It was the type of day on the Camino that you wish would never end. The sun soaked us in warmth, demanding that we remove our zippered pant legs as we plied the gentle slopes on our walk to Estella. Along the way, history entertained us, first with the medieval hilltop village of Cirauqui, its streets lined with elegant stone mansions. Soon after, we found ourselves crossing a Roman bridge and treading on paving stones from the original Roman road, Via Traiana, which the Camino follows for most of its length. Next comes the medieval Villatuerta and its late 14th century Church of the Assumption.
Returning to the gently rolling countryside dotted with groves of olive trees, we come across the ruins of the Ermita de San Miquel Arcángel, of which only a deserted stone chapel remains. Today, its only function is as a place for pilgrims to leave notes and mementos, personal reflections, requests for forgiveness or thanks. These are charming counterpoints to the equally modern messages scrawled on walls all along the trail, often reflecting more troublesome ethnic and political concerns.
22 kilometres later, we arrived at our day’s destination, Estella. This town of 15,000 was not on the pilgrim route until it diverted this way in the 12th century. How lucky for us! Its compact network of narrow streets interconnect with several charming squares, such as Plaza Santiago. The balcony of our inexpensive room at Pension San Andrés was a fine lookout over this square.
The following day gets off to a heady start for all pilgrims. In a few kilometers, still early in the morning, we come across the Bodegas Irache with its spigot of free and freely flowing red Navarra wine. Oh, if only this pitstop was near the end of our day’s journey! After a painfully small cup, we continue on our 21 kilometre trek to Los Arcos. It is, once again, a wonderfully warm October day. Landscape is the dominant feature today as we cross broad, sun-drenched plains and vineyards of sweet, plump red grapes that are just now being harvested.
The tiny town of Los Arcos (population 1,300) is dominated by the Iglesia de Santa María de la Asunción. It took 600 years to finish this church, construction stretching from the 12th to the 18th century. Little remains of its early days but the church is an architectural style textbook with its 16th century Flamboyant Gothic cloisters, Renaissance tower, Plateresque entrance and choir stalls, its theatrical 17th century Baroque interior decorations and its 18th century organ in the even more flamboyant Rococo style.
Whew! Time for some equally glorious Navarra wine.