Preparation for our second long trip to Spain was mainly done in our heads due to a self-induced busy schedule beforehand. We literally had two days to pack everything for two months away, including clothes and footwear, bedding, first aid, food and drink, maps, campsite books, legal paperwork, certification, new driving licence and a heap of stuff too numerous to mention. All was accomplished in good time to get Bessie weighed and we found out that we had a spare 60kg if we needed anything else.
The drive to Portsmouth was uneventful and we arrived before 11am which meant we were very quickly on board the ferry which was due to leave at 11.45. A sullen grey day gave the dockside a sombre look and the Spinnaker Tower looked faded in the gloom, however I managed a photo as we set off to sunny Spain.
On arrival, we disembarked quickly, set off using the same route as our previous visit and thankfully managed to stay out of Bilboa this time. The countryside in October was quite different with the majority of fields ploughed, small abandoned cottages, pylons, the road passing through huge rock cuttings, distant mountains, some fields of vines and later on olive and fruit trees. With a quick pit stop for lunch we arrived at the campsite in Mendigorría, Navarra south of Pamplona in northern Spain.
There was a windmill at the entrance and it was a public holiday weekend, to say the site was busy was an understatement. We settled on a sunny pitch for the afternoon and moved the next day as soon as a better place became available. Small trees located on every pitch to offer shade were starting to turn from green to yellow and their seed pods rustled in the breeze.
Photos of the scenery during our drive
After one whole day relaxing, we set off next day to the small village of Mendigorría about half a mile away, set up on a hill and visible for miles around. The beautiful church bell tower with its mellow, golden stone rose up into the blue sky making a lovely contrast.
A pedestrian walkway around the village in its lofty position gave great views over the countryside in every direction, showing the River Arga snaking its way through the landscape.
Unfenced fields are mainly brown as the harvest has long been completed, the exception being acres of tall maize, but no livestock to be seen anywhere, hence no need for fencing. Closer to the river and below the village are what look like huge allotments, probably each household has an area to grow produce, complete with huts or poly tunnels. The village looked deserted, doors shut, windows shuttered and a few cars parked haphazardly on the narrow streets, however people were just keeping out of the heat and it came alive at night when the shops and bars opened.
Having noticed a sign to Roman ruins, next day we walked away from the village into the hills along a small, quiet lane leading uphill. Stopping every few moments to look at flowers, snails climbing plant stalks and butterflies, it was a leisurely amble on a lovely afternoon.
We saw many birds including lots of soaring red kites, kestrel, griffin vultures and as we got to more open spaces we also watched northern wheatears, black redstarts and numerous crested larks. Having got there, the Roman ruins were closed but we walked around the church building next to it where several Spanish families were having a get-together and BBQs. An information plaque told us it was quite a large walled settlement with its own small reservoir and aqueduct to supply the village, it was very isolated so it would have needed to be very self-sufficient. We spend 5 days at Mendigorría in total, walking and relaxing and enjoying being back with reliable sunshine.
Starting on our way east heading towards the coast we visited the town of Olite where there is a fantastic Royal Palace with towers, turrets and we could walk around the ramparts surrounding the Palace. Located at 800 meters above sea level it served as a lookout post for the Kingdom of Navarre. It was built between 1402–1424 and was commissioned by Charles III the Noble, King of Navarre from 1387–1425. He was French and better known for his love of culture and palatial lifestyle than his military campaigns. Originally having many gilded rooms and many opulent furnishings, these and part of the structure were destroyed in a fire in 1813 leaving it semi-derelict and empty. Restoration work started in 1937 and lasted approximately 30 years, now it is a credit to beautiful craftsman ship and a wonderful place to visit.
There are several Chambers for various uses, some of the features include huge fireplaces, stained glass windows, gothic stonework and wooden ceilings some of which were originally painted gold. There is an Arched Chamber which was created for architectual purposes only to withstand the weight of the Queens small garden at first floor level, surrounded by a beautiful Cloister and a small tree in the middle.
The five towers were impressive, all had different uses and designs. The Fenero Gateway Tower gave access to the Palace and has the coasts of arms over the gateway. The Cistern Tower had water brought by ceramic pipes from the Cidacos River and a wooden wheel would take water up to the cistern, this was lined with lead to prevent leakages! Indentations along the stone walls (which can still be seen today) carried lead piping all over the Palace. The Three Crowns Tower is so picturesque with three octagonal shaped sections getting smaller nearer the top, like crowns. The Watch Tower made it possible to monitor anything coming into Olite and the Four Winds Tower or ‘Three Finestras’ so called because of its three large Gothic windows where the King and Queen could watch the bullfights and tournaments held on the esplanade just outside the Palace.
Leaving the Palace we walked around the immediate town and took a look at the Gothic Church of Santa Maria with a detailed and ornate frieze above the huge door, and above that a lovely ‘rose’ window with blue glass. Inside the single nave had a ribbed vaulted roof in four unequal sections with a pentagonal apse above the altar. There was an amazing and beautiful vertical alter panel with 28 oil painted panels and as we turned around we noticed an the organ pipes on the first floor level.
We treated ourselves to a lunch out having the Menú del Diá. First came a large and comprehensive vegetable soup each with crusty bread, then I had the local meatballs in a rich tomato sauce served with a few chips, Chris had 2 pork escallops cooked on a huge open wood fired range, also served with chips, followed by a yogurt for me and ice-cream for Himself. We were stunned to have a whole bottle of Rosé wine (we thought we would get a glass each) and of course I was driving so I only had sips from Chris’s glass. This amazing feast including the wine and a bottle of sparkling water for me cost 26.40 Euros which is approximately £23.50!! We certainly didn’t expect so much food, let alone the wine and didn’t eat for the rest of the day.
Chris located a Free Aire at Arguedas where we could stop for a night and see some cave houses or ‘Troglodite’ homes. Arriving there still feeling stuffed, we clambered up the rocks to look at the homes dug out of the rocks. Some had 3-4 rooms, some were completely bare and others had a ‘fitted kitchen’, one even had a stable in the back with a trough and tie up rings in the walls, plus some old piece of harness still hanging on the wall. A walk around the local village afterwards and a couple of beers ended our busy day, and we enjoyed a very comfortable and quiet night overlooked by the Troglodite ghosties.