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A Day of Delights

A Day of Delights

Written by Stephanie Mutsaerts

Photos by Jesus Caso and Stephanie Mutsaerts

This is a travel story A Day of Delights with Northern Spain Travel into Navarra for truffles, Bardenas Desert and a migrating bird santuary.

Black Diamonds

We drove south west of town for a day of delights to a tiny village where we met two men – father and son – Angel and Raoul.   We also met their two scruffy dogs – Sara and Tommy.   As a group we all set off to their holm oak plantation – ta dah – drum roll- in search of truffles!!!  Yes, truffles are considered to be “black diamonds” in Spain and these two men cultivate trees that support the growth of truffles.   Holm Oaks are one of the few species that support the growth of the fungus on their roots – the knobbly, dark, rather ugly, but totally delicious truffle.   The dogs are trained from an early age to smell the truffle odour and indicate where the black diamond is to be found.   We were hoping to witness such a moment.
a day of delights

The Family Plantation

The plantation we visited is just over 6 acres in size and is home to 770 trees, all neatly planted in rows, suitably spaced. Only about 100 of the trees are supporting truffles – they rest not having developed the required ability to “foster” the truffles. The trees are planted in very rocky ground – this is supposed to provide a good supply of nourishing calcium for the trees but does not provide easy walking for humans – we wobbled and tottered over the rocks, trying to be dignified as we did so.  Of course the rough walking was no problem for Tommy and Sara who dashed about, thoroughly enjoying their outing beneath the trees.  We are also noticed large numbers of abandoned, small, fragile, white snail shells – but not a sign of a live snail anywhere.  A mystery! Tommy was just as interested in making friends with us as he was in serious hunting, constantly coming to us for a pat and a rub on his dirty and knotted long haired coat!
a day of delight

Playful Truffle Hunting Dogs

I got the feeling that truffle hunting was not high on the dogs’ agenda – just having fun in the woods was more to their liking.   We walked, back and forth, back and forth.  At the eleventh hour, as if to save the day, Tommy stopped at a tree and indicated that there was hidden treasure there.  Angel knelt down at the base of the tree, carefully placing his knee of a special truffle hunting cushion.   With sharp digging knife in hand he removed the surface rocks and broke through the soil.   Not such a treasure it turned out to be but rather an over-ripe and pretty putrid truffle it was…. stinky as could be and full of maggots.   Angel quickly broke it up and put the dirt and rocks back on top of it.   Such a disappointment.   But, the exercise and fresh air did us good!
Truffle hunting and Desert Crossing

Not a Regular Oak Forest

We talked as we walked through the plantation and learned that once a tree becomes productive it can produce for only 10 – 15 years.   Once past its truffle-bearing years it must be allowed to grow old at its own pace until the plantation becomes a regular oak forest.  Under law the trees may not be cut down and the land may not be replanted.   While at first this seems a little harsh it is all part of a government program to reforest the area that once, years ago, before it was cleared to produce crop lands, was covered in oak trees.
a day of delights

Our Adventurous Outing

We were headed to The Bardenas on our adventurous outing.  Now, the Bardenas is a semi desert area in the south of Navarre – a landscape of wind swept and eroded clay, chalk, and sandstone hills, mesas, and escarpments.  I have seen photos of the dramatic landscapes and have long wanted to go and, finally, my wish was to come true.  The landscape lived up to every one of my expectations, and very much more.  Here were vast stretches of plain, dotted with greyish/greenish scrubby plants, dried gullies, collapsed mud towers and pinnacles, wind scraped slopes, rainwater washed mounds, tortured trenches, and occasional simple dwellings which provide housing for shepherds in the seasons when sheep graze this semi-desert.
bardenas desert on foot
No wonder this place has become a popular backdrop for movies such as Game of Thrones.  It was all breathtakingly beautiful, the landscape colours of yellowy beige, dusty orange, dull greys and greens, set against a brilliant blue sky.  We drove through the area (it is now a UNESCO heritage site), stopping occasionally to admire, walk a little, and take photographs.
a day of delight
Even René, who was not wild on the idea of seeing a desert or semi-desert, thinking that once you have seen one sand dune you have seen them all, was quite bowled over by the beauty of it all.  I’ve seen several deserts around the world, each one of them different, and The Bardenas is different again.  I just love deserts and find their beauty compelling.  This desert is one of the winners.
sancturay of migrating birds

A Sanctuary of Migrating Birds

The outing ended with a short visit to a lake which is protected as a sanctuary for migrating birds.  Alas, this is not the migration season so there were few birds visible, but the evening light and the reflections of the golden reed beds in the still water, were beautiful.  We saw one swan in the distance and a few moorhens (or similar water fowl) in a sheltered inlet.  The silence was almost deafening and occasionally disrupted by burpy frog voices.   A perfect place to end our perfect outing.
a day of delight
The drive back to Pamplona was accompanied by a deep red sunset …. A final flourish was the bag of hot roasted chestnuts as we walked through the streets of the old city back to our accommodation.
Join us on an adventure into Navarra

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