Sunday 6 September 2015

Gehry and bull-running in Spain

On day 12 we drove 600 kms across Spain, from south-west to north-east. 

From Extremadura across Spain's biggest central region, Castilla y Leon: mile upon mile of open, dry, arid, minimally-inhabited countryside where cattle and bulls are bred. Heading over the top of Madrid and skirting Salamanca, Valladolid and Burgos (if only there had been more days) ...

... all the way to La Rioja, Spain's small but most famous wine-producing region. Where the surroundings become more varied and hilly, and expanses of vineyards appear in patchwork with fields of wheat and the Sierra Cantabria in the background.

There was general consensus that it would be unthinkable to pass through La Rioja without stopping at a vineyard, so we headed to the winery of Marques de Riscal, where this amazing sight awaited.

It's Frank Gehry again, who (post Bilbao-Guggenheim) designed the hotel on this historic wine estate

using his signature massive undulating waves - in this case of bright purple titanium (echoing the mass plantings of lavender?)

The rooms are apparently spectacular (and extremely expensive), but in the stylish wine bar it was possible to sample some of the amazing wines produced on this historic estate (see here).

From the bar terrace there are incredible views of surrounding vineyards ... 

... and of the town of Elciego (as an act of deference, Gehry deliberately set his building a metre lower than the church tower!).

Fortified by the pit-stop (and Rioja, obviously) we headed on to Navarre, and its capital Pamplona - full circle back to Basque territory. 

The Plaza del Castillo in the early evening was filling up with people in sidewalk cafés, bars and benches. And a strong sense of anticipation: this was just a few days before Pamplona's annual fiesta of the running of the bulls, the Encierro. Around a million people were about to pour into the city, where from windows and balconies, bright blue toros looked down.

Pamplona's most famous hotel, the La Perla, whose balconies are the most coveted for watching the fiesta.

A few blocks away the Monument to the Running of the Bulls by Bilbao sculptor Rafael Huerta captures a frozen moment of danger, power, fear, in the stampede ...

Hemingway's obsession as a young man with this city (he visited Pamplona nine times in the 1920s) provided mutual fame: it led to his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, and created a global reputation and mystique around the city and its annual fiesta of San Fermin. 

One of the narrow streets where the bulls run

Glad to be missing the fiesta, I was much more interested in the incredible profusion of restaurants, bars and charcuteria lining the streets, happy to trade the excitement and cruelty of the bull-race for a leisurely pintxos (Basque for tapas) crawl ...

... ending late at night, appropriately enough at Hemingway's favourite café, the Iruña (Basque name for Pamplona)

 La Rioja and Pamplona, Spain, June 2015
Day 12, Iberian road trip

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