Exploring Navarra with a Pamplona native

March 22, 2013
Alpine Living | Jessie Hancock

Alpine Living | Jessie Hancock

Yesterday was an unexpected luxury with a true Pamplona native. Isabel Carrillo de Albornoz, the manager of the hotel at the Monasterio de Leyre, kindly picked up two other Alpine Living staff members and me at our hotel this morning on her way to work. The 30 minute drive through the Pyrenees mountains took our breath away. The mountains start out as green, rolling hills, then rise high into the sky, trees covering some of the rock face. In the distance, snow-covered peaks are visible.

In the side of one of these mountains is the Monasterio de Leyre, home to some 20 monks, and a rejuvenating spiritual retreat. The monastery itself has the oldest and most famous crypt in Europe. When we arrived, Padre Óscar Jaunsaras met up with us to give us a tour of the crypt, with Isabel acting as a translator.  We then spent a long time exploring the monastery’s chapel. Thanks to Isabel and Padre Oscar we learned about the history of the monastery, as well as Catholicism in general. Oscar is the funniest monk one would ever expect to find in the Pyranees. The language barrier did not keep us from understanding his fun sense of humor. He even snuck us in places where women are not allowed for a quick peek.

The monastery is also home to a hotel and restaurant, which makes money for the upkeep of the monastery. Isabel showed us the gorgeous, modern hotel and then we received a special surprise. We were able to watch as the monks recited their liturgy in a service not normally open to the public. The voices rose up and down, swelling and echoing around the stone chapel walls.

Isabel treated us to lunch in the hotel restaurant in true Spanish fashion. We enjoyed a two course meal, dessert and coffee. Afterward, we were able to interview the restaurant’s chef, as well as some visitors in the midst of a boisterous Spanish feast.

Alpine Living | Jessie Hancock

Alpine Living | Jessie Hancock

The most memorable part of my day was the astounding view. It is no wonder tourists travel here to vacation, meditate or simply take in the mountain vistas. We were sad to leave when Padre Oscar kiss-kissed us goodbye on the cheeks, but our day was not over.

Isabel, in no rush to get home, took us by Javier Castle to explore the centuries-old castle and take in the view. After that side trip, she drove us through the old city in Pamplona and by the local university to see what they were like as Frank Sinatra crooned to us through her CD player.

Throughout the day, Isabel talked to us about everything from the monastery and the crumbling Spanish economy, to her culture and the strife between Spain and the Catalan and Basque regions. Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that the people of Navarra are slow to make friends, but once they do they are friends for life. As she kiss-kissed us goodbye, I knew we would have a friend if ever we returned to the beautiful region of Navarra.