Olite is a small town in Navarra about 40 kilometers south of Pamplona. Known for its extraordinary gothic castle and its winding medieval streets, Olite is not to be missed for those who love history. The Mediterranean climate is also perfect for growing grapes and Olite is the wine capital of Navarra. Many vineyards encircle the area, perfect for a wine tasting tour. There is also an excellent wine museum housed in another former palace. Olite has a great selection of bars and restaurants and a lively feel to it, especially during one of its festivals. For such a small town, there is a vast amount to see and do, with a historical backdrop that transports you to another world.
Olite Castle became a favored royal seat with the accession of the Evreaux dynasty in 1328 – first by Queen Joanna II and King Philip III followed by Charles II in 1349. It was a pleasant spot with forests full of hunting game, and fair weather. But it was Charles III and his wife Eleanor of Castile (both buried in the cathedral in Pamplona) who began the construction of the New Palace and really turned it into the glorious splendor it became known for.
Charles commissioned artisans from all over the region including Catalonia and France and beyond to adorn the castle with stained glass, ornaments, hanging gardens, moats and many towers. A lot of fun was had there at court, including jousts, bullfights, and weddings. There was even a zoo, which included a lion that had been given as a gift.
Olite Castle continued to be in use as an official Seat of the Court of the Kingdom of Navarra until the conquest of Navarra by Castile, and ensuing consolidation with the kingdom of Aragon in 1512. After this time, it was allowed to deteriorate and was only inhabited by various viceroys.
In 1813 it was then almost completely destroyed by a Navarran general who set fire to it during the Peninsular War with Napoleon, to prevent the French from gaining control and using it strategically. The interior décor, furniture and all the artifacts inside were incinerated. It was left in ruins.
In 1925 it was declared protected and renovations started in 1937, restoring it to a great degree. It is never going to be what it was at its peak, but wandering around the palace, climbing the towers, looking out over the views of the town of Olite, still evokes a sense of what it used to be and a strong element of fairytales and magic pervades.
The Palacio Real or Royal Palace of Olite is a sight to behold. It was first built on top of an ancient Roman fortification in the 13th century, during the reign of Sancho VII of Navarra “The Strong”. Over the next generations it was built upon and was one of the seats of the Kingdom of Navarra from the reign of Charles III “The Noble” until the 16th century when nearby Castile conquered the kingdom.
The original Old Palace was replaced by the New Palace in the 14th century, leaving the Old Palace to deteriorate and eventually be abandoned. That part has now been renovated into a Parador de Tourismo hotel, the Principe de Viana. The New Palace was considered to be one of the most luxurious fortifications in Europe at the time – it was more of a gilded palace than a military structure.
A gothic church, the Iglesia de Santa María la Real is attached to the palace, also built in the 13th century, situated between the New and the Old Palace. Eventually a fire destroyed most of it during the Napoleonic Wars in 1813, but it has since been magnificently restored to its original appearance.
The town itself is a joy to explore as well. It is a well-preserved and beautiful place, with twisting cobblestone streets and coats of arms decorating the old stone buildings. Besides the wine museum, which is not to be skipped, there is the Galerías Subterráneas a small museum of medieval life, with examples of clothing and a herbarium. No one is sure what the actual underground galleries were used for originally.
There is another church, San Pedro. It is from the 12th century and still retains its beautiful Romanesque façade and cloister. Olite has some very good restaurants and hotels including the Parador built in the Old Palace. Numerous vineyards provide plenty of options just outside the town for wine tasting.
Olite has a particularly excellent medieval festival in August each year. Hundreds of people come out decked in fabulous medieval garb, some even carrying owls and falcons, others playing music, beating on drums, walking on stilts or breathing fire. They parade around the town while everyone else explores the many stalls selling themed trinkets and jewelry, or they eat and drink at the lively bars and cafés. It lasts long into the night.
Olite also has its own fiesta celebrating their patron saint, Santa Cruz, like a tiny version of San Fermin in Pamplona. This happens in mid-September. People dress in the usual red and white, and there is a chupinazo – the opening ceremony with rockets and lots of music, singing and sangria flinging. It goes on for seven days with bull runs, dancing giants, eating and drinking and traditions going back centuries.
Olite has several more smaller festivals sprinkled through the year: carnival is celebrated, and a classical theater festival draws a lot of crowds. There is a lot going on for such a small town and plenty of fun to be had.
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.
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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.
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