The Camino is slowly becoming routine: pack, walk, unpack, eat, sleep. The only thing I can’t get used to is the snoring. Mister hero snorer from Puente La Reina once again gave a stunning performance. I am not even sure it qualifies as snoring, it sounds more like sound effects from a horror movie. Maybe his exhausted body is trying to tell him something: “ssssstooooppp thhhheee cammmminnnno.”
The 30 K'er to Najera doesn't cause too much trouble, except boredom. After 12 uneventful kilometres, the cobbled streets of Navarrete are a welcome change. The church of the Assumption merits a visit. Its renaissance vaults house an overwhelming baroque ‘retablo’. The little town might be a better option than Logrono to catch some Zzz. I pass plenty of charming hostels. Next time! After Navarette, the Camino starts hugging a noisy highway. Vroum! Vroum! Not exactly the pastoral setting I was looking for. When the path finally turns the other side, a majestic wine country unfolds. Red dirt roads cut through endless vineyards on rolling hills. On one of them, the medieval super hero Roland defeated the Syrian giant Ferragut. The Arab champion was considered unbeatable, until Charlemagne’s knight discovered his weak point: his navel. The scene of Roland piercing the giant’s belly button with his spear is a popular theme in local art. The muslim rule left other traces too. Najera is named after the Arabic word for ‘In between rocks’ - Naxara. The town was reconquered in 923. It’s one of those little marvels you only get to discover via the Camino.
The Albergue Municipal - on the other side of the Najerilla river - could pass for a Syrian refugee centre. One big space filled with beds. It relies on donations so I dig out 5 euros. ‘Way too generous' remarks one of the French travellers. I bet he'll spend 15 euros on drinks later. But 5 euro for a clean bed, shower and kitchen is ‘trop’ - too much to asked. Don’t be a hypocrite on the Camino. You are only sleeping in a bed because the folks before you left some cash.
Only a handful of pilgrims bother to visit the Monastery of Santa Maria la Real Franciscano, hardly 200 meters from the albergue. Most prefer the spirits over the spiritual. Maybe because the robust, spartan exterior doesn't give away the art treasures inside. The monastery was built on top of the cave where - on a hunting trip in 1066 - Don Garcia saw the image of the Virgin appearing. You can still see the dramatically lit statue inside the original grotto. It is flanked by the Royal Pantheon, the last resting place of over 30 Navarran kings and queens. The most beautiful - the sarcophagus of Blanca of Navarre - is a little on the side. I am moved by the delicate expressions. On the left, with much pathos, we see the queen dying. On the right, totally heartbroken and supported by his knights, the King collapses. What an incredible transfer of human emotions. So expressive, so connecting. After the monastery was disbanded in the 19th century, it was pimped by Napoleon soldiers. The sculptures of the cloister suffered quite some damage. It was declared a national monument in 1889 and restored to its former glory. The stone embroidery of the windows is striking. Such amazing craftsmanship.
After I limp back to the Albergue, my feet explode. It’s psychological, like when you have a full bladder. You can hold it up for hours, but the second you reach home, you almost wet your pants. The Man Upstairs must have noticed my agony and sends in some moral support. Two padres show up at the albergue. One sees me limping. ‘How’s it going?’ he asks. ‘Oh man, my feet are gone.’ He just smiles and gives me a hug for at least 5 minutes. "With God's Will, you'll reach Santiago" he whispers. Hallelujah. Only 700 km left.
Where to sleep in Najera?
- Albergo de Peregrines Munical de Najera - open all year, from 3 to 10 pm, 90 beds in one room, donativo. Situated at the Plaza Mercto, on the other side of the river. As mentioned before, it’s kinda rough. But hey, at least it has character and I slept like a rose.
- Sick of snoring? Grant yourself a little upgrade, take a private room in one of the nearby hotels.
The stretch along the river also offers plenty of pubs and little restaurants. I really like the pub at the entrance of the Cale Mayor, next to Optico.
- The monastery of Santa Maria la Real is a must-see. Entrance fee: 4 euro. Opening hours:
Summer, from June 1 to Sep 30. Tue-Sat: 10 am to 1 pm - 4 to 7 pm - Sun & holidays: 10 am to 12u30 pm - 4 to 6 pm.
Winter, from Oct 1 to May 30. Tue-Sat: 10 am to 1 pm - 4 to 5.30 pm - Sun & holidays: 10 am to 12u30 pm - 4 to 5.30 pm.
Closed on Mondays.
- The nearby Archaeological Museum (1.2 euro) is disappointing and only shows broken bits and pieces, next to panels in Spanish. Dull.
Next episode: ‘Day 8 - The Gardeners of Spain’