The Monasterio de San Salvador of Leyre (tel. 94-888-40-11; www.monasteriodeleyre.com) is 16km (10 miles) east of Sangüesa, perched on the side of a mountain of the same name, overlooking the Yesa Dam. Of major historic and artistic interest, the main body of the monastery was constructed from the 11th to the 15th centuries on the site of a primitive pre-Romanesque church; in time, it became the spiritual center of Navarre. Many kings, including Sancho III, made it their pantheon. Its crypt, consecrated in 1057, ranks as one of the country's major works of Romanesque art.
When the church was reconstructed by the Cistercians in the 13th century, the bays of the old Romanesque church were retained. The outstanding and richly adorned 12th-century west portal is called the Porta Speciosa and is covered with intricate carvings. In one section, Jesus and his disciples are depicted atop mythical creatures. Some of the other artistic treasures of this once-great monastery are displayed at the Museo de Navarra in Pamplona.
The monastery is 4km (2 1/2 miles) from Yesa, which itself is on N-240, the major road linking Pamplona, Sangüesa, and Huesca. Take the N-240 into Yesa, and then follow an uphill road marked LEYRE 4km (2 1/2 miles) to the monastery. Visits are possible daily from 10:15am to 2pm and 4 to 7pm. Admission is 2€ for adults and .50€ for children 6 to 12.
At Leyre you'll also find one of the most unusual accommodations in Navarre, the Hospedería de Leyre, Monasterio de Leyre, 31410 Yesa (tel. 94-888-41-00; www.hotelhospederiadeleyre.com). This two-star inn with 30 units (all with bathrooms and phones) was created from the annexes constructed by the Benedictines in the 1700s. Guest rooms open onto views of the Yesa Reservoir. The rate is 70€ to 85€ for a double room, and parking is free. The hotel restaurant, which serves good Navarrese food in a rustic setting, is open daily 8:30 to 10am, 1 to 3:30pm, and 8 to 10pm. The Hospedería is closed from December 10 to March 1.
The second major excursion possible in the area is to Castillo de Javier (tel. 94-888-40-24), 8km (5 miles) from Sangüesa. The castle dates from the 11th century, but owes its present look to restoration work carried out in 1952. Francisco Javier (Xavier), patron of Navarre, was born here on April 7, 1506. Along with Ignatius Loyola, he founded the order of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in the mid-16th century. The castle houses a magnificent 13th-century crucifix, and thousands of the faithful congregate at Javier on two consecutive Sundays in March. This is the most popular pilgrimage in Navarre. Known as the Javierada, it pays homage to Francisco Javier, who was canonized in 1622.
During your visit to the castle, view the oratory, the guard chamber, the great hall, and the saint's bedroom. The castle teems with interesting art, including a 15th-century fresco called the Dance of Death. To drive to the castle, take the N-240 to Yesa and then follow an unmarked road that's signposted CASTILLO DE JAVIER. The castle is open daily from 10am to 1:30pm and 3:30 to 7pm in summer (until 6pm in winter). Admission is 2€ for adults and 1€ for children.
For food and lodging, go to the tranquil Hotel El Mesón, Plaza de Javier, 31411 Javier (tel. 94-888-40-35; fax 94-888-42-26), right in the center of the hamlet of Javier on the same unmarked road the castle is on. Management rents eight comfortably furnished rooms, but the hotel is closed from December 15 to February. Doubles go for 75€, and parking is free. The hotel's restaurant offers the best food in the area, with a fixed-price menu going for 18€.