The Romanesque round topped windows are surrounded by round pillars with carved capitals and carved arch above.



1000+ Posts

Entry into the church is through the massive south door reached up a flight of stone steps. This is surrounded by a lot of tall thin round pillars with beautifully carved capitals.

There are scenes showing grapes being harvested and packed into panniers for transport. There is a nativity scene with Mary in bed with a woman holding a baby. Next to her is Joseph with Jesus in a manger being watched by the animals in the stable. There is a musician and also Adam and Eve trying to hide their nakedness.

The tympanum above the door has a scene of the Last Supper at the bottom. Some of the figures seem to have drunk too much wine. Above is a nativity scene. The Virgin Mary is holding the Christ Child and her feet are resting on a serpent. The three kings are presenting their gifts. On the other side is a kneeling figure with a cockerel carved on the arch next to him. At the top is a star.

There is a small porch inside with wooden doors leading into the church. These have blue panels outlined in pale brown with a painting of the sun and moon, both with faces.

The inside of the church is massive. There is a single very tall Gothic nave with a vaulted ceiling. The east end is the original Romanesque building. There is a round chancel arch with rather nice carved capitals leading into the central apse with smaller round arches on either side into the side apses with rounded ceilings. Four steps lead up to the chancel which is separated from the nave by metal grille doors.

The central apse has a free standing altar. Behind is a stone pillar with water flower carved top and a C12th wooden carving of the seated Virgin and Child which was silver plated in the C14th. Both are wearing crowns and the surround is covered with semi-precious stones. The walls have blind arcading with carved capitals and arches. There is a small Romanesque window in the centre.

In the small apse to the right is a half statue of Christ.

At the back of the church is a large stone balcony supported by massive multangular pillars which disappear below ground level as the west end of the church is lower than the nave. There is a low vaulted ceiling under the balcony. The balcony has an open carved stone front with quatrefoil designs and two carved figures on the top. There seems to be a large reading desk and tall carved choir stalls up here.

There is a large round stone font on a square base with carved heads on two corners. Figures carved round the bowl include a delightfully primitive image of a knight holding a sword and shield.

At the back of the north wall is an altar with a gilt reredos with a scene of the crucifixion with Christ on the cross with the crowned figure of Mary and another crowned figure holding three nails. Above is a portico with the crown of thorns with the symbols of the passion and a bird on the top.

There is the most amazing Baroque pulpit on the south wall in shades of red, blue and gold. Round the pulpit are carvings of the four apostles with their symbols on a blue and gold base. The canopy is blue and gold with a silver dove on the underside. Above there are cherubs and shields with a robed figure standing on the top of a cupola holding a communion cup.



1000+ Posts

It was a beautiful morning and very clear, so we decided to head to the foothills of the Pyrenees taking the NA601 and NA234.

We made a brief stop in Aoiz for bread for lunch. This housed the workmen building the dam for Embalse de Itoiz in the late 1980s and 90s in large multi storey blocks on the edge of the town. It is the main service town of the area and has a small market on a Thursday with butcher, fruit and vegetables, cheese, dried fish and several clothes stalls. The town itself is a workaday, rather scruffy place with little to entice you to stop.

We then headed north along the NA172 which is a good road, although not very wide, but with little traffic. It climbs gradually to the top of the valley surrounded by steep wooded slopes. Any flat land is cleared for pasture and there is little settlement.

We saw URIZ set above the road which looked attractive and decided to stop and explore. Narrow alleyways lead up from the road into the village which is a maze of narrow streets.

Houses are large as they would have housed both animals and humans. Most have large wooden doorways with a stone arch round them and an escutcheon above.

It retains the feel of a traditional village, but has the feel of a village that was dying but is now being ‘discovered’. There are a lot of old derelict houses for sale. Some have been restored and others are in the process of being renovated. Several of the houses were fortified with a defensive tower attached to them.

One of these has been beautifully restored as a 3* hotel.

The church has a massive bell tower with houses built onto the side of the nave but no obvious way into it.

From Uriz, the road drops down the Urrobi valley through mixed woodland with few views. The settlements are well off the road. The road joins the N135 and we almost immediately turned right onto the NA140 and and our next stop in GARRALDA.

This is quite a large settlement with a big school. It is set in a very fertile valley with pasture and sheep, cows and horses grazing. The architectural style is very different and the rock is different, being much darker and more purple in colour. It has a distinct ‘alpine’ feel. Houses have stone foundations with large corner stones. Walls are plaster and painted either white or cream. Roofs have a much steeper pitch to throw off the snow and are covered with dark brown pantiles. Windows have wooden shutters, usually painted.

Above the doorway is a carved piece of wood with the house or family name. Above is the local shield with a carving of a wild boar, tree and a date. These range from 1666-1915.

There are some newer houses built in the same style and distinguishable by their newer corner stones. Many of the houses have well tended gardens round them with fruit trees. Many were traditionally farm houses with a barn attached.

The church is an attractive plaster and dark stone building with a tiled roof. In front is a large arched porch with five lancet windows above containing stained glass. There is an offset bell tower with louvered bell windows. The arches above the windows have a decorative stone triangle above. On the top is a tiled spire with a fancy metalwork weathervane. Again, it was shut.

The AEZOKA VALLEY in the foothills of the Pyrenees is described as one of the most beautiful in the Pyrenees with small quiet villages between the mountains, with meadows and forests of beech and oak. According to the guide books, fifteen of the twenty two hórreos (traditional barns on stone supports) of cultural interest in Navarra are found around Aria, Villanueva de Aezkoa and Orbaizeta.

We set out to explore the area, through steep wooded valleys with meadows on any available flat land. However, none of the horreos are visible from the road.

is one of the best examples of a traditional village and is reached along the NA2023 from Ariba. This is a narrow winding road which climbs steeply through hair pin bends to the village. The verges are lush and, in May, contained deep yellow cowslips, deep pink orchids and deep blue aquilegia.

Hiriberriis the Basque name and it is a collection of old houses dating from the C16th clustered round the church. There are no shops or obvious services. Roads in the settlement are still cobbled. Houses are large as they housed animals as well as people and often had barns attached. Many have a well tended garden. Corrugated iron replaces the traditional pantile roofs. It still feels like a working village and there was more life around than we had seen elsewhere. There is a traditional horreo in the village with steps up to the barn. Unfortunately it now seems to be used as a dumping area for unwanted pieces of machinery. The area is however being ‘discovered’ and a few houses have been expensively renovated probably by incomers who don’t work in the village.

The church is almost impossible to photograph. It has a massive stone nave with heavy buttresses and narrow slit windows. The square bell tower looks to be newer and has a low pointed roof. A smaller hexagonal tower on the side gives access to the bells. The door is set back in a pantiles porch and the pointed arches above it have carved bases.

We then took the NA2030 through Orbara and Orbaitzeta, two well maintained settlements with a lot of new houses built in the traditional style. There didn’t seem to be much to merit a stop. We continued up the valley to Fabrica de Orbaitzeta an isolated site set in the mountains. To our relief the road was much better than we expected. It was well maintained and graded and wide enough for two cars to pass easily, possibly as there was a lot of isolated farms spread along the valley.
Last edited:


1000+ Posts

Fabrica de Orbaitzeta is the site of a Royal Weapons and Ammunition Factory built on the orders of Carlos III in 1784 on the site of a C15th ironworks. It is considered one of the finest examples of industrial architecture in Spain. It made cast iron bombs and supplied the casing for grenades and ammunition of various calibers. More than 150 people worked here using local deposits of iron. Charcoal to fire the furnaces was cut from local beech trees The trees were topped when they reached height of 2-3m. This encouraged the development of a lot of new growth which was cut every 10-15 years to make charcoal. Not only did this save having to fell mature trees, it also provided a supply of wood of uniform size.

The site was in use until 1873 and is now derelict apart from a new building in the main square and some of the workers cottages have been done up as second homes.

The site is built on four levels.

At the top is the main square with Iglesia de la Immaculada at one end. This is late C18th and a neoclassical design with small bell towers on either side of the west facade. This is now used as a barn. We didn't venture in as there was a vocal guard dog kennelled in a corner.

Beyond the church were terraced workers cottages.

In the centre of the square is the Palacio, a large two storey building with a small balcony.

Between the Palacio and the church are the remains of the barrack blocks. Soldiers were stationed here as the area was subject to attacks from France.

On the other side were more barrack blocks and the artillery detachment building. There was also an inn which was used by the pack horse men and the bread ovens. Nothing remains of these and they have been replaced by a farm and outbuildings.

Below the square were the terraced workers houses along a cobbled street and reached by flights of steps. These were two storey building. At ether end of them were storage areas for iron ore. At the end of the street was the school and, through a gate, were the lavatories and vegetable gardens.

The workers cottages were built in two blocks. One has disappeared apart from the foundations. The other has been done up and now has a long balcony running the length of the first floor.

Between the two blocks was the aqueduct from a stone lined water reservoir which held the water needed for the various hydraulic systems around the works. The water supply came from a dam further up the river. A stone lined channel took water into the works. Its outlet flow into the river below can still be seen from the road.

Below the workers cottages were the industrial buildings.

There were two big smelting furnaces with the hydraulic buildings behind them. Upstream of these were the carpentry and locksmiths workshops and stores.

Beyond was the large building housing the drop hammer.

On the far side of this was the smaller Santa Barbara furnace and its drop hammer building.

Downstream of the smelting furnaces were the clay moulding shops for the grenades and munitions as well as the cleaning and inspection rooms. By the road was the huge courtyard used to store the grenades and munitions until they could be taken away by pack horses to be filled.

On the other side of the river are the charcoal bunkers.

Because of fire risk, these needed to be kept separate and away from the furnaces. Charcoal made in the forest was brought down by pack horse and stored here. Archways were built across the river so the charcoal could be moved to the top of the furnaces.

At the end of the charcoal bunkers by the road was the small graveyard, now hidden by long grass.

The external walls of most buildings still stand several feet high and it is possible to make out most of the buildings. There are a series of information boards around the site in Basque, Spanish, French and English. When we visited in mid May 2012, the industrial buildings along the river were fenced off and not accessible.


1000+ Posts

After Fabrica de Orbaitzeta, we headed to Orreaga/Roncesvalles at the foot of the pass across the Pyrenees into France and the start of the Pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela, a distance of 795km. Various walkers were milling around with packs and poles at 3pm. They wouldn’t get very far today. Apart from two restaurants, this is entirely a religious settlement. It is a popular tourist destination and has a huge car park. There is a plan of the site here.

At the start of the village is a white painted building, which was built in 1612 as an inn and is still a restaurant today. Next to it is Capilla del Spiritu Santo, otherwise known as the Silo of Charlemagne. According to tradition, this was built for Roland and the other knights killed in the Battle of Roncesvalles. This present building dates from the C12th and is a small square building with an arcade round a small cloister where canons were buried in the C17th.

Beside this is the C13th smaller stone Capilla de Santiago, which was restored in the C20th.

At the end of the road is the long white C19th building which was the Prior’s House and has a small museum and library at the end.

An archway leads past the C17th cloister which replaces the C13th cloister which collapsed from the weight of snow on it. Beyond is Iglesia de Santa Maria with the C19th Pilgrim hospital, a large white building on three sides behind it. There has been a hospital here since the C12th. This is now the youth hostel, still serving ‘pilgrims’.

IGLESIA DE SANTA MARIA is one of the best examples of Navarrese Gothic architecture and was founded by Sanchos VII the Strong at the beginning of the C13th, as his burial site. It suffered a series of fires and by the start of the C17th was virtually derelict and abandoned. There was a major reconstruction, when the Gothic interior was given a Baroque finish.

The church has a massive west front with an offset bell tower. Entry is through the west door which is part of the C13th building. The decoration round the doorway has been recarved and looks very new. The tympanum has a representation of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus, with kneeling angels on either side. Below is a frieze with carvings of angels, the Annunciation and scroll designs with vine leaves and grapes.

Inside is a small porch with a step to trap the unwary and another door into the church, with more steps down from it. Coming from the outside, the church seems very dark until your eyes have chance to adjust. The modern stained glass windows are mainly shades of blue and don’t let much light through, especially in the afternoon on a rather dull day. Two large plain windows at the back of the church flood the back of the nave with light making the rest of the church seem even darker.

Large round pillars with acanthus leaf capitals support pointed arches separating the very wide nave from the narrower and lower side aisles. Above are circular stained glass windows with pictures of buildings, Stella Maris with a boat and star above and also a three storey fountain.

The south aisle has two large tombs set in recesses. That nearest the door has a carved cross on the top surface. On the back wall is the Xhi-Rho symbol. The base of the tomb is carved with shields, bishop’s crook and mitre and has a carving of the crowned figure of the Virgin holding a crowned baby Jesus. The pointed arch above the recess has a shield carved above it.

The second tomb is much plainer with a large carved cross on the front.
In the south wall is a small recessed area with a metal grille across. This has a crucifix hanging on one wall. On a pillar in the centre, is the top half of a woman in traditional dress. In front is the usual bank of electric candles for pilgrims.

The large central apse has a small free standing mass altar. Behind is a metal canopy with the figures of saints, bishops and apostles carved on the underside. Beneath it, under a gilded arch, is a wooden chair with a gilded crucifix carved on the back. Above the arch is the beautiful C14th silver plated statue of Our Lady of Roncevalles holding the figure of the Christ Child. On either side are angels holding candles (with electric ‘flames’). Above are three very tall windows with modern stained glass with Biblical scenes.

On the south wall next to the chancel is an altar with a gilded reredos above with a pilgrim in the centre surrounded by elaborate carvings of fruits and flowers. On either side are pillars supported by cherubs and carved with bunches of grapes and vine leaves. At the top is another cherub head.

There is a beautiful round west window. In the centre is Mary with the baby Jesus. This is surrounded by smaller circles with images of angels.


1000+ Posts

After Orreaga/Roncesvalles, we drove back down the valley passing several groups of weary pilgrims plodding along slowly.

We made a brief stop at AURITZ/BURGUETE, a large settlement with a small supermarket and bakery with a cafe attached. It is well maintained with beige and white houses with shutters and pantile roofs along the main street. This has an open drain running down the side of the road. After rain earlier in the day this was full and flowing fast.

The church is a large rectangular building with buttressed nave and a small bell tower above the west door. This has round arches with a carved frieze above. Round pillars support a portico with more pillars and pyramids. In the centre is an empty recessed niche with an angels head. Above is a shield with the date 1699 and above this a modern clock. As usual, it was locked.

Rather than returning the way we came, we took the N135 which is narrow and drops down steeply through hairpin bends to Erro. Here it picks up the NA2330 which is a leisurely drive down the Erro valley. This has wooded slopes and rich pasture land, although at one point it drops down through a steep bare rocky gorge. There were small settlements off the road.

By now the sun had come out and it was turning into a beautiful evening. We drove up to have a look at ZUNZARREN set on the hillside above the road as our eyes had been caught by all the towers.

It is delightful village of well maintained renovated stone houses, many with defensive towers, around the church

The stone church has a square bell tower with a hipped roof. The nave has tiny slit windows. The south door is set under a round arch with a narrow pantile roof with stone corbels over the door. Like nearly all churches in Spain, it was locked.

From here it was a fast drive along NA234/601 to the dual carriage way and back to Lerate.

There was quite a bit of snow left on the tops. This bit of the Pyrenees wasn’t as rugged as we had expected.


100+ Posts
Thank you for allowing us to relive the start of one of the finer adventures we've had. We started our walk from Roncesvalles in April in different weather than you had.


Booking.com Hotels in Europe
AutoEurope.com Car Rentals

Recommended Travel Guides

New resources