Navarre, a film set across time

The beautiful land of Navarre is full of forests, mountains, historical monuments, and charming villages where you can enjoy the most captivating cuisine. It should come as no surprise that it has been chosen as a film set for movies and series that have left an indelible mark on our cinematographic memory.


Land of cinema in the 20th century

Navarre has been the location for important films for several decades.

Films such as Cromwell, featuring Alec Guinness and Richard Harris released in the 1960s, will forever remain in our memories. 

The 1960s also gave us the unforgettable Patton, starring George C. Scott, who would go on to win an Oscar for his masterful portrayal of the controversial American general.

Curiously, some of the scenes in both films were filmed in the Sierra de Urbasa, a beautiful natural site located in the region of Tierra Estella-Lizarraldea.

The Sierra de Urbasa is a popular place for those seeking to relax and connect with nature. While you go on walks and routes suitable for all abilities, you’ll find waterfalls, forests that change colour at different times of the year as well as small family-owned restaurants where you can enjoy the famous Navarrese cuisine.

The Sierra de Urbasa, the backdrop for legendary films / Navarra Film Commission

Perhaps Sean Connery fell in love with these hearty mountain dishes while filming the film Robin and Marian in Navarre, alongside the legendary Audrey Hepburn and the great Robert Shaw.

Urbasa was once again the star of the film, standing in for the famous Sherwood Forest, but the beautiful town of Artajona played an even bigger role with its perfectly preserved mediaeval walls that were intended to depict the English city of Nottingham.

Spanish cinema sets its sights on Navarre

Although Spanish films had been shown in Navarre before, it was during the last decade of the 20th century – coinciding with a considerable rise in the quality and international importance of local films – that successful Spanish directors began to draw inspiration from the attractions of their own country.

This was the case of Julio Medem, who filmed scenes for Earth (1995) in Funes, a town that can serve as a base for visits to the Bardenas Reales Natural Park.

Local director Montxo Armendáriz found the ideal place in his own land to tell the moving story in his film Secrets of the Heart. The film includes scenes shot in Pamplona, but above all in the fascinating rural town of Ochagavía.

Ochagavía, the village seen in Secrets of the Heart / Pixabay

Located in the spectacular valleys in the Pyrenees of the north of Navarre, Ochagavía has a distinctly timeless air, with its stone bridges, palatial mansions, and ancient churches, all of which are surrounded by a truly enviable natural environment. The village is also close to the largest and most important beech-fir forest in Europe, the Selva de Irati.

The spectacular Irati Forest has hosted numerous film shoots / Navarra Film Commission

Much less moving, and more acerbic, irreverent and absurd, is the story told by director Juanma Bajo Ulloa in the legendary Airbag. Karra Elejalde, Alberto San Juan and Fernando Guillén Cuervo chased their own particular ring – drawing wild parallels with The Lord of the Rings – through the lunar landscapes of the Bardenas Reales.


The 21st century: the great boom in Spanish cinema in Navarre…

Despite what Asimov and some extravagantly futuristic filmmakers thought, the 21st century didn’t bring about the arrival of spaceships or killer robots to Navarre (fortunately), but it did bring excellent cinema, with a boom in both Spanish and foreign films.

Montxo Armendáriz, a hopeless romantic in love with the most rural parts of Navarre, filmed Obaba, nominated for 10 Goya awards in 2006, in locations such as Roncal, Isaba, the Belagua Valley, Liédena and, once again, Ochagavía.

Javier Bardem, star of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2009 film Biutiful, walked through the valley of Salazar and Mount Beriain, while Álex de la Iglesia wanted to make his crazy story of Witching and Bitching as true to life as possible, filming in the real-life Zugarramurdi.

Entrance to the famous caves of Zugarramurdi / David Escribano

The film brought widespread acclaim to this village whose history is linked to the accusations of witchcraft made by the Spanish Inquisition in the early 17th century.

Of course, as we walk through the cool, leaf-lined natural trails of the Baztan valley, we can’t help but feel the suspense and terror provoked by the film adaptation of the famous Baztan Trilogy, the literary work by Dolores Redondo starring Marta Etura on the big screen.

Marta Etura in Elizondo during the filming of The Invisible Guardian / Navarra Film Commission

Even comic book heroes feel at home in Navarre, as we can see in the films Anacleto, agente secreto (2014) and Zip and Zap and the Captain’s Island (2015), which had scenes filmed in two iconic sites in Navarre: the Bardenas Reales and the Sierra de Urbasa.

We can’t talk about great Spanish blockbusters without mentioning Emilio Martínez-Lázaro and his hilarious Spanish Affair. The highest-grossing Spanish film in history started a saga that released a new and unexpected installment in 2023, with A Moroccan Affair.

In this case, the Navarrese town of Leitza hosted some of the scenes that represented the fictitious village of Argoitia. For example, the house of Amaia (Clara Lago, the main character), the herriko tavern and the village square are located there. 

Leitza experienced a true tourist boom after the film’s successful premiere. Today, more than a decade later, many tourists still come to the village to see the scenes of the film for themselves.

Navarre’s capital city, Pamplona, is worth visiting at any time of the year, regardless of whether you’re a film fan or not. However, a good film buff might be able to recognize the places where scenes from films such as the magnificent political corruption story, The Realm (2017), directed by Rodrigo Sorogoyen, starring an outstanding Antonio de la Torre, were filmed.


… and for international films too

For centuries, the history of Navarre has been linked to the history of one of the most important, mystical and historic pilgrimage routes in the world: the Camino de Santiago.

This history led film director Emilio Estévez to direct his father in one of the films that almost every American who decides to undertake the Camino adventure sees before setting out: The Way (2009). 

The camera follows Martin Sheen through Roncesvalles, Pamplona, Irache, Eunate and other towns along the route of the Camino de Santiago. 

In 2015, the renowned HBO series Game of Thrones flashed some serious cash in Spain with some of it falling on the Bardenas Reales. 

The Bardenas Reales, stunning natural and screen scenery / Pixabay

The semi-desert landscape that characterizes this impressive Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO Heritage Site, served as the setting for the first and sixth episodes of the sixth season of one of the most successful series in history. 

Specifically, it depicted the Dothraki Sea through which the mighty Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) passes.

A very promising present

Over the last few years, platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO have been betting on series and films that sometimes don’t make it to the big screen.

Navarre has shown that it still has a thriving filmmaking industry for these productions.

Examples include, Patria, the HBO series that adapted the novel of the same name by Fernando Aramburu and which has scenes filmed at the Dantzarinea border crossing, and Vampire Academy, an international series by NBC Universal that was filmed in the imposing fortress of Olite castle.

The castle of Olite from the watchtower of the Atalaya / David Escribano

Olite and Pamplona were also the backdrop for parts of episodes of Boundless, the Amazon Prime series that narrates the heroic deeds of Juan Sebastián Elcano (Álvaro Morte) and Ferdinand Magellan (Rodrigo Santoro) in completing the first circumnavigation of the world.

The cinema world continues to thrive in Navarre.

In 2021, Félix Viscarret shot scenes for Staring at Strangers in Pamplona, with Paco León in an extremely unsettling role, while the fantasy film, Irati (2022, Paul Urkijo), visits Irati and the internationally renowned natural sites Aralar, Mendukilo and Opaina.

Anyone who has travelled through Navarre will realize that they are travelling through a true land of cinema.

Por David Escribano

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