Visit Navarre for a dose of nature and history
Navarre is known for its untouched landscape but few will know of its glorious past in the middle ages.
The region of Navarre offers some of the finest nature tourism in Spain, and after all the madness of the Running of the Bulls, one might easily be tempted to run off into the forest for some peace and quiet.
Fortunately, there is plenty of forest to go round. Most of Navarre's 10,400 square kilometers of territory is dominated by the Pyrenees, and mountaineering remains one of the more popular sports around here - in May, Pamplona mourned the death of Iñaki Ochoa, a local climber who died in the Himalayas.
Another unique feature of the region is that publicly owned forest land represents over 40 percent of total surface area, a much higher figure than elsewhere in Spain - and perhaps a reason why so much of it remains pristine.
Navarre is different from other regions in many other ways, including some of its laws. Navarre was a kingdom for one millennium, from 841 to 1841, when its fueros, or charter of laws, began to adapt to Spanish legislation.
During the Middle Ages, the kingdom extended into other parts of Spain and as far north as the southern French regions formerly known as Gascony and Occitanie. The 16th-century French king, Henry IV, was a Huguenot who married the Catholic Marguerite de Valois in an attempt to end the religious wars in France.
Major monuments from that era still remain.
Castillo de Javier, southeast of Pamplona, is a fortified castle that was the birthplace of Saint Francis Xavier, a 16th-century missionary who co-founded the Jesuit order. The castle, complete with towers, dungeons, loopholes and battlements, dates back to the 10th century but was refurbished in 2005.
Very near here, and just 50 kilometres from Pamplona, is the Monastery of San Salvador de Leyre, which sits at the foot of the hills of the same name.
Navarrese kings are buried under this landmark stone building that preserves an 11th-century crypt and a 12th-century Romanesque portico. The Benedictine monks who live here still perform Gregorian chants, and part of the monastery has been converted into a hotel for guests seeking a quiet holiday.
Further north, on the border with France and Huesca, Roncal Valley offers visitors its famous sheep's milk cheese. The valley is also prime climbing territory, with 2,000-meter peaks as well as small villages that still maintain their rural charm.
Overall, Navarre has managed to save its landscape from the kind of residential and industrial development that has marred so many other parts of Spain. The region is also a European pioneer in renewable energies and many hills are topped by wind turbines, making for an unusual blend of old and new that in some ways reflects the Navarrese themselves.
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