Tiny Navarra occupies just 2% of Spain’s total land mass. Tucked in the country’s northeast corner, it shares its northern frontier with France and is bordered by Aragon to the east and La Rioja to the west. Navarra is an area of contrasts, ranging from the mountains and fertile valleys of the north to the dry, dusty landscapes of the south. It’s one of the four territories that make up Spain’s Basque Country.
Navarra is probably best known to foreigners because of its regional capital, Pamplona, where the famous San Fermin bull-running festival inspired American author Ernest Hemingway to write some of his most famous novels. Navarra has much more to offer than bullfighting, however, although it has not played such an important part in Spanish history as some regions.
Human settlement in Navarra is known to date back to prehistoric times. The Romans and Moors had little cultural and political impact on the region, so there is not as much evidence of Moorish architecture and cuisine as can be found in other regions of Spain.
In 778, the Emperor Charlemagne sacked Pamplona, and the neighbouring Basques came to the rescue, driving out Charlemagne. This was a high point for a kingdom whose size and population made it difficult for it to make a major impact on history.
Over the following centuries, the small Kingdom of Navarra was menaced in turn by the kingdoms of Aragon, Castile and France. The ruling dynasty died out, and in 1512, Ferdinand of Aragon invaded the area, making it part of the new Spain. Until the middle of the 19th century, though, the area continued to be known as the Kingdom of Navarra.
Navarra’s most important tradition, the Javierada, takes place in March, when people from all over Navarra make a pilgrimage to the castle where Saint Francis Xavier – patron saint of Navarra – was born in 1506. Spring is the time for many other Romerias, or pilgrimages, too, thanks to its position on the famous Camino de Santiago, or The Way of Saint James.
Pamplona’s festival of San Fermín (the Sanfermines), may be the region’s most famous tradition because its running of the bulls receives international attention. This summer fiesta isn’t all about the bulls, though; there are many other traditions associated with the event, such as the building and burning of giant effigies.
Navarra is renowned for its hunting, and there are a number of fiestas associated with aspects of hunting. Animal lovers may find it difficult to reconcile their ideology with some of Navarra’s customs and traditions.
Moving to Navarra
Navarra has a population of just over 630,000, and one-third of the residents live in and around Pamplona, the only city in the region. Around 70,000 of these are foreign residents, making up 11% of the region’s population. This is slightly higher than the national average.
Some 90% of immigrants to the area are happy to remain in the region rather than move to other areas of Spain. While some immigrants of Latin American and North African ethnicity complain of being discriminated against, most European immigrants to Navarra feel that they are accepted and welcomed by the indigenous population.
House prices in Navarra are on a par with the national average, and appear to be rising slightly. New residents might be able to get more for their money in other regions, but the high quality of life in Navarra helps to compensate for higher property prices.
Navarra has two official languages, Castilian Spanish and Basque, the latter being spoken mainly in the northwest part of the region. Castilian is the language of the south, and you’ll find a mixture of the two spoken in and around Pamplona.
Transport links in the region could use some improvement. Of Navarra’s 3,700 km of roads, less than 10% are classified as motorways or expressways. Plans are under way to improve road connections, particularly in the Ebro Valley region.
There is only one airport in the region, near Pamplona, and rail links are limited to connections with Madrid, Barcelona and the towns along the Zaragoza-Alsasua line. A high-speed rail link is planned to connect Navarra with southern Spain and the rest of Europe, but given the economic climate, this may take some time.
Working in Navarra
Unemployment in Navarra is around 12%, which is higher than the national average, but lower than in many of the larger regions. All aspects of the construction industry are experiencing levels of unemployment, although the Volkswagen plant near Pamplona is a significant employer, with 5,000 personnel.
A recent surge in interest in rural tourism offers job prospects in the service and hospitality sectors, and there are career opportunities in the field of renewable energy. Teachers and other highly qualified workers are also in demand. Openings for unskilled workers seem to be limited in Navarra. Being fluent in Castilian Spanish will certainly help one’s job prospects.
Living in Navarra
In a recent survey, Navarra ranked as Spain’s top region for living standards. The area is almost self-sufficient in renewable energy creation via its network of wind turbines. This means electricity costs – notoriously high in Spain – are not such an important issue in Navarra. While some English-speaking immigrants are not happy to see wind turbines blighting the landscape, the locals are quite sanguine about it, considering that renewable energy is more important than the view from the balcony.
The area is well provided for in terms of open spaces, sports facilities and recreational activities. Navarra is a great place for those who like to spend time outdoors, and the climate is excellent, neither too cold in winter, nor too hot in summer.
Cuisine in Navarra is varied, with locally produced meats, cheeses, salmon and vegetables figuring strongly in the local diet. If it’s grown or raised in Navarra, it will end up on the table, as the people of the region insist on eating local produce whenever possible. Navarra also produces some excellent wines. In summary, living the good life in Navarra is achievable for everyone.
Top 5 Sights
1) The historic town of Tudela.
2) The village of Roncesvalles, Spanish starting point of the Camino de Santiago.
3) The town of Olite, home to the kings of Navarra.
4) The Basque villages of the Valle de Bidasoa.
5) The city of Pamplona.