There are a couple of side jaunts one can take along the Camino Frances if you have a little bit of extra time. Eunate actually doesn’t require a large time commitment – most people can spare an hour or two! It is about 2km past this sign:
Eunate is open Tuesdays to Sundays, late morning to lunch and late afternoon. Even if you don’t make it in time for when it is open, it is still worth a trip. And I’m speaking from experience since I arrived smack in the middle of siesta time. While the albergue itself is shut down, there is still someone around to give you a sello – if you go when the church is open. It is the one sello I regret not having.
So what is Eunate, you’re probably asking by now. But I’m sure you’ve guessed it’s a church, since we are by the Camino after all. And you’d be right. The Church of Saint Mary of Eunate, to be precise. It is a 12th century Romanesque octagonal church whose origins are in dispute due to lack of documentation. There are two main theories about Eunate – its octagonal plan is similar to that of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem which apparently lends credence to the idea that Eunate was a funerary chapel for those who died on pilgrimage. The fact that there are remains buried here, many with shells, supports this theory. And the fact that the church is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, not enclosed by any village or town. The cooler theory, though, is that it was possibly a Templar church.
Despite the fact that I couldn’t get into the church, I still very much enjoyed exploring what I could. Okay, disclaimer time: I am not condoning breaking any rules, especially if any sort of authority is around. However, I had just walked an extra two kilometers – I was getting as close as possible (without actually doing real B&E). I found a spot where the surrounding wall and ground weren’t too far apart and jumped over. Even at that spot, the fact that I have relatively long legs and a touch of luck, meant I escaped spraining my ankles. But I was now able to walk in between the walls and the church itself, allowing me to see the fantastic details of this structure:
The nice thing about coming to Eunate is that you don’t have to retrace your steps to get back onto the Camino Frances. You just end up going to a different town than those who didn’t make the side trip – they go to Puente la Reina and Eunate people go to Obanos. This town was very quiet on that drizzly afternoon but the one interesting thing it had was the silver head of a saint who killed his sister. His bones are in that silver head. Oh, and Obanos also has a lonely horse who really wants to make friends.
Tip: Consider walking to Obanos directly if you arrive near Eunate during siesta. Settle your stuff at the albergue, grab some lunch, wander around. Then do an afternoon stroll to Eunate (2km round trip from Obanos). This way you’ll get there when it is open and you will see the beautiful warmly coloured stone in the afternoon light (perfect for photography). This is what I wish I had done. Next time!