Off to Spain I go to See the Running of the Bulls
Review: Air France Business Class, IAD to CDG to BCN
Review: Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
Review: The Gran Hotel La Perla, Pamplona
The San Fermin Festival
The Running of the Bulls
Review: Renfe Alvia Train, Pamplona to Madrid
Review: Gran Melia Fenix, Madrid
Recently, I took a trip to Spain to see the running of the bulls. As I initially reported, the famous running of the bulls is held during the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain following the week after July 6 every year.
The city is filled with revilers, and is chaotic to say the least. When visiting Pamplona for the running of the bulls, your ONLY option to see the actual running from a hotel is the Gran Hotel La Perla, which, coincidently, is one of the most famous (and nicest!) hotels in Pamplona.
The hotel describes themselves on their website:
“Since the 19th century the hotel has witnessed a large part of local, regional and even national history. People such as Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, Manolete, Charles Chaplin, Pablo Sarasate, Julián Gayarre, Imperio Argentina, Cayetano Ordoñez or Ignacio Zuloaga and many more have contributed to make of our hotel a historical and unique spot. The hotel has been totally renewed in 2007 and it is located in the heart of Pamplona. With 44 exterior room with balcony to Estafeta Street and Plaza Castillo and some of them dedicated to the historical people that since 1881 have been lodging in our hotel. The room of Ernest Hemingway remains the same he knew it, so is the room of Pablo Sarasate.It is also possible to stay in the room used by Manolete or to sleep in rooms evoking the stays of Alfonso XII, Alfonso XIII or Juan de Borbón.”
For the running itself, you have several options for viewing, but I’ll describe each as to why I did not choose them:
- Pay to stand in someone’s private balcony. Not only is this pricey, but not knowing the people who will open their balcony to you opens up a risk that I didn’t feel comfortable in taking.
- Stand on the street, and fight the crowds at one of the fenced-in cross-streets along the route. Not only is this dangerous because the bulls often ram the fenced in enclosures, but the area is ripe with pickpocketers, and people that are heavily intoxicated. The chance that you’re going to get a bottle of Sangria spilled on you is nearly 100%.
- Get a room at the Gran Hotel La Perla, with a room facing Estafeta St. Not only is this the most comfortable option, but it’s also the most private since you don’t have to fight unwelcoming crowds and unfamiliar territory. Be warned though that this is also the priciest option, though convenience and safety does come with a cost.
The hotel is situated directly in Plaza del Castillo, so you can’t get any more central than that. I booked the hotel through the American Express Travel online website, so I could receive 2x the Membership Rewards Points. While the hotel is part of Prestige Hotels of the World, it’s impossible to book directly with any points, unless you use points to pay the cash rate via you’re home rewards program (Barclaycard Arrival+ Miles, Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, etc.).
Prices for the San Fermin Festival time period range from around $900 USD a night for rooms without a view, and around $1300USD for rooms with a view. When booking, make sure to ask for breakfast to be included in your rate (you’ll find out why). If you want a view of the running of the bulls, you MUST ask for a room facing Estafeta St. The higher floor the room, the cheaper, however my room on the 4th floor had great visibility to everything down below, so I’m not so sure height is a huge concern.
I arrived in Pamplona in the morning of the 6th, the opening ceremony day. Due to a huge snafu with the train the previous day, I was forced to take an overnight bus into the city, and arrived at 5:30a. With it still being pitch dark, I took a taxi from the bus terminal into the city, and into the Plaza del Castillo, where I found the hotel.
The city, even at that early hour, and even before the majority of the festivities began was trashed. Lots of bottles in the street. Lots of questionable puddles of liquid. A smell of smells that shouldn’t be smelled in public.
As I walked through the streets, you could notice the shops along Estafeta St. were covered in tarps, and chain fences. The shopkeepers here clearly know how to protect themselves from the chaos that ensues this week.
After strolling around for a few minutes, now tired, I made my way to the hotel.
Entering the hotel, you could tell it clearly was the nicest hotel in Pamplona. I wasn’t expecting to find anyone staffing the front desk at this early hour, but there was.
I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t be able to receive a room at that hour, and especially because of the festival and capacity of the city. To me surprise, my room was in fact ready, and I was given my key. Funny enough, throughout my stay, I didn’t find the hotel especially packed. Inside the hotel, it didn’t exactly feel as if the hotel was filled to capacity, which, in my case, was kind of nice.
After checking in, I made my way to my room on the 4th floor. Let me add something quickly about this hotel – it is certainly nice, and for European standards, it probably really is the nicest hotel in Pamplona. That said, when it says it is a 5-star hotel, for American standards, it’s more like a 3/4…maybe like a 3.75. Don’t expect a fully stocked pool, or an exercise facility for that matter. For Pamplona, however, it’s the nicest place to stay, and I certainly wouldn’t argue that.
My room was a standard king size room, facing Estafeta St. It was a little large than a normal king room you’d find in the US, which for European standards is very good.
After the bathroom was a small hallway leading to the bedroom.
If you’re wondering what the running of the bulls looked like from my balcony, here is the video I shot of the event:
After staying the night, I awoke next morning to an included breakfast, which I have to say was absolutely amazing. The breakfast is served in the hotel’s in-house restaurant, and is designed for 2 people, but as one person, you’re served the same portion regardless.
Overall, I had an excellent stay here and would return again, especially during the “off-season.” If you’re looking for a hotel with a view of the running of the bulls, this is it…seriously…this is it.
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