Olite, Navarra - Northern Spain
Olite is in the region of Navarra, in northern Spain, and is one of the most enchanting walled cities you will find. The Castle is by far its greatest monument, and looks like something you would see in a children’s book, with an almost fairy tale like quality. It is not hard to feel as if you are transported back into the Middle Ages, as you walk amongst its beautiful houses, churches and narrow streets.
Because of its Mediterranean climate, Olite is the region’s wine capital, with seven commercial cellars. The wineries of Bodegas Carricas are well worth visiting, providing an opportunity to sample Navarra’s finest wines.
Originally occupied by the Vascons, the kingdom of Navarra, as it was known then, was taken over by the Moors who eventually drove the Vascons north. The Moors were later defeated in 778 AD by Charlermagne, and later the French took control before eventually Spain conquered it in 1512. So it would be fair to say Navarra certainly had a very turbulent past.
During 13th century, and King Carlos III made the 13th century Castle his summer residence, until his death in 1425. After which, his grandson, the Prince of Viana occupied it. Severely damaged during the Napoleonic wars, it was restored to its formal glory in the early 20th century, and in 1925 it was declared a national monument.
Today the Parador Olite (Hotel Hostal Principe de Viana) occupies one wing of the castle. Its main salon has a particularly medieval atmosphere, with its enormous fireplace, suits of armour and wrought iron chandeliers. The bedrooms are all tastefully furnished, and have balconies with views of the forest beyond.
The Iglesia de Santa Maria la Real de Olite is a 13th century Gothic church, with sculptures around the entrance that date back to the 15h century. However, the oldest church in Olite is the San Pedro, built in the 12th century, and has a fine Romanesque facade and cloister.
Throughout the year there are several festivals held in Olite. The summer always begins with its Classical Theatre Festival, and performances given by prestigious theatre companies. There is street theatre and nightly shows, which take place either in the Castle or against the atmospheric backdrop of the city streets. Every August is the Medieval Fair, with archers, wizards, jugglers, and falconers, and September is when they hold the local festival, Exaltacion de la Cruz.
Set in the Pyrenees there are many superb outdoor activities to enjoy, such as white water rafting, or bird watching at the bird conservatory at the lagoon of Pitillas. If you wish to explore the surrounding area, on the other side of the Aragon River is the Monastery of Olivia with a Cistercian church.
Only 42 km from Olite is the attractive city of Pamplona, which is most famous for its annual bull running event held at the beginning of July. The event takes place during the nine day Fiesta of San Fermin, which is considered one of the biggest parties in the Europe.
The original origins of the race began as a way of transporting the bulls from off-site corrals to the bullring, where they would face the matadors. Today anyone may take part, as crowds of runners try to outrun the bulls charging through the streets towards the bullring. If you wish to watch, it is advised to make sure it is from a high vantage point!