Visit Pamplona Spain for the Culinary Festival — Semana del Pincho

Ernest Hemingway at Cafe Iruna in Pamplona SpainPamplona Spain is most frequently identified as that place where crazy people run through the streets just ahead of a herd of angry bulls. It’s called The Running of the Bulls, a part of a religious event called the San Fermin Festival in July. It only lasts eight days, but that’s all most people know of Pamplona.

You might have read Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, which is set primarily in Pamplona. He brought fame to the tradition of running with bulls.

But savvy travelers as well as people who love food recognize that Pamplona and the Navarra region of northern Spain is a cultural wealth of great food.

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What is a Pincho or Pintxos and Tapas

A pincho served in Pamplona SpainOne of the delightful culinary experiences of Navarra is the pintxos. It’s pronounced “peen-chose.”

There are a couple of spellings of pintxos, based on the English, Spanish or Basque language, but don’t get too hung up on that.

Colorful pinchos served in Pamplona Spain

A pincho can be quite elaborate.These strawberry and tomato pinchos are made from anchovy paste and presented in an elaborate little garden box.

A pincho is a small tapas or appetizer-like dish, usually consumable in one bite, maybe two. The difference between tapas and pintxos is the social setting. Eat tapas as a meal with friends in a restaurant or at home.

However, pinchos are served in bars, usually eaten while standing, and always with a glass of wine.

And this is key to the pinchos experience — when you are finished with your pincho, if you liked it, you wad up your paper napkin and fling it to the floor with gusto. With Gusto! The trashier the bar serving pincho, the better.

Semana del Pincho in Pamplona Spain

Poster for Semana del Pincho in Pamplona SpainInstead of visiting Pamplona during the Running of the Bulls when it’s hot and crowds and prices make enjoying this lovely city a challenge, consider a visit in the spring for Semana del Pincho. Semana, of course, is the Spanish word for “week.”

Semana del Pincho or Navarra Pincho Week is in March or April, but the exact week varies based on when Easter falls. It’s usually the week after Easter. During that week, about 75 bars and restaurants in Pamplona create special pintxos for the week and special fixed prices to match.

A special brochure for the week lists all participating restaurants, including the style of pinchos and the hours in which they are served. The public gets to vote on their favorite pinchos from a number of categories. The winners claim bragging rights for the coming year.

Here’s a tip: the Restaurante Abaco near the bull ring has won Best Pinchos four different years.

A waiter with a platter of pinchos in Pamplona Spain.

Bar Gaucho is one of the more popular spots to enjoy Semana del Pincho.

Wandering the ancient streets of Pamplona on a pleasant spring evening, the same streets traversed by Hemingway and equally celebrated figures of the centuries, sipping wine and sampling pintxos, enjoying the company of friends, both old and new, is one of the great cultural experiences when traveling in Spain.

And face it — it’s just not as tricky as trying to stay one step ahead of an angry bull.

Where to Stay in Pamplona Spain

LaPerla Hotel in Pamplona SpainIf you’ve read the The Sun Also Rises, you’ll remember that Jake Barnes and friends stayed at the Hotel Montoya. There is no Hotel Montoya in Pamplona. But as described in the book, it is logistically the Tropicana Hotel, a lovely property located on the Plaza del Castillo.

But if you want to stay where Hemingway stayed during all but one of nine of his visits to Pamplona, you want to book a room at the Grand Hotel La Perla.

With just 44 rooms, the Perla is a five-star boutique hotel. Hemingway’s room — No. 217 — has been maintained as it was in the 1920s, complete with twin beds. However, the bathroom has been greatly upgraded.

Hemingway Guest Room at Hotel La Perla in Pamplona SpainDuring most of the year, it’s a mere $600 per night. But during the Running of the Bulls, it will cost you more than $2,000 per night. That room overlooks the Calle Estafeta, the narrow street, just a half mile long, where the bulls run each morning. They say each morning he would watch the spectacle before returning to his desk to write.

Drinking with Hemingway statue at Cafe Iruna in Pamplona SpainPamplona’s oldest restaurant, the Café Iruña, dates to 1888. Featured in both The Sun Also Rises and Fiesta, Hemingway emptied many a bottle at the Café Iruña.

The Iruña returns the love with a life-size bronze statue of Papa leaning against the bar with a warm smile as if he is welcoming friends to his favorite watering hole. Little has changed inside the restaurant over the years.

Get your selfie for social media, but then get outside to the patio, absorbing the energy of the Plaza del Castillo and all of Pamplona.

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