Savoring the food and wine of Navarra on the way to Santiago – The French Route
Your first stop along the route will be in the Terra de Estella sub zone at the stunning and vast estate in the tiny village of Aberín on the route of the Camino de Santiago, the Pilgrimage’s Route of St. James. After passing through a dense poplar forest and crossing a bridge over the River Ega, you will arrive at the 16th-century defensive tower now used as the winery’s shop. This noble estate, spanning some 1,700 acres, with its medieval tower, 18th-century palatial residence and Neoclassical chapel, once belonged to the Chivite family of winemakers, Spain’s oldest wine producing family. The award winning labels produced here are the outstanding Chivite Colección 125 and the Señorío de Arínzano, whose vintages are often among best wines of Spain, with the Chivite Colección barrel fermented chardonnay one of Spain’s top white wines. Their late harvest Moscatel, Colección Vendimia Tardía, as utterly delicious and intense as it is rare.
In 1988 the Chivite family purchased the estate, commissioning Pritzker Prize winning architect, Rafael Moneo, a fellow Navarran, to design its state-of-the-art wine making facility. This soaring, cutting edge space, inaugurated by the King and Queen in 2002, is a knock-out! At Arínzano visitors tour the spectacular, enormous barrel aging room from above, via a 100 meter long catwalk, a bridge-like structure wedged between the sections of the roof framework. From this perspective the French oak Allier barrels appears to go for infinity!
Your next stop should be the modern winery a short drive away in the village of Ayegui, in the Tierras de Estella sub zone. This new and dynamic family-owned winery has been producing a single label wine since 2004, although the estate has belonged to the Larrainzar-Canalejo family for 150 years. The bodega sits directly on the Camino Francés, the historic French Route of St.James Way, in a spectacular setting next to the Irache Monastery, with the beautiful Montejurra mountain as its backdrop. Here you will be greeted by Marian, the Wine Tourism Director, and the winery’s Technical Director and owner’s son, Miguel Canalejo Lasarte. It was his father’s dream to revive an interrupted wine making tradition on this beautiful estate, and he realized this quest with the inauguration of this state-of-the-art facility in 2006, a design by the acclaimed Pamplona architect, Fernando de Redón.
Visits to the bodega begin with a video of the family’s wine making history, followed by a tour to the unique “trellis museum”, a garden exhibit displaying the various vine training and pruning methods from around the world, a walk through the vineyards themselves and through the neighboring “enchanted forest”, finishing with a tasting in the airy upstairs tasting/dining room with its immense windows and spectacular views of the Tierra de Estella countryside.
Thanks to the director’s warm welcome, the well-designed and unique visit and ample tasting of their gold medal wines, you’ll be sure to return here often, our next visit will be in July, during the Fiesta de San Fermín and the running of the bulls. A private tour, for a small group can include a four-course gourmet lunch, featuring local Navarran grilled vegetables and a very special roast suckling lamb.
Located next to the Monasterio de Irache in the village of Ayegui is this historic winery built in 1891. Sitting on 150 hectares of vineyards, it first started supplying wine to the royal houses of Navarra in the 12th-century. The bodega’s main cellar can hold up to 10,000 American and French oak casks. The original building was converted into a wine museum, in which in the 100 year-old cellar you’ll find a private collection of wines dating from 1933. On one of the walls facing the Pilgrims’ Route is the famous ‘Wine Fountain’, where pilgrims can serve themselves a free glass of wine to help them on their way, as thousands have done over the years. The wine fountain is alwasy open for pilgrims.
Backtracking along the Way of St. James, just 8 kilometers south of Pamplona, in the Valdizarbe sub zone, wine lovers will find another majestic (and very romantic!) señorío, or ancient feudal estate, that rivals the Señorío de Arínzano on the enchantment scale. This 350 hectare (865 acre) estate, across the Arga River from the small hamlet of Echauri, was designated an official Pago in 2009, and is our sentimental favorite. Why, because we were invited by the Bodega to use their beautiful Romanesque church and cellar for our pre-Fiesta de San Fermín ‘07 wedding, a rare and very special treat!
While wines have been produced on the estate since the 14th-century, the winery is relatively young, having begun production only in 1991. Bodegas Otazu is a delightful fusion of art and architecture, nature and great wines. Here visitors will find a 16th-century French chateau-like palace (still inhabited), a 14th-century dove coat- defensive tower and the small, jewel-like, 13th-century Romanesque church of San Esteban, along with an avant-garde wine making facility, surrounded by an expansive forest, a truly magical spot along the banks of the river.
Bodegas Otazu is Spain’s northernmost vineyard for the production of fine red wines. The estate enjoys an exceptional microclimate, sheltered year around by the Peña de Echauri mountains to the west and Perdón range to the south.
Javier Bañales (now the director of the Bodegas Arzuaga Navarro winery in the Ribera de Duero) and his family restored the old Bordeaux-style 1860s bodega, keeping the original wine presses on display in the bodega’s cellar, and have added a high tech, contemporary designed winery, an architectural marvel, that in 2005 was listed as one of the top 25 wineries in the world and was featured on the cover of Kliczkowski’s ‘Wineries Bodegas-Architecture & Design’.
Its most impressive space is its vast underground aging cellar, 3,600 square meters, housing two thousand oak barrels, a mix of American and French oak. The cellar is divided into nine bays and covered by elegant vaults, which the winery calls its “cathedral” of wine. The bodega’s double gold medal winning Palacio de Otazu Altar (18 months in a barrel) is an exceptional and complex blend of cabernet sauvignon and tempranillo grapes that should be on every serious wine aficionado’s wine wish list, along with their Vitral, which is made of 100% cabernet sauvignon with a limited production of only 900 bottles per year.
Luxury Lodging in the Kingdom of Navarra
Pamplona has several excellent 3 and 4-star hotels to choose from, but for visitors seeking a more refined and luxurious accommodations while wine touring on the Camino de Santiago, Iberian Traveler recommends these very special lodgings: the beautifully restored, 18th-century, 25-room (2 suites) manor home, 4-star Palacio de Guendulain, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, located in the city’s Historic Quarter, and the luxury 5-star, clean-lined, contemporary styled, Hotel Muga de Beloso Alma Pamplona, a unique all-suites hotel which sits below the city center. And for those wishing to stay on Pamplona’s famous Plaza del Castillo, in the heat of the Casco Viejo, there is the emblematic, 44-room, 5-star Gran Hotel La Perla, of Hemingway fame.
Where to dine in the Kingdom of Navarra
Navarra has a number of great dining options, with most located in and around Pamplona. The top restaurants for gastronomic dining include Alhambra, Calle Bergamín, 7, Enekorri, Calle Tudela, 14, Europa, Calle Espoz y Mina, 11, La cocina de Álex Múgica, Calle Estafeta, 24, Rodero, Calle Emilo Arrieta, 3, Baserriberri, Calle San Nicolás, 31, El Embrujo, Calle Padre Calatayud, 16 and Palacio Guendulain, Calle Zapateria, 56. For more traditional dining, there is Casa Manolo, Garcia Castañón, 12, Asador Olaverri, Calle Santa Marta, 4, Casa Amparo, Calle Esquiroz, 22, La Olla, Avenida Roncesvalles, 2, San Fermín, Calle San Nicolás, 44-46, Restaurante Anttonenea, Calle San Antón, 48, Chez Belagua, Calle Estafeta, 49-51, El Burladero, Calle de Emilio Arrieta, 9 and Casa Otano, Calle San Nicolás, 5.
Outside of the city you’ll find top gourment dining at Beti Jai, Calle Santa Agueda, 2, Aoiz, Palacio Castillo de Gorráiz, Gorráiz, El Molino de Urdániz, Urdániz, Hotel Restaurante Kuko, Zozaia, Túbal, Calle Plaza Navarra, 6, Tafalla and Treintaitrés, Calle Capuchinos, 7, Tudela.