El Secreto de Ollo

Ollo, Navarre, Spain Book from

Reviewed by Tom Bell
A lovely old guesthouse in a tiny village wrapped up in idyllic hills close to ancient Pamplona
This is the land of plenty, a blissful pocket of northern Navarre that has hardly changed in 300 years. It’s a little like discovering El Dorado. You drop into a crater-like valley to find endless fields of ripening wheat swaying in the breeze. Five tiny villages sit in the hills. Rivers pour through, swimming holes beckon, a gorge burrows out through mountains to the south. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a cyclist sweeping down the mountain, or the odd pilgrim shuffling along the Santiago Way. Other than that, very little happens here.

As for this gorgeous old house - well, it stands in peace above the church in the tiny village of Ollo, with views across the valley of the same name. It’s a grand old place with thick stone walls that keep you cool in summer, and owner Arantxa’s flair for interior design has filled every corner with something beautiful. The 7 bedrooms are lovely, especially the suites, which are as pretty as they are big, and although the house encourages a certain laziness, make sure you pull yourself away to explore the area: the valley, historic Pamplona and magical San Sebastián all await.


  • The position is utterly dreamy: this is a bona fide rural idyll and the walking is fabulous - set aside at least a day of your holiday
  • The romantic suites are gorgeous, well worth a few extra euros, plus there's an apartment for self-catering, which will suit small families of 2-4
  • This is a peaceful, intimate escape, run with great warmth by Arantxa and her husband Pablo
  • Breakfast is a feast, with homemade jams and wonderful cheeses. Candlelit suppers are on offer, too
  • Pamplona, 15km away, an ancient city famed for its bull-running fiesta and beautiful old buildings


  • Temporarily closed late 2015 / early 2016
  • You'll need a car to get here
  • No lunches are served (except packed ones), and there are no other restaurants in the village, so if you want to eat out you’ll have to drive. The valley restaurants are closed November-June so this will mean heading to Pamplona
  • By comparison to the suites, the rooms are fairly simple
  • No air con, though the thick walls mean you don't really need it
  • There’s no swimming pool, but crystal-clear swimming holes rise in the nearby Arakil river

Best time to go

The fiesta of San Fermín in Pamplona (early July) is the biggest event of the year and draws an enormous crowd; book early but bear in mind that you will not be able to explore the city if you come then.

Weather-wise, you’re up in the hills. In summer, it’s hot by day and cool by night, so bring a jacket just in case. It can get cold in winter, but it only snows very rarely. The hotel is open all year.

Our top tips

Take a day to explore this gorgeous valley - by car, by foot, by bike. It’s blissfully lost to the world, and you’ll pretty much have it to yourself. You can potter through the tiny villages, take a picnic up into the hills, fall asleep to the sound of birdsong, swim in the river to wash away the heat. Pure heaven.

Great for...

Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 7 + 1 apartment
  • Breakfast (+ dinner on request)
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 5 Nov 2016 - 31 Dec 2016
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen


Rooms are scattered over 2 floors with the original 300-year-old staircase to sweep you up in style. There are 3 suites, 3 double rooms, a junior suite and a self-catering apartment.

The suites are gorgeous - all the character of a grand old house, all the comfort of a smart hotel. All are on the first floor and 2 have separate sitting rooms; the other is simply enormous. We especially loved the one to the side of the house. You’ll find four-poster beds, painted wood ceilings, off-white colours to soak up the light. Pretty sofas turn into beds for children, smart wood floors are nicely varnished, super-comfy beds are dressed in Sunday best linen.

There’s always something beautiful to catch the eye, be it an old leather armchair, a 500-year-old chest or chunky timber frames painted grey. Those at the front face south and have the view, but the big suite at the back is probably the loveliest. All have colourful bathrooms with gilt mirrors hanging above alabaster sinks and good showers over big baths. The junior suite is up on the top floor and has the same beautiful style, but even though it’s big, there’s no room for a sofa or bath.

The 2-bedroom apartment on the first floor is for those who wish to self-cater, either a little or a lot. It’s perfect for small families as one room has bunk-beds for children. The main room - an open-plan kitchen/diner - has a long dining table under a painted wood ceiling; there’s a sofa here too, but no separate sitting room. The master bedroom has a huge four-poster which dominates the room. Both rooms share a pretty bathroom with a bath and shower. It works just as well for couples as for families. Breakfast is not included, but you can partake on request.

The 3 double rooms at the top of the house are smaller and simpler, but 2 have the view and if you’re passing through on a budget, then they’re absolutely fine. Like the other rooms, you'll find stripped wood floors, whitewashed walls, painted beamed ceilings and pretty linen. Each has a small, colourful shower room.

Features include:

  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Phone
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet


Breakfast is a feast. You can eat in the big dining room, the small conservatory or out on the terrace. You get fresh orange juice, croissants and pains au chocolat, then rustic sticks of freshly baked bread. There’s lots of fruit, plates of cured meats, cheeses that are hard to resist. Arantxa’s homemade jams are delicious: rose petal syrup on fresh bread was a good way to start the day. If you are off to walk in the hills, packed lunches can be arranged, too.

Dinner is served by arrangement, so make sure you book if you want to eat in. You dine off a short menu, perhaps smoked salmon or stuffed peppers, then baked crab or lamb from the valley. Cheesecake for pudding is followed by coffee on the terrace.

If you're staying in the self-catering apartment you'll find that the kitchen is well equipped - fridge, freezer, hob, oven, microwave - but you’ll have to leave the valley to find some shops. Best to stock up on your way here, though basic ingredients (salt, pepper, oil, bin bags, washing up liquid) are provided.

If you want to eat out, there are a couple of restaurants a short drive away in the valley, which are open in summer (July to October); Arantxa can advise. You’ll eat well - grilled fish and meat - but if you want something fancier, you’ll need to head into Pamplona (25 minutes by car). Here the world is your oyster. If you want the best fish in town head to La Mar Salada, a very popular eatery just south of the Plaza de Toros. You could also try Café Iruña in Plaza del Castillo for a good steak. This was a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, who loved the city. Rodero, a family-run restaurant close to the bullring, is considered one of the best places to eat in Navarre, but it’s quite formal and the prices are high. If you want to keep it simple, then head into the Old Town for excellent pintxos (tapas with attitude, a religion up here).

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Packed lunches
  • Vegetarian menu


  • The Ollo Valley has much to offer. You can follow a tributary leading to the Santiago Way or pick up circular walks, anything from a leisurely stroll to a full day’s hike. There’s a canyon for extreme sports, Arantxa can arrange horse riding, or you can take to the hills on a mountain bike. You’ll find swimming holes in the Arakil River, a lovely way to cool off. The small ethnographic museum in Arteta is well worth seeing

  • There’s a small farm in the village where children are invited to come and meet the animals. It’s very low key, but the kids love it

  • Head to Pamplona, an ancient city famous for its fiesta, which is held in early July in honour of Navarre’s patron saint, San Fermín. To celebrate, bulls run through the streets on their way to the bullring. For hundreds of years they have been preceded by an army of foolish young men keen to prove their mettle

  • If you fancy something calmer, head to the city’s excellent museum - the Museo de Navarra. It weaves through local history rather beautifully: prehistoric tools, Roman mosaics, Moorish pottery, medieval art, Baroque magnificence. There’s lots more to see: the 13th-century cathedral (better inside than out), the old citadel’s walls that still cling to steep hills, and the narrow alleyways of the Old Town. If you leave the city to the northwest, you can drop into the Museo Oteiza in Alzuza to see the work of the famous Basque sculptor Jorge Oteiza, well worth the detour

  • Olite, a well-preserved medieval town, stands 40km south of Pamplona. Swing east 40km and you come to the Monastery of Leyre - 1,100 years old and still standing. The kings of Navarre are buried here

  • San Sebastián, a city on a beautiful beach an hour north, is unmissable, its Old Town the loveliest in the Basque country. It holds a jazz festival in July and its famous film festival runs in September. It is also firmly placed on Europe’s gastronomic map: 3 of its restaurants have 3 Michelin stars

  • Ollo’s fiesta takes place in the first week of September. Villagers act out short plays on the street for friends from the valley. Then they party all night long

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Festivals
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Mountain biking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures


Children are very welcome. The hotel has a couple of baby cots (free of charge), and there are sofabeds in the suites (extra charge), which can be curtained off for privacy. The apartment has a room with bunk beds.

Best for:

Toddlers (1-4 years), Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

The suites and the apartment

Kids Activities on site:

Board games

Kids Activities nearby:

Younger kids will love the small farm in the village; older children will enjoy walking in the valley, swimming in the river and horse riding or mountain biking.

Kid Friendly:

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