In the 15th century, this Gothic town was a favorite address of the kings of Navarra. Carlos III put Olite on the map, ordering that the Palacio Real (tel. 94-874-00-35), Plaza Carlos III el Noble, be built in 1406. It was one of the most luxurious castles of the time. The towers and lookouts make visiting a romantic adventure. April through September, hours are daily 10am to 7pm (to 8pm in July and August); October to March, hours are daily 10am to 6pm. Admission is 3.50€ adults; 2€ children 6 to 16, and seniors. A guided tour is available for 4.90€.
Next to the castle on Plaza Teobaldos stands a Gothic church, Santa María la Real de Olite (tel. 94-874-17-03; www.olite.es), with a splendid 12th-century doorway decorated with flowers—a favorite backdrop for wedding photographs. The church is open for viewing for a half-hour before Mass, which takes place Monday to Saturday at 10am and 7pm and Sunday at 11am and 6:30pm.
Also on the plaza is the fine Museo de la Viña y el Vino (tel. 948-74-12-73; www.museodelvinodenavarra.com), whichchronicles winemaking in Navarra since Roman days but concentrates on recent advances in viticulture and technology. Admission is 3.50€ adults, 2€ seniors and students. It is open from Easter to mid-October Monday to Saturday 10am to 2pm and 4 to 7pm, Sunday 10am to 2pm. From mid-October to Easter it is open Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm and Saturday to Sunday 10am to 2pm.
Navarra wines are among the hottest wines in Spain right now, as ancient vineyards have met modern viticulture and an eager domestic market. The local rules permit “French” grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as the traditional indigenous varieties like Tempranillo and Graciano. Although the region is just beginning to develop wine tourism, Bodegas Marco Real (tel. 94-871-21-93; www.familiabelasco.com) outside town has tours and tastings that will open your eyes—and taste buds—to Navarra wine. The winery is located at km38 on N-121. A guided tour and tasting costs 7€. Tours run Wednesday and Friday at 9am and 3pm and must be reserved in advance.
Side Trips to a Mountain Fortress, a Historic Monastery & a Town Full of Storks
High up on a mountain of the same name, a short drive east along a secondary road from Olite, Ujué seems plucked from the Middle Ages. Built as a defensive town, it has cobbled streets and stone houses clustered around its fortress Iglesia-Fortaleza de Santa María de Ujué ★, Calle San Isidro, 8 (tel. 94-821-15-54), dating from the 12th to the 14th centuries. The heart of Carlos II (“the Bad”) was placed to rest here. The church towers open onto views of the countryside, extending to Olite in the west and the Pyrenees in the east. Recently restored, the main portal is covered with 12th-century stone carvings that show laborers in the vineyards. Admission to the church is free and it is open daily 10am to 6pm.
On the Sunday after St. Mark’s Day (April 25), Ujué is an important pilgrimage center for the people of the area, many of whom, barefoot and wearing tunics, carry large crosses. They come to Ujué to worship Santa María, depicted on a Romanesque statue dating from 1190. It was plated in silver during the second half of the 15th century.
You might also consider checking out the Monasterio de la Oliva ★ (tel. 94-872-50-06; www.monasteriodelaoliva.org), 34km (21 miles) south of Olite. It was founded by Navarra king García Ramírez in 1164 and is an excellent example of Cistercian architecture. This monastery, one of the first to be constructed by French monks outside France, once had great influence; today the most notable feature is its 14th-century Gothic cloisters. The late 12th-century church has a distinguished portal and two rose windows. The monastery was built to solidify the Christian hold on what was, in the 12th century, a borderland between Muslim and Christian rule. The Cistercians not only brought their signature architecture and stern Christianity from Burgundy, they also brought wine grapes and the know-how to cultivate them. Today the lands around the monastery produce more good wine than any time in the last 800 years. The monastery is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 12:30pm and 3:30 to 6pm, Sunday 9 to 11:30am and 4 to 8pm. Admission 2€.
It’s a modest detour from the monastery across the regional border to the southernmost tip of La Rioja to visit the town of Alfaro ★, which has a tourist office (tel. 94-118-01-33; www.alfaro.es) at Plaza de España 1, open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 2pm and 5 to 8pm, Sunday 11am to 2pm. The massive 17th-century baroque church on the same plaza is the Colegiata de San Miguel. From February to August, more than 400 nests of white storks cover the towers and roofs of the church. Ornithologists say it is the world’s largest single concentration of the species, and many studies of stork behavior have been researched in Alfaro. By late August, they begin their migration back to North Africa. The Mirador de Cigueñas ★ (or “stork overlook”) is along one side of the church and provides an ideal vantage for photography.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.