written and experienced by Dr. Stefanie Claudia MüllerErnest Hemingway was the complete opposite of an exemplary person or a gentleman. He was a drinker and womanizer, but he also was in love with Spain. About to turn 62 the Nobel Prize in Literature committed suicide on July 2, 1961, one step away from leaving again for Pamplona to celebrate Sanfermines, for the tenth time in his life. The grumpy American writer loved bullfighting and Spanish food, the vibrating cultural scene at that time and the good drinks.
The relaxed Spaniards have fit very well to his idea of having fun, but could not refrain in the end his troubled soul and mind from killing himself. His appreciation for the closeness and joy of the Spaniards when he first arrived in 1923, Hemingway transmitted three years later in “The sun also rises” (Fiesta). It was a “bestseller” and the beginning of a mass tourism for Navarra, at least from 6th to the 14th of July when the Sanfermines are celebrated and hundreds of Americans run with the bulls, or at least try it.
The best Flamenco guitarist is burried in Navarra
The city owes everything to him and he is remembered in every corner. He used to stay in a historic hotel in the Plaza del Castillo in Pamplona: La Perla. Director Rafael Moreno and his family have maintained an early 20th century Anglo-Saxon luxury that many Americans who follow in the writer’s footsteps still appreciate. But tourism of Navarra has also flourished thanks to the gypsies and their art which is also present in many parts of Pamplona and in La Perla, too.
The 5-star hotel has only a dozen rooms that are already very modern and spacious, but the guest is still given a heavy key that is left at the reception before leaving “to be able to chat with people,” Moreno explains. The family businessman has also renovated the “Café Iruña” next to this mythical hotel, where Hemingway has sat many times drinking and writing.
But the pandemic has changed everything, also for Moreno who complains about the difficult moments he lives: “It is very difficult to survive with such a concept of luxury that we offer”. Already before, due to the multiple scandals during the festivities and the increase in anti-bullfighting around the world, some changes have been considered in the Sanfermines in 2020. With the current panorama, it seems inevitable to rethink everything for next year. There is a lot of insecurity in the sector.
A microspace with interesting political features
Navarra was until now a phenomenon, precisely because of the international appeal of its bullfighting festival, but also because of the capacity for understanding in the different political and cultural groups. Now with the insecurity about the future of Sanfermines everything seems to start at 0 again. Again they have to sit together from all the different political ideologies to find a more sustainable and less “bloody” solution for the Sanfermines.
Although the autonomous community does not even reach 650,000 inhabitants, it has two prestigious universities. One is from Opus Deí, the other is public. Both are internationally recognized. The first especially for its university hospital and its IESE Business school. Also thanks to the international students, Navarra continues to be a “melting pot” and Pamplona a university city with a nightlife culture as crazy as in Madrid.
Highest concentration of bars and restaurants
As Santiago Lesmes explains very good in his “Guía molona de Pamplona” the historic city is a favorite destination for international students, but the noise at night and the bottles are the negative part of this evolution. “The concentration of bars and restaurants is the highest in Spain and perhaps in the world”; says Lesmes.
Walking with him through Pamplona you can see through the different styles of monuments the long and in parts cruel history of Navarra and the struggle for power that existed here between Basques, Romans, Muslims and bishops. What few know is that the city also has a significant community of gypsies that are fairly well integrated into the city. The “Flamenco on fire” Festival remembers this important cultural heritage since already eight years, also praising one of its most international musicians: the 31-year-old guitarist Agustín Castellón Campos, known as “Sabicas”.
Although he lived and worked for a long time in New York, his remains rest in his hometown where Basque and Spanish are the official languages. But there is also French and English to hear everywhere. At least that was the case before the pandemic, now international tourist come less of course. However, to walk the “Camino de Santiago” is still a challenge for many and they don’t want to miss it. Hiking is also pandemic friendly, why Navarra suffers in 2021 less than other destinations. In August everything is packed in the small town.
The beach is about an hour car drive away, but the multicultural touch you experience everywhere, even in the food, makes Pamplona worthwile to stay a bit longer and walk around and try out the menu before heading for Bilbao and Santander where are some of the best art museums of the country. You can go from Madrid with the highspeed train AVE, which is an experience in itself. In Pamplona one can enjoy especially drinks and food – the “pintxos”, little artistic dishes served for nothing more than 3.50 euros. You take it with a drink. “A good Spaniard” never drinks without eating. The tourist should do the same, especially when it come to alcohol.
Being so small, but so multicultural at the same time it seems strange that in recent history there have not been more problems in political management in Navarra seeing the national scene or more issues with violent racism as in other countries. “Perhaps it is because we are more pragmatic in our rebellion than others”, guesses Lesmes. In this context, it is interesting that not even Franco could repress the fiscal autonomy of this Community, which is surely one of the reasons, which has contributed to the fact that unemployment with 9% is the lowest in the country and that there was and is almost no political corruption in Navarra.
Hemingway and Volkswagen – garantes of income
The largest employer is Volkswagen, but there are also many important companies in the agri-food world based in Navarra. The urban ordinance also stands out outside the historic center of Pamplona. The Green does not even become brown despite the fact that this summer there has been little rain and a fantastic blue sky all the time with less hot climate than in the South of Spain.
Walking around the small streets it is striking that everything is very clean in Pamplona, like in most of the Spanish cities, but with more emphasis on tidyness and rules for urban development. The fact that Spanish towns are normally secure and clean might have to do with the importance of tourism for the country in general which allows a high public investment in cleaning machines running down the streets every day to collect garbage and the dust of a day.
The police of Navarra and the Spanish national police is very present when the crazy night starts on Thursday – the day of discount prices for drinks and “pintxos”. Especially now in the pandemic the police has to supervise the crowds to avoid parties on the street without the security measures as distance and masks. For Spain it is very important to give a secure image to the tourist pandemic wise. Unfortunately the culture of drinking together in parks and streets always provokes some problems with neighbours, but for the rest for many tourists “Pamplona looks just like Switzerland” – but with much more fun.
The “Guia molona de Pamplona“, for all who speak Spanish, is a very funny way to discover all the secrets and hidden places of this historic town where some priests were family fathers and nuns prostitutes, where mixed marriages were possible even among royalties and a good vine and a “pintxo” is always available in every corner of Pamplona, even for a fair price.