“I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.” – Saint Teresa of Avila, Spain
Who doesn’t love castles? Well…me, though I do like them, and every now and then I see a truly special one…though the phenomenon suffers from over-saturation. It’s harder in Europe to find a place that doesn’t have a castle, and some are quite paltry…the ‘castle’ in Tirana, Albania is basically just a pile of rocks that used to be a castle wall. I’m focused more on beauty than history, therefore Edinburgh castle and Gravensteen in Ghent are two of my favorites. Our winery tour guide in Laguardia talked about the castle in Olite and remarked it was the nicest he’d ever seen…so he definitely built up the buzz a bit.
First thing…is it really a castle or is it a palace? Depending on who you talk to, it’s called both interchangeably…my guess is it’s been used as both throughout history. Honestly, I’m not sure I really even know the difference, so maybe ‘Game of Thrones’ fans can fill me in. The castle was originally constructed in the 14th century, and was built up for generations after that, depending on the preferences of the current occupant. This ‘phased’ construction is why the structure and design of Olite castle is often referred to as irregular. Wars often screw up nice things, as was the case here. There was a gradual decline due to regional conflict, and the castle was basically in ruins before Spain declared it a national monument in 1925. Restoration of the castle went well, clearly, as I thought it was very impressive. I absolutely loved the bluish ‘tops’ on the towers, which made it look less real and more like the backdrop to a movie set in medieval times, or something conjured up in Disney’s imagination. You could climb the stairs and get out for pictures at each of the levels, and the views of Olite were magnificent…it’s actually a much prettier city when looking down on it from high. Unfortunately because we were there in February we didn’t get to see the ‘hanging gardens’, which I’ve heard are one of the highlights of the castle.
The other parts of Olite were sleepy…very sleepy…except for me. For some reason I ended up just tossing and turning in bed…this was not the fault of the hotel, however, as we stayed in a great place called Parador de Olite that was attached to the castle.
I ended up walking around taking some night photos. Granted it was the wee post-midnight hours, but it’s still eerie to have my footsteps making the only sound in the city, save for a few birds. Whenever I hear the phrase ‘quiet streets’, I will think of my nighttime walk here. Similar to Laguardia, I loved the golden glow of the city at night.
By day I saw some nice colorful buildings with cool architecture. The city definitely had a medieval theme, but, with the exception of the castle in the center of town, didn’t seem as authentically antique as Laguardia.
There was no nightlife to speak of, so after touring the castle the only option was to hang around the hotel and chat…luckily my friends provided stimulating conversation. On our last day there, we recalled a winery that our tour guide in Laguardia recommended, and it happened to be right on the outskirts of town. After buying Tim some cushions for his shoes (he developed massive blisters from too much walking in Madrid), we headed off to Ochoa winery. We had some of the best wine in Spain here…I especially loved the Reserva and the Uvadoble, and we ended up buying a couple bottles.
As we did our tasting we conversed with the woman working there, who recommended a restaurant in a nearby town. This was Ujue, another hilltop village that we drove through heavy mist while getting to. The lunch was great, as we had more Ochoa wine and I filled up on their ‘green bean and potato’ plate.
After wrapping up we started the drive to San Sebastian…they just had massive rains there so we were expecting a wet and sloppy time. I highly recommend Olite for the castle, and a tasting at Ochoa winery…so one night here is enough.