Well I’d definitely visit Estella in real life should I get the opportunity, I’ve fallen in love with the place already! But just before we leave here’s a little tale of why Estella made the news for all the wrong reasons. Do you remember the story from 2012 when an amateur artist in her 80’s called Cecilia Giménez was permitted by the local clergy to undertake a restoration of Ecce Homo, a work by the painter Elias Garcia Martinez? The disastrous result was christened the “monkey Christ”. Well it seems that lessons were not learned and Estella had it’s own epic restoration fail in 2019 when the Church of St Michael decided to spruce up St George.
Today’s trip takes in meadows, vineyards, olive trees and cereal fields, just one complication – the steep rise to Villamayor de Monjardín! That’s followed by a welcome downhill to Los Arcos, but without passing any where to shelter from either sun or rain. There’s also nowhere to buy drinks or snacks so best stock up beforehand. This section of the Camino will be recognisable to anybody who watched the BBC series, Pilgrimage : the Road to Santiago, Ep 2 The additional video clip at the end of this post gives you a real flavour of this stage.
Stage 6 Estella to Los Arcos
The first stop of the day is just outside Estella for the famous Fuente del Vino – the free wine fountain and the Monastery of Irache (Iratxe).
El Fuente del Vino
Bodegas Irache was founded in 1891 when the winery was taken into private hands away from the Irache (Iratxe) Monastery. Since the 11th century the Benedictine monks had been producing wine for the Navarra royal family. The history of the winery is intrinsically linked to the history of the monastery.
The wine fountain which releases 100 litres per day of young red wine, follows a long held Pilgrim tradition. Originally the monks would have received pilgrims who came to the hospital with a glass of wine. For those arriving, tired or ill, this acted as a much needed restorative.
The winery had a custom of offering wine to random pilgrims, but with the building of the wine fountain in 1991 all pilgrims had the opportunity to quench their thirst. This assumes you got their before earlier visitors had filled up their water bottles with the red stuff instead! But the fountain also offers a water tap for those who don’t want to partake.
San Veremundo & The Irache Monastery
The existing buildings date to the 11th century, though there was known to be building on the site in 958. It first became a pilgrim’s hostel in 1053, over a century before the pilgrim’s hostel in Roncesvalles was founded. San Veremundo de Irache, patron saint of the Camino in Navarra, was abbot of the monastery from 1052 until his death in 1092. It was due to the alleged miracles of San Veremundo that the monastery became a famous stop on the Camino.
San Veremundo famously extended hospitality to pilgrims behind the backs of his fellow monks, when caught in the act, the food being distributed was miraculously transformed into wood and flowers! He was also said to have brought forth a fountain of wine, a precursor to the modern day fuente. The dispute between Arellano and Villatuerta as to which is his birthplace sees his relics moved between the two villages every five years, but his sepulchre is located at the monastery.
Next stop before the steep rise to Villmayor de Monjardín is the little town of Ázqueta, famous on the Camino as home of Pablo Sanz Zudaire, nicknamed Pablito el de las Varas (of the rods). Pablito has been cutting and offering hazelnut ‘bordóns’ to pilgrims since 1986. The bordón is a staff, traditionally made of hazelnut or chestnut used as a support for walking. Many pilgrims have replaced the traditional staff with trekking poles but some continue to use the staff for a more authentic “pilgrim” touch.
Pablo is always happy to explain how to correctly use the staff for optimal walking and he really knows his stuff. He is considered one of the first to do the Camino by bicycle, back in the sixties, and since then he has done it many times, on foot and on wheels.
That staff will come in very handy for that climb ahead! That said the surrounding vineyards are a lovely sight. Just before we reach the top there’s the very welcome Fuente de los Moros, a Romanesque 12th century cistern.
Villamayor de Monjardín
At the summit of Monjardín, are the remains of the castle of San Esteban de Deyo. With Roman foundations the castle had been repeatedly rebuilt over the centuries, thanks to its strategic position. It was one of the last fortresses of the local Muslim dynasty, before it was taken by King Sancho I of Navarre in 914.
In the town it’s worth a visit to the church of San Andrés a lovely building with a Romanesque façade with capitals, commemorating the battle between Charlemagne and a Navarrese prince, and a Baroque tower. It was restored between 1973 and 1984 and its greatest treasure is an old silver processional cross.
We leave the medieval town between vineyards and descending slopes that give way to infinite tracks over the fields of farmland and secondary roads. From here it’s a bit of a monotonous couple of hours trek to Los Arcos.
Located at the foot of a hill on the banks of the river Odrón, the town has been inhabited since Roman times, as evidenced by the five Roman tombs discovered at the entrance to the town. As a frontier location near Castile and Aragon it was a frequent military target and by the 12th century had it’s own (now ruined castle).
In its day it was a square fortress, a walled city with a castle and with up to seven portals within its walls. It’s importance as a stopping place along the Camino resulted in a number of pilgrim hospitals being built. Pilgrims arriving today can still see the Hermitage of San Sebastián, which served as a chapel to the adjoining hospital Santa María de Roitegui, dedicated to serving pilgrims throughout the thirteenth century. This was one of the three hospitals (hospedajes) that provided accommodation to pilgrims, the other two were Santa Brígida and San Lázarus, the latter is situated on the exit route.
The authentic heart of the town is the Plaza de Santa María. On its southern side is the main portico of the parish church, while at the remaining sides of the square there are seventeenth century buildings with porticos and arches.
The parish church of Santa María is the main artistic jewel of Los Arcos. It was built and renovated between the 12th and 18th centuries, so it combines the late Romanesque, pro-Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. The interior of the church houses a major altarpiece, dating from the 17th century and presided over by the Gothic image of Santa María, one of the most splendid organs in all of Navarre, and a wonderful late-Gothic cloister dating from the 16th century.
For a more detailed list of what to see follow this link
I think I’ve just found the ideal spot to stop for the day, who’s going to join me for a large jug of sangria?
How I covered my distance
3 May – 9.8 kms
4 May – 9.7 kms
Total cycled so far 147.3kms, distance left 626.7kms