By the 15th century, this town was known throughout the land as ‘Estella the Beautiful’ and continues to be worthy of that name up to modern times. It is an elegant city with winding narrow streets, grand stone houses, palaces, convents and endless churches. Estella-Lizarra (the Basque name) is small, but packed with history and architecture, as well as great food and cultural events. Whether passing through as a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago, or for a day trip to attend one of its festivals, it’s a pleasure to visit and an opportunity to really understand and experience the regional Navarran culture.
As the St. James Way winds through Navarra on its path to Santiago de Compostela, about halfway between Pamplona and Logroño, it passes through beautiful Estella-Lizarra.
Sitting on the clear green River Ega, the medieval old town displays magnificent Gothic and Romanesque architecture. It is surrounded by the rolling plains of Navarra with the Ebro River to the south and a gorgeous Urbasa-Andia national park with isto the west where the land rises steeply in rocky formations and has a series of incredible turquoise pools and waterfalls in the natural springs of Urederra.
Though the site was a Vascon settlement as far back as Roman times, it was the Navarran king, Sancho Ramírez, who founded the current city in 1090 in order to attend to the many pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela. In its golden age in the 12th and 13th centuries, it even became a site of the royal court and prospered economically. This is when the Palace of the Kings of Navarre was built there, one of the only non-religious buildings of that era that still stands in all of Spain.
As mentioned, The Palace of the Kings of Navarre is a rare piece of civil Romanesque architecture and houses the Museo Gustavo de Maeztu (featuring the artwork of this same Basque artist). In 1931, the building was declared a national monument by the Spanish government. It is located on the Plaza de San Martín off of Calle San Nicolas and was once an entrance for the pilgrims. On one side the building features a rare motif for that era: a capital depicting a scene from the Legend of Roland, as he, Roland, fights Ferragut, an hitherto invincible giant he eventually slays. Roland himself was killed in battle not much further north of Estella along the Camino de Santiago in the Battle of Roncevalles. As a rear-guard general in Charlemagne’s army, on their way back to France, Roland’s men were overtaken by Basque rebels upset by the sacking of Pamplona, their capital at the time.
The spot where Roland fell is decorated with a cross and a small chapel along the Camino. While this event took place in 778, the Song of Roland, from which the legends originate, wasn’t written until the 12th century. It was fairly uncommon to stray from strictly religious iconography at that time, which is why this site is particularly interesting.
The center of social activity in town is the Plaza de los Fueros. The square is enclosed by two 18th century palaces and other beautiful buildings. There are endless delightful palaces and mansions to seek out, including the 16th century Eguía Palace, the 17th century Governor’s Palace and an 18th century Baroque Palace on Calle Mayor.
And of course, there are the religious buildings. The ruins of the medieval Church of San Pedro de Lizarra is the must-see, complete with a Roman-era pillar still visible within. The late Romanesque style church of San Pedro de la Rúa is the largest church in Estella. The cloister is the most beautiful part of the church and was built in 1170.
It also has a 12th century Romaneque façade, rich ornamentation and Arab-influenced arches. For an example of Gothic architecture, the church of Santo Sepulcro is of interest, as well as the Convent of Santo Domingo, where you can see the evolution from late Romanesque to Gothic quiet clearly. There are a couple more convents and the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Puy, all within a stroll from the center.
The greatest pleasure to be had in Estella is without a doubt a contemplative meandering through its gorgeous architecture, and being transported to another era. Stroll by the other pilgrims, explore the old Jewish quarter – one of the most important in Navarra at one time – and get lost in the history that permeates the city. A visitor may come across many great places by coincidence alone, but there are of course some sites that are not to be missed.
During the year, Estella hosts a few festivals as well. The Friday before the first Sunday of August is the beginning of the seven day fiesta in honor of Estella’s patron saint. With people dressed in the traditional red and white and putting on bull runs through the streets in the morning, this fiesta is like a smaller version of Pamplona’s San Fermin, but with fewer tourists and is nonetheless as lively and fun. Steeped in traditions going back centuries, it is chock full of music, dance and concerts – and of course lots of eating and drinking.
There is also Medieval Week, where everyone comes out dressed in their finest Middle Ages costumes and parade around playing medieval music, and the festival in May for the beloved Virgen de Puy. There’s a cattle fair in November, and in September a week-long ancient music festival.
It is also a lively town, with a great number of bars and restaurants serving up the local specialty of roast suckling pig, excellent regional wines, and seasonal produce from the nearby ‘bread basket of Spain’. Estella was also famed for their “alpargatas” (puff pastry tarts), and also try ‘rocas del Puy’ (cookies with an almond filling), and Santiago cake. There is a bustling commercial center with a fantastic Thursday market, and a thriving music and theater scene.
Carlos Ciriza is one of the most renowned artists of Navarra, Spain. His large-scale sculptures and art creations are exhibited around the world. His installations and works are integrated into architectural, urban and natural environments and reflect his ever-present motif of volume, movement and circulation of spaces and voids.
This prolific artist always has a handful of ambitious projects going – orders for both public spaces and for the private sector. Feel free to visit the Carlos Ciriza website. If you would like to meet him in person or to become acquainted with his works of art, or to commission pieces for commercial or private spaces feel free to contact us at Northern Spain Travel.
La Cepa on Plaza de los Fueros is vegan and vegetarian friendly in elegant, traditional surroundings and has been around for decades. It is well-loved by the locals. It features the suckling pig the area is known for as well as other unpretentious but high quality dishes.
The Asador Astarriaga is popular with pilgrims with outdoor seating on the main square. It features basic but delicious meats and seafoods.
The Casanellas Taller Gastronomico is immensely popular. It also has a cooking school attached to it and is widely known to have extremely friendly and hospitable service. Serving locally grown food and homemade everything, it is charming and down to earth but delicious.
Hospedería Chapitel is one of the best hotels in Estella is the charming four star Hospedería Chapitel. In the heart of the historic quarter in Estella, this boutique hotel is located in the Jewish neighborhood right by San Miguel de Estella church and is surrounded by rich history monumental. Famed for its original and cozy feel, this regional hotel will meet all your expectations.
If you want to enjoy the beauty of the Camino de Santiago, Estella is the second largest city from the beginning of the CAMINO FRANCES, which is the most well-known, the most travelled of all of the Camino de Santiago pathways in Spain. Estella is a welcoming city for pilgrims full of fabulous lunch and dinner options, and cultural visits and opportunities to view the traditions through their festivities. Just out of Estella, get ready to enjoy the wine fountain from the Irache Winery that is one of the fun hotspots of a pilgrim’s day. Learn more about our NST walking journeys.
For those who are crazy about mountain biking – no matter what your level of cycling is – the Estella region has developed many MBT trails, some of which follow this stage of the Camino de Santiago on an excellent series of mountain bike pathways. Learn more about our NST cycling journeys.
For those who are crazy about road biking – get ready to experience the breathtaking beauty of northern Spain with a fabulous theme. Get the best of all worlds; fabulous rides, the most appropriate overnight stops with unbeatable accommodation, and out-of-this-world gastronomy all the while peddling towards Santiago de Compostela. Learn more about our NST cycling journeys.
Make your stay in Estella unforgettable and discover its essence with us.
This hotel is located within the majestic Palace-Castle of Olite, declared a national monument. The interior offers beautiful stained glass windows, arcades and other characteristic medieval features. The palace is the most significant example of Gothic non-ecclesiastical architecture in Navarra, and one of the most outstanding examples in Europe.
This hotel is located in the cinco villas region, surrounded by valleys and mountains, it is nestled in one of Navarra’s prettiest landscapes. Their mantra is Water, Nature and Silence, making this hotel the perfect reward after a morning of exercise. Its natural springs contain with the highest salinity in Europe and the thermal circuit and massage hit the spot.
At the gates of the Irati forest, the second largest beech tree forest in Europe, this quaint pre Pyrenee hotel is in the heart of the commencement of the Camino de Santiago. It is a charming oasis from the cities and town and an excellent base from which to visit numerous attractions in the Orreaga-Roncesvalles valley.
This pretty Navarra Palace Hotel is an emblematic building, cataloged by the Prince of Viana Institute as an Historic Heritage Building. Maintaining its characteristic red stone, this hotel has an air of holding within its stately walls rich stories of the past.
This active travel friendly hotel is modern and avant-garde, has its own personality, which seeks to surprise. This quiet enclave is where we luxuriate in the Spa and Treatment center, and chill at the gastro bar after a morning of activity.
AC Hotel Ciudad de Tudela is in part an 18th century historic building once called Casa de Beneficencia. This hotel is in the historic quarter of charming Tudela. We are in walking distance to the Muñoz Sola Modern Art Museum and a visit to the Marqués de San Adrián Palace. After a great ride, the sauna and Turkish bath hits the stop.
This exquisite and very unique hotel is within the National Park Bardenas Reales which is Navarra’s wonderland desert. This is an oasis from the desert terrain with a chance to lean back, relax and watch a zillion stars, a brighter moon and the spectacular Architecture of this outstanding hotel.
One of the most prominent and emblematic buildings in Pamplona, this regal palace takes back to the 18th century, yet offers the comforts of a modern luxury hotel. Built by a the viceroy of New Granada and visited by Queen Isabel II, this hotel still holds the relics of their royal past with a collection of 18th century carriages. It is in the heart of the city on a quiet street.
This four star hotel + spa personalized and sophisticated for maximum comfort, making this hotel the quiet oasis from the city of Pamplona. A decorative symphony of elegance and exclusivity. The fusion of stone, wood, velvet, works of art and furniture of exclusive design create a warm unique atmosphere. At the foothills of the Pyrenees, we can begin to peddle from the moment we step out the door.
This quaint palace combines the historical building charm of the 16th century and the comfort of a modern hotel. It is located within the town of Viana (Navarre), at the foot of the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route in the historical part of the town.
Located in the center of the capital of the province of Navarra, Heart of Pamplona Apartments are ideal for visitors to Pamplona, Navarra or the Basque Country. HOP apartments are located right by all the necessary services for a pleasant stay. They are silent corners in the middle of lively streets, in the most popular areas of restaurants and bars.