Just under an hour away from Pamplona by car, Estella is well worth a visit for those who might be spending a few days in Navarre's capital. Estella, which is referred to locally by its Basque name 'Lizarra,' stands out as one of the most beautiful towns in this quaint and historical region of Spain. Not only does it boast unique examples of centuries-old architecture as well as an unspoilt Jewish quarter that once housed a large Sephardi community, but Estella is also home to a week-long fiesta that is probably the best example you'll find of what the original San Fermin would have looked like before the tourists took over.
Hemingway was the man who unintentionally made San Fermin the popular festival that it is today after writing about it in his novel 'Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises.' He later expressed some regret about this subsequent boom in visitors, as the hordes of tourists began to pour into Pamplona increasingly over the years. The famous 'running of the bulls' festival has never been the same there since. So what did it look like when Hemingway first arrived in Pamplona and kept coming back? Perhaps the Fiesta of Estella, just 44 km away, holds the answer; there are bull runs each morning, marching bands throughout the day and non-stop partying throughout the night. The Fiesta of Estella is nonetheless still a festival that belongs to the local people, the Navarros, which makes it somewhat of an undiscovered gem, an exceptional event that thankfully looks set to stay that way.
Those who have been to Toledo will understand why it is widely regarded as the most beautiful city in Spain. So it can only serve as a huge compliment that Estella is often referred to as the 'Toledo of the North.' During the middle ages, it was known as “Estella the elegant,” perhaps for the same reasons; its historical churches, surrounding landscape, Romanesque architecture, and arch bridge give it the type of elegant feel that does, in many ways, bring Toledo to mind. The Palace of the Kings, which is situated in the Plaza de San Martín, is a fine example of architecture from the Romanesque period, having been built in the late 12th century and declared a national monument by the Spanish government in 1931.
Many people will have heard of Estella because it is one of the many towns along the route of the Camino de Santiago. In recent years, however, its name made the headlines both throughout Spain and internationally for a botched restoration paint job at the Church of St Michael. It was here where in 2018, a 16th-century walnut-wood statue of Saint George slaying a dragon was restored so badly that it drew comparisons to the famous cartoon character Tin Tin. However, much to the relief of locals, who are proud of their heritage, the statue (pictured below before the botched restoration) has since been professionally painted and dignifiedly restored.
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