Pago de Larrainzar vineyard

Travel journal: Pamplona, Spain

Seen through the eyes of: Keith Richardson

The Running of the Bulls

Who went: The Richardson family (Keith, Wendy, Davis, and Avery), along with Allen and Catherine Ward

We went because: The annual Festival of San Fermin and the Encierro (Running of the Bulls), which is run along a half-mile route every morning of the weeklong festival.

Hotel recommendation: The Pamplona Hotel Catedral—walking distance to everything in the old town.

Where to eat: Any of the scores of tapas bars where you hear locals speaking Spanish or Basque, and, for Hemingway fans, at least one obligatory meal or drink at the Café Iruña

Favorite dish on the menu: Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (shaved cured ham). Yes, please…

Items of clothing you shouldn’t leave home without: Red kerchief (pañuelo rojo), red sash, and all-white clothing are de rigueur for everyone, every day during the festival.

Avery, Wendy,
Keith and Davis

Favorite historic landmarks: Plaza del Castillo, City Hall, Estafeta Street and the Bullring

A great experience off the beaten path: A trip to the nearby Navarre wine country. We visited Bodegas Pago de Larrainzar and Bodegas Irache (with its free wine tap for pilgrims on the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage).

Worth the splurge: Box seats for the evening bullfights; a balcony overlooking the Running of the Bulls; life insurance (with a plausible story for why you’d have been on the bull route that day!).

Something surprising we learned on the trip: The festival is for families, not just runners.  From the time the run is over until late in the evening, the streets are filled with local families, enjoying wine and food, and participating in distinctive neighborhood parades to and from the evening bullfight. Despite a constant flow of wine throughout the day, we never once saw a disagreement or heard a raised voice, unless it was for singing or chanting.

Also, the Encierro itself is everything you’d expect after reading The Sun Also Rises or watching YouTube: chaotic, terrifying, and adrenaline fueled. It’s the equivalent of a 30-mph, moving riot. Oh, and the bulls are FAST, even moving uphill on cobblestones. The 12 bulls completed the .51-mile course our day (day 4) in 2 minutes and 13 seconds. If danger’s not your middle name, just secure ($$) a balcony and watch the show unfold below!

Keith and Davis added some Louisiana flavor to their bull-running attire.

Insiders’ tips: Sleeping on a park bench is for undergrads. For pre-arranged bullfight tickets, a decent hotel, and a balcony on the route, you WILL need planning help from someone familiar with the festival. Many (although certainly not all) locals speak some English, but any attempt whatsoever to muddle through in Spanish was always met with appreciation. Lose yourself in the local favorite beverage, Kalimotxo (red wine and flat Coke), at your own risk. Don’t ask me how I know this.

We would suggest this trip to others because: Residents of Pamplona, and of the surrounding region of Navarre, are generous, patient and hospitable to a fault, and have this festival down to an art (the streets are cleaned EVERY morning). Whether you come to run, or simply watch, this is a destination not to be missed.