Where should I stay in Pamplona Spain

Pamplona: That's how it is in Spain: Nobody has to starve in this desert

The name Pamplona may have something overloaded about it at first. One inevitably thinks of the fight between the torero and the bull. Of the daring bulls (mostly) of young men running through the narrow streets of the northern Spanish city, whose pictures go around the world every July. You immediately end up with Ernest Hemingway, who stayed in Pamplona again and again - and made his breakthrough as a writer with his first major novel “Fiesta”, which also describes the bullfight there.

But the region of Navarre with its capital Pamplona has a lot more to offer than the fight of the toreros, which is viewed more and more critically not only in this country but also in Spain. The formerly independent kingdom has advantages that have now moved Lufthansa to fly directly to Pamplona for the first time in its history - four times a week from Frankfurt.

The most impressive thing about Navarre is also the most surprising. A good hour's drive south of Pamplona leads to the Bardenas Reales desert. Desert? In fact, in northern Spain there is - somewhat hidden - a desert. Even a few kilometers from the remote plateau, the view from the bus window is initially dominated by powerful green. Vegetables are grown as far as the eye can see. Only an inconspicuous sign - easily overlooked and a bit ingrown - points away from the NA-134 to a side road that leads on a dusty runway into the Bardenas.

At the information center at the entrance to the Unesco biosphere reserve, Estefania Guinea is already waiting with her jeep. There are also tickets for visitors there and bicycles can be borrowed. The cheerful South American has lived in Navarra since 2010 and fell in love with the huge, 400 square kilometer nature park. Already at the vantage point, a breathtaking view of a barren landscape reveals itself, which one would rather expect in Arizona or Mexico.

But the whole charm of the Bardenas Reales only becomes apparent on the 30-kilometer round trip through the bizarre desert, which does not consist of sand, but of dry, ocher-colored clay. You pass canyons that cut through the karst land, rugged mountain ranges and towering monoliths. It feels like you're on Mars.

“Game of Thrones was filmed here, among other things,” reports Estefania. Parts of the James Bond film “The World Is Not Enough” (1999) were also made in the Bardenas. “The nature park is well known in film circles,” says the 34-year-old from Uruguay. Beyond the film scene, however, less so: “Even many Spaniards don't know the Bardenas.” The largest group of tourists from abroad are the French. The border to the Grande Nation is only a good two hours away.

The wasteland is mainly populated by sheep. They used to be the basis of the life of the people who lived in the Bardenas. Nobody lives there today. You are also not allowed to stay overnight in the Bardenas.

When the jeep stops at a sheepfold, the scenery becomes a cliché. Vultures actually hover overhead. “You are never alone,” explains Estefania. But what are the big birds of prey looking for? Estefania goes about 50 meters into the terrain, away from the bumpy slope. And there are four carcasses of dead sheep between low bushes. Vultures have evidently gnawed off some of the dead animals. "They are old or sick animals," says the South American. “The farmers put them away from the road, and then the vultures come.” That has always been the case.

But vultures aren't the only thing that hovers overhead. Again and again, fighter jets thunder through the air and launch mock attacks on the innermost part of the desert - the military's restricted area. Entry strictly prohibited. On some days of the year there is also sharp shooting.

The gravel roads for tourists lead around the restricted area. Estefania does not know how it can be that a biosphere reserve can also be a military training ground for NATO jets. For the neighboring communities, however, the strange pairing is a financial blessing. The army will pay 14 million euros for the use of the inner Bardenas by 2020. Fortunately, the most impressive areas of the desert are away from the training area. The barreness of the Bardenas belies the fact that Navarre is a region of abundance - especially when it comes to culinary delights. The region is one of the vegetable gardens in Spain. Artichokes, asparagus, cardoons, collogos (lettuce hearts) or spinach are grown here, and olive oil is produced. At the same time, the former kingdom has two designations of origin for its wine culture: the D.O. Rioja and the D.O. Navarre.

A visit to the Otazu winery near Pamplona is recommended to those interested in wine. There is an impressive combination of wine culture and modern art, which is exhibited in the vaults and in the associated wine-growing museum. In addition, a majestic underground "Cathedral of Wine" is impressive, containing 1200 barrels made of French oak and in which Gregorian chants can be heard.

With a truffle museum, Navarre is a recommended destination for gourmets. It is only three quarters of an hour from Pamplona and director Chencho Zugasti welcomes visitors accompanied by his two truffle search dogs. Zugasti is the only employee of the museum and he has a mission: He wants to enjoy the truffle - the consumer pays between 600 and 1000 euros for a kilo of black truffle - tasty to a wider public, the mushroom-like plant that ripens underground, better known do. However, if you want to benefit from Zugasti's knowledge, you should bring some knowledge of Spanish with you. The descriptions in the museum (one of only four truffle museums in Europe) are only written in the Navarre languages: Spanish and Basque.

If you don't know what to do with truffles, you can experience a taste festival on another level in the capital Pamplona. There, in many of the more than 150 restaurants, pintxos, cleverly designed small snacks for one to three euros each, are offered. The fact that the pintxos taste really good has to do with a competition that takes place every year before Easter and in which the restaurants vie to create the best pintxos. In the course of time, a sophisticated pintxos culture has emerged.

A trip to Navarre could end with a meeting with Ernest Hemingway - in his favorite pub Iruna, which is located directly on the Plaza del Castillo in the very center of the city. Hemingway has been to Pamplona nine times. In the Art Nouveau café, the life-size literary award winner (1.83 meters) leans against the bar. If you like, you can toast the great writer with a drink. Hemingway already knew why he liked Navarre so much.