“Pilgrim, you are in the Basque Country”
So proclaims an anonymous tagger on the sidewalk leading into Pamplona. It was not the first or the last scrawl of graffiti we would pass on this portion of the Camino. We were in the heart of a proud and independent-minded Basque culture, one we first encountered well before starting the Camino in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, further back into France, in the city of Bayonne.
We left Larrasoaña at daybreak, venturing further west through Basque country on our leisurely walk of 16 kilometers to Pamplona. It was a welcome change from our first two days. The sun warmed us as we walked up and down gentle hills, through tiny stone hamlets and along the shady banks of the Río Arga. Before long the scenery gave way to the urban edges of Pamplona. We rounded the massive stone fortifications of the La Ciudadela before passing through stone gates and into Navarrería, the old town, built on top of the original Roman outpost. We arrived without hotel reservations but early enough in the day to easily secure our modest room in Pension Escaray, recommended by our Larrasoaña host.
Old Pamplona is an intricate network of narrow streets lined with tall buildings. Dark passageways, crowded with locals, suddenly explode into light-filled squares such as the Plaza del Castillo, or reveal architectural gems like Pamplona’s town hall with its frothy Barogue façade.
Along these same narrow streets run bulls during the annual San Fermin Festival, trampling all in their path on their mad dash to the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona. It is not hard to imagine the larger-than-life Ernest Hemingway, impressed by this testosterone-filled event, sipping his wine at a street-side cafe while writing The Sun Also Rises.
At night, the streets and squares come to life with wandering students and pilgrims exploring the rows of bars offering refreshing beer, local Navarra wines and, most importantly, pintxos, the Basque version of tapas, those small snacks that go so well with a drink. It’s a good way to end the day, before hitting the trail again at sunrise.
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