For an easier itinerary, we chose to stay two nights in Pamplona, which was good planning. Not only did I need more rest to kick my cold, it was also time to get some laundry done. The city has plenty of shopping opportunities if you decide your hiking boots aren’t right or you need more equipment. I bought a small daypack at a great price.
Although Pamplona is a large city (almost 200,000 inhabitants), it was a very pleasant stop for us. The capital city of Navarre, Pamplona is also the second largest city of the Basque Country in Northern Spain. Full of welcoming plazas, outdoor cafes and historic architecture, it’s worth an extra night’s stay if you can manage it.
Our pension (Pension Mendi) was close to the historic center where traffic is limited to the locals. The narrow pedestrian-only streets made it fun to stroll, shop and visit the main sites, such as the Cathedral of Royal Saint Mary and the Castle Square. One Pilgrim’s Hostel (Albergue Municipal Jesús y Maria) near the main cathedral looked like a fun spot and received rave reviews from our friends who stayed there.
We knew from experience that the Basque food was worth seeking out and Pamplona didn’t disappoint. The Pinxtos Bars were busy, but the locals were very kind and we always received a hospitable welcome and good service. They also had a Pilgrim’s Meal at a special price. During lunch and happy hour (around 5 p.m.), the dishes are usually set out and you can just point to your favorites. It helps to have a bit of Spanish to ask questions, but we noticed that most locals working in the tourist industry spoke some English.
Although the city is most famous for the running of the bulls during the San Fermin Festival (made popular by Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises), it wasn’t that crowded while we were there in late May. However, it’s also home to a large university, the University of Navarra. On Saturday night, the students were celebrating the end of the semester and took over a small plaza. As we walked through the crowds, we noticed how everyone was peacefully enjoying their beer and conversations—and the next day, the plaza was tidy and clean.
It wasn’t hard to escape the most popular areas and find a peaceful park or plaza for relaxing and enjoying Pamplona’s mild weather. We also explored the outer neighborhoods south of our pension and found that Pamplona had a nice tram system and even more parks, shops and lovely architecture. After two days of rest, we were ready to hit the road again.