The magnitude of vineyards became very apparent as we left the city limits of Logroño. We were definitely in the famous La Rioja region, Spain’s wine capital. Luckily, we were able to sample plenty of delicious Rioja wine during the San Mateo Festival in Logroño. Spain is where my love of red wine began and it’s still as delicious and plentiful as ever. We cannot figure out how Spanish wine is so cheap, but great. When you order a “menu del dia” for 10 euros, they give you an entire bottle of wine included in the meal. Spaniards expect to pay only $4 for a good bottle of wine and just a bit more for a Crianza (Reserve). It’s crazy after coming from a culture where a decent bottle of wine costs at the very least $20. Some of the best and most expensive Californian wines are easily comparable to a $15-$20 bottle of Spanish wine. With all the amazing and cheap supply of wine floating around, it’s certainly hard to pass this indulgence up each night after a long day of walking.
Happily snacking on plump grapes, we meandered through 12 kilometers of vineyards until reaching the tiny pottery village of Navarrete. The town didn’t have much going on, besides the 16th century Asunción Church and a few red clay pottery shops. Brett was hoping to find some pottery, but the prospect of carrying it on the Camino made it impossible to buy. Just outside of the town are ruins of the old Antiguo Hospital de Perigrinos (pilgrims) “San Juan de Acre”. Next to the ruins is a large scale winery facility called Don Jacobo Winery. It was very early in the morning, so unfortunately we weren’t able to visit for a tasting. We grabbed a quick tortilla sandwich in town and continued on our way to Nàjera.
While strolling by rows and rows of endless Rioja vineyards, we met Claire from Birmingham, England. She recently quit her job and has just begun her dream of traveling around the world for two years. We envied her energetic and exciting spirit, as we remembered how we felt only a year ago. Claire is doing the Camino with her friend Stella, a much faster walker who we met for lunch in Nàjera. They are sleeping in their tent along “the way” and showering every few days when they can find an inviting albergue. Such brave souls!
Before arriving into Najera, we passed Alesòn, which is the scene of one of the most significant legends on the Camino de Santiago….. the fight between Knight Roldàn and Ferragut the Giant. Legend has it that the French leader Roldàn and his knights were staying overnight at Alesòn while on their way to Santiago de Compostela. They awoke in the morning and headed for the watchtower just outside of Najera. From the tower they could see Najera’s castle, where a Ferragut, the Syrian Giant resided as the Lord. Ferragut was nine feet tall and had a long nose and the strength of four men. He challenged Roldàn to a fight, which he accepted. They fought for several hours at the place now known as Poyo Roldàn (Roldan’s Hill). The Giant finally acknowledged Roldàn’s courage and gave him the opportunity to end the battle. Stubbornly, Roldàn refused. The battle continued for two days until Ferragut jumped on top of Roldàn, trapping him beneath his huge body mass. Roldàn cleverly pulled out his dagger and seared it into The Giants navel, killing him instantly. The Arabs retreated from Nàjera and Roldàn became known as the best Christian warrior! A hidden treasure from the people of Alesòn to Rodàn is believed to still be buried somewhere on Poyo Roldàn.
After a long descent past an industrial area with a gravel factory, we crossed over the highway and began our walk into Nàjera. Just as we thought we had arrived, after the 28 kilometer day, we realized the old town was at the other end of Nàjera, about 3 more kilometers away. We met up with Claire’s mate Stella, who was freaked out by a toothless Spanish man who was following her around town. We were all starving so we made our way over the bridge at the Nàjera River. Brett immediately noticed the rock-cut formations on the side of the mountain cliff behind the town. It looked just like Petra, Jordan and the Lycian Way, Turkey. Upon further research I found that Najera means “between the rocks” in Arabic. The rock caves were used extensively during medieval times as passageways.
After enjoying a Pilgrim’s Menu at Los Parrales Restaurant, we said goodbye to Claire and Stella and checked into Hotel Ciudad de Nåjera. The hotel was tucked behind a small street at the far end of the town below the cliff-side of the mountain. We were dumbfounded as the hotel manager showed us to our room and handed us earplugs… just in case the Saturday festivities got too loud. We laughed at the thought of such a problem in this small and quiet town.
Brett and I were exhausted so we decided to grab some veggies and fruit at the market, stroll around the town briefly and call it an early night. It only took us a half hour to visit the town, which included the 11th century Santa Maria la Real church. We were happy to retreat to our bed early until we awoke to the late night hours of partying in the street. The hotel manager was ever so right about those earplugs! Who would have thought such a quiet and sleepy town would bring out a wild party atmosphere at night! Those Spaniards really do love their yummy cheap wine!
Hopefully we’d get enough zz’s and conquer the 23 kilometer trek tomorrow to Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
See our Photo Album:
El Camino: Day 9 (Logroño to Nàjera)