You will start the day facing the hill you avoided yesterday. 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.
Torres del Rio. 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.
If you have forgotten how it is to cycle in the mountains, the road to Viana will refresh your memory.
Viana. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Cycle a lovely path planted withcypress 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.
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.
Azofra (63 km from Los Arcos) is a small town lost in the emerald green vineyards of 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.
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