Routes - Navarre   

If Navarre is a land of contrasts, the Bardenas are the most far reaching contrast of all. A desert right in the middle of the northern peninsular, a small part of the Sahara changed by erosion, which brings to mind scenes of wild west gunmen fighting bandits.

The Bardenas, a historic territory and cattle track, is sure to make an impact on you.It is greatly affected by erosion with changing hills, hillocks and gullies, accentuated still more by the north winds in winter winter, the torrential rains and the hot summers.

The Bardenas, crossed by dusty tracks should be accessed with a good map or you should be accompanied by someone who knows the area well.

The Bardenas can be differentiated into four very evocative zones.  Overall, there are 415 square kilometres of spectacular scenery between the rivers Aragon and Ebro.

In the centre, the White Bardenas is so called due to the amount of salt and gypsum to be found there.
In the South you will find the Black Bardenas, similar to the Monegros of Aragon, made up of red clay and limestone.
In the North there is the Meseta of El Plano and the reservoir of El Ferial, which holds many different species of water birds.
In the East you will come to the Green Bardenas, a steppe area which has recently been recovered as irrigated land.

If you would like a good viewpoint, you can chose between the Virgen del Yugo, the Alto de Aguilares, the Paso and the Sanctuary at Sancho Abarca.

 This area was primarily used for pastureland for the herds coming from Roncal, Salazar or nearby towns which, year after year, started out on an obligatory seasonal migration to new pastures in this magical place. There is evidence of this in the form of tracks, small pens and small pools. But the Bardenas was not just used for animals. At some time in the past it did have several castles, although today only a few ruins remain such as those of the Castle of Peñaflor.

A word of advice: avoid the Bardenas in summer. Temperature rise to over 37ºC. Neither is it advisable to go there during rainy periods, since the mud can cause serious problems.


Monastery of La Oliva
The Oliva Monastery, an important example of Cistercian architecture, is a monument founded in the 12C.

It obtained the favour of the Papacy, the nobility and the Navarre monarchy and by the middle of the 12C it managed to become one of the most influential monasteries in Navarre thanks to its lands and extensive library. Later on, the political problems came and the disentailment of 1835 immersed the monastery in ruin and abandonment. It was not inhabited by monks again until 1927, who began its reconstruction.

The majestic façade opens its doors to a magical place. The church of Santa María, partly Romanesque and partly Gothic, was funded by Sancho VI the Wise and his son Sancho VII the Strong. It was constructed of ashlar stone between the 12 and 13C and is composed of three naves. The Cistercian austerity can be appreciated in the simple decoration of the temple, which is limited to plant, animal and fantastic motives and some keystones on the vaults. It has a chapter house forming part of the primitive12C cloisters, a nice expression of early Gothic work.

From the church, you can gain access to some beautiful Gothic 14C cloisters where time appears to stand still. Its galleries are covered by cross vaults, with curved ribs joined by decorated keystones. The abbot’s palace is adjoined to the church.

This was built in the 16C and reformed in the 18C.

Opposite the church apse and in an area currently used as a market garden for the monastery, the Chapel of Jesus Christ is to be found, the oldest part of the monastery.


You should try the home-made products at the monastery (exquisite vegetables, thick red wines and rosé wines and a mild cheese made from cow’s milk) and, if you have the chance, you can stay at the guest quarters to participate in the monk’s life style, at least for a few days.

An excellent time to go to the Oliva is just after Easter when there is a Three Day devotion. The solemn ceremony joins with the feeling of the Gregorian chant.


Peñalen is impressive. The ground suddenly disappears. The rock is sharply cut away creating the Ravine of the King (Barranco del Rey). Peñalén makes an even greater impact on you after discovering that, in 1076, king Sancho IV was pushed over this ravine by his own brothers, Ermesenda and Ramón. A history of hatred, resentment and ambition and the desire for certain death. If you don’t believe this, check the height at which the king was pushed off.

Peñalén is located in the municipality of Funes. It has not always been just a ravine. Back in 1084 there was a village called Peñalén and then later, in the 14C, it was renamed Villanueva, although it finally disappeared. It appears that during one of the floods of the River Arga, the village was washed away and it was therefore decided to build further away from the river. Later on, around 1400, it disappeared completely.

Peñalén dauntlessly witnesses the union of two rivers, the Arga and the Aragon, which merge together under the attentive gaze of Funes and Milagro. The waters of the river Arga mix with those of the river Aragon and a few kilometers downstream, very close to Milagro, they finally join the great Ebro river.

From this promontory made up of gypsum and clay, you can take in a magnificent panorama: the confluence of the two rivers surrounded by grain fields and vineyards with a market garden area. The rivers erode the gypsum and clays and blocks of these materials fall away as vertical slabs to form vertical cliffs like Peñalén. Nearby, there are still more uneven areas of land, but to a lesser extent.

You will be able to take in the scent of thyme, rosemary and the nearby thickets, in this arid and slightly hostile area. Its dry and hot climate is easily perceived. Herds of sheep are often found around Peñalén.

Peñalén has a 13 km circular route that is signed and can be made on foot or bike, and is frequented by the local people. However, in summer the sun is very strong. We would recommend going at another time.

The capital of the Ribera, or Ebro Valley, is renowned for its market garden. Its history reveals how different cultures have coexisted here over the centuries. Amrus Ibn Yusuf made Tudela an important city centre. The Muslims remained in Tudela from the 9C to the 12C. After the reconquest in 1119, king Alfonso the Battler favoured the coexistence of the three monotheistic cultures living in Tudela. For four centuries they achieved this. The Jews were skilled in jewellery, furs, medicine and mercantile loans whilst the Moslems were experienced in agriculture, carpentry and masonry. They lived in peace, and proof of this is that Tudela produced great men in the arts, mathematics and medicine. However, this all ended when the Jews were expelled in 1498 followed by the Moslems in 1516.

The mixture of cultures can be seen in the old part of the City. Life is centred around the square named Plaza de los Fueros. Four façades full of balconies and ceramics with coats of arms and bull scenes evoke these past times (from 1700 to 1842) when the square was used for bull fights. In the centre stands the kiosk: the curious House of the Clock. 

From here you can go to the Cathedral of Tudela, erected in 1180 on the remains of the former principal mosque, these remains are still preserved today. It is an example of the transitional Romanesque-Gothic style, with pretty Romanesque cloisters and a Romanesque Last Judgement Doorway (Portada del Juicio). 

A peculiarity of the Cathedral is the great number of chapels. Its high tower is the city emblem. Close to the temple, you can visit some historic civil buildings such as the Palace of Deán, with its Plateresque façade, the Palace of the Marqués de Huarte, 18C Baroque style with an impressive stairway and vaults. Also, the House of the Counts of Heredia-Spinola and the House of the Almirante (Admiral), which is a Plateresque style aristocratic country house.

In the direction of the bridge over the river Ebro, in the street Calle Portal, you will find the Palace of the Marqués de San Adrián, with its elaborate eaves and Renaissance style courtyard, and the beautiful church of the Magdalena, the oldest monument in Tudela.

The Sagrado Corazón (sacred heart) observes Tudela. On the banks of the Ebro, excellent vegetables are grown: artichokes, peppers, gem lettuces, asparagus, cardoon, peas, beans, borage... without forgetting the wines. Enjoy it!


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