Navarra

What do you know about Navarra? I'm guessing, not very much.

Welcome to Navarra

Would it help if I mentioned Hemingway, the Camino de Santiago, the Pyrenees, the running of the bulls, Pamplona?

Navarra (or Navarre in English), is one of the smallest autonomous regions of Spain and derives from a Kingdom which existed for over a millennium until it was finally incorporated int Spain in 1841. Even to this day it reserves the right to distribute its own tax revenue, making it one of the wealthier areas in the country.

While only around half of the 600,000 residents speak Basque, it retains a strong Basque culture, and along with the País Vasco provinces (and part of France), forms the disputed state of Euskadi.

Recently, a recent hit crime novel series has put the state on the map, and more visitors than ever visit the region's parks and natural beauty hotspots.

It's also visited by hundreds of peregrinos (pilgrims) every day. One of the main routes of the Camino de Santiago starts across the border in France, run through Navarra, and stretches west to the Atlantic coast.

Although the capital, Pamplona, is no metropolis, many places of interest lie within a two hour drive - Bilbao, San Sebastian, Zaragoza, La Rioja, Burgos, and the ski slopes of the Pyrenees.

Pamplona is of course, most famous for its July festival - San Fermínes, in which people run away from angry bulls, and the town gets drunk for nine days straight (no wonder Hemingway loved it).




So, if Navarra sounds like the kind of place you'd like to visit for more than just a flying visit, read on to find some useful advice and resources about how to live well.

Note: The purpose of this guide is to give some tips and secrets that you won't find through tourist information offices, or in your Lonely Planet book. I've listed prices in American dollars for ease of comparison.




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Get the best for less in Navarra

While rents are not as high as Madrid, or Barcelona, they are more expensive than many other cities in Spain. Finding the right place can take time, but there are reasonable listings in the city. Although Pamplona is a very green city, almost all of the available accommodation is in large flat blocks. If you want a house and garden, you'll have to rent outside the city and get a car. Fotocasa and Idealista are probably the most used rental websites, although most listings are created by agents who charge high fees (one month finders fees, two month's deposit). 

Mil Anuncios or the flatshare Facebook group offer easier alternatives to the big rental websites. As a town with two large universities, there are plenty of Student flats available to choose from. The public university offers a page with available properties. The best time to rent these is before the students arrive in September.

If you want to see what its like looking for rentals in Pamplona as an Expat, check out this episode of House Hunters International.





Accommodation Tips:
  1. Pound the pavement. Walking around town is a must if you want to find a bargain. You will see plenty of for rent signs and can enquire with the owners directly.
  2. Don't pay agency fees. You can ask about available apartments in shops, bars and public buildings. Everyone always knows a cousin or an aunt with a spare room. There are plenty of noticeboards in town and online, where you can post 'flat wanted' signs.
  3. Sacrifice on location. If you live a little farther from the old town then rents can be a much cheaper. A three bed flat in a non central barrio might cost $600 per month. The same place in Casco Viejo could cost nearly treble.
  4. Watch out for San Fermínes. Some landlords ask tenants to vacate during the fiesta, so they can rent out their places. Accommodation prices go through the roof in July, although this does mean some savvy tenants can sublet.
  5. Share. While most of us crave the privacy of our own apartment, and it is certainly affordable, bills can add up. Electricity, water and gas can be as much as $150 per month, and telecoms packages are a rip-off too. Sharing can be a good way to keep costs down.



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Pintxos in a typical bar

Spain is renowned for its quality seafood, wine and olives but you can easily end up with an plate of sloppy pasta or bland stew if you're not careful. You have to be willing to forgo spacious sterile restaurants and enjoy simple tastes to get the best food here:


Eating Tips:
  1. The four seasons. Newsflash - Navarra is into fruit and vegetables. You'll find a host of greengrocers and markets selling produce from the region, but prices vary wildly based on what is in season, so learn what to eat and when.
  2. Little by little. Most people snack on pintxos, between their confusing schedule of up to five daily meals. Pintxos are small bites (often delicious stuff served on bread), which go well with a drink. And no . . . it's not the same thing as tapas.
  3. The local tipple - Apart from great wine, Navarrans enjoy vermouth (drunk at midday on weekends), cider (with steak), and Patxaran (sloe berry liquor).
  4. What time? -  Spaniards don't really do breakfast. People tend to have a coffee and something small, then a late morning snack. The only meal time that's set in stone is lunch - 2 pm to 4 pm. Offices close, and people go home to eat with their family. This is the main meal of the day and is usually a three course affair. There's another snack in the afternoon, and most people eat a light dinner at around 9-10 pm.
  5. Do it yourself.  Regional cities don't have too many international or good vegetarian options, so if you are craving a good taco or some miso soup, you might be better making it yourself. El Corte Inglés and Chinese bazaars are the best places to find 'world foods'.



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Zentral, Pamplona

Navarra is not known as a fashion hotspot, or a celeb hangout. It's trapped between old and new, between Basque culture and modern Spain, between conservative and alternative lifestlyes. Many residents of Pamplona originally come from small villages and often stick to their cuadrilla (close circle of friends), or peña (members only social clubs). Sometimes you have to be a little creative in order to get to know people.


Socialising Tips:
  1. Check the calendar. Every town has a well maintained municipal website which provides up to date information on upcoming events. Navarra holds thousands of festivals each year, you can find more information about them here.
  2. Rock out! Heavy metal, glam rock, punk and pretty much any form of music that requires a black t-shirt is popular in Navarra. Even the small regional towns such as Tudela and Estella, have regular gigs to go to. Zentral is the best known venue in the capital.
  3. Thirsty Thursdays. On Thursdays, bars in Pamplona and Tudela offer juevintxo - a drink and pintxo for just over one dollar each. This means the whole town comes out to eat and drink, meandering from bar to bar, and bumping into all of their friends for a chat.
  4. Get sporty - Even the smallest of towns here have thriving municipal sports centres that run football leagues and running races. Running is massive in Navarra, and races provide music, free food and wine, and some decent prizes too. They can be a great way to get to know other fitness enthusiasts. Private sports clubs can be expensive to join, but if you are friends with the right people, you can go as a guest. If playing sport isn't your thing, you can always cheer on Osasuna (or a better team) in your local bar. For British and French expats, Baztan bar provides a good nest for watching the 6 Nations.
  5. Stay out late. Eating dinner at eleven and staying out until sunrise is common practice, so if you want to party with the Spanish, you'll have to reset you body clock.
  6. Find your local café. Another cornerstone of social life is the café. Each manzana (block) has a friendly café where residents visit daily for a coffee, a drink, a chat, or just to read the local papers.
  7. Join a group -  Plenty of locals want to practice thier English, and if you don't want to organise your own intercambio, there is a friendly group that meets on Tuesdays and Fridays. There is also a Couch Surfing group that organise activities from time to time.




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Cyclists!

While the region is served by affordable airports, none of them are close to Pamplona. The city also lies in a valley between two major arterial roads, meaning public transport to and from the smaller cities can be infrequent and surprisingly expensive.


Transport Tips:

  1. Relax on the train. While trains are not the most cost effective way to get around, the service is clean, safe, quiet and fast. Madrid is only three and a half hours away and nearby Vitoria offers a night train to Lisbon. Book early for reduced prices.
  2. Get a bike - Considering it's the home of cycling legend Miguel Indurain, Pamplona does not have a brilliant cycle lane network. Most pedalers ride on the wide pavements, but the government is now putting more emphasis on promoting cycling and improving things. The city is the perfect size to own a bike as it will get you form A to B faster than the Villabesa (local busses). There are of course, beautiful rides outside of the city too.
  3. Buy your ticket in advance. Intercity bus services can be infrequent an sometimes busy. Get your return ticket as soon as you can so you can check departure times, and avoid being stranded if the seats sell out.
  4. Ride share - BlaBla Car is a more comfortable and often cheaper alternative to local busses. One hour's travel can cost as little as $5. The website is well trusted and used and drivers offer places in their car for a small fee. Look for your journey 24-48 hours before travel, then arrange a pick up time and location and you're ready to go.
  5. Get your own transport - Owning a car is not much more expensive than using public transport. There is a thriving market for second hand vehicles and Pamplona has several free parking zones outside of the town centre.


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A Pamplona market

While it does have two shopping centres, Pamplona is no retail paradise. Apart from the El Corte Inglés department store, and Decatlon sporting goods, most of the shops are bland clothing stores and souvenir shops.


Shopping tips:

  1. Support local businesses. Many people in Navarra are employed in the agriculture industry, so by buying local brands (e.g. cheese, vegetables, wine), you help the community. Small corner shops and delis will appreciate your business much more than the supermarket chains. One local brand that is definitely worth supporting is clothing and graphics company Kukuxumusu. Their unique comedic style has come to represent Pamplona and its festival.
  2. Make a weekend of it. If you are looking for clothes or foreign goods, take advantage of the shopping districts in Spain's bigger cities and get away for the weekend.
  3. Buy direct. People are trying to make a buck where they can, so numerous second hand sales groups have sprung up on Facebook and through apps like Wallapop. Pamplona also has two pawn shops in the Segundo Ensanche district.
  4. Fairs and markets. Specialist markets, selling local goods often come to town. The Plaza Del Castillo has pop up stalls hosting book fairs and the Navarran produce festival. The bull ring hosts a month long Christmas market in December, which is good for buying presents.
  5. Go online - For those thousands of things you can't find, go online. The postal service is fairly reliable and it can be more convenient that making trips to the big cities every month.



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How to find a job in Navarra:

Spainwise TEFL Jobs fair

People move to Navarra for a variety of reasons - study, family, work. As an affluent province, employment opportunities can be more plentiful, although most companies prefer to employ people on temporary contracts, which causes people to move around a lot. With Volkswagen, pharmaceutical companies, and other multinationals moving in, the need for English is ever growing and is now taken seriously by parents and schools. There are plenty of other jobs you can do as an expat, but the English market is still growing, so academy work, and private classes are always an option.


Teaching Tips:

  1. Take a course - One way into a job, can be to study your CELTA or Trinity certificate with International House or other schools. They often need part time teachers and can help with applications.
  2. Know the season - Academies generally recruit in May and June. Contracts run from September to June with summer school work available too. Spainwise run a website and recruitment fair dedicated to TEFL jobs in Spain.
  3. Get a NIE - Companies prefer EU citizens as it negates visa requirements, but to work in Spain, you will also need a foreigner number and employers will look favourably on those who already have the right paperwork.
  4. Be adaptable. Most academies offer classes for children as young as three up to adults. It is common to teach four or five different age groups and levels every day, so you will need to be adaptable in your classes. You can always advertise your services for private classes online, or in town. The going rate is about $20-25 per hour.
  5. Brush up on your business skills. Many companies offer classes to employees as they receive government grants to do so. Even outside of company classes, most adults require English in some way to help progress their career. Make yourself invaluable by understanding their needs, and helping students overcome any possible challenges they might face.
  6. Get to know Cambridge exams. The vast majority of English students in Spain are studying for a Cambridge certificate which they need for University or work. A good knowledge of KET, PET, FCE and CAE exams is essential to work here.



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There are also plenty of other ways to earn more Euros and you won't have to apply for hundreds of permits and licences to get going either.


work online
Work online in Navarra

Money making tips:
  1. Give classes. If you have some other skill, you can always teach exercise, design, music, dance, or even give therapy. If you speak Spanish, just mention what you do, people are always interested and can suggest a price to charge ($20 per hour is normal).
  2. Be hired help. People are time poor cash rich. Helping with au pair work, tutoring, and kids clubs is a good way to earn.
  3. Workaway offers a host of opportunities to work in the area from farm work, construction, child minding and working in hostels and expat businesses. Accommodation is often included.
  4. Be a digital nomad. Your income will be paid dollars and you don't have to be a web design expert to work online. Some ideas are Audio transcriptionAffiliate marketingGambling loopholesWriting articlesSurveys, and a host of others from Moneystepper. $1,000 per month is a comfortable living wage here.
  5. Get creative. Navarra is a very artistic region, and people are willing to spend money on handcrafted goods. So if you are a musician or artisan, you will find a market for your products.


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How to be successful in Navarra:

success
Be successful in Navarra

Here are some tips to help you maximise your enjoyment of the region, and minimise those frustrating time wasters.


What not to do:

  • Don't expect to do everything sat in front of a computer. You will go round in circles searching for non existent information, so just get out there and look for it!
  • Don't put your foot in it. Basque nationality is a sensitive topic, so make sure that you respect everyone's opinion. Many Castellano speaking Navarrans from the south of the state have little in common with those from the North.
  • Don't always ask the locals. Recommendations can be great, but people lead quite sheltered lives in rural Navarra and won't always be able provide relevant knowledge about other towns and areas.

Good practices:

  • Do check the time. Don't get caught out by siestas or Sunday closures. Lunch times are less busy at tourist attractions, but remember to check the days and times when they're closed. As people live a late lifestyle here, many restaurants might not open until later.
  • Do ask people to expand. People from Navarra will give you the bare minimum information and are often reticent to share personal information. They can be reserved, so you have to find a way to break the ice.
  • Do use WhatsApp. It is king here. The majority of people organise business and leisure through the App.
  • Do meet and greet. People really appreciate a cordial greeting and you'll find yourself accepted quickly if you stop to say hello.


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The Navarra toolkit:

useful resources



Cost of living comparisons 

News

San Fermines Festival

More Information

Comments

  1. A very thorough overview of living in Pamplona! I appreciate the link share as well! Are you still living in Pamplona?

    I recently moved away, although the Train with TMax community that I founded is still alive and well, and best accessible through its facebook page www.facebook.com/trainwithtmax.

    ReplyDelete

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