Where: Beloso Bajo 11, Pamplona, Spain
What it costs: US$160 a double room, B&B (price in November 2013)
Click here to book a room
Alma Pamplona opened in 2010 and has gained a reputation as the Navarran capital’s most luxurious hotel. The 59-room 5* hotel is unashamedly modern and starkly minimalist, yet draws its enchantment from the same timeless vistas that once left mediaeval pilgrims awe-struck during their long trek to pay homage at Santiago de Compostela. Set in a peaceful riverside meadow just a 15-minute stroll from the old-town’s main plaza, this is the perfect place to stay, whether you are a modern-day pilgrim quietly saluting old-time Spain with a glass of tinto or a Hemingway-esque aficionado of the world’s most (in)famous fiesta.
It is fair to say that Pamplona was probably one of the first tourist destinations in Spain’s history. For more than a thousand years pilgrims have been passing through the Navarran capital on their way to pay homage at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. They arrived in the town via the banks of the Arga River and, shortly before entering the old walled city through the Portal de Francia, they would have passed the spot on which Alma Pamplona Hotel now stands.
This might be hallowed and historic terrain but Alma Pamplona is unabashedly modern. Check-in was a predictably pleasant experience, with a welcoming glass of cava in my left hand and the first digit of my right hand inserted into a clever gadget that scanned my fingerprint for room access (rendering keys or swipe cards obsolete). The first thing that surprised me – after the little green light finally confirmed that I was indeed allowed into my room – was that the door from the corridor opened directly into the bathroom. To the left was the toilet cubicle and shower and to the right, partitioned by just a low wall, was the main bathroom itself. It is a highly unusual layout but actually set me up perfectly for the second surprise: the immense plate-glass windows right across the end of the room offered a spellbinding view of the Arga valley and the ancient belfries of Pamplona Cathedral, on the battlements of the walled city. San Cristobal Mountain and the foothills of the Pyrenees beyond were thrown into relief by warm glow of a Spanish sunset. I left both the room’s large flat-screen TVs turned off and concentrated instead upon the hypnotic view while I sipped the second cava.
PROS: Seductive views across the Arga valley to the foothills of the Pyrenees. Eucalyptus-scented hammam and traditional sauna. The breakfast platter with prime serrano ham and wonderful Spanish cheese is unforgettable.
CONS: If it’s minimalism that floats your boat then this us the place for you. The corridors though – evocative of some ultra-sanitised space-colony – could benefit from a few more of the antique artefacts that testify to the history of this ancient city. Those impressive fingerprint scanning gadgets look like they are the ‘key of the future’ but even the hotel workers admit that they are quirky. (After an hour soaking in the hammam my prune-like fingertip clearly bared very little resemblance to the one I had scanned on arrival).
TIP: If you intend to visit during Pamplona’s famous ‘Fiestas de San Fermin’ (July 6 – 14) be prepared to book as much as 4 months in advance.
While You’re There
- Get active. Guests have access to the neighbouring Amaya sports centre, with swimming pool, tennis, even a running track (www.cdamaya.com)
- Tour the old town. Dinamic Eventos (www.dinamiceventos.es) offer several guided tours, including Pamplona by night.
- Museum of the Bullrun. The privately-run Museo del Encierro (www.sanferminencierro.com) offers a great insight into Pamplona’s legendary running of the bulls.
- Riverside Walk. The new riverside walk along the Arga stretches for many kilometres through a chain of villages to the east of Pamplona
On the trail of Hemingway. Global Servicios Culturales (www.global-sc.net) guide you through the mutual Hemingway-Pamplona love affair.