Viana, located in the Autonomous Province of Navarra in northern Spain, has a long and rich history. The region has been inhabited since ancient times and was an important settlement for the Celts, Romans, and Moors. As well as its fame as a Rioja wine town, Viana is located right on the route of the Camino de Santiago, which lends an additional colour to the town.
It may be a small town, but it is buzzing with activity, with no shortage of bars, restaurants, and real feeling of café culture. It is also dotted with architectural gems, with some fantastic buildings recounting the Renaissance and earlier. Great for a day trip, or as a centre for visiting the wider area.
Viana is easily accessible by road, and it takes just under 2 hours to drive either from Zaragoza airport or Bilbao airport, both of which host the usual array of car hire companies. Alternatively, Viana is a short taxi ride (10km) from Logrono, which is accessible by train from both airports. This makes Viana a great option if you are looking for a two centre holiday.
In the 3rd century BC, the Romans established a settlement in Viana, which was called Iruña. In 724, the Moors invaded the region and built the castle of Viana. During the Middle Ages, the city was an important cultural centre, and several churches and monasteries were built. By the 11th century the town had become part of a district of Pamplona, the capital of the Kingdom of Navarra. It became an independent municipality in 1234, when King Sancho VII granted it its own charter. During the Middle Ages, Viana was a major centre of commerce and industry. The town was home to many artisans, including goldsmiths and silversmiths, as well as to an important market. In the 16th century, Viana was the site of a religious uprising, the so-called Viana Rebellion, which was ultimately suppressed by the forces of Philip II of Spain. The town was later sacked by the French in 1813, during the Peninsular War. Viana suffered greatly during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), when it was the site of numerous battles between the Republicans and the Nationalists. Its economy suffered as a result, but it was able to recover gradually over the following decades.
In the modern era, Viana has become a centre for agriculture, commerce and tourism. It is known for its beautiful architecture as well as its rich natural environment. The town is home to a number of important landmarks, including the medieval Viana Castle and the Gothic Church of Santa Maria. It is also known for its annual festival of the Crosses, which takes place on the third Sunday in September and is a major cultural event in the region.
Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Viana enjoyed a time of great economic growth which resulted in the construction within its walls of a number of splendid buildings in the Baroque and Renaissance style, many of which still remain intact today. Perhaps the most beautiful of these edifices is the Gothic church dedicated to Santa Maria, which can be found in the centre of the town. Both the alterpiece inside the church, and the intricately carved doorway are quite breathtaking, and the church is well worth a stop.
Viana has been home to many famous people, but perhaps none more so than the infamous Cesar Borgia (1475 – 1507), who has made Viana his final resting place. Of the powerful Borgia family, subject of many books and films, it was from Cesar Borgia that Machiavelli drew his inspiration in writing the famous 16th century work “The Prince”. The illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI, Cesar Borgia is famous for his ruthless pursuit of power. Having originally entered religious life, and been appointed Cardinal by the age of 18, on his death his remains were buried in a marble sarcophagus in the church of Santa Maria.
However, this was not to be his final resting place, and it seems he continued to be the subject of saga and controversy for centuries after his death. A visiting Bishop, outraged that such a murderous person should be buried inside a sacred place had the sarcophagus destroyed and the remains buried under the street in front of the church, where they rested for some 400 years or so until accidentally dug up in the 1940s by workmen attending to a sewer. The remains were then sent to the town hall where they stayed in a casket for some years before finally being re-buried in the Church of Santa Maria in 1954, where his final resting place is now marked with a plaque.
WHERE TO STAY IN VIANA
Viana offers the visitor a wide range of accommodation opportunities, with hotels, guest houses and self-catering properties, depending on your budget and desire for luxury.
FOOD AND DRINK IN VIANA
Viana is located in the South of Navarra, and serves typical cuisine of Navarra which is known for its rich and varied flavours, with a focus on locally grown produce, meats, and seafood. Some of the most popular foods include:
- Pintxos: These are small, bite-sized snacks that are typically served at bars and taverns in Navarra and the Basque Country. They can be made with a variety of ingredients, including meats, cheeses, vegetables, and seafood.
- Tortilla: This is a traditional Spanish dish made with potatoes, onions, and eggs. In Navarra, it is often served as a tapa, or small plate, with a glass of wine or cider.
- Patatas a la riojana: This is a dish made with potatoes, chorizo sausage, and red pepper sauce. It is a popular tapa in Navarra and the surrounding region.
- Chuletillas al sarmiento: This is a dish made with lamb chops that are grilled over a bed of grapevine clippings (Sarmiento), which imparts a unique flavour to the meat.
- Txistorra: This is a type of spicy sausage that is popular in Navarra and the surrounding region. It is made with pork and seasoned with paprika and other spices.
- Idiazabal: This is a type of sheep’s milk cheese that is produced in Navarra and the surrounding region. It has a nutty, slightly smoky flavour and is often served as part of a cheese plate or used as an ingredient in dishes like tortilla.
- Navarra wine: Navarra has been famed for centuries for its wine production, and the region produces a variety of red, white, and rosé wines.
- Roasted lamb: Lamb is a popular meat in Navarra, and it is often roasted and served with vegetables.
- Navarra beans: These small, white beans are a staple in Navarra cuisine and are often used in dishes like fabada (a bean and sausage stew) and cocido (a mixed stew).
Common amongst the many restaurants of Viana is the fixed price menu at lunchtime. This will typically be a three-course meal, with a limited selection for each course (maybe 4 dishes to choose from for each course), complete with bread, water and wine. In many places you will be offered half a bottle of Rioja per person so best not drive home afterwards! The price is fixed and usually extremely good value for such a copious meal. You certainly won’t need more than a few servings of tapas in the evening. Beware though that you need to be around at 1pm when service starts or you might miss out!
EVENTS and FESTIVALS in VIANA
Viana is known for its many festivals and cultural events.
Some of the most notable festivals held in Viana include:
- Carnaval de Viana: This is a colorful and lively carnival that takes place in February, prior to the start of the Christian fasting season of Lent. The carnival features traditional costumes, music, and parades, and is considered one of the most important carnivals in Navarra.
- Fiestas de San Juan: This festival takes place on June 23-24th to celebrate the feast day of St. John the Baptist. The festival features traditional music and dance, as well as bonfires and fireworks.
- Fiestas de Nuestra Señora de la Peña: This festival takes place in August, and celebrates the town’s patron saint, Our Lady of the Rock. The festival features processions, traditional music and dance, and religious ceremonies.
- Fiestas del Cristo: This festival is held in September, and celebrates the feast day of Christ the King. The festival features religious ceremonies, traditional music and dance, and a large market.
- Festival Internacional de Jazz de Viana: This is an annual jazz festival that takes place in September and features jazz musicians from around the world.
These are some of the main festivals held in Viana, but there are also many other events and celebrations throughout the year that reflect the town’s rich cultural heritage.