You will start the day facing the hill you avoided yesterday. After cycling on the NA-8401 for a few minutes you will get to the NA-1110 towards Logrono. The road is as fantastic as it was yesterday –your bicycle moving on its own momentum, in other words, a very relaxing start to the day. Enjoy it especially as later on, you will have to cross the mountains. 6.60 kilometres further on and you will get to Torres del Rio an attractive town on the hill, first passing through Sansol, a second town on the top of the hill (they face each other):
Albergue Codes, 20 beds, opens from April until October, heating, 10 – 15 Euros (no designated area for bicycles)
Albergue Sansol, 26 beds, opens from Holy Week until 2nd November, 10 Euros
Torres del Rio 458m; 6.60 km→11.40 km to Viana
The real treasure in the town is the octagonal Romanesque Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro (Church of the Holy Sepulchre). Its structure is the same as Eunate’s minus the exterior colonnade. In both cases, the land surrounding the temple served as a pilgrim’s cemetery. A close affinity between the two churches raises the question whether Torres del Rio was a Templar shrine. Just as in Eunate’s case we don’t have certain answers to clear up our doubts. Both of the crosses, at the entrance and inside the church, indicate the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. What we don’t know is if they built the shrine or just took it over after the dissolution of the Templars.
The church itself is rather mysterious. Like Eunate it repeats the plan of the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is built in Romanesque style but with some alterations. The dome is decorated with ribs arranged in a star shape, clearly inspired by Arabic art. Moreover, also the columns and capitols bear traces of the Moorish way of decorating. That gives the construction lightness and suggests that it was built by Mudejar artisans. To visit Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro, call the telephone number written on the door. A lady with the key will come a few minutes later. Alternatively, ask at the bar.
Albergue Casa Mariela, 52 beds, open all year round, heating, 10 Euros
Albergue La Pata de Oca, 42 beds, open all year round, heating, 10 – 12 Euros (an albergue with a swimming pool)
If you have forgotten how it is to cycle in the mountains, the road to Viana will refresh your memory.
For the next 11.40 km you will pedal among the vineyards and olive groves. The road is nice and empty but from time to time fast trucks or sports cars will pass you so be careful, as you might not be easily seen from behind a bend. On your way, you will see a nice place for a picnic and another beauty spot with a wooden bench. At the roundabout in Viana turn right as the signpost indicates and minutes later you will stand in front of the city gate leading to historical centre of
Viana 476m; 18 km→9.50 km to Logrono
A view over the region stretches from the massive town walls. The fortifications with their benches and trees are a perfect place for leisure, but centuries ago their function was quite different as they had to defend the town from enemies. In the Middle Ages Viana was an area of the constant battle between Navarra and Castile. Both Kingdoms dreamed of taking it over with the result the town quite often changed hands. As with nearby Estella and the other towns on the way to Santiago Viana grew wealthy through trade. Its affluence is reflected in city’s architecture. The 17th-century pilgrim Domenico Laffi described Viana as
a fine town with a beautiful church, so well ordered that it wanted for nothing. It has a splendid door with the most beautiful reliefs
The portal that so delighted Laffi still makes an impression today. The Mannerist construction is decorated with richly ornamented plaques containing biblical and mythological scenes. In the centre of this huge structure, there is the austere scene of Crucifixion; which is in contrast to the decorated rest. The altarpiece look-alike portal is the work of Juan de Goyaz and was started in 1549. The church itself, dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Iglesia de Santa María), is quite a high Gothic construction with later alterations.
The church is the burial site of Cesare Borgia, the son of the later Pope Alexander VI, seen by many as the worst and most immoral leader of the Catholic Church in history. The offspring followed in his father’s footsteps and even seems to outclass his meanness. Cesare was born in 1475 and originally was assigned to church work by his father. When in his twenties, he decided to leave the church and start a military career that surely better suited his character and personality. Wanting to create his own state, he became deeply involved in the Italian wars. As a commander, he appeared very effective mainly thanks to his flexibility of conscience. He specialized in breaking treaties and agreements, as well as in murders of his political enemies, also within his own family. These personality traits enraptured Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia became one of the prototypes of his famous political treatise “Prince”. Fortunately, the dazzling career of the young duke was destroyed by his father’s death. Without his political support, Cesare appeared to be very weak and quickly got captured in Spain. He managed to run away from prison after two years. Soon after he was killed while defending Viana, as he fought for his brother-in-law King John of Navarre in another chapter of endless war over control of this town.
But this is not the end of the story. Cesare Borgia’s body was laid beneath the altar in the church described above in 1507. Twenty years later a bishop who visited the temple and knew the duke’s C.V. very well decided rightly so that Cesare is by no means entitled to be buried in the church and ordered his body to be moved to the non-consecrated ground. For almost 450 years his mortal remains were laid under the cobbles of Viana’s street. In 1945 during roadworks, his body was accidentally exposed and then moved to another place, still outside the church grounds. Finally, after centuries of penance one day before the 500th anniversary of the death of Cesare Borgia his body was buried in the church ground.
Opposite the temple, there is the Town Hall with an arcade and pretty Baroque facade. Another site that catches the eye is the Iglesia de San Pedro (The Church of Saint Peter) or its rather huge ruins. This church, the oldest one in Viana, was started in the 13th century and collapsed in the 19th, as a consequence of later alterations and its situation on the escarpment; usage of the church as barracks during the Carlist Wars didn’t help either. The ruins are picturesque and look like something straight out of a Romantic painting.
Viana is a good place to stay for the night. There are two albergues municipal and parroquial close to the monuments described above and one private;
Albergue Parroquial de Viana (by the Church of Saint Mary, run by the parish), 15 beds, opens from the beginning of June until the end of September, heating, a kitchen, shared dinner, donation
Albergue Andrés Muñoz (by the ruins of the Church of Saint Peter), 46 beds, open all year round, but if you wish to stay here from November to March you might have to call: 609 141 798; heating, a kitchen, 8 Euros
Albergue Izar, 42 beds, opens from March until November, heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros (cycle back to the city gate then cycle down a steep street opposite the gate, before the pharmacy turn left and immediately right to Calle El Cristo. The albergue is at number 6)
I have to admit that I have a soft spot for Viana, not only for its beauty but also because I saw bull running there for the first time in my life. After years of rolling my eyes at the very mention of it one day, I realized that I was actually very interested to see it. Contrary to popular opinion bull running is not exclusive to Pamplona but happens in many towns in Navarra during various fiestas. So one sunny autumn afternoon I arrived in Viana and chanced upon the very beginning of the bull running. I was very excited until I saw the bulls. Two bulls were rather young, shall I say the teenagers. They looked around with interest typical of the young. When they were told to run, they ran but it was clear that they preferred to nibble the flowers in the meadow. At street corners daredevils in red cravats were standing, ready to face danger, but the bulls were totally uninterested simply because they were too young to know that the red colour should annoy them. The event was finished three minutes later in the bullring. I smiled, went to take some photos of the fiesta and continued cycling to Logrono.
This is a barbarous people, different from all other peoples in customs and in race, malignant, dark in colour, ugly of face, debauched, perverse, faithless, dishonourable, corrupt, lustful, drunken, skilled in all forms of violence, fierce and savage, dishonest and false, impious and coarse, cruel and quarrelsome, incapable of any good impulses, past masters of all vices and iniquities. They resemble the Getae and the Saracens in their malignance and are in every way hostile to our French people. A Navarrese or Basque will kill a Frenchman for a penny if he can.
Aymeric doesn’t like Navarra, we do. Codex Calixtinus 12th Century
Viana is the last town in Navarre. Not far outside the city you enter the autonomous community of La Rioja, a premium red wine region. The main grape grown in La Rioja is Tempranillo, often blended with Garnacha. Traditional style Rioja wine is aged in oak barrels and comes in three versions in order of increasing age – Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. You can try good Reserva or Gran Reserva in one of the wine and tapas bars in Logrono or just pop in to any shop on the way.
The N-111 (previously the NA-1110) between Viana and Logrono is quite busy and not so cool to cycle. If you want you can cycle on the Camino, although at one point you will have to climb up high stairs of the footbridge over the N-111; an alternative is trying to lead the bike down from the small buff. So it is totally up to you. Cycling in between cars is not ideal but it is only 4.80 kilometres on the road and later on, you cycle on a lovely cycle lane.
The thing is not to miss the point where the cycle lane starts. That’s why I will go into detail. Be alert when you start to see signposts for the highway. Later on you will notice signs for “Observatorio de aves” (Bird observatory; built around a lake called Laguna de las Canas and known for a colony of herons and purple herons), go past – the side road leading to the observatory, still going straight and 50 meters further on you will notice on your right a big Camino sign, arrows, signs for cyclists etc. This is also the point where the road forks.
Leave the N-111 and start cycling the Camino. This is your cycle lane which will lead you to and from Logrono. Now you are in the remote outskirts of the city. Your cycle lane coincides with the Camino and is well waymarked. At some point, you will pass the house of an old lady who for years has counted the pilgrims. At about the 26th km the lane crosses the street and becomes a lovely alley with lamp posts. There is a river to the left. By the bridge, there is a big post with “Welcome” written on it. The small white house on the bridge houses the very friendly Logrono Pilgrims’ Information, nothing like the tourist office in “Shrek” (only the opening hours are maybe not so pilgrim friendly; life is not perfect). You can take a city map from there and get all required information.
Camino arrows will lead you to the other side of the river (on the bridge switch to the street) and then direct you via a narrow, cobbled street almost adjoined to the bridge, to the historic part of Logrono. While cycling you will see all the most important sights and will eventually reach Logrono Tourist Office.
Logrono 392m; 27.50 km→11.50 km to Navarette
Logrono is the capital of the autonomous community of La Rioja, land of vineyards, famous in Europe for the red wine. Its history is exceptionally tumultuous. The city survived countless wars and incursions as its wealth was always a tasty morsel for Castile, Aragon and Navarra. Never mind Napoleon, and later Independence and Carlist wars – Logrono has seen it all. In that context, it is easy to understand why the city welcomed independence and a status of capital of the autonomous community of La Rioja with such happiness and gratitude.
As mentioned above it is enough to follow the Camino waymarking to see Logrono’s sights – all of the historic buildings are on the way and are equipped with information boards in Spanish and English. When you cycle the cobbled street behind the bridge the first sight on your right will be Ermita de San Gregorio (the Hermitage of Saint Gregory), a humble chapel loved by Logrono citizens. Saint Gregorio Ostiense is believed to have lived and died here in 1044. One of his worshippers built a shrine here in 1642, reconstructed in the 20th century. The inscription above the entrance is the 17th century. Saint Gregorio is believed to be one of the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. He ordained the priest Santo Domingo de la Calzada, another great saint and a huge fan of the Camino. Shortly you will also pass next to his place.
The next period building is Iglesia de Santiago el Real (Church of Saint James) as you can see it today, was built between the 15th and 16th century. One of the theories is that the first temple was built here by Ramiro I of Asturias after the victorious battle of Clavijo, a dozen or so kilometres from Logrono. That legendary fight which took place in year 844 between the Christians led by Ramiro and Muslims commanded by Emir of Cordoba was won thanks to help of Saint James who appeared among his people. And this is how the Apostle is shown on the façade – as Santiago Matamoros on horseback fighting for his beloved Spain. The monumental statue dates back to the 17th century and seems a bit too enormous for the light construction of the portal below, with yet another representation of St James, this time as a pilgrim.
The next building you pass is La Rioja Parliament, which is located in the former convent (Convento de la Merced; 14th to 18th century). The old sisters’ courtyard with arcaded galleries is now covered with a glass roof and houses a chamber. The Baroque portal with the empty statueless niches is now the main entrance to the Parliament.
When you get to Logrono Tourist Office leave the Camino for some time and wander around the city centre. Behind the bureau, there is a street called Calle Portales with cafes and shops which leads to the main square occupied by the Co-cathedral of Saint Mary (Santa Maria de la Redonda). The main facade has a richly ornamented portal flanked by plain towers, built in the mid- 18th century in Baroque style. If you visit the church take a look at the beautiful Flamboyant (the name for Spanish and French Gothic in the 15th century; in Spain manifests in vaulting with curvilinear patterns) vault typical for La Rioja in that era. In the collection of the Co-cathedral, there is a painting of the Crucifixion which is said to be the work of Michelangelo. However if we compare it to the drawings from the British Museum very similar, but much better technically, the thesis of Michelangelo’s authorship recently attributed to the painting by Italian art historians seems to be less reliable. Anyway, if you would like to form your own opinion – the painting is hung behind the altar.
Beyond the Co-cathedral is the lovely Iglesia de San Bartolomé (Church of Saint Bartholomew) with an eye-catching facade. The arches are 13th century and statues – 15th century. In the tympanum, there is Christ Arisen, to the left and right there are scenes from the Bible and life of Saint Bartholomew. Even though the statues are quite damaged, the facade is hard to forget. The church was built in the 13th century in transitional Romanesque-Gothic style. The interior after the renovation is quite austere.
There are seven albergues in Logrono:
Albergue Santiago Apostol (on the Camino close to the Hermitage of Saint Gregory) 85 beds, closed in the winter, heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros
Albergue de Peregrinos de Logroño (on Camino, close to the Hermitage of Saint Gregory) 68 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 7 Euros
Alberque Parroquial de Santiago (on the Camino, run by the Church of Saint James), mattresses, open all year round, shared dinner and breakfast, donation
Hostel Entresueños (cycle Calle Portales a street by the co-cathedral, the hostel is at number 12; tourists and pilgrims) 92 Euros, opens from mid-February to mid-December, heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros
Albergue Logrono (Calle Capitán Gallarza 10; a street off Calle Portales; tourists and pilgrims), opens all year, 48 beds, heating, microwave, 10-15 Euros
Albergue de Peregrinos Check in Rioja (behind Iglesia de San Bartolomé, cycle Calle Rodriguez Paterna; Calle de Banos is the fourth street on your right) 22 beds, opens from mid-March to mid-October, heating, 12 Euros
The seventh albergue is a bit out of the way. On the bridge instead of taking the cobbled Camino street, take the street on your left, parallel to the river, called Calle de San Francisco, later called Calle de la Madre de Dios; take the third turning right, and again first left (Calle de Manzanera); Plaza Martinez Flamarique is just there
Albergue de Peregrinos Albas (Plaza Martinez Flamarique, 4), 22 beds, open all year round, heating, microwave, 12 Euros
Behind the Logrono Tourist Office, there is a roundabout with a big fountain (Plaza Alferez Provisional). Take the street called Calle Marques de Murrieta which branches off from the Plaza. It is a busy city street so take care (one remark – when cycling in Spanish cities give getting ahead of the traffic a miss unless you want to meet surprised glances as the drivers have no idea what you are doing). Cycle this street for about 1 km, pass a roundabout with palms and at the next roundabout turn left onto Calle Duques de Najera. There is a cycle lane parallel to the street which leads to the park. Follow the waymarked Camino that cuts the park diagonally, then cross the street at the traffic light and cycle into the next park. Cycle a lovely path planted with cypress trees. Later your path will meander up and down amongst the vineyards. You will pass La Grajera water reservoirs made at the end of the 19th century, an oasis for fauna and flora; then a sports and recreation centre (you can have your coffee/tea here), after that the Camino will go parallel to the highway and eventually yellow arrows will lead you on the dirt road and bridge over the highway to Navarette. The street waymarked with the yellow arrows will take you to a friendly albergue municipal under the arches.
Navarette 488m; 39 km→5 km to Sotes
The name of the town probably derives from the nearby Kingdom of Navarre. One theory traces it to the Basque word “Nafarrate” which means “Door of Navarre”. In the 12th century, Alfonso VIII of Castile decided to build a village on the hill for defensive purposes. He also enlarged a castle to protect the access to Castile from a possible Navarre’s attack. The King relocated the inhabitants of neighbouring villages to the newly founded Navarette and granted them a lot of privileges. Pilgrims going to Santiago stopped by the village, which also boosted the economy. All of this brought economical and historical significance to Navarette. Mansions in the historical centre tell of the past glory of the town. However, the jewel in the crown is the Baroque altarpiece in Iglesia de la Asuncion (Church of the Assumption). The enormous retabulum was executed by Fernando de la Pena at the end of the 17th century. The two-story gilded altarpiece is crowned with a cupola. In the central part of the retable, there is the scene of Crucifixion, above is the Assumption and it is flanked by statues of Saints and intricately sculptured reliefs from the life of Jesus and Mary.
The altarpiece is a first-class piece of work. Or so I read. No, it is not like I haven’t been inside the Church of Assumption. I visited it once, but I was so tired that I remember the altar only as a golden blurred patch lost in space. After a confrontation between my memories and photos on the internet, I pronounce, yes, that’s the altar. The church as you see it today today was built at the turn of the 16th and 17th century in transitional Plateresque-Renaissance style. Its construction was started in 1553 by the famous architect Juan de Vallejo. His most important work, you will see in a few days in Burgos Cathedral.
I list the albergues as you go past them:
Albergue El Camino de las Estrellas, 48 beds, open all year round, heating, 10 – 20 Euros (double room)
Albergue La Casa del Peregrino Angel, 18 beds, opens from April until October, heating, 10 Euros
Albergue de Peregrinos de Navarrete, 50 beds, opens from 15 March until 31 October, heating, a kitchen, 7 Euros
Albergue Buen Camino, 10 beds, open all year round, heating, microwave, 9 -25 Euros
Albergue Pilgrim’s, 30 beds, open all year round, heating, 9-14 Euros
Albergue El Cantaro, 31 beds, open all year round, heating, microwave, 10 – 20 Euros
Albergue A la Sombra del Laurel (at the town’s exit by the N-120), 27 beds, heating, opens from March until the end of September, 15-23 Euros (double room)
If you do not wish to stay in Navarette pass the albergues and church. There are several different streets that go around the historical centre of the town. Choose any and a few minutes later you will get to Calle del Arrabal, which will eventually lead you to N-120 (Calle Ctra. de Burgos) and out of the town. When you get to the roundabout, take the road LR-342 to Sotes (662m; 44 km→2 km to Ventosa). There is an albergue in Sotes:
Albergue de Peregrinos San Martín, 8 beds, open all year round (closed for two weeks in October/November), heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros
Sotes is a small town on the top of a hill when there choose the road to Najera (the LR-341) and after some time you will get to Ventosa (631m; 46 km→11 km to Najera).
There is an albergue there with a small shop inside and a terrace:
Albergue San Saturnino, 42 beds, open all year round, although you might have to book between November and March, heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros
Continue cycling on the LR-341 and when you get to a roundabout, aim for Aleson (the N-120a). The road to Aleson is completely empty, with some lovely descents between vineyards; however, if you are cycling alone, avoid this road in the evening. Half an hour later and less than 11 kilometres on you get to the charming royal town of Najera.
When you approach the city, head for the centre (centro urbano). The historical centre is on the other side of the river, so stop as soon as you cross the bridge, dismount from the bike and turn left. Just one remark – Spaniards are very relaxed – EU regulations are not met with enthusiasm or a warm welcome; the health and safety regulations will never gain popularity and a typical Spanish cyclist does what he wants. But when Spaniards put a red circle sign containing a crossed bicycle they really mean it. There are not many towns where cycling in the historical centre is forbidden, but if it is it is. Najera is one of them.
Najera 490m; 57 km→6 km to Azofra
Najera is a charming little town situated below a massive cliff on the banks of the Najerilla. Its main monument is the fantastic Monasterio de Santa María la Real de Nájera (Monastery of Saint Mary), a burial site of the Kings of Navarra. Its fate says everything about the history of town. The monastery was built by King Garcia III el de Najera in the mid-11th century. The town was very wealthy in his days and so was the monastery which started to serve as the bishop’s seat. Soon la Rioja was captured by Castile and the King gave away the control of the monastery to the Benedictines in French Cluny. This sent the local bishop off the deep end which frankly is totally understandable. Soon after that, the church official relocated his residence to Calahorra. But he didn’t forget about the monastery, nor did his successors. One of the subsequent bishops, probably in an act of despair, made an ill-judged decision for an incursion into the monastery. I will pass over the details of the disgraceful deed but just add that the bishop was excommunicated.
Over the centuries the monastery had its glory days when it served as a burial site for Kings and Queens but declined in the time of the anti-clerical reforms of Juan Alvarez Mendizábal. The damaged statues in the cloister speak better than any words about the history of the monastery.
The cloister itself is the most amazing part of the complex. It was built between 1517 and 1518 in Plateresque style. Its filigree decorations are a work of prime quality. On the plinths, the damaged statues stand in a dignified manner. The Knight’s Cloister is so delightful that it is difficult to imagine those mindless vandals who dared ruin such a beauty in the 19th century.
When visiting the church (as you see it today built in the 15th century), take a look at the Royal Pantheon created in Renaissance style with some Plateresque motifs (the 16th century). It holds the tombs of The Navarrese Kings, who reigned between the 10th and 13th centuries.
At the same time, the Pantheon of Infants was made. An exceptional tomb is the one of Doña Blanca of Navarra, the wife of the latest King Sancho III of Castile. The sarcophagus was ordered by the grieving husband and it contains an emotional scene of Blanca’s death, quite untypical for the 12th century. The creator of the tomb’s best parts is probably Leodegarius, the 12th century Burgundy sculptor.
Another first-class work of art is the wooden choir stalls, made in transitional Plateresque-Renaissance style in the workshop of the Amutio brothers (around 1493). The decoration is a blend of sacred and profane motifs. The Amutio brothers were Christians of Jewish decedent; the relief over the door showing three young men in traditional Jewish dress might be their self-portrait.
Behind the Royal Pantheon, there is a hidden natural cave. According to legend, in the year 1044 King Garcia V of Navarre went out hunting and found a cave with a sculpture of the Virgin Mary. He decided to build a monastery around it, and in fact, the back wall of the church is a natural cliff.
Albergue Puerta de Najera (by the bridge to the right), 34 beds, opens from March until the end of October, heating, microwave, 10 – 15 Euros
Albergue Calle Mayor (by the bridge to the right), 16 beds, opens from Holy Week until November, 15 – 30 Euros (double room)
Albergue de Peregrinos de Najera (on the bank of the river, by Plaza de Santiago) 92 beds, open all year round, heating a kitchen, donation (bicycles’ stay outside)
Albergue Sancho III- La Juderia (in the historical centre, close to the monastery), 10 beds, opens from Holy Week to 30th October, 8 Euros (no designated space for bicycles)
Albergue Nido de Cigüeña (Calleja Cuarta San Miguel 4, in the historical centre of Najera, pass the monastery on the left and Tourist Office on the right, the albergue will be on the first street on your left), 19 beds, opens from the end of March until the end of October, heating, a kitchen, 10-15 Euros
In Najera follow the yellow arrows of the Camino. After cycling for about 6 km through la Rioja vineyards (brilliant dirt track, but don’t cycle it alone in the evening) you reach Azofra, a small village with a huge albergue municipal, one of the best on the Way as it is equipped with double rooms.
Azofra 551m; 63 km→7.90 km to Ciruena
Azofra is a small town lost in the emerald green vineyards of La Rioja. Since the Middle Ages, it is known for its hospitality. In the 12th century, Dona Isabel founded a hospital and cemetery for pilgrims – a document written by the bishop of Calahorra and Najera thanking her for that is retained. The hospital received pilgrims for centuries and survived until the 19th century. Nowadays this small town which has a little over 250 inhabitants has pilgrims staying in a huge and comfortable albergue with a garden:
Albergue Municipal de Peregrinos de Azofra, 60 beds, open all year round (only 25 beds from November to April), heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros (double rooms)
I have to admit that I have a soft spot for Azofra. When I was a teenager I bought a postcard with the following text “Do your own thing and don’t look back. Yours sincerely, the wife of Lot”¹. I can very honestly say that I have never learned to do so. Twenty years later one sunny autumn morning I was leaving Azofra in a very gloomy mood. I stopped and made the decision not to look back. Literally not look back. I was walking the dirt track among the vineyards for kilometres looking only in front of me, every hundred meters or so fighting the overwhelming feeling to turn my head and look back. In the end, I didn’t so instead of turning into a pillar of salt after what seemed like ages I was drinking coffee in Ciruena with a completely different frame of mind. Azofra taught me a lesson.
¹Lot and his family were the only ones saved by God from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah on the condition that while fleeing they wouldn’t look back and watch the fire consuming the cities; Lot’s wife did look back and out of shock she turned into a pillar of salt