There are two routes to Eunate for cyclists: – 1) the main route close to the Camino with the possibility of climbing to Alto del Perdon (absolutely fabulous; 19.50 km) and 2) the road recommended by the locals that leads straight to Eunate that can be taken if you have an injury or you are fed up to the back teeth with mountains (26 km).
I definitely prefer the first one, but I enjoyed cycling the second one as well, “as smooth as glass, not like the other one, only climbing and climbing” – encouraging Autochthon’s description is not quite accurate as the road climbs up the hill but only very gently (still, gentle climbing is still climbing, isn’t it?). As you are probably tired after the first two days, you will appreciate that.
The first one has the advantage over the first one that it has the option of turning off to Alto del Perdon, a popular vantage point with a metal pilgrim monument and it is closer to the Camino. I would say that the first one ought to be busier, but I never met a soul on either of them.
So here are your options:
THE MAIN ROUTE:
In Cizur Manor (460m→14.5 km to Uterga) follow the yellow arrows for 1.60 km, when the camino turns left to the fields (by the camino signpost with “Puente La Reina Gares 17.2 km Alto del Perdon 8.4 km”) stay on the tarmac road and after about 600 meters when your road joins main road NA-6004 turn right towards the highway. At the roundabout choose NA-1110 towards Astrain and Puente la Reina.
Now you have to climb up the mountain and after 6.60 km (from the roundabout) will reach the summit (664m). There you will notice a signpost to Alto del Perdon (NA-6056). If you decide to cycle this road it adds 6 km – 3 km to Alto and 3 km back, as you have to come back to the place you are now standing to continue your journey.
Is it worthwhile cycling up the hill to see Alto del Perdon? To be honest, the Leaning Tower of Pisa appeals to me more.
That’s why I suggest having a look at photos of Alto, get over the fact that you won’t see it live and continue cycling. If, however your expedition has a penitential nature, I highly recommend turning off route one onto the small road to Alto del Perdon. Three kilometres on an unsheltered road with some patched potholes, built on the top of a windy mountain ridge, will serve you well. Not to mention three kilometres back as the walkers’ path from Alto isn’t suitable for your bike. Last but not least – one more merit would have to be added to its inviting description: the road is totally secluded (on a serious note – yes, it is totally secluded and may attract dodgy locals, so cycle it only in the group)
Then an excellent 3.50 km descent starts. At the beginning you cycle on the NA-1110, later on when you notice a signpost for Uterga and Murazabal switch to the NA-6016. Ride underneath a highway and continue going down the hill to
Uterga 490m; 14.5 km→2.40 km Muruzabal
A meeting point for walkers (a bit tired after climbing up and down Alto del Perdon). There is a restaurant/albergue with tables outside and unfriendly service:
Albergue Camino del Perdon, 16 beds, opens from March until the end of October, heating, 10 Euros.
Albergue Casa Baztan, 24 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros (breakfast included)
From Uterga continue cycling on a small, lovely road (still NA-6016) to the next pilgrim’s stop –the small town of Muruzabal (440m; 16.90 km→2.60 km to Eunate) on a hill. While there take a look at the 17th century Baroque palace which now houses a winery. Don’t take the road to Obanos but look for the arrows behind the church directing you to Eunate (2.60 km). A field track leads you through vineyards and at 19.50 km (if you cycled to Alto 25.50 km), you will find yourself in front of the octagonal church of Eunate.
The second route leads straight to Eunate without climbing the mountain. Leaving Cizur Manor, choose the NA-600, a lovely deserted narrow tarmac road which climbs gently up the hills. After 5.50 km, you will pass Arlequi; continue cycling the NA-600 and after 3.40 km. you will see the 17th century palace in the small town of Subiza. If you don’t intend visiting the town stay on the NA-600. At a roundabout take exit to the N-121. Cycle for 0.5 km in heavy traffic then turn right to more quiet NA-601 towards Puente la Reina. After 11 km you will reach your destination – mysterious church of Eunate. (About 26 km)
Eunate 386m; 19.50 km→2.30 km to Obanos
The Church of Saint Mary of Eunate is a 12th century structure built with dressed stones on an octagonal plan. It is surrounded by arches that recall the porticos of the Temple Platform in Jerusalem. The richly decorated capitals inside and outside the church draws attention. The windows are made of thinly cut alabaster. Historians have long been fascinated by this lonely church built in the middle of nowhere. St Mary of Eunate is situated on the traditional pilgrim’s road (Camino Aragones runs this way, joining Camino Frances at Puente la Reina), away from any towns. This has always raised questions about its origin. Was it a Templar church?
Its octagonal structure might suggest it is as other knight’s shrines looks similar for example the London Temple, the Holy Sepulchre of Pisa, all of them inspired by the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. There is also the Templar’s Church in nearby Puenta la Reina, which may prove that knights were present in the area. If so, did they run a hospital in Eunate? It was established that pilgrims were buried there as archaeologists discovered graves with shells. But that’s all we know for sure. Eunate church guards its secrets well.
After visiting Eunate get back on the main road (NA-601) and turn right towards Puente la Reina. Minutes later you will see a signpost to Obanos and Puente la Reina (NA-6064). Turn left as the signpost points out (if you go straight – the NA-601 will take you back to the mountains).
Obanos 368m; 21.80 km→2.50 km to Puente la Reina
Town is famous for the “Mystery of St Guillen and St Felicia” played every other year. The play is based on the medieval story of Felicia, Princess of Aquitaine who after the pilgrimage to Santiago decided to change her lifestyle completely and started to lead a simple life. Her brother, who couldn’t resign himself to his sister’s choice, killed her shouting that he preferred to see her dead than in maid’s clothes. Shortly afterwards he started to suffer pangs of conscience. He went to Santiago de Compostela which completely changed his views as it had before for his sister. He spent the rest of his life as a monk.
The whole Obanos community participates in the stage adaptation of the story. 1100 costumes are used in the play; cars, horses, torches, fireworks, stilts and jugglers are also involved. The play is staged for a week sometime around St James’ feast day (25th of July; every other year).
Albergue Usda, 36 beds, opens from Holy Week until mid-October, heating, a kitchen, 8 Euros
Then cycle the NA-6064 towards Puente La Reina; at the entrance to the town you will join the NA-1110 that you already cycled along in the mountains. When you get to the town look out for the first church, then turn left. Now you are at the small square between Padres Reparadores Albergue and the Church of Crucifixion.
Puente la Reina 347m; 24.30 km→4.70 km to Maneru
The town owes its name to the imposing bridge (Puente la Reina from Spanish: Queen’s Bridge). This Romanesque structure was built on the orders of King’s Sancho III’s wife. The 11th century bridge over the river Arga, was constructed especially for the pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela. The six-arched,110 meters long bridge still makes a huge impression.
While in Puente la Reina it is also worth visiting the Iglesia del Crucifijo (Church of Crucifixion), the first church at the entrance of town. Originally built by the Templars in the 12th century, it was finished in the 14th century. You can clearly see this when inside the church: one half is Romanesque and the other is Gothic. A modern addition is the 17th century tower. The Church took its name from the large 14th century wooden crucifix in the shape of a “Y”. Some associate the cross with the Templers, others with a group of medieval German pilgrims which left it in gratitude for care they received in Puente la Reina. There are five albergues in the town:
Albergue Jakue (at the entrance of the city), 40 beds, opens from mid-March until mid- October, heating, a kitchen, 11-13 Euros
Albergue de los Padres Reparadores (by the Church of Crucifixion), 96 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 5 Euros
Albergue Estrella Guía (Paseo de Los Fueros, 34, small street parallel to N-1110, separated from the road by a row of plane trees), opens from 1 March until the end of November, 8 beds, heating, microwave, 15 Euros (breakfast included)
Albergue Puente (Paseo de Los Fueros, 57, small street parallel to N-1110, separated from the road by a row of plane trees), opens from 15 March until 15 November, 38 beds, heating, a kitchen, 13-15 Euros (breakfast included)
Albergue Amalur (C/ Cerco Viejo, 3, just before the bridge turn right and where the street bends, right again), 20 beds, open all year round, heating, 10 Euros
Albergue Santiago Apostol (cross over the bridge and take a small road up the hill), 100 beds, opens from April until mid-October, 10-12 Euros, free swimming pool from 15th of June to 15th of September
When you arrive in the town there is a street (Waymarked with yellow arrows) right next to the Church of Crucifixion which leads to the famous bridge (there is a good bakery/patisserie on the Way on your left). Cross over the bridge and turn left, after 100 meters turn left again. Now you are cycling the NA-1110 towards Estella. At the first roundabout, try not to go towards the highway or the road to Mandigoria.
At this point, cycling the NA-1110 may give you a strong feeling of being lost as there are no cars, nor good people to ask the way, no sheep, just nothing to reassure you that you are on the right road. But as long as you don’t see big blue boards above your head and you are not wiped out by trucks – it’s the way. The road itself is lovely and totally yours, as the highway takes all the traffic. The road climbs up the green hills, then before Maneru, it makes a descent.
At 29 km you will get to Maneru (469m; 29 km→2.90 km to Cirauqui), a village that belonged to the Knights Hospitaller in the 13th century.
Albergue el Cantero, 26 beds, opens from April until 1 November, heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros
If you don’t want to have a drink or meet fellow pilgrims stay on the NA-1110 (the Camino between Maneru and Cirauqui is also excellent to cycle). Now you constantly see the highway on your right as the roads are parallel. Cycle gently up and down the hills for the next 2.90 km and you will get to Cirauqui, an attractive town on the top of a hill.
Cirauqui (465m; 31.90 km→4.90 km to Lorca) is a pleasant old town with very steep and narrow streets impossible to cycle but definitely worth visiting. There are old ashlar houses with coats of arms above entrances, a fortress look-alike Gothic church of San Roman, a few bars, small shops and an albergue:
Albergue Maralotx, 28 beds, opens from March until the end of October, heating, 11 Euros`
However the main attraction is the roughly 400 meters of Roman road with a small bridge, also built by the Empire. Even though the bridge was transformed a bit in the 18th century, by looking at it everybody comes to the same conclusion – the Romans knew how to build. You can a) follow the yellow arrows, cycle the Roman road and when you get to the bridge switch to the NA-1110 or b) from the top of the hill take a look at this lovely path hedged with cypresses, then cycle the NA-1110 and stop at the first picnic place on your left, just 500 meters outside the town – that’s where the bridge is.
I have to admit that I like the NA-1110, for cyclists it is a bit like dying and going to Heaven. But before you release the brakes shouting with joy I have to say that this road differs from a heavenly one by the presence of deep potholes in places you would never expect them. So watch out for them. Then, 4.90 km on you will get to the small town of Lorca.
Lorca 446m; 36.80 km→3.80 km to Villatuerta
Lorca is mentioned in the 12th century guidebook for pilgrims going to Compostela. The author was left traumatised after he politely asked two Navarrese if the water in the nearby Salt River was good for horses. The two villains said yes, while sharpening their knives. The horses died shortly after watering and the Navarrese skinned them in front of their owner’s very eyes. The description is so evocative that almost a thousand years later you can still feel the author’s pain over losing his horses. In contrast to the old days, the present day Lorca is pilgrim- friendly, has two albergues – one opposite the other – and shops at the exit of the town.
Albergue de Lorca, 14 beds, opens from 1st April until the end of October, heating, a kitchen, 8-11 Euros
Albergue La Bodega del Camino, 30 beds, opens from Holy Week until the end of October, heating, a kitchen, 9 Euros
Stay on NA-1110. (You can also cycle on the Camino. Follow the yellow arrows and blue posts. A field track runs parallel to the road along farmland; 5.20 km) 3.80 km further on and you will get to Villatuerta
Villatuerta 428m; 40.60 km→4 km to Estella
The centre of the town is occupied by a Gothic Iglesia de la Asunción (Church of Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary) with tap water for the pilgrims. The church holds the relics of Saint Veremundo, the abbot of Irache and Saint Patron of The Way of Saint James in Navarra. The town’s other attraction is the 13th century Romanesque bridge.
Albergue Casa Magica, 37 beds, opens from 1 March until 31 October, heating, a kitchen, 14 Euros
About one kilometre later on your left you will see the old Ermita San Miguel (Hermitage of Archangel Michael) in an olive grove. It is a very old building dating back to the 10th century. Its pre-Romanesque sandstone sculptures are on display in the Museum of Navarra. Next to the hermitage is an enchanting place for a picnic.
Get back on to the quite busy NA-1110 for 3 km and then you arrive in Estella/Lizarra. When you get to the centre of the town, you will notice a bus stop and a green metal bridge on your left. Stop here, walk to the other side of the street and cross over the river Ega. Cycle along the waymarked street parallel to the river. Pass next to the impressive closed Church of the Holy Sepulchre; then probably the steepest bridge in Navarre; an albergue municipal and when you get to a small square you will see the Palace of Kings and Queens of Navarre on your right and steps leading to the Church of Saint Peter on your left.
If you missed a bridge never mind. You will get to a tunnel. Stop immediately after going through it. You will be standing right next to the cloister of the Church of San Pedro de la Rua. Use the lift to go down you will be at the other end of the street described above.
Estella/Lizarra 418m; 44.60 km→2.30 km to Monasterio de Santa Maria la Real de Irache
In 1090, King Sancho Ramirez granted the city a charter known as “Fuero de Estella”, which liberated the Frankish traders from paying taxes if they settled in Estella. The royal charter soon enriched the city so that even the hard-to-impress author of the 12th century guidebook wrote with admiration that
it is fertile in good bread and excellent wine and meat and fish and full of all delights.
From the early Middle Ages pilgrims have entered the city by the same street which was quickly lined with shops and albergues. Sacred architecture followed, so if you take the route described above, following the yellow sign, you will see all of the most important monuments. First, you will see the 12th century Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro (Church of the Holy Sepulchre) with a huge 14th century Gothic portal flanked by statues of apostles and saints. It is closed now but originally was one of the oldest parishes in Estella. Behind the church there is a former walled Dominican Monastery.
On your right there is the Puente de la Cárcel (the Prison Bridge) built in the ‘70s to replace the old Romanesque one. It is so steep that it requires great effort to walk on it even when the wind’s not blowing. (The architect and his wife lived on one side of the river and his beloved mother-in-law on the other; the bridge was designed to prevent the ailing old lady from paying frequent, unannounced visits to the architect’s house. That’s not true; I was just trying to find logical grounds for building a bridge that can hardly be crossed.)
Once you have passed the albergue, you arrive at a small square. In front of you is the unique 12th century Palacio de los Reyes de Navarra (Palace of the Kings and Queens of Navarre), the only remaining example of Romanesque civil architecture in the region. As you face the building with the church on the hill behind you, on the lower capital to your left you will see Roland on his horse fighting the Islamic giant Ferragut. On the right, on the upper capitol, is a depiction of the deadly sins – pride (a donkey playing harp while a dog listens attentively), avarice (people being dragged towards a cauldron) and lust (a woman with a snake). Close to the Palace is the former city hall, now a courthouse with a Renaissance façade.
But the real jewel in the crown of Estrella is the church on the hill. Dedicated to St Peter (Iglesia de San Pedro de la Rua), it is known for its 13th century Arabic-influenced portal. The church was built in the mid-13th century. From inside it is hard to guess that behind the door is a breath-taking Romanesque cloister. Although two galleries were destroyed by fire in the 16th century, the other two are well preserved. The capitols tell the stories of Christ’s life – from the Annunciation, through the Adoration of the Magi, the Massacre of the Innocents, to the Death and Resurrection. The others are decorated with griffins. One of them is even twisted. According to a famous Spanish historian
Estella is the capital of Romanesque Navarre
If you would like to see another treasure from this era, visit the Iglesia de San Miguel (the Church of Saint Michael). To get there: cross the square by the Palace of the Navarrese Kings and Queens, then cycle across the bridge and take the first street in front of you (closed to cars). Then if you turn left you will get to the main square called Plaza de los Fueros, passing in front of patisseries, cafes and small shops. Turn right and you will get to the Church of Saint Michael (and eventually to the NA-1110, if you keep straight on). The temple, built on the top of the rock; which is completely understandable if you think about the tumultuous history of Navarre, has a splendiferous Romanesque north portal. It shows scenes from Christ’s life. The portal is flanked by reliefs – on the right there are the three Marys at the empty tomb, on the left the weighing of souls. Above there are statues of the Apostles. In the tympanum there is a representation of Christ as Pantocrator (from Greek Almighty; very characteristic iconographical motif, that you will come across many times on your way to Compostela). Pantocrator is a depiction of Christ with a Bible in his left hand, while he makes the gesture of blessing with his right hand. He is surrounded by symbols of the four Evangelists – Angel (Matthew), Ox (Luke), Lion (Mark) and Eagle (John).)
Albergue Hosteria de Curtidores, 43 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen (paid separately) 15 Euros (on the Camino, 150 meters before Iglesia del Santo Sepulcro)
Hospital de Peregrinos de Estella, 96 beds, open all year round except the period from mid-December to mid-January, heating, a kitchen, 6 Euros (on the Camino, Calle la Rua 50)
Albergue ANFAS de Estella, 34 beds, opens from the end of April until the end of September, heating, a kitchen, 7 Euros (close to Saint Michael Church)
Albergue Parroquial San Miguel, 32 beds, opens from Holy Week until 1st November, heating, a kitchen, donation (close to Saint Michael Church)
By the first roundabout:
Albergue Capuchinos Rocamador, 54 beds, open all year round except the period between 13 January and 4 March, heating, a kitchen, 13-16 Euros or 40 Euros for double room (by the Church of Capuchins)
Albergue Juvenil Oncineda, The Youth Hostel, (Calle Monasterio de Irache 11), 180 beds, opens from 1 March until 16 October, heating, a kitchen (paid), 10 Euros
Get back on to the NA-1110, direction Logrono and Los Arcos. You will also see a Camino sign for cyclists suggesting staying on the NA-1110 (that’s the official name of this former national road, although in the past the road functioned also as the N-111, N-111a, N-1110 etc. and I believe that in places you might happen upon an old signpost with its former name). 2.30 km outside of the town, 200 meters after Ayequi (Albergue San Cipriano, 26 beds, open all year round, heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros, a signpost just behind the roundabout will direct you to albergue) you will notice a bus stop on your left and a signpost to Monasterio de Irache (Monastery of Irache). Turn off the N-1110 onto this side road and one minute later you will be in front of the monastery.
Monasterio de Santa Maria la Real de Irache 513m; 46.90 km→5.70 km to Villamayor de Monjardin
Dating back to the 8th century the Monastery of Irache was the first hospital for pilgrims in Navarre, built a century earlier than Roncesvalles Monastery. The building today combines Romanesque, Gothic, Plataresque and Baroque elements with some 19th century additions. The Monastery is huge which is not that obvious when you are standing in front of it. It has two cloisters – one from the 16th and the other from the 17th century. It was run by Benedictines and during the last two centuries fell victim to the wars which beset Navarre. Entrance is by donation.
Originally the surrounding vineyards belonged to the monastery, given to the monks by King Sancho IV of Navarre in the 11th century. There are Tempranillo, Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon grape varieties amongst others. Now they are the property of a winery called Bodegas Irache. There is a Wine Museum, but much more popular is another spot – a wine fountain for pilgrims (the alternative way for walkers that avoids Irache is somehow less popular). Open from 8 am until 8 pm it provides water free of charge from one tap and red wine from the other. Fuente de vino was opened in 1991 as a nice gesture to keeping Irache’s tradition of kind reception of pilgrims (while in Irache however, don’t leave your belongings unattended as free wine sometimes attracts dodgy locals). There is also a pleasant place to picnic by the monastery, always full of smiling pilgrims.
Now grinning broadly get back on the NA-1110. After 1.30 km you will see a signpost to a very nice camp site with a restaurant, bar and shop. The road becomes more and more deserted as it runs parallel to the highway.
You can make detour to charming Villamayor de Monjardin 682m; 52.60 km→11 km to Los Arcos To get there turn off the main road and take a well signposted side road to the village NA-7402 (add 1 km). There are ruins of a castle on the hill, winery, restaurant and two albergues:
Albergue Hogar Monjardín, 25 beds, opens from 1 April to 31 October, 8 Euros
Albergue Villamayor de Monjardín, 20 beds, opens from March to 1st of November, heating, a kitchen, 15 Euros with breakfast)
My favourite part of this route starts somewhere between Villamayor de Monjardin and Los Arcos. The road runs across small hills and your bicycle continues to move of its own accord. Cycling without pedalling – that’s what I like. Just before the town take the NA-8401 towards Los Arcos. Putting it mildly, the deadline for laying a new surface on this road passed some 10 years ago. When you get to the town look around for the church. When you see it turn left (straight after the petrol station and before the steep hill in front of you) and stop 100 meters further on when you get to a small bridge. To your right there is the 17th century Gate of Castilla leading to the church and on your left two out of the four city’s albergues
Los Arcos 451m; 63.60 km→6.60 to Torres del Rio
The river Odron which lazily flows through the town is detailed in the 12th century guidebook as a deadly stream. Since the author doesn’t mention bad Navarrese waiting on the bank for the skin of his dead horse I understand that he was warned. That makes Los Arcos a pilgrim friendly place since time immemorial (perhaps I just jump to conclusions, but I like the town).
The Parish priest is proud that the Camino passes through Los Arcos and likes pilgrims very much. He tries to be able to say at least a few words in every language – recently he was learning Korean and Japanese. What he doesn’t like are people taking photos during the mass. He really doesn’t like it. Before or after – yes please, he will also answer your questions or help you. But cameras flashing straight into his eyes during the service rouses his Spanish temperament. Thanks to his effort and others, the Los Arcos residential town is a good place to stay overnight. There are small but well supplied shops and bakeries, so you might be tempted to make your own dinner. If you prefer to eat out there are numerous bars to choose from.
In the past the town was under the rule of Castile. A memento from these times is the El Portal de Castilla (Gate of Castile) built in the 17th century on the orders of Philip V of Spain. The Parish church of Saint Mary (Iglesia de Santa María) combines all architectural styles ranging from Romanesque to Neoclassical. Inside there is a huge golden 17th century Baroque altar with a statue of Saint James.
Albergue Issac Santiago, 70 beds, opens from April until the end of October, heating, a kitchen, 6 Euros (the first one when you cross the bridge)
Albergue Casa de la Abuela, 32 beds, opens from Easter until the end of October, heating, a kitchen, 10 Euros (close to the church)