LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

Pamplona

Following Osasuna and witnessing the annual bull run

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Best known for July’s annual running of the bulls, Pamplona is the home of Osasuna, the only major club in the partly Basque area of Navarre. The region also has its own team that plays occasional fixtures against their counterparts around Spain.

Named after the Basque word for ‘health’, Osasuna have historic links and rivalries with nearby Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao. Basque players tend to come and go between them.

Like Bilbao (and Real Madrid and Barcelona), Osasuna are owned by their members – this citadel city has a powerful sense of autonomy. Its virtues were extolled by writer Ernest Hemingway in his book The Sun Also Rises. The plot partly revolves around the bull run and the café life of Pamplona. Today themed walking tours take in the sites in Papa’s first novel, including the legendary cafés of Plaza del Castillo, including former Café Kutz, now a bank.

Welcome to Pamplona/Ruth Jarvis

It was at the Kutz, three years before Hemingway’s visit, that members of two local sporting fraternities, the New Club and Sportiva Foot-Ball Club, met in 1920 to found Club Atlético Osasuna. The driving force behind this move was Pamplona-born Eduardo Aizpún, who earlier played for Pamplona Club de Fútbol, the one in Navarre. This lawyer and philanthropist also founded CD Ribaforada, still in existence today.

Details of early Osasuna games were recorded by Eduardo’s brother Marcos, a journalist on El Pueblo Navarro. Adopting red shirts, Osasuna played friendly games at the local racecourse, the Campo del Ensanche and the Campo de San Juan, against mainly Basque teams. Their first star was Pamplona-born Seve Golburu, who played for Spain at the 1934 World Cup.

That same year, Osasuna began a third season in the Segunda, and gained promotion to the Primera, the first of 35 top-flight seasons to date. Their most successful period was quite recent, the fourth-placed finish of 2006 and subsequent crack at the Champions League. This run came to an end in 2013-14, with relegation by one solitary point. Since 2018, manager Jagoba Arrasate has not only lifted Osasuna back up to the Primera but kept them safely mid-table. The rebuild of El Sadar, where the club has been based since 1967, also points to a bright future.

Twenty years after the initial move to El Sadar, Osasuna was where ex-Liverpool striker Michael Robinson started his career in Spain, first as a player (with Sammy Lee and Ashley Grimes), then as the most famous of Spain’s football pundits. His seminal show El día después changed for good how Spanish TV covered the domestic game. His love of the club and the city never waned.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Pamplona Airport 6km (3.5 miles) south of town serves only internal flights. Bus 16 runs from C/Real (Merindad de Tudela) across from the terminal by the ibis Styles hotel to Pamplona bus station (€1.40, every 12-20mins, journey time 15mins), via Avenida Zaragoza 101 within a short walk of the El Sadar stadium also south of town.

taxi to town (+34 948 23 23 00) shouldn’t cost more than €15.

The nearest main international airport is Biarritz 105km (65 miles) away. From Bayonne, 5km from the airport, an Alsa/BlaBlaCar bus runs five times a day to Pamplona via San Sebastián (€15-€25, journey time 3-4hrs). There’s also a more regular Flixbus service from Bayonne to San Sebastián (€5, 1hr 30min journey time).

Bilbao Airport is 160km (100 miles) away. A Bizkaibus line 3247 (€3) runs every 15-20mins to the city’s main transport hub, Intermodal, right next to San Mamés stadium. Journey time is 40mins. A taxi (+34 944 800 909) to central Bilbao should cost about €25-€30. From Bilbao Intermodal, an ALSA bus takes 4hrs to Pamplona (€15) via San Sebastián.

Pamplona bus station is on Calle Yanguas y Miranda, on the same side of the city centre as the stadium. Pamplona train station is way north, the other side of the river. The city is connected by a comprehensive network of buses, A standard single ticket is €1.40, a bonobús of 10 journeys €7.30. The stadium is a fair trek from town.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

The streets around Plaza del Castillo, particularly Calle Estafeta, are lined with pintxo bars, such as the Bodegón Sarría (No.50), somewhat more contemporary and with TV sport. There’s also televised action at Chez Belagua (No.49), a stylish cider bar. 

On the square itself, the ornate Café Iruña is a tourist favourite, with its own Hemingway corner. For a more pub-like atmosphere, the Cervecería Baztan (C/Nueva 125) near the Hotel Tres Reyes shows TV sport, though it prefers an oval ball.

Further south-west, in an area of parks and decent hotels, Paddy’s Corner on Plaza Yamaguchi is the main Irish bar in town since the closure of the otherwise popular O’Connor’s in the city centre. TV sport features prominently.

Right across the other side of town, on the other side of the river, Memoriam Sport sits amid a cluster of pubs and restaurants, handy if you’re staying that way. Match action is screened, burgers sizzled and Belgian beers served.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and city centre

The Pamplona Tourist Office provides an interactive map showing accommodation options. Note that no rooms will be available during the Festival of San Fermín between July 6 and 14.

At the roundabout by the stadium, also housing a handy pre-match bar, the Casa Albero (C/Zolina 3) comprises seven comfortable rooms. The nearest main hotel to the stadium, the mid-range Avenida, stands at the top end of Avenida de Zaragoza, seven bus stops from the ground. 

Close by, the other side of Plaza Principe de Viana, the Yoldi is slightly classier. Even more high-end, by focal Plaza del Castillo, La Perla is the most famous hotel in Pamplona, accommodating celebrities since 1881, naming rooms and suites after them. Hemingway’s remains in the same style, although maybe not condition, as he would have left it.

Close by, combining luxury with contemporary pleasures, the Pompaelo Urban Spa has a direct view over the Running of the Bulls when its 30 rooms will have long been booked up. Further over on Calle Nueva, the Maisonnave also echoes class.

Just beyond the end of Calle Nueva by the Taconera Gardens, the towering Tres Reyes offers sleek rooms and an outdoor pool in summer.