Navarra’s reputation for making exceptional wine blossomed during the late Middle Ages, as pilgrims traveling along the Camino de Santiago—a medieval pilgrimage route currently enjoying a dramatic resurgence in popularity—began noting the particularly high quality of wines they encountered as they made their way through the Kingdom of Navarra, en route to the shrine of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela, roughly 400 walking miles to the west, in the northwestern Spanish province of Galicia. (Rioja, Navarra’s next door neighbor to the west, found its own early fame in precisely the same way.)
The earliest record of outsiders visiting the Cathedral of Santiago–where the remains of the saint are said to lay, purportedly found by shepherds–date from the 9th century, but it wasn’t until the 12th century that the Camino emerged as a highly organized international phenomenon (and for travelers, a relatively secure undertaking). Around the same time, in 1234, the first of a succession of French monarchs ascended by marriage to the throne of the Kingdom of Navarra, ushering in over three centuries of cultural flowering still evidenced today by the beautiful and well-worn vestiges of the region’s late Romanesque and high Gothic architectural ambition.
This was Camino’s Golden Age. Routes originating from all over Europe converged at the French Pyrenees at two principal crossing points into Spain. The main route crossed into Navarra, the other into Aragon. Both converged at a landmark in Navarra: the Romanesque Puente La Reina bridge, which, now as it did then, represents one of the Camino’s most potent icons and milestones.
Today, after centuries of losing some of its luster, the Camino de Santiago is experiencing explosive growth in popularity, just as reasons for making the journey among modern-day pilgrims seem to have expanded into more secular, more broadly spiritual brands of inspiration. And as it happens, key stretches of both Spanish routes slice directly through D.O. Navarra, particularly through the northern subzones Valdizarbe and Tierra Estella, where a number of wineries operate a mere steps away from paths trodden by tens of thousands of Camino pilgrims each year.
© Photo Credit: Ayuntamiento de Pamplona