Pamplona in Navarra is an historical city, most famous for the San Fermin bullfighting festival every July, which was the setting for Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
Founded by the Romans around 75 BC, Pamplona rose to prominence after the conquest of Navarra when the Spanish used it as an outpost against the French. The Spanish built several fortifications, including the walls around the citadel, in defence against French invaders. Napoleon's troops in the War of Independence were the only army to ever reach the citadel. Pamplona is also an important stop for the French Way of the Camino de Santiago, as the first city it passes through when it enters Spain over the Pyrénées.
There are plenty of unmissable sights and attractions in Pamplona. The Palace of Navarre stands in the heart of the city at the Plaza del Castillo, a gorgeous Neoclassical building from the 19th century with impressive columns and facade. Nearby is St Mary's Cathedral, a 15th century Gothic cathedral, built on the remains of a Roman temple and housing a stunning High Gothic cloister. Discover more about Navarra's past at the Museo de Navarra in the former Hospital of Our Lady of Mercy, a wonderful museum showcasing archaeological and artistic exhibits from the region including the Roman mosaic of Theseus.
The festival of San Fermin is held annually and was brought to international fame by Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Sun Also Rises. The festival includes a procession on the second day featuring giant papier-mâché puppets, and the Jota dance is performed. In the evenings, the skies are filled with fireworks as a fireworks competition is held.
Why not get away from the city for a while to the peace and quiet of the Arga river park just outside of Pamplona? 1 million square miles of luscious greenery, the park is perfect for walking, cycling or enjoying a picnic. Be sure to pick up the food for your picnic at one of Pamplona's excellent markets. Open every day except Sundays, the markets of Santo Domingo, Ermitagaña and the huge Widening market all contain a great selection of meats, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, and more.
In Pamplona, much of the local food is from Basque cuisine and pintxos (tapas) are popular. If you are on a budget, look out for the menú del día, or menu of the day, which is usually a 3 course meal at a good price. A traditional breakfast in Pamplona is churros (long fried doughnuts) with a cup of hot chocolate. Leche frita is a traditional sweet made of flour, milk and sugar cooked until thickened and fried.
Whatever your meal, be sure to enjoy it with some Navarra wines whether red, known as tinto, or rosé, known as claro. Round off with a digestif of pacharan, an aniseed flavoured drink made from sloe berries.
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