April 25th, 2011
What do people looking for a home in Spain consider to be the best view? The sea, snow covered mountains, your own pool? The vista from the front window or roof terrace can be crucial. In Pamplona that could come in the form of hundreds of naked people running past your front door. Or thousands of people being chased by bulls. If Pamplona is one thing, it is different.
The naked truth
Let me immediately get the obvious out of the way. Pamplona is, of course, most famous for a most controversial local fiesta. During the nine days and nights of Las Fiestas de San Fermin much drink is consumed. Locals and tourists alike party all night long.
The fiesta is best known for is the running of bulls through the narrow streets. In recent years this event has been preceeded by another unsightly spectacle, the running of the nudes. People that is! It is debatable which event is most grotesque. Like the art of getting away from the stampeding bulls, it is a close run thing.
The July bull run began life as three distinctive fiestas and is believed to have taken place since the 14th century. Today the ‘Sanfermines’, as it is known locally, is a more hedonistic affair. Alcohol flows freely in the many bars of the Barrio de San Juan.
One misconception is that there is only one bull run in Pamplona
During the long festivities there are in fact several. Since 1911 records have been kept of the number of fatalities that were a direct result of participation in the bull run. Tourists and campaigners are surprised to discover that the death rate of spectators and participants is as low as 15 in the last 100 years.
Fresh concern over the event was raised when, in 2003, an 82 year old bar owner was knocked over and killed. Prior to that a young American tourist was gored to death in 1995. The same fate befell a 27 year old visiting Spaniard only two years ago.
As ever, opinion remains divided about the merits of the bull run. I met Geordie born Ben Mann who confessed that, when it comes to bull runs, he finds himself on the horns of a dilemma.
He says: “I don’t like to see bulls die in the streets or to witness people being gored, which has happened once. I simply cannot enjoy it but I have to respect the fact that, to the local people, this is an important and meaningful event – and not just because of the tourist money it brings to Pamplona.
“In one bar I met a particularly attractive young Spanish girl who simply told me: ‘San Fermin cannot be explained, it can only be experienced.’
“Having done just that once” says Ben, “I know I don’t want to see it again so every summer I rent out my apartment to those who do. They get to see something they have on their personal ‘bucket list’, and I get a nice income.”
Balcony with a view
A local agent confirms that having a property with a view of the bull run is a business in itself. He tells me: “Just to see the bull run alone you can rent out your balcony for up to 80 euros per person, per bull run. If you want to rent the whole apartment it would cost up to 3000 (three thousand) euros per month. During the rest of the year the same apartment might bring you income of 700 (seven hundred) euros.
So what may be a sharp pain in the bottom for some, can be a nice little earner for others.
For the remainder of the year Pamplona is a very sedate place. It has a sleepy feel about it and has never grown into a major city like so many other historic locations in Spain. It is though prosperous and popular with young Spaniards who often choose to attend university there. The campus and the education on offer here are much sought after.
Wealthy parents from Bilbao buy second homes there so that their children can study in comfort and not resort to renting. That is one reason why house prices have bucked recent downward trends and have more than held their own in recent years.
No more bull
When not looking at the bits of bulls or naked athletic humans, what else is worth taking a look at in Pamplona?
The planetarium is popular, and the three original fortified towns, each with its own 13th century churches, attract many visitors. Indeed Pamplona is ideal for the thousands of people who take time to visit historic religious buildings throughout Spain.
The local cathedral was a long time in the making. It took over a century to build the Santa Maria la Real Basilica Cathedral. This, coupled with the fact that inside it boasts three Gothic naves, has led to it being listed as one of the most important religious buildings in the country.
Pieces of Pamplona
Pamplona is the capital of Navarra. It is a region known for its wine, chorizo sausage, and not a whole lot else. In itself this a great shame and big mistake. The area is so untouched by the negative aspects of mass tourism. It is in every sense a most welcoming place. Not far from the city of Pamplona are some very distinctive residential villages. Among the nicest are Gorraiz, which belongs to the town of Egues. Other places you should see are Olaz, Zizur Menor, Obanos and the Aranguren Valley.
If you want a lovely day out, then the superb area of La Rioja is only short drive away. Former British Chess champion, Stuart Conquest, lives in lovely La Rioja but confesses that a trip to Pamplona is a favourite day out for him.
He says: “My work often takes me to Pamplona and I love the place. It is on my doorstep. The drive between the two places is spectacular and the people of Pamplona are so down to earth. It should be known for much more than the bull run. Like other places in Spain, such as Valladolid, it has great character and is too often overlooked by visitors to Spain. Another location that falls into that category is a short drive in the other direction. That’s the stand out city of Burgos. There is so much to see within an hour or so of Pamplona.”
An earnest view from Hemingway
No lesser a person than the writer Ernest Hemingway brought the delights of Pamplona to a wider world, through the pages of his bullfighting memoir, ‘A Dangerous Summer.’
Quite what he would have made of the sight of many people, including women, running nude through the streets of the town he loved so much is anyone’s guess. He was a big fan of the bullfight so might not have understood the motives of those who shed their clothes in order to raise money for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
It may have been enough to make him take cover in one of his favourite bars in town, which then admitted only men.
Leave ‘er indoors, indoors!
In his book Hemingway stated that Pamplona was “no place to bring your wife.”
He went on: “The odds are all in favour of her getting ill, hurt or wounded or at least jostled and have wine squirted all over her, or of losing her; maybe all three. It’s a man’s fiesta and women at it make trouble, never intentionally of course, but they nearly always make or have trouble.
“Of course if she can talk Spanish so she knows she is being joked with and not insulted, if she can drink wine all day and all night and dance with any group of strangers… likes disorder, irregular meals and never needs to sleep… then bring her.”
So now you know where to go for your next wedding anniversary!