Spain’s region of Navarra is home to some of the country’s most impressive and most important monasteries. Follow us as we take you on a tour of the area to discover some of the best.
Monasterio de Urdax
Start your tour in the village of Urdax, also known as Urdazubi, which sits just 3.5 kilometres (2.2 miles) from the French border. While historians don’t know the exact date of Monasterio de Urdax’s construction, a hospital for pilgrims was established on the site in the 11th century. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, the hospital expanded and turned into a magnificent monastery created from pink stone. Over the years, two fires destroyed parts of the building; however, today, the church and the cloister still survive. Inside, visitors will be able to see a collection of contemporary paintings and sculptures.
Continue your tour south, briefly popping into France to the town of Saint Jean Pied de Port, where the Camino de Santiago begins, and then follow the route back to Spain, to the small village of Roncesvalles – the next stop along the Camino. Here you’ll find the Royal Collegiate of Santa María de Roncesvalles, where you can visit the magnificent church and the museum, which houses a collection of carvings, canvases and old manuscripts, as well as pieces of gold and silverwork and jewels. Today, part of the collegiate is also a hostel for pilgrims walking the Camino, so you can even stay the night here.
Head south-west from Roncesvalles, following the route of the Camino to the city of Pamplona and then on to the quaint village of Puente de la Reina. Continue for 26 kilometres (16.1 miles) to the town of Abárzuza and the Monasterio de Iranzu, nestled in between the mountains and the lush valley of Yerri. Built between the 12th and 14th centuries, this grand Cistercian abbey, surrounded by serene pools, comprises an elegant Gothic cloister and fountain.
Just 13 kilometres (8.1 miles) south of the Monasterio de Iranzu, you’ll find the Monasterio de Santa María de Irache, back on the Camino de Santiago. A hospital for pilgrims, a university and religious college, it was originally built during the 8th century, with the Benedictines adding to it during the 11th century. Visitors can tour the Romanesque church, dating back to the 12th century, as well as the Plateresque cloisters.
Travel one hour east, back through Pamplona, to the Monasterio de Leyre. Built during the 9th to 11th centuries, it comprises a beautiful crypt, Gothic vault and Romanesque porch. The monastery is still in use today and is home to a number of monks. If you’re lucky, you may be able to hear them do their Gregorian chant, which dates as far back as the 8th century. The monastery also houses a beautiful hotel and restaurant.
Follow your tour 54 kilometres (33.5 miles) south-west to the Monasterio de la Oliva. Built during the 12th and 13th centuries, it’s one of the most beautiful examples of Cistercian art in Spain and comprises a stunning cloister and chapter hall. Today, it’s still home to 26 Cistercian monks, who you may be able to see walking around the cloisters and praying. Visitors can also get the chance to stay here at the simple accommodation on offer.
Approximately 60 kilometres (37.2 miles) further south-west is the Monasterio de Fitero. Originally constructed between 1185 and 1247, it was enlarged during the 16th and 17th centuries. Declared a National Monument in 1931, it is one of the most important of the Cistercian buildings in Europe and has true architectural splendour – think elegant Renaissance cloisters, Arabic-style arches and medieval vaults. Visitors will also find picturesque nature walks surrounding the monastery.