We found ourselves in a tiny hamlet at the end of a road and at a loss when one of the residents pulled in with her groceries. We explained our situation and she insisted on inviting us into her home to help us find our destination on Googlemaps. The farmhouse was some 300 years old, made of thick stone walls, with timber beams, low doorways and solid wooden furniture. It felt like you were stepping back in time. The kitchen was dominated by a canopied stone hearth, large enough to accommodate two chairs placed within it next to the open fire. On one of the chairs sat a tiny, spry woman of 92 anos (declared with pride). Whilst her granddaughter fiddled with the internet, the old woman told us a shortcut to the monastery. Local knowledge 1: Googlemaps 0. They decided “Australia es muy lecco” (very far).
Built of local grey stone, the monastery sits on an exposed and sparsely vegetated mountaintop. The view through misty rain of the valley and distant mountains was splendid. An icy wind swept over the landscape, penetrating every corner of the chapel, cafeteria and, I wouldn’t be surprised, the hostaleria used for retreats. The original well, located in a stone domed building beside the chapel, holds water.
A life-sized bronze installation of two runners being chased by a bull made sure we knew we were in Pamplona. Our hotel offered none of the privations of the monastery, I am pleased to say, and our room afforded us a fabulous view of a ferocious thunderstorm crackling and rumbling across the countryside. We later entered the old town – more rampant bronze bulls – and visited the Museo de Navarra which has a magnificent collection of huge Roman mosaics. On one hand, it’s a shame they have been removed from their original setting, but on the other, it means they are preserved and kept safe from the picking fingers of trophy hunters.