The Hemmingway trail is long and colourful. And if you follow it faithfully enough – you’ll end up sipping brandy in the Spanish town of Pamplona. John Hillman gives it a shot.
The medieval town of Pamplona owes much of its fame to Ernest Hemingway and his drunken accounts of the San Fermin festival, popularly known as the Running of the Bulls, but this town should appeal to more than just boozed up adrenalin junkies.
A short drive from the ferry port of Bilbao, Pamplona lies in the heart of the Navarra, surrounded by some the prettiest natural scenery in Spain – all mountains, rivers and valleys – and the town itself is enclosed within its own 16th century walls. If you are looking for picture postcard Spain then this is it.
The running of the bulls takes place in early July. Millions of people from around the world turn up to witness some very silly boys get chased through the city streets by some very angry daddy cows, all in the name of proving one’s manhood apparently. However, getting caught by the stampede does often result the cruel irony of never being able to prove your manhood again. Ouch.
The event tends to attract a large backpacking crowd from the Southern Hemisphere, giving the festival a very international flavour. But the rest of the year Pamplona attracts a mellower sort of traveller, more concerned with the Baroque than the bovine.
The city is home to one of Spain’s most celebrated religious buildings, Pamplona’s ancient Cathedral, built between the 14th and 16th century, and it houses some truly important tombs and works of art that are well worth a visit. But it’s the city itself that is the real attraction. Like all of the best places you don’t need an itinerary because the whole town is so attractive to look at that you can spend your days wondering around the medieval cobbled streets waiting for them to find you.
Using the town walls and its intermittent towers as your guide you can stroll from plaza to plaza, stopping off in the unbelievably ubiquitous bars for a couple of large Fundadors – a cheap Spanish brandy favoured by Mr Hemingway that’s guaranteed to make you wake up feeling like a veteran of a World War yourself – and generally just having a lazy time of it. But this being Spain, you can substitute being lazy for being tranquilo which is a Spanish word that implies all the good bits of laziness without any of the Anglo-Saxon guilt that often comes with it.
Pamplona used to be three separate towns that always fought each other, until King Charles III of Navarra decided to unite them in 1423. There are three Churches still remaining in the town – each one representing its respective old warring community: San Cénin, San Nicolás and San Doming. There is a river running past Pamplona that you get see when you visit the Tejera Park, which also happens to be a very meditative-inducing bit of urban shrubbery in itself.
But it’s the Plaza de Castillo which is the most impressive part of the city. This is where Hemingway would sit and try to write whilst seeing everything in triplicate; the entire square is full of small cafés with Pamlonans young and old going about their business. It is the sort of place where you could sit and daydream for a whole day, and most of an evening.
Image Credit: mimentza