Often on our bikes we joke with each other that the next stretch of road to the nearest town or landmark must be “all downhill” – in our dreams! Usually the reality is much less pleasing, involving at least a few hills to climb, but today we got our wish. From the time we got up in the morning and packed up our tent (after a very pleasant night spent near a reservoir) to when we rolled into Najera around noon we hardly saw a hill. Nearly the whole trip was a descent, aside from the odd flat stretch and the even rarer “bump in the road”. They weren’t really big enough to be called proper hills. It was a good thing the terrain wasn’t too tough as we’d neglected to plan properly and had run out of food, so we were rather hungry as we came to the end of the 40km trip into Najera.
Just before the town, in a small village, we saw a fruit stand set up in a market square and screeched to a halt. Bananas, apples, oranges and more than a few olives soon filled our panniers. The bill was rather shocking – nearly €7 – but it turned out that as well as finding one of Spain’s more expensive greengrocers, we’d also found one of the best. Everything we bought tasted so wonderful: sweet, juicy oranges, crunchy apples and perfectly ripe bananas. Obviously the man running the show cared about what he sold. We spent our afternoon in Najera doing our grocery shopping and a little bit of internet, along with what seemed to be hundreds of pilgrims in the town.
Unfortunately we get very little time to research our destinations, but it appears Najera – home to several monasteries and churches – must be a stop on one of the pilgrim trails as every time we turned a corner there were backpackers heading off on a trek, meandering in the old town or filling up the restaurants. For lunch we avoided the restaurants and instead decided to stop at a local butcher for some meat and cheese. Maybe he is is business with the fruit seller because his bill was also expensive, but again the food was top quality.
We feasted on sliced chorizo and salami and manchego cheese (a hard cheese, kind of like parmesan) along with a baguette from a nearby bakery. Late in the afternoon we set off from Najera and headed north, entering the Basque country in the early evening. It was still very hot and we found a shady bench for supper, before finally climbing a hill in Elciego to a deserted picnic park overlooking vineyards where the tempranillo grape grows to provide the famous Rioja wine. There we set up our tent and settled in for the night, once darkness finally fell, which is now after 9:30pm. Quite a difference from our winter touring just a few months ago!